Experts: terra cotta army was looted and burned

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Terracotta warriors are unearthed in the excavation pit at the mausoleum of China's First Qin Emperor on Saturday, June 9, 2012 in Shaanxi province. Archaeologists said they found the warriors were once deliberately set afire in ancient times. [Photo/CFP]


Chinese archaeologists say they have proved that the famous Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) terra cotta army in Xi'an was robbed of its weapons and figures broken and burned.

Xiang Yu, a military leader who overthrew the dynasty, is the prime suspect for the arson and looting, officials from the Museum of the Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses of Qin Shi Huang said yesterday.

"We have found large quantities of red clay and charcoal along with holes for robbing in the major pit of terra cotta warriors," said Shen Maosheng, leader of the archeological team on the No.1 pit.

"These are evidence of arson and looting."

Archaeologists were publicizing the results of the third excavation since 2009 on the pits where thousands of life-sized terra cotta warriors and horses have been uncovered from three pits.

The figures were discovered in 1974 by farmers in Lintong District, Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, near the mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang (259-210 BC), the First Emperor who united warring China.

More than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses have been unearthed from the pits covering a total of 14,000 square meters.

The majority of the site is still buried, the museum said.

Caused by burning

Experts reassembling figures discovered some parts were their original blue color, while others were a red color, caused by burning.

This means the figures were firstly broken into pieces and then some parts set on fire, said Shen.

Most original weapons the figures held, such as spears, swords and crossbows, had disappeared, said Cao Wei, deputy curator of the museum.

"Rebel leader Xiang was the person with the power, time and motive to destroy the terra cotta warriors," Shen said.

Xiang hated the First Emperor, so had a motive to destroy the spiritual protectors of his tomb, said Shen.

He also needed weapons in order to fight the army of Qin Dynasty, as they had banned all weapons throughout the country.

The large holes into the pits gave another clue, said Shen.

They could only have been dug by a large group of people - such as Xiang's army, he said.

Footage on the China Central Television yesterday showed archaeologists painstakingly removing soil from figures being unearthed.

Most of the terra cotta figures were broken into pieces that archaeologists have to reassemble.

Experts had long speculated the pits had been destroyed by human intervention, but had never found evidence before.

Dubbed "one of the eight wonders in the world," and the "most splendid archaeological find" of the 20th century, the terra cotta figures are life-sized and vary in height, uniform and hairstyle in accordance with rank.

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