Despite being engaged in one of the biggest archaeological discoveries of all time, the tomb of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, remains mostly shut off and undiscovered by archaeologists and historians. For thousands of years, the odd and deadly history of the tomb and its contents remained shut within and hidden beneath vegetation.
The two decades after 218 BC were tumultuous in the Mediterranean as the Roman Republic waged war with the Carthaginians. In contrast, the Far East had relative stability during this time, as a united China emerged from the turbulence of the Warring States Period. Qin Shi Huang was the man who brought the seven warring kingdoms together to become China’s first imperial empire. The first Chinese emperor was as preoccupied with life as he was with the hereafter. Qin Shi Huang was busy building his mausoleum while he was searching for the elixir of immortality.
A 2017 analysis of ancient documents inscribed on hundreds of wooden slats indicates the emperor’s power and desire to live forever. The artifact comprises Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s executive edict for a statewide quest for the elixir of life, as well as responses from local administrations. One town, “Duxiang,” reported that no magical elixir had yet been discovered there, but promised the emperor that they would keep looking. Another location, “Langya,” claimed to have discovered a plant on an “auspicious local mountain” that might accomplish the trick.
The building of the emperor’s tomb, in reality, began long before Qin Shi Huang became the first Chinese emperor. When Qin Shi Huang was 13 years old, he ascended the Qin throne and began constructing his everlasting burial place. However, the full-scale building would not commence until Qin Shi Huang effectively united China in 221 BC, when he commanded a total of 700,000 men from throughout the kingdom. The tomb, which is located in Lintong County, Shaanxi Province, took over 38 years to build and was not completed until several years after his death.
Qin Shi Huang was China’s first emperor.
Sima Qian, a Han dynasty historian, wrote the Records of the Grand Historian, which includes an account of the building and a description of Qin Shi Huang’s tomb. This account claims that Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum had “palaces and picturesque towers for a hundred officials,” as well as countless rare artifacts and valuables. Furthermore, the two great Chinese rivers, the Yangtze and the Yellow River were replicated in the tomb using mercury. The rivers were likewise programmed to flow into the big sea. While the rivers and other aspects of the area were depicted on the tomb’s floor, the roof was adorned with celestial stars. As a result, Qin Shi Huang could govern over his kingdom even after death. To safeguard the tomb, the emperor’s artisans were tasked with creating traps that fired arrows at anybody who entered.
Sima Qian, a historian, is seen in this oil painting.
Qin Shi Huang’s burial was led by his son, who ordered the execution of any of the late emperor’s concubines who did not have sons. This was done in order to keep Qin Shi Huang company in the afterlife. After the burial rites, the inner tunnel was shut and the outside gate was lowered, trapping all the artisans inside the tomb. This was done to prevent the workings of the mechanical traps and knowledge of the tomb’s valuables from being revealed. Finally, trees and flora were planted atop the tomb to give it the appearance of a hill.
Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s tomb is covered with greenery and resembles a hill.
Although a written record of Qin Shi Huang’s tomb existed nearly a century after the emperor’s death, it was only rediscovered in the twentieth century (whether the tomb has been robbed in the past, however, is unknown). A group of farmers drilling wells in Lintong County in 1974 unearthed a life-size terracotta warrior from the ground. This was the start of one of the most important archaeological discoveries in history. Approximately 2000 terracotta soldiers have been discovered during the previous four decades. However, it is thought that between 6000 and 8000 of these troops were buried with Qin Shi Huang. Furthermore, the terracotta army is only the tip of the iceberg, since the emperor’s tomb has yet to be uncovered.
Terracotta Warriors and Horses is a group of statues portraying the forces of Qin Shi Huang, China’s first Emperor. China’s Xi’an.
Several sophisticated artifacts have been discovered surrounding the site, including this chariot and horses discovered outside the burial mound.
It seems doubtful that Qin Shi Huang’s tomb will be unveiled anytime soon. To begin, there are the booby traps reported by Sima Qian in the tomb. Despite being almost two millennia old, it has been asserted that they would still work as well as the day they were placed. Furthermore, the presence of mercury would be extremely dangerous to anyone who entered the tomb without proper protection. Most significantly, our current technology would be unable to deal with the sheer size of the subterranean complex and the preservation of the excavated artifacts. The terracotta soldiers, for example, were once beautifully painted, but exposure to air and sunshine caused the paint to chip off almost instantly. Archaeologists are unlikely to risk accessing the tomb of China’s first emperor until additional technical advances have been achieved.