The photo was first published in the 1922 issue of National Geographic under the caption “Mongolian prisoner in a box”. It was the publishers who made the claim that the woman was condemned to die of starvation as a punishment for adultery. Since then, many people expressed doubts over the story, although the authenticity of the photo is undisputed.
Immurement (from Latin im- “in” and mūrus “wall”; literally “walling in”) is a form of imprisonment, usually for life, in which a person is placed within an enclosed space with no exits. This includes instances where people have been enclosed in extremely tight confinement, such as within a coffin. When used as a means of execution, the prisoner is simply left to die from starvation or dehydration. Immurement was practiced in Mongolia as recently as the early 20th century. It is not necessarily clear that all thus immured were meant to die of starvation, though. In a newspaper report from 1914, it is written: “..the prisons and dungeons of the Far Eastern country contain a number of refined Chinese shut up for life in heavy iron-bound coffins, which do not permit them to sit upright or lie down. These prisoners see daylight for only a few minutes daily when the food is thrown into their coffins through a small hole”.
(Photo credit: The Dawn of the Color Photograph: Albert Kahn’s Archives of the Planet).