Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor

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Mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang
Tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang.jpg
General information
Location Lintong District, Xi'an, Shaanxi
Country China
Coordinates Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.
Official name Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor
Type Cultural
Criteria i, iii, iv, vi
Designated 1987 (11th session)
Reference no. 441
State Party China
Region Asia-Pacific

The Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor (Qin Shi Huang) (Chinese: 秦始皇陵; pinyin: Qínshǐhuáng Líng) is located in Lintong District, Xi'an, Shaanxi province of China. This mausoleum was constructed over 38 years, from 246 to 208 BCE, and is situated underneath a 76-meter-tall tomb mound. The layout of the mausoleum is modeled on the Qin capital Xianyang, divided into inner and outer cities. The circumference of the inner city is 2.5 km (1.55 miles) and the outer is 6.3 km (3.9 miles). The tomb is located in the southwest of the inner city and faces east. The main tomb chamber housing the coffin and burial artifacts is the core of the architectural complex of the mausoleum.

The tomb itself has not yet been excavated. Archaeological explorations currently concentrate on various sites of the extensive necropolis surrounding the tomb, including the Terracotta Army to the east of the tomb mound.[1] The Terracotta Army served as a garrison to the mausoleum and has yet to be completely excavated.[2][3]


Work on the mausoleum began soon after Emperor Qin ascended the throne in 246 BC when he was still aged 13, although its full-scale construction only started after he had conquered the six other major states and unified China in 221 BC. The source of the account of the construction of the mausoleum and its description came from Sima Qian in chapter six of his Records of the Grand Historian, which contains the biography of Qin Shi Huang:

In the ninth month, the First Emperor was interred at Mount Li. When the First Emperor first came to the throne, the digging and preparation work began at Mount Li. Later, when he had unified his empire, 700,000 men were sent there from all over his empire. They dug through three layers of groundwater, and poured in bronze for the outer coffin. Palaces and scenic towers for a hundred officials were constructed, and the tomb was filled with rare artifacts and wonderful treasure. Craftsmen were ordered to make crossbows and arrows primed to shoot at anyone who enters the tomb. Mercury was used to simulate the hundred rivers, the Yangtze and Yellow River, and the great sea, and set to flow mechanically. Above were representation of the heavenly constellations, below, the features of the land. Candles were made from fat of "man-fish", which is calculated to burn and not extinguish for a long time. The Second Emperor said: "It would be inappropriate for the concubines of the late emperor who have no sons to be out free", ordered that they should accompany the dead, and a great many died. After the burial, it was suggested that it would be a serious breach if the craftsmen who constructed the mechanical devices and knew of its treasures were to divulge those secrets. Therefore after the funeral ceremonies had completed and the treasures hidden away, the inner passageway was blocked, and the outer gate lowered, immediately trapping all the workers and craftsmen inside. None could escape. Trees and vegetations were then planted on the tomb mound such that it resembles a hill.

— Sima Qian, Shiji, Chapter 6.[4][5]

Some scholars believe that the claim of having "dug through three layers of groundwater" to be figurative.[6] It is also uncertain what the "man-fish" in the text refers to, interpretation of the term varies from whale to walrus and other aquatic animals such as giant salamander.[7][8]

Before the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor was completed, a peasant rebellion broke out during the late Qin dynasty. Zhang Han redeployed all the 700,000 people building the mausoleum to suppress the rebellion, so the construction of the mausoleum ceased. After Xiang Yu entered Xianyang, he is said to have looted the tomb. Afterwards, it is said that a shepherd unintentionally burnt down the underground palace of the mausoleum.[9] The story goes that he went into a cave of the mausoleum, dug by Xiang Yu, to look for his sheep with a torch in his hand, and a fire was started, burning away all the remaining tomb structures.[10] No solid evidence of this has been found, and some scholars think that the mausoleum did not suffer any large-scale destruction.

In 1987, the mausoleum, including the Terracotta Warriors, were listed as World Heritage Sites.[11]


File:Xian museum.jpg
General view of the pit n°1 in the museum of Xi'an

The first fragments of warriors and bronze arrowheads are discovered by Yang Zhifa, his five brothers and Wang Puzhi [12] who dig a well in March 1974 in Xiyang, a village of the Lintong county.[13] At a depth of around two meters, the peasants find hardened dirt, then red earthenware, fragments of terracotta, bronze arrowheads and terracotta bricks.[14] This doesn't unduly attract the attention of Yang Zhifa, who throws the fragments of terracotta in the corner of the field and collects the arrowheads to sell them 2 yuans a pound to a commercial agency. Other villagers bring back terracotta bricks to make pillows.[14] A manager in charge of the hydraulic works, Fang Shumiao, comes to the village and, seeing the objects found, offers to the villagers to go sell them to the cultural centre of the district. Yang Zhifa receives, for two carts of fragments of what will turn out to be terracotta warriors, the amount of 10 yuans.[14] Questioning the peasants, Zhao Kangmin, responsible of the cultural centre, comes to the village, investigating and buying everything that the villagers uncovered, even re-purchasing the arrowheads sold to the commercial agency.

