Largest-Ever Relic Pit Unearthed in Henan

The latest discovery of the largest-ever chariot pit relic featuring inscribed carts and horse bones in Central China's Henan Province may lead to the unearthing of far-flung chariot pit groups that could be key to understanding Chinese civilizations that existed more than 2,000 years ago.

Chinese archaeologists said on Tuesday that the relics near the city of Xinzheng, a major archaeologist research base in China, are dated more than 300 years earlier than the renowned terracotta warriors in Northwest China's Shaanxi Province.

What thrilled the archaeologists were two other concurrent excavation projects in the vicinity that also located two huge pits with similar features. Five smaller pits were also discovered.

"It is absolutely a bombshell in the archaeology arena. These relics have indicated that there could be a sprawling tomb group in this area, and if all of them are exhumed, it will be a landmark for China's archaeologic studies," said Ma Juncai, a leading relic researcher in the province.

Experts have claimed that the pit groups hold sacrifices that accompanied the tombs of more than 20 kings of the Zheng period, one of the warring states China was divided into during the Eastern Zhou period (770-256 BC).

In ancient China, carts, sheep, iron sculptures and spoons were ritually buried with deceased sovereigns to ensure their happy afterlife. The number and quality of the sacrifices indicated the social status of the dead.

The custom was carried into the ensuing Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC). Emperor Qinshihuang's tomb, located near Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi Province and accompanied by thousands of wood or clay figures of warriors and horses, is probably the most well known.

The newly-discovered pit measures 10.4 meters long, 8.4 meters wide and 5 meters deep. It holds 20 carts of varying sizes, with the smallest one being 1.05 meters long and 1.3 meters wide.

Experts estimate that 40 horses are likely to be found as well.

Archaeologists are busy working on the excavation and Si Zhiping, a Henan official in charge of relics administration, said careful plans need to be crafted to deal with the demanding excavation.

"The clay is very delicate and a small misstep can spoil the whole project. That's why we need to take every step very carefully to protect these marvelous cultural relics," Ma said.

Xinzheng is famous for the large number of cultural relics found there. Since the discovery of a high-ranking official's tomb in 1923, the city has witnessed discoveries of ancient weapons, money and artifacts that are instrumental to understanding ancient Chinese civilizations.

(People's Daily 09/13/2001)

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