Chinese scientists have identified four skeletons unearthed from a 2,500-year-old tomb in the eastern Jiangxi Province as females aged around 20 -- possibly maids who had been buried in sacrifice with a dead aristocrat.
Intensive lab analysis of the skeletons found no apparent sign of injury or disease -- except for a dislocated jawbone in one of them, said Wei Dong, an archaeologist from northeast China's Jilin University, a member of the research team working on the mysterious tomb containing 47 coffins in Lijia village of Jing'an county of Jiangxi.
Seven of the coffins contained human skeletons and these four were in a better state of preservation, he said.
"They all lay in peace in the coffin and there is no sign of their being bound at death," said Wei.
Huang Jinglue, head of the research team, presumed they were maids who were buried live in sacrifice with the dead aristocrat, as was a centuries-old custom in ancient China.
Five other coffins contained bodily tissues, which scientists have identified as human brains that have shrunk to the size of a fist but retained their original structure.
"We're yet to conduct a DNA analysis to see whether these people were genetically linked to one another," said Huang, from the State Administration of Cultural Heritage.
The tomb, 16 meters long, 11.5 meters wide and three meters deep, was found last December and was believed to date back to the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770-221 B.C.).
It contained the largest group of coffins ever discovered in a single tomb and its excavation was dubbed "the most important archeology project of the year" by cultural experts and the Chinese media.
Experts say the discovery is unique because the skeletons had been preserved well in an area where the soil was acidic and unsuited to the preservation of human bodies.