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Home >> Opinion
UPDATED: 08:26, July 11, 2005
Nine major enigmas of Qin Shihuang Mausoleum
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Qin Shihuang, the first creator of a unified dynasty in Chinese history, died at the age of 50 during his tour of inspection. Emperor Qin Shihuang's experience, life and merits and demerits are noticeable, even the Qin Shihuang Mausoleum sitting at the foot of Lishan Mountain has drawn great attention due to many unresolved mysteries.

As regards Qin Shihuang tomb, below the mountain is the deep, serene and mysterious underground palace. Historian Sima Qian left behind a 160-word record in his "Historical Records: The Biography of Qin Shihuang", which recorded the size of Shi Huang Mausoleum "The tomb is over 50 zhang (one zhang =one-third meters) high", converted to around 115-meters high. The result of a measurement made in 1982 revealed that the tomb is 55.05 meters high. Due to water and soil erosion for more than two thousand years, the frozen earth has been lowered by half in height.

Qin Shihuang Mausoleum is a very mysterious underground "Kingdom". The deep and quiet underground palace is full of mystery, for thousands of years, it has aroused guess and reveries among men of letters. What's the structure of the underground palace? How many rare and precious treasures are hidden in the underground? Is there any anti-theft apparatus inside the palace? To what depth was the underground palace dug? Are copper coffin and outer stone coffin or wooden coffin and outer wooden coffin used for the body of Emperor Shi Huang? Is the skeleton of the emperor well preserved? This series of suspense has puzzled experts and scholars. At present, only preliminary exploration and conjecture can be done in accordance with available archaeological materials in combination with related historical documents.

Enigma 1: How deep is the underground palace?

Latest archaeological prospecting materials show: The a/ctual length of the underground palace in Qin Shihuang Mausoleum is 260 meters from east to west and 160 meters from south to north, with a total area of 41,600 square meters. The size of the underground palace is equivalent to five international football fields, in the shape of a vertical cave.

Mr. Samuel Chao Chung Ting, a physicist of Chinese origin, and Chen Ming and two other scientists, based on study and conjecture, used modern high technology to find out the depth of the underground palace of Shi Huang Mausoleum to be 500-1,500 meters deep. As it is seen today, this conjecture is little short of the "Arabian Nights" .If the underground palace was dug to 1,000 meters deep, it would exceed the falling head between the location of the tomb and the northern side of the Weihe River. In that case, it would not only create difficulty discharging the water in the underground palace, but would even create the danger of causing Weihe river water to flow back into the underground palace.

According to the latest drilling materials, the actual depth from the hole of the underground palace to the bottom is about 26 meters, and the depth of the earth's surface in Qin dynasty was about 37 meters. But whether this is true remains to be tested and proved by archaeological exploration.

Enigma 2: How many doors are there in the underground palace?

With regard to the number of doors in the underground palace, actually it was long ago clearly recorded in the "Historical Records": "As the whole structure was completed, coffins and funeral objects were stored there, suddenly the middle, under and outer tomb doors were closed, since the doors were all closed, none of the craftsmen hidden inside came out again."

Coffins and outer coffins as well as funeral objects were all placed inside the middle door. Craftsmen were busily working inside the middle door, suddenly "the middle, under and outer tomb doors were shut". With the door all being closed, none of the craftsmen hidden inside came out again." Here encompasses the middle tomb door and outer tomb door, there is no need to mention the inside tomb door. It seems it is irrefutable that the underground palace consists of three doors, the three tomb doors were possibly arranged in one straight line.

Enigma 3: How to explain "astronomy on the upper part"?

In recent years, Xi'an Jiaotong University discovered in tombs of Han dynasty murals analogous to astronomy" and "geography". The upper part murals symbolize sun, moon and stars in the sky, while the lower part murals represent mountains and rivers. It is inferred that a more comprehensive 28 constellation map may possibly be drawn in the upper part of the underground palace, the mercury in the lower part represents the geography of mountains and rivers. In this underground "Kingdom" symbolizing heaven and earth, the soul of Qin Shihuang can all the same look up at astronomy and look down at geography".

Enigma 4: The mystery about "mercury" buried in the underground palace

Whether or not there is mercury in the Shi Huang Mausoleum has always been a puzzle. Modern scientific and technological development has provided necessary preconditions for verifying the ages-old outstanding issue. After repeated tests, geologists discovered that "mercury anomaly" does emerge in frozen earth samples in the mausoleum. Conversely, there is almost no mercury content in the earth samples of other places. Scientists have thereby drawn a preliminary conclusion: The record on huge amount of mercury buried in Shi Huang Mausoleum as contained in Historical Records is reliable.

