Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences

, Volume 11, Issue 12, pp 6689–6704 | Cite as

Osteological evidence of violence during the formation of the Chinese northern nomadic cultural belt in the Bronze Age

  • Qun Zhang
  • Xuezhou Li
  • Qian Wang
  • Hui-Yuan Yeh
  • Hong Zhu
  • Yanguo QinEmail author
  • Quanchao ZhangEmail author
Original Paper


This paper presents the analyses of skeletal remains of the fifth century BC nomads from Jinggouzi Cemetery on the frontier of northern China. The mortality and trauma prevalence of the population are investigated with two projectile injuries with arrowhead embedded on the ilium and vertebra analyzed in detail. The demographic and traumatic profiles show a high risk of mortality at a young age. Macroscopic and microscopic observations on the projectile injuries show no signs of healing, which indicate that they were perimortem trauma and probably the cause of death. Radiography and computed tomography reconstruction provides detailed information about the shape of the arrowhead and the mechanism of the injuries. The bronze arrowheads can be classified as a tri-winged socketed arrowhead and both of the injuries could be not fatal. Based on the shape of the arrowheads and the cultural period, the injured individuals may represent the nomadic invader to the region who fought with locals. During the Late Bronze Age in northern Asia, the immigration due to the climatic changes and demographic pressures may be causally linked to the social conflict in this region and accelerated the formation of the Chinese northern nomadic cultural belt which initiated the beginning of a new era in Chinese history. The analysis of the skeletal remains from Jinggouzi Cemetery enriches the understanding of the process of integration in northern China and cumulatively provides valuable evidence for the reconstruction of the history of east Eurasia.


Arrowhead injury Computed tomography Northern China Nomadic cultural belt Conflict Bronze Age 



Thanks are extended to Cheng K.L from the China-Japan Union Hospital of Jilin University for the CT scan of the vertebrae specimens. We are grateful to Tyler E. Dunn from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Kara Adams for grammar editing and the two anonymous reviewers for their constructive suggestions and elaborative review.

Funding information

This work was supported by the Fok Ying Tung Education Foundation for Young Teachers (Grant No. 141111), Special Funds for the ‘Compass Plan’ of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, and the NAP Start-Up Grant from Nanyang Technological University.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of ArchaeologyJilin UniversityChangchunChina
  2. 2.School of HumanitiesNanyang Technological UniversitySingaporeSingapore
  3. 3.Department of OrthopedicsQilu Hospital of Shandong UniversityJinanChina
  4. 4.Department of Biomedical SciencesTexas A&M University College of DentistryDallasUSA
  5. 5.Department of OrthopedicsThe Second Hospital of Jilin UniversityChangchunChina

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