Buried deeply under a hill of central China, surrounded by an underground ditch filled up with poisonous mercury, there was the first Chinese Emperor, resting undisturbed from the last 2 thousands years. The mausoleum contains the remains and secrets of the Emperor Qin Shi Huang, died on the 10th of September 210 BC after conquering 6 countries in the war, making possible to unify the Chinese territory for the first time in history.
Below: picture shared via Wikipedia – licence CC BY-SA 1.0
The Emperor is famous not only for his historical figure (in the American film “Hero” he was the positive antagonist of the main character Jet Li) but also for his immense Terracotta Army randomly discovered in 1974 by a Chinese farmer. The Emperor tomb though has still not been explored, kept locked under the hill that has been built on top of it. Even though the current technologies would allow the study of such a place, the Chinese government has never permitted the excavations to start, boosting the curiosity of enthusiasts and archeologists all over the globe.
The archeologist Kristin Romey, curator of some exhibitions about the Terracotta Army, stated:
“No one has ever been on that hill, partially in respect for the dead but also because today no one still has a technology advanced enough to enter it and to not cause damage”.
Below: picture shared via Wikipedia – licence CC BY-SA 3.0
The countries in the war
Qin Shi Huang was born in 259 BC, first son of the King of Qin, one of the 6 independent kingdoms inside China. These kingdoms were fighting one another for 200 years but through military force, tactics and natural catastrophes, Qin Shi Huang managed to conquer them all, proclaiming himself as the King as well as Emperor, the first one of China as we know it today. The historians are still not sure about the motivations for which these circumstances were possible, and perhaps they never will be able to fully answer that question.
Some of those questions about his ascent though could find answers by studying the inside of the Emperor’s tomb itself
When he died, Qin Shi Huang was buried in the most opulent tomb complexes ever to be built in the East, a life-size city of underground caves containing any sort of good that the Emperor believed he needed once on the other side. Amongst those, the most popular part is certainly the Terracotta Army, reproduction of the army which allowed the man to conquer all the parts of China. To this day they have brought to light 8,000 statues, 18 wooden wagons and 100 terracotta horses.
The mystery of the tomb
Despite it is known almost everything about the tomb complex of the Emperor, the central building which contains the body of Qin Shi Huang is still entirely shut. Miss Romey affirmed:
“It is extremely smart what the Chinese government is doing. When they directed the excavations for the tomb of Tutankhamun many of the artifacts went irremediably damaged. If it was opened today the information we could have extracted would be many more and way deeper. At the same time, even if today we believe to have excellent excavation techniques, maybe in a century time they will be far more advanced and then, they will be able to preserve more informations of that which is without doubt the most important archeological site in all the Chinese country.”
When will that happen?
The decision to explore the tomb depends on the Chinese Government and it will be affected by the rhythm of the technological progress. “When it comes to archeological excavations, every year that goes is enriched by important developments. When the first terracotta soldiers were exhumed, in mid 70’s, when the statues got exposed to the sunlight the dye with which the statue was made with evaporated, while today we are able to preserve it”.
River of mercury and a starring sky
An ancient text affirms that the Emperor commissioned an entire underground Reign, with the ceiling trying to imitate the nocturnal sky with pearls representing the stars. Besides the Army, many terracotta concubines were supposed to be found too, even though no one has been found yet. However the experts are assured that they exist inside the tomb complex.
Below: picture shared via Wikipedia – licence Creative Commons
It is also thought that the tomb of Qin Shi Huang was surrounded by liquid mercury, back them believed to give immortality. In this detail there is a comical yet dramatic aspect: the Emperor Qin probably died exactly from mercury poisoning at the age of 49, that he would repeatedly ingest trying to reach the immortality.
The mercury ditch is another deterrent for the excavation as it could be potentially harmful. In the area of the hill there have been registered levels of mercury 8 times above the ones from the nearby zones. Opening the tomb might mean unleashing an actual Pandora’s box, with uncertain consequences.
Below: picture by Bill Tyne shared via Wikipedia – licence CC BY-SA 3.0
The secrets of the first Emperor of China are still far from being revealed. Probably for a very long time, still.