***Dedicated to Wade who sent the relevant passage in***
The custom of burying infant children in the foundations of new buildings was well established in prehistoric, ancient and even (gulp) medieval times. The bigger and more important a building the more likely it was to a have a tot dropped in the cement. It is pretty ghastly but there you are… Humans are pretty ghastly: no news there.
The custom while not universal seems to have been used through much of Euro-Asia-Africa and large parts of the Americas. Presumably the dried cats in walls that Beach has publicised with a certain abandon in the past are an updated version of this? A sacrifice to ‘ground’ the building and assuage the gods of earthquakes, floods and other misfortunes.
Beach has come across infant burial reports from all over the world and from many different time periods. However, yesterday he ran across this extraordinary piece about the nineteenth-century China to Russia railway.
As the Siberian Railway approached the northern boundaries of the Chinese Empire and surveys were made for its extension through Manchuria to the sea, great excitement was produced in Pekin (sic) by the rumor that the Russian minister had applied to the Empress of China for two thousand children to be buried in the roadbed under the rails in order to strengthen it. Some years ago, in rebuilding a large bridge, which had been swept away several times by inundations in the Yarkand, eight children, purchased from poor people at a high price, were immured alive in the foundations. As the new bridge was firmly reconstructed out of excellent materials, it has hitherto withstood the force of the strongest floods, a result which the Chinese attribute, not to the solid masonry, but to the propitiation of the river god by an offering of infants.
The ‘rumor’ can probably be brushed gently to one side, though it says a lot about nineteenth-century China that such a rumour could grow to maturity: or is this just Russians barbarizing the Chinese with tall tales?
More difficult to deal with is the whole question of the bridge in Yarkand. Beach would bet a substantial amount of money that eight children were not bought from their parents and that they were not built into the bridge. But tradition, depravity and superstition – a particularly hellish threesome – are such that he would not bet his house (which has he hopes not skeletal remains in the foundations).
Can anyone add anything to the tradition of the children in the Yarkand bridge? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com
(Apologies for all those unanswered emails but Little Miss B been very ill the last four days and this has coincided with a period of manic work chez Mrs B.)
9 June 2012: LTM writes Easier today to bury infants: and even a video. Wade, meanwhile, send in this: Here is a paper studying diving rumors that periodically emerge and submerge from Borneo. 1979 incident. Thanks Wade and LTM!!