Rivers of mercury and deadly traps: why the tomb of the first emperor of China has not yet been opened

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Rivers of mercury and death traps: why the tomb of the first emperor of China has not yet been discovered

In 1974, in the Chinese province of Shaanxi, farmers stumbled upon one of the most important archaeological finds of all times and peoples: they found fragments of a human figure made of clay. Archaeological excavations have shown that the field is located above a series of pits filled with thousands of life-size terracotta models of soldiers and war horses, not to mention acrobats, respected officials and various animals.

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Scientists believe that the mission of this terracotta army was to protect the nearby mausoleum of Qin Shi Huangdi, who ruled from 221 to 210 BC. e. While most of the necropolis around the mausoleum has already been explored, the emperor's tomb itself has never been opened, despite the huge amount of intrigue surrounding it, according to IFLScience.

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The main reason for this hesitation is that archaeologists are concerned about how excavations can damage the tomb, losing important historical information. Access to the tomb is possible only through invasive archaeological methods, which is associated with a high risk of causing irreparable harm.

One of the most striking examples of this is the excavations of the city of Troy in the 1870s by Heinrich Schliemann. Because of his haste and naivety, he destroyed almost all traces of the very city he set out to find.

Rivers of mercury and death traps: why the tomb of the first emperor has not yet been discovered China

Rivers of mercury and death traps: why the tomb of China's first emperor has not yet been discovered

Scientists have come up with the idea of ​​using some non-invasive methods to look inside the tomb. One idea is to use muons, the subatomic products of cosmic rays colliding with atoms in the Earth's atmosphere, which can penetrate structures like modern X-rays. However, the implementation of such methods is still far away.

The opening of the tomb can also bring mortal danger to the first explorers. In a story written by ancient Chinese historian Sima Qian about 100 years after Qin Shi Huangdi's death, he explains that the tomb is equipped with traps designed to kill any intruder.

“Palaces and picturesque towers were built for a hundred officials, and the tomb was filled with rare artifacts and wonderful treasures. Craftsmen were ordered to make crossbows and arrows designed to kill anyone who entered the tomb. Mercury was used to imitate a hundred rivers, as well as a large sea, and it is tuned to a mechanical flow,” the historian's notes say.

Even if a 2000-year-old weapon is out of order, the flow of liquid mercury poses a serious danger not only to researchers, but also to the environment. It may sound like an empty threat, but scientific research has examined the concentration of mercury around the tomb and found significantly higher levels than would be expected in a typical piece of land.

structure over time, and our study confirms the ancient chronicle records of a tomb believed to have never been opened or looted,” concludes one 2020 article.

Qin Shi Huangdi’s tomb remains sealed and unexplored, but not forgotten. However, when the time comes, it is quite possible that scientific progress will finally be able to delve into the secrets that have lain unshakably here for about 2200 years.