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Ancient Site Reveals Stories of Sacrificed Horses

A trip to Zibo might leave you with the similar impression as to a trip to Xi'an, especially when you visit the relics of horses buried for sacrifice.

Zibo, in east China's Shandong Province, is the location of the state of Qi's capital in the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC). During this period, five feudal lords were able to gain control over the other states, with Duke Huan of Qi the head of the five.

The difference between the horse buried for sacrifice in Zibo and the terracotta warriors and horses in Xi'an of Shaanxi Province is that the horses in Zibo were live horses, killed especially for sacrifice.

The site of sacrificed horses was found in the village of Yatou in the 1960s, where many tombs of the Qi's emperors and aristocracies are still visibly seen on the plain.

In the No 5 tomb, 145 sacrificed horses on the northern side of the tomb were unearthed. And in 1972, on the western side of the tomb, 83 more buried horses were found.

According to the investigation by archaeologists, the sacrificed horses were buried on the eastern, western and northern sides of the tomb, and there might be upwards of 600 horses in total, although most of them have not been unearthed now due to consideration of difficult conservation.

The buried horses were young and middle-aged horses aged from 5 to 7.

According to archaeologists' speculation, these horses were fed with a lot of alcohol and fell into unconsciousness. Then they were beaten to death on the head with some heavy tools. It can be seen from the horses' broken skulls now.

The horses were arranged into two lines and laid on one side in the posture of running with their chins up. It seems that they are ready to rush into a war at any time once the battle drums are beaten.

Standing in front of the graves and seeing the line-up of horse skeletons, it is possible to get a sense of the tumultuous atmosphere of the time, with the sounds of battle drums and the screams of soldiers.

The horse, in China's history, was both a tool of agricultural production and a military object.

The number of war chariots was a major index to measure a country's competitiveness.

If a war chariot driven by four horses was considered as one unit, a country with more than 1,000 such units would be regarded as a powerful state at that time.

In the vault, there were buried about 600 strong horses, which could equip 150 battle vehicles, equivalent to the total armament of a small country at that time.

So it can be concluded just from the large number of sacrificed horses that Qi, in the Spring and Autumn Period, was a leading state with strong economic and military power.

As archaeologists discovered, Duke Jing of Qi, the owner of the No 5 tomb, was the 25th emperor of Qi. He held the post for 58 years, the longest term of rule in Qi's history.

Historical records show that Duke Jing had an infatuation with horses. He employed many people to feed and train his beloved horses in his palace.

When a favourite horse died, the horses' raisers would also be killed and buried together with the horses for sacrifice. It was brutal, but it proves the important role of horses at that time.

(China Daily August 24, 2005)

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