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For anyone who can read Chinese (simplified), or who wants to practice their Chinese, HERE is an interesting article from www.popyard.org, a popular Chinese news website that discusses whether or not the Tomb of Qinshihuang should be excavated.

The famous mausoleum of Qinshihuang, the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty (221 B.C. – 206 B.C.), has reentered the news recently because of the 3rd excavation on the terracotta warriors pits that commenced earlier this month.

The mausoleum of the famed emperor himself has not yet been excavated, however, due to several competing arguments for and against it. First off, as the popyard opinion piece fervently opens with, “excavating the tomb of an ancient emperor for the sake of boosting curiosity and tourism is (should be) absolutely forbidden;” many Chinese feel that excavating this tomb would be akin to sacrilege, and that the tombs of the ancients, especially an ancient as well-known, respected, and somewhat feared as Qinshihuang should be left in peace and admired from afar. Second, even those who advocate for excavating the tomb are hesitant because they fear the corrosive effects of exposing whatever treasures the tomb may have to offer to the air, which has already been demonstrated on the paint once covering the terracotta warriors.

In addition, there are many myths and stories surrounding what may be contained inside that enormous mound that makes up the tomb, including poisoned arrows, rivers of mercury, and a plethora of guardian spirits. All of these stem from the well-known idea that Qinshihuang, during his lifetime, was obsessed with immortality, and took endless pains to ensure that his body and spirit would be preserved long after his death. If the grandiosity of the terracotta warrior pits so far found are any indication of how seriously Qinshihuang might have been about wanting his mortal remains to be protected, the sheer size of his mausoleum has been an effective deterrant for even the most curious Chinese scholar.

On a more practical level, the amount of tourism that the site has garnered in the last several decades has required the Chinese to ensure its protection. As a result this tomb is one of rare exceptions in China that has NOT been looted to within an inch of its life.

The question now is, what benefit would excavating the tomb bring not only to China, but also to the international community? Is the mausoleum better off untouched? Given all of the arguments against excavating it, dangers contained within, issues of conservation and preservation, and the dangers from without (looting), it is hard to imagine that any information about Qinshihuang and his time period that the tomb could tell us would be worth losing such a treasure. Even hard-nosed archaeologists and people who are pro-information gathering, sometimes have a difficult time speaking up against the tide that upholds the importance of keeping THIS tomb intact.

What are your thoughts on the matter?

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A June 10th news post on Xinhua.net has announced that a third excavation shall begin this weekend at the world-famous Qin Terra Cotta Warriors site near the ancient capital of Xian in Shaanxi Province, China. The site is a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site, which means that it fulfills UNESCO’s criteria for being a shining example of “human creative genius.”

Location of the ancient city of Xian, Shaanxi Province, China. (Map courtesy of airexpresstravel.net)

Location of the ancient city of Xian, Shaanxi Province, China. (Map courtesy of airexpresstravel.net)

Image inside Pit No. 1

Image inside Pit No. 1

The first day of excavation began on June 13th, and is intended to uncover and preserve approximately 2,152 square feet (~2000 square meters) of Pit No. 1, the largest of three pits containing the famed life-size terracotta warriors over the course of 5 years. This year, China’s State Administration of Cultural Relics has approved the opening of approximately 200 square meters of the site.

Pit No. 1 in the center

Pit No. 1 in the center of the image

According to CBS news, “special care will be taken to preserve the figures’ painted details, which have faded almost entirely in those already taken from the earth and exposed to air.”

The first day of excavation, on June 13th, 2009, began at 1:00 pm and lasted for approximately 5 hours. During this time, Chinese archaeologists uncovered 2 four-horse chariots.

One of the main problems with excavating these pottery sculptures is that preservation of their pigmentation has been notoriously difficult. when the warriors were first discovered in 1974, they were supposedly richly colored, though exposure to the air has caused much of this original painting to corrode. According to Xinhua news, preservation has been taken into consideration much more carefully this time around, and is currently “better than thought.”

Poor conservation methods has also been one of the reasons why the rest of the terracotta warriors were not excavated earlier in time. In addition, the bulk of Qin Shihuang‘s actual tomb and burial chamber remains untouched, and it is unsure when or how archaeologists in China plan to excavate it.

Exterior image of the mound that is Qin Shihuang's unexcavated mausoleum

Exterior image of the mound that is Qin Shihuang's unexcavated mausoleum

Qin Shihuang’s tomb site is one of the most important archaeological and cultural heritage sites in China (and in the world), and it is certainly one of the most frequented and well-known. This new excavation is sure to bring in quite a large amount of new tourists, and probably boost the popularity of this site in the coming years.

Hopefully the plans for preserving the color on these newly excavated warriors will be successful.

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