In May 1974, a team of archaeologists from Shaanxi goes to the site to undertake the first excavations of what will become the pit n°1. Tents are pitched, the archaeologists start the excavations. In May 1976, the pit n°2 is discovered by drilling and in July the pit n°3.[15] The exacavations, spreading across an area of 20,000 square meters, deliver about 7,000 statues of terracotta warriors and horses, about a hundred wooden battle tanks and numerous weapons.[15] Some pits are found a few kilometers away from the mound of the tomb of Emperor [[Qin Shi Huang ]].[14] Large buildings are erected to protect the pits. The first is finished in 1979. Six hundred pits to accompany the deceased are spotted in 2008.[16]

Archaeological studies

File:TERRACOTTA ARMY @ Gdynia 2006 - 02 ubt.jpeg
Chariot found outside of the tomb mound

The necropolis complex of Qin Shi Huang is a microcosm of the Emperor's empire and palace, with the tomb mound at the center. There are two walls, the inner and outer walls, surrounding the tomb mound, and a number of pits containing figures and artifacts were found inside and outside the walls. To the west inside the inner wall were found bronze chariots and horses. Inside the inner wall were also found terracotta figures of courtiers and bureaucrats who served the Emperor. Outside of the inner wall but inside the outer wall, pits with terracotta figures of entertainers and strongmen, as well as a pit containing a stone suit of armour were found. To the north of the outer wall were found the imperial park with bronze cranes, swan and ducks with groups of musicians. Outside the outer walls were also found imperial stables where real horses were buried with terracotta figures of grooms kneeling beside them. To the west were found mass burial grounds for the labourers forced to build the complex. The Terracotta Army is located about 1.5 km to the east of the tomb mound.[17][18]

The tomb mound itself at present remains largely unexcavated, but a number of techniques were used to explore the site. The underground palace has been located at the center of the mound. Archaeological survey and magnetic anomaly studies indicate a 4-meter high perimeter wall, measuring 460 meters north to south and 390 meters east to west, which is made of bricks and serves as the wall of the underground palace. On top is an enclosing wall made of rammed earth of 30–40 meters in height. There are sloping passageways leading to the four walls. The west tomb passage is linked to a pit where the bronze chariots and horses were found. The tomb chamber itself is 80 meters long east to west, 50 meters north to south, and is about 15 meters high.[19] As to the depth at which the palace lies, there are great disputes among the academic community, with estimates varying from 20 meters to 50 meters.

According to the scientific exploration and partial excavation, much metal is present in the underground palace and it also features a very good drainage system. Sima Qian's text indicates that during its construction the tomb may have reached groundwater, and the water table is estimated to be at a depth of 30 meters. An underground dam and drainage system was discovered in 2000 and the tomb appeared not to have been flooded by the groundwater.[19] Anomalously high levels of mercury in the area of the tomb mound were found.[20] This gives credence to the Sima Qian's account that mercury was used to simulate waterways and the seas in the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor. However, some scholars believe that if the underground palace is excavated, the mercury will quickly volatilize.

In December 2012, it was announced that the remains of a massive "imperial palace" was found at the site.[21] Based on its foundations, the courtyard-style palace was estimated to be 690 meters long and 250 meters wide, covering an area of 170,000 square meters, which is nearly one fourth the size of the Forbidden City in Beijing. The palace included 18 courtyard houses and a main building that overlooked the houses. The archaeologists have been excavating the foundations since 2010 and have found walls, gates, stone roads, pottery shards and some brickwork.[22]

Disputes over possible excavation

Beginning in 1976, various scholars proposed to explore the underground palace, citing the following main reasons:

  • The Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor is in a seismic zone, so underground cultural relics need to be unearthed for protection;
  • to develop tourism; and
  • to prevent grave robbery.[23]

However, opponents of such excavations hold that China's current technology is not able to deal with the large scale of the underground palace yet. Many mistakes were made in the case of the Terracotta Warriors. For instance, scientists were unable to preserve the colored Terracotta Warriors, which resulted in the rapid shedding of their painted decoration when exposed to air.[24][25] Also the situation of the underground palace still remains unclear, so any rash digging may cause damage.[26]

In popular culture

File:Terracotta chariot 2 detail.JPG
Details of chariot for the emperor

Creative works dealing with the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor include:

  • The Myth, a Hong Kong film, describes the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor as hanging in the air hidden in a grotto underneath a waterfall. The movie also claims that the Mount Li Mausoleum was built in order to disguise where the Emperor was really buried.[27]
  • Fight and Love with a Terracotta Warrior, another Hong Kong film, includes the scene in which the mausoleum builder seals the craftsmen into the coffin chamber. The exaggerated machine-operated traps displayed in the movie are artistic license.
  • The Prince of Qin video game represents many types of machine-operated traps in the mausoleum, and the design of the mausoleum is a game-typed maze.[28]
  • The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor has the emperor's tomb and the terracotta army as a prominent part of the movie's plot.
  • The video game, Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb revolves around Indiana Jones' race to the emperor's mausoleum and recover the Heart of the Dragon pearl before the Nazis and the Black Dragon Triad do.