Enigma 5: How many precious treasures are there in the underground palace?

The remark "rare and precious treasures are moved here to stock the palace" came off the pen of Sima Qian. Recorded in explicit terms in the Historical Records are "golden goose", "pearl and jade", "emerald", etc. Archaeologists unearthed a group of large color drawings of bronze chariots and horses in the late 1980s, the accurate shape of the chariot and the exquisite decoration are rare in the world. Prior to this, archaeologists also excavated group of wooden chariots, Except that chariots and the figures of imperial officers are wooden, other carriage and ornaments were forged with gold, silver and bronze. Since so exquisite funeral objects are stocked in the outboard of the underground palace, then, it is imaginable how rich funeral objects and elegant objects are there inside the underground palace.

Enigma 6: Is copper or wood used for coffin and outer coffins?

This is not clearly recorded in the "Historical Records" and the "History of Han Dynasty". Sima Qian left behind only this ambiguous record "underneath is copper and the outer coffin is fine". On this basis, some scholars came to the conclusion that Qin Shihuang used copper coffin. It is recorded in the "Historical Records" and the "History of Han Dynasty": "its inside is solidified with melted copper, and its outer part is coated with agricere." "Cloaked in pearl and jade" and "decorated with emerald", the "beauty of the coffin and outer coffin is beyond compare to the original." The coffin and outer coffin mentioned here with "its outer being coated with agricere" and "decorated with emerald" perhaps can only be wooden. If it is copper coffin or stone coffin, there is definitely no need to coat its outer part with agricere., agricere can be used only in wooden coffin.

An investigation into the coffin and outer coffin system instituted during the Qin (221-207 BC) and Western Han (206 BC-24) dynasties shows that at the time only the emperors had the privilege to use large wooden outer coffins. Qin Shihuang who proclaimed to have outperformed Three Emperors and Five Sovereigns (in ancient China) would not give up wooden outer coffin and used other coffin or outer coffin.

Enigma 7: Is there space in the underground palace?

Presently archaeological exploration indicates that the underground palace of Qin Shihuang Mausoleum is in a vertical cave shape. If the wooden outer coffin tomb is of a vertical cave shape, the tomb chamber is compact and solid inside and outside, there won't be any more space. However, Li Si, one of the tomb managers, said, "The chisel can't penetrate, it doesn't burn when fired, it gives a hollow sound when knocked at and it looks shapeless beneath.

If Li's remark is correctly recorded, then the underground palace obviously has an outer shell. Based on Li's remark, it can be inferred that the Shi Huang Mausoleum must be a sealed, vacuum bunker-typed underground palace. Otherwise, how can be that "it gives a hollow sound when knocked at"? and "it doesn't burn when fired"? Because archaeological exploration has not reached the main part of the underground palace, so whether the internal part of the underground palace is void or solid presently is still a puzzle.

Enigma 8: An automatic ejector

Qin Shihuang took great pains in preventing the robbing of grave. According to the "Historical Records", The Underground palace "ordered craftsmen to make bows and arrows with which to shoot any intruders", which refers to a set of hidden automatic ejectors of crossbows installed here. If the record is true, then this refers to the earliest automatic anti-theft device of ancient China. It is a great puzzle why such super automatic ejector was produced in the Qin dynasty over 2200 years ago.

Enigma 9: Is the remains of Qin Shihuang well preserved?

The discovery of a woman "body" in a Mawangdui Han tomb in Changsha City in the mid-1970s shocked the world. Her well-preserved skeleton was rare in the world. Then, can the remains of Qin Shihuang be also well-preserved?

Speaking merely about technology for the protection of remains, the Qin dynasty should also have anti-corrosive technology for protecting remains. The point is that Qin Shihuang died during his inspection tour. It was the hot season. After traveling a long way for over 50 days, his skeleton was transported back to Xianyang, Shaanxi Province in September, it went through two months from his death to his burial. According to modern experience in the protection of corpse, perhaps the remains had changed beyond recognition when it was transported back to Xianyang, it can thus be inferred that the possibility is slim for Qin Shihuang's corpse to be well preserved.

By People's Daily Online


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