A skull pokes out of a coffin made out of roughly hewn planks of wood, its smooth white surface catching the reflection of the winter light flooding into the dark cave.

It’s one of about 30 caskets anchored on a limestone rock about 30 meters (almost 100 feet) up the side of a cave in Guizhou province in southwestern China. It could date back hundreds of years. The coffins, inside and out, are littered with fragments of clothes, bones and ceramics.

For three decades, Wong How Man, a Hong Kong-based explorer, has been hellbent on chasing coffins like these in gravity-defying graveyards across China in an attempt to discover more about this unusual burial custom.

Wong, who began his career as a journalist with National Geographic, first came across a group of coffins perched 90 meters (300 feet) up a cliff face in southern Sichuan, to the north of Guizhou, in 1985 during an expedition to track the Yangtze River from mouth to source. A life-long obsession was born.

“At first, it was simply how the hell did they get there and then I couldn’t stop thinking about why,” he says. “And there’re so many theories.”

Continue reading on CNN.

Published: July 2017.

 

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