An ancient mass burial pit has been found by Chinese archaeologists close to the world-renowned Qin Terracotta Warriors and Horses Museum in Xi'an, capital of Northwest Shaanxi Province.
"It is the first time that a pit containing such a large number of corpses buried together has been found. The initial research shows that those buried in the pit were potters from the Qin Dynasty (221-206BC), the first feudal dynasty in Chinese history," said Wen Xinhua, an official with the local archaeology administration.
The grave pit is located some 300 metres northeast of the main gate of the Qin Terra-cotta Warriors and Horses Museum, and contains a large number of skeletons, said Wen.
"The dead were buried layer upon layer carelessly which makes us think they were thrown into the pit and buried without particular respect. So far, some thirty skeletons have been unearthed, we expect more to be discovered later," Wen added.
Not far from the grave pit, to the east, two pottery kilns dating from the Qin Dynasty have also been discovered. They have proved to be the best preserved Qin pottery kilns found to date, said Wen.
By piecing together historical records and other evidence, experts have concluded that a large number of buildings surrounded the Mausoleum of Qin Shihuang (256-210 BC) the first Qin emperor, and therefore there would have been many kilns for producing bricks and tiles. Over the passage of time, however, the kilns were mostly destroyed, so these two newly-discovered ones are of great significance in providing clues for greater understanding of the pottery skills of the period.
"Those buried in the mass burial pit are believed to be the potters who worked in these kilns making pottery bricks and tiles for the construction of the Mausoleum of Qin Shihuang and were killed after the project was completed," explained Wen.
Fetters and chains were found on some of the skeletons which suggests that many of the potters were criminals put to work, said Wen.
The official went on: "Because the digging work is still ongoing, archaeologists do not, as yet, have all the details about the kilns, although it's believed they were not the kilns used for making the terra-cotta army."
The Qin terracotta warriors and horses, named the eighth wonder of the world, were discovered in 1974. The museum built to cover and house the treasures opened to the public in 1979.