"A Preliminary Study of Mercury Buried in the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor", an article published in Archaeology magazine, Volume 7, says that during the measuring of soil mercury content, one measured point reached 1440 parts per billion; the rest of 53 points reached an average content of around 205 ppb. There is also a claim that the mercury content is actually a result of local industrial pollution. It is reported in "Lintong County Annals" that from 1978 to 1980, according to general investigation on workers involved with benzene, mercury and lead, 1193 people from 21 factories were found poisoned."[29]


  1. Liu Yuhan (30 April 2012). "New York City welcomes the Terracotta Warriors". China Daily. Retrieved 13 July 2012. 
  2. "Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China's First Emperor". 
  3. Li Xianzhi (13 October 2009). ""Teenage warriors" discovered in China's terracotta army". Xinhua News Agency. Retrieved 13 July 2012. 
  4. 司马迁 (1982). 史记. 卷六.秦始皇本纪: 中华书局. ISBN 9787101003048. 
  5. Chinese Text Project Shiji, original text: 九月,葬始皇酈山。始皇初即位,穿治酈山,及并天下,天下徒送詣七十餘萬人,穿三泉,下銅而致槨,宮觀百官奇器珍怪徙臧滿之。令匠作機弩矢,有所穿近者輒射之。以水銀為百川江河大海,機相灌輸,上具天文,下具地理。以人魚膏為燭,度不滅者久之。二世曰:「先帝后宮非有子者,出焉不宜。」皆令從死,死者甚眾。葬既已下,或言工匠為機,臧皆知之,臧重即泄。大事畢,已臧,閉中羨,下外羨門,盡閉工匠臧者,無復出者。樹草木以象山。
  6. Portal, Jane (2007). The First Emperor: China's Terracotta Army. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0714124476. 
  8. Charles Higham (2004). Encyclopedia of Ancient Asian Civilizations. Facts on File. p. 274. ISBN 978-0816046409. 
  9. Tanner, Harold M. (2010). China : a history. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub. Co. p. 424. ISBN 9781603842051. 
  10. Zhewen, Luo (1993). China's imperial tombs and mausoleums (1. ed.). Beijing: Foreign Languages Press. ISBN 7119016199. 
  11. "Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor - UNESCO World Heritage Centre". UNESCO. Retrieved 9 June 2012. 
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 Zhang Zhongli (1997), p. 16.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Zhang Zhongli (1997), p.19.
  16. (Danielle Elisseeff 2008, p. 193).
  17. Anthony Barbieri-Low. "The Necropolis of the First Emperor of Qin - Excerpt from lecture in History 1420: Ancient China". University of California, Santa Barbara. 
  18. "The First Emperor - China's Terracotta Army" (PDF). British Museum. 
  19. 19.0 19.1 Duan Qingbo. "Summary of scientific testing carried out on the Emperor's tomb to address various questions". In Jane Porter. The first emperor: China's Terracotta Army. pp. 205–207. ISBN 0714124478. 
  20. Duan Qingbo. "Scientific Studies of High Level of Mercury in Qin Shihuangdi's tomb". In Jane Porter. The first emperor: China's Terracotta Army. p. 204. ISBN 0714124478. 
  21. ""Imperial palace" found at first Chinese emperor's cemetery". Xinhuanet. December 1, 2012. Retrieved December 3, 2012. 
  22. Jonathan Kaiman (December 3, 2012). "China unearths ruined palace near terracotta army". Guardian. Retrieved December 3, 2012. 
  23. Ma Lie (27 November 2012). "Nine held over tomb robbery in Xi'an". China Daily. Retrieved 13 July 2012. 
  24. Ma Lie (19 May 2010). "More Terracotta Warriors rise from the earth". China Daily. Retrieved 13 July 2012. 
  25. Ma Lie (9 September 2012). "Terracotta army emerges in its true colors". China Daily. Retrieved 13 July 2012. 
  26. Tang Danlu (26 February 2012). "No excavation for mysterious tomb near Qinshihuang Mausoleum". Xinhua News Agency. Retrieved 13 July 2012. 
  27. "The Myth". 2005. Retrieved 10 June 2012. 
  28. Saint_Proverbius (3 January 2003). "Prince of Qin Review". Retrieved 10 June 2012. 
  29. 常勇; 李同 (1983). "泰始皇陵中埋藏汞的初步研究". 考古. 

External links

ar:ضريح الإمبراطور الأوّل كين th:สุสานจักรพรรดิฉินที่ 1