03 Jan 2013

Chinese Archaeologists Reported Frightened to Enter First Emperor’s Hidden Tomb

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Shi Huang, China’s first emperor, is protected in the afterlife by an army of teracotta warriors.

Here’s an interesting item from Gizmodo, essentially translated from the Spanish-language paper El Pais:

(some typos corrected

After discovering a secret palace hidden in China’s first emperor massive burial complex, Chinese technicians are nervous. Not because Qin Shi Huang’s tomb is the most important archeological discovery since Tutankhamun, but because they believe his burial place is full of deadly traps that will kill any trespassers. Not to talk about deadly quantities of mercury. …

Talking to Spanish newspaper El Pais, the archeologists working at the excavation said that “it’s like having a present all wrapped at home, knowing that inside is what you always wanted, and not being able to open it.” But, at the same time, nobody wants to be the first to get inside because of the mausoleum’s dangerous traps—they’re detailed in the same texts that recount its abundant riches.

It’s not clear if the traps are really there, even while many texts describe them. …

[L]et’s assume that the Chinese … really installed booby traps that triggered deadly crossbows in the emperor’s tomb. Even if the old Chinese texts are correct, they might not still work after two thousand years. Perhaps the mechanisms are so rusty that the bolts won’t fire. Maybe the wood and the cords used the in the traps have long since been destroyed by bacteria.

Chinese historian Guo Zhikun argues the contrary. He is one of the main experts on Qinshihuang’s burial site, and says that it’s very possible that the traps are still active. He claims that the use of chrome in the figures may indicate that the traps received a similar protective treatment. He is sure that “the artisans who built the traps installed crossbows that will fire if any thief tries to get inside.”

Even if the traps don’t work, there is still the matter of the high, deadly concentration of mercury inside the tomb. On-site measurements indicate dangerous levels, which may come from another feature described in the scrolls: Imperial engineers created large rivers of quicksilver inside the tomb. So much that the level of mercury inside could be deadly for any unprotected adventurers.

The Chinese government hasn’t decided what to do with the hidden complex yet. The authorities will wait for some time because they believe that, with the current technology, you can’t get inside the tomb without destroying some of its contents.

If the Chinese archaeologists are indeed afraid of two-thousand-years-in-the-ground working crossbows and alleged “rivers of mercury,” I’ll be glad to enter the hidden palace first and take a look around for them. All they have to do is cover my expenses.

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