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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Shi Huangdi & Tomb Facts and Secrets

Shi Huangdi's Tomb
Qin Shi Huangdi, China's first emperor, united China in 221 B.C. His rule became known as a time of great cruelty by later historians. It is known that Shi Huangdi forced peasant farmers to complete large construction projects such as the Great Wall, roads, canals, and several new palaces. Shi Huangdi also made many enemies during his rule. He was almost assassinated three times.

After Shi Huangdi survived the assassination attempts, he became determined to find a way to live forever. For example, he sent groups of men and women out to sea to look for a land where people did not die. Realizing that he might not live forever, Shi Huangdi ordered the building of an elaborate tomb. If he had to die, he wanted his afterlife to be comfortable. Read now to find out why his tomb, the ruins of which were discovered in 1974, has fascinated people around the world.

In March of 1974, Chinese peasants digging a well near Xi'an in the central province of Shaanxi found some unusual pottery fragments. Then, deeper down at eleven feet, they unearthed a head made of terra cotta (baked earth or clay). They notified the authorities and excavation of the site began immediately. To date, workers have dug up about eight thousand sculpted clay soldiers, and the site has proved to be one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time.

For over two thousand years, these clay warriors have been guarding the tomb of Shi Huangdi, the First Emperor of China. Tradition says that the First Emperor began building his tomb when he ascended to the throne at age thirteen, and that it was unfinished at his death, thirty-six years later. The Chinese historian Sima Qian wrote in the Shiji, "Historical Records," that the emperor forced 700,000    laborers to work on his elaborate tomb.

The warriors stand guard in three pits (a fourth was found to be empty) that cover five-and-a-half acres and are sixteen to twenty- four feet deep. The largest one contains six thousand terra-cotta soldiers marching in military formation in eleven trenches, each as long as a football field. At the western end of the formation is a vanguard of archers and bowmen. At the head of six of the trenches stand the remnants of chariots, each with four life-size horses and eighteen soldiers. The wooden chariots have largely disintegrated, unlike the well-preserved terra-cotta horses and men. Last come row upon row of soldiers.

Despite the enormous number of men, no two faces are alike. Their expressions display dignity, steadfastness, and intelligence. Each is tall, standing five-and-a-half to six feet high. Some people think the terra-cotta soldiers portray real-life men from the vast army  of the First Emperor.

The warriors' legs are solid JSI columns of clay, with squared-toed sandals on their feet. The hollow bodies are if coiled clay. The head and hands of each soldier were carefully molded and attached to the body in assembly-line fashion. Traces of pink, yellow, purple, blue, orange, green, brown, and black pigment show that the figures were once brightly painted. The horses were roan (reddish-brown, brown, or black) with pink mouths.

The warriors' hair styles and topknots, and the tassels trimming their garments, denote their military rank. Many do not wear helmets or carry shields, a mark of bravery in battle. Their armor was probably of lacquered leather; some pieces look like baseball catchers' pads. The soldiers' hands are positioned to hold weapons, but most of the weapons have disappeared. Very likely they were stolen when the pits were looted after the fall of the Qin dynasty (the dynasty founded by Shi Huangdi). Even so, bronze spears, halberds (a combination spear and battle-ax), swords, daggers, and about fourteen hundred arrowheads remain. Some of the blades are still very sharp.

A second pit, only partially excavated, contains about fourteen hundred more soldiers. While the first pit holds mostly infantry, the second has a more mobile attack force of horses and chariots. A third pit is thought to hold the high command of the army. The chariot of the Commander-in-Chief survives, with men surrounding it in protective formation.

Covered by a wooden roof and ten feet of earth, these figures were not intended to be seen. When the pits were looted and burned, the roof fell in and damaged most of the sculptures. Reconstruction is a slow, delicate task. Today, a visitor to the site can walk on long wooden platforms sixteen feet above the pits and gaze down with astonishment at the thousands of sculptured soldiers below.

Approximately a mile away from the pits is a gently sloping, rounded mountain covered with trees the burial mound of the First Emperor. The four-sided, rammed-earth mound covers three quarters of a square mile and is one hundred fifty-six feet high. It once stood at four hundred feet. Of the two great walls that enclosed the funerary park only rubble remains. The perimeter of the outer wall is almost four miles. Set into the strong thick walls were four gates and four corner towers. Inside the walls were gardens, pavilions, and a sacrificial palace, in addition to the burial mound. The burial chamber itself is still untouched, its contents as yet unknown.

Tradition based on the Shiji says that the emperor's body was buried in a suit of small jade pieces sewed together with gold thread and covered with a pearl and jade shroud. Also in the burial mound were bronze models of Shi Huangdi's palaces and government offices. The replicas featured such details as pearls to represent the sun and moon, and pools of mercury to recreate rivers and seas.

According to the ancient Chinese, the soul of the dead continued living and therefore required all of life's necessities within the tomb. Kings especially needed many luxuries and that is why their tombs are treasure houses of jewels, gold, silver, and bronze.

The Shiji states that in order to prevent people from robbing the tomb, "Craftsmen built internal devices that would set off arrows should anyone pass through the tunnels." Because Sima Qian wrote his history a century after the death of the First Emperor, the accuracy of his statements is questionable. In fact, grave robbers did enter and loot Shi Huangdi's tomb for thirty years after the fall of the Qin dynasty (four years after the Emperor's death). During this time, many precious relics most likely were stolen.

In 1980, additional smaller pits were discovered. One contains pottery coffins with bones of exotic birds and animals, probably from the royal zoo. Another has vessels inscribed with the words, "Belonging to the Officials in Charge of Food at Mount Li," and must be where food and sacrifices were offered to the dead emperor. Uncovered in the nearby Hall of Slumber were clothes and everyday objects for use by the soul of the Emperor.

As the excavations continue, each find serves to remind us of the tremendous energy and genius of Shi Huangdi and his people.


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