Category Archive 'Shi Huang'

29 Jul 2019

Chinese Emperor’s Terracotta Army Based on Hellenistic Art

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The Independent reports on a surprising breakthrough in our understanding of Qin Dynasty China.

Ancient Greeks artists could have travelled to China 1,500 years before Marco Polo’s historic trip to the east and helped design the famous Terracotta Army, according to new research.

The startling claim is based on two key pieces of evidence: European DNA discovered at sites in China’s Xinjiang province from the time of the First Emperor in the Third Century BC and the sudden appearance of life-sized statues.

Before this time, depictions of humans in China are thought to have been figurines of up to about 20cm.

But 8,000 extraordinarily life-like terracotta figures were found buried close to the massive tomb of China’s First Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, who unified the country in 221BC.

The theory – outlined in a documentary, The Greatest Tomb on Earth: Secrets of Ancient China, to be shown on BBC Two on Sunday – is that Shi Huang and Chinese artists may have been influenced by the arrival of Greek statues in central Asia in the century following Alexander the Great, who led an army into India.

But the researchers also speculated that Greek artists could have been present when the soldiers of the Terracotta Army were made.

One of the team, Professor Lukas Nickel, chair of Asian art history at Vienna University, said: “I imagine that a Greek sculptor may have been at the site to train the locals.”

Other evidence of connections to Greece came from a number of exquisite bronze figurines of birds excavated from the tomb site. These were made with a lost wax technique known in Ancient Greece and Egypt.

There was a breakthrough in sculpture particularly in ancient Athens at about the time when the city became a democracy in the 5th century BC.

Previously, human figures have been stiff and stylised representations, but the figures carved on the Parthenon temple were so life-like it appeared the artists had turned stone into flesh.

Their work has rarely been bettered – the techniques used were largely forgotten until they were revived in the Renaissance when artists carved statues in the Ancient Greek style, most notably Michelangelo’s David.

Dr Li Xiuzhen, senior archaeologist at the tomb’s museum, agreed that it appeared Ancient Greece had influenced events in China more than 7,000km.

“We now have evidence that close contact existed between the First Emperor’s China and the West before the formal opening of the Silk Road,” the expert said.

“This is far earlier than we formerly thought.


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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