Chinese archaeologists have unearthed some 30 beheaded skeletons dating back more than 2,000 years in central China's Henan Province, a cradle of the Chinese civilization.
The skeletons were obviously warriors, the tallest of whom was at least 1.85 meters, said Sun Xinmin, head of the Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Heritage and Archeology.
The human remains were found scattered in a pit in the city of Xinzheng, adjacent to a major battlefield where State Qin overthrew State Han toward the end of the Warring States Period (475 to 221 BC), said Sun.
He and his peers are working hard to collect and preserve the findings as an expressway linking the provincial capital Zhengzhou will soon start to be built there.
Sun said the skeletons must have belonged to soldiers of State Han and their heads were likely taken by the Qin warriors who intended to receive a promotion based on the number of enemy troops they killed.
Some of the skeletons still disclose evidence of being slashed by by broadswords and many were burned, he said.
State Qin later united all the other smaller states then and established China's first feudal dynasty, which lasted from 221 to 207 B.C..
Three of the skeletons were found crouching on the top of one another and Sun suspected they had been buried alive before they were beheaded.
He said this is the first such finding in China and and is a graphic reminder of the cruelty of war as it was fought approximately 2,000 years ago.
The copper coins spotted close to the skeletons also indicate that the massacre occurred sometime before 221 BC.
"I'd say it was in 230 B.C., the year Yingzheng, the founding emperor of imperial Qin Dynasty, conquered State Han," said Hao Benxing, a researcher with the institute.
Yingzheng was known as the first man to unite the whole of China but he is also known as a bloodthirsty and mercilessness ruler who ordered the massacre of countless soldiers and civilians.
His kingdom, as well as the Qin Dynasty, had a promotion system that inspired killing enemy soldiers, said Zhu Shaohou, a noted professor from elite Henan University and specialist on the Chinese history.
"I've been studying the ancient promotion system for half a century but the beheaded skeletons were the first evidence ever found to prove it," he acknowledged in an exclusive interview with Xinhua.
"State Han was the first small kingdom conquered by State Qin and the skeletons were buried some 30 km from State Han's capital. So we have every reason to believe that the dead warriors were battling for State Han and were beheaded by their foes," he added.
As the war increasingly escalated and became more ruthless, Zhu said that soldiers from State Qin had to annihilate three to five people in order to get a promotion. "They were compelled to kill, as it is said clearly in historical records that anyone who hesitate and cowered during a battle or showed mercy to their enemies would loss their lives themselves. The worst transgressions could lead to a soldier's entire family being vanished."
Such a merciless rule later hindered Qin's development until his famed prime minister Lu Buwei reformed the promotion system and began to persuade defeated enemy soldiers to surrender and follow Qin, he said.