Mystery of Tomb of the Qin Shi Huang, China

by | History |

Mystery of Tomb of the Qin Shi Huang, China

Photograph by Stor24

There are some places in this world that are ancient, mysterious, and forbidden closed off from the world for centuries that we have yet to see. Many of that relates to ancient tombs, sealed and buried since time unremembered.

One of the largest tombs ever crafted by humankind lies in China, an ancient subterranean city possessing a vast unopened underground mausoleum which could hold enormous riches, incredible artifacts, deadly traps, and perhaps even a curse.


The underground terracotta army found in Qin Shi Huang, the First Emperor’s burial complex is undoubtedly one of the most remarkable and mysterious discoveries from the ancient world.

When the burial complex was first discovered by farmers in 1974, archaeologists set to work on one of the most astonishing ancient