You wouldn't expect to find 97 ancient bodies crammed inside a 5,000-year-old house—but that's exactly what researchers discovered at the Hamin Mangha site in northeastern China, LiveScience reports. The remains of middle-aged adults, young adults, and juveniles were found in various states, with some charred and deformed, perhaps indicating that a fire in the small house caused roof beams to fall on them. But how did bodies get there in the first place? Perhaps it was a "prehistoric disaster" like an epidemic, say Jilin University anthropologists who analyzed the bodies. "Ancient humans put remains into the house successively and stacked [them] centrally," according to a summary of their work at the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.
Plus the victims' ages are close to those of bodies from an ancient mass burial in the Miaozigou region, prompting speculation that an epidemic wiped out populations and left survivors little time to conduct proper burials. "On the floor, numerous human skeletons are disorderly scattered," reads another report on the Hamin Mangha discovery, in Chinese Archaeology. "The skeletons in the northwest are relatively complete, while those in the east often [have] only skulls, with limb bones scarcely remaining. But in the south, limb bones were discovered in a mess, forming two or three layers." The report adds that Hamin Mangha is "the largest and best-preserved prehistoric settlement site found to date in northeast China." (See why a 4,000-year-old home found in Ohio is "very significant.")