R.I.P. deep inside the mountain

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Wooden coffins found in a cave on Pa Cang Mountain, which locals dubbed "Hang Ma" (Ghost Cave)

Mo Village residents said past generations did not dare visit the Con Moong Cave in Thanh Hoa Province, which was excavated in 1976, for fear of both carnivores and ghost spirits.

A study carried out by Vietnamese archeologists and scientists from the Institute of Archeology and Ethnology in Novosibirsk, Russia, procured remains dating back to the Stone Age of four humans who were found buried 3.6 meters below the ground.

But it is not the only human resting place to be uncovered in the cave located in the north-central province of Thanh Hoa.

Luong Van Tuong, a Kho villager, told VnExpress that many locals in Quan Hoa District have given up their customs going to the forest to hunt animals, find wood or gather mushrooms near the cave.

"It doesn't mean that locals have prosperous life, or are fed up with mushrooms; it's just because they are afraid of upsetting the spirits which have chosen the forest and mountain as their resting place," he said.   

The new habits began to form the day when Tuong discovered Hang Ma (Ghost Cave), the mouth of which was hidden behind bushy trees and some thousand meters above sea level, telling villagers of his findings.

After a long day on Pa Cang Mountain, Tuong, who often went hunting in his spare time, failed to trap even a single prey.  

Seeing a hare flickering near a rock on going home, the 50-year-old experienced hunter struck the animal in its side with his arrow and chased after it. The hare ran as if uninjured and did not collapse as he expected, and he lost track of it as it reached the cave's mouth.

He tiptoed inside, thinking that the hare was hiding inside.  

He might have seen it if not for the white bones and wooden coffins, which stopped him dead in his tracks.

"Panicked, I ran back to the cave's mouth and gasped.

"But as I thought it would be a pity to spend the whole day hunting, I screwed up all my courage and went deep inside the cave once again until I trod upon a decayed piece of wood by accident," Tuong said. 

He said when the wood popped up, a skull rolled down across the ground, causing him to "jump out of his skin." Then he saw dozens of decayed coffins scattered on the ground and wall of the cave, plus a few of broken pieces of pottery.

Deeper into the cave, he saw thigh and rib bones.

"Gripped by fear, I forgot the animal and ran for my life back to the village to tell everybody [about what I had seen]," he said.

At first, nobody believed him and blamed him for scaring the villagers. Tuong, filled with anger, guided a group to the site later that same day.

They believed what he had said only after witnessing the coffins for themselves. A couple days afterward, the villagers brought offerings and had a sorcerer help apologize to the spirits.

From then on, the cave was known as "Ghost Cave" and has been dubbed by locals as the land of the gods and ancients.

Only a minority of coffins in the cave are still intact, according to VnExpress. Those for adults are around 2-2.5 meters long while some dozens for children are 1 meter in length.

Mysterious origins

There have been different ideas about the origin of the Ghost Cave coffins. Some claim the cave was the tomb site for the family of General Pham Hieu, who was said to help King Le Thai To expel Chinese invaders in the 15th Century.

King Le Thai To (1385-1433), better known as Le Loi, was the initiator of the Lam Son Revolt which began in Thanh Hoa, and helped Vietnam regain independence after a 10-year (1418-1427) fighting battle with the Ming Dynasty.

The others said the coffins belong to ancestors of the Thais, one of the 54 Vietnamese ethnic groups, since Thai people have lived here for long.

Pham Van Dau, member of the Thanh Hoa History Association, told VnExpress the burial form with big hollow trunk on the top of Pa Cang Mountain possibly match the customs of ancient Thai people.

Dau cited the reasons for the ancients' bringing the dead bodies and coffins weighing some thousand kilograms to the mountain top due to their belief that caves were sacred sites and safe places to preserve dead bodies.

Nowadays, Thai people living in Thanh Hoa's mountainous and border areas continue to maintain such customs, he said.  

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