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Mystery footprints restore warring scene
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Newly discovered footprints of different sizes, apparently left by men, women and children, on an ancient military route, have helped recreate a war scene that occurred at least 2,000 years ago, an archaeologist said Friday.

The footprints, the smallest of which were believed to belong to children around six years old, were found last week along vehicle tracks on China's first interprovincial road, a 700-km dirt road built under the reign of the "First Emperor", said Zhang Zaiming, a researcher with Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archeology, based in the ancient capital Xi'an.

"We also found an arrowhead close to the footprints," he said. "Judging from its location, we assumed whoever left the footprints had been its targets."

Zhang therefore restored a chaotic scene, with men trying to fight back enemies and women running after panic-stricken children. "There was no blacktop road back then, and the footprints they left on the muddy route remained intact even today."

Near the footprints, unearthed in Huashugou Village of Fuxian County on the outskirts of Yan'an City, Zhang and his colleagues also found primitive buildings, which they believed were barracks or military service stations.

The footprints, arrowhead and buildings all dated back roughly to the Qin (221-207 BC) or Western Han (206 BC-24 AD) dynasties, he said. "A coin unearthed in the same pit was engraved with characters indicating it was the currency of the Han Dynasty."

The new findings have set Zhang and his colleagues wondering whether China's dictatorial "First Emperor", Qin Shihuang, had allowed soldiers to take their families to barracks.

Existing historical records, however, indicated armymen were not allowed to take their family to the barracks until at least 800 years later, in the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties.

Zhang and nine colleagues have just finished a two-month hike in the mountainous areas of Fuxian County to search for heritage items that carried history of the First Emperor's military route.

The route, linking Xianyang in today's Xi'an with Baotou City in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, was reportedly built between 212 and 210 BC by 300,000 people. It was originally built for Qin soldiers to march northward in combat with the Huns who lived in today's Inner Mongolia and Mongolia.

The route, which now lies buried under mountain villages and modern highways, was recorded in nearly every history book. Its formal excavation started in Fuxian County in early March. Experts have so far located about 50 meters of the dirt road.

The road was known as "Qin Emperor's direct road", though the emperor himself died on a long journey shortly before it was completed. His remains, however, were sent back to the ancient capital Chang'an along this road.

Qin Shihuang was the first emperor of a united China. His best-known legacy is an underground army of terracotta figures and horses.

(Xinhua News Agency May 22, 2009)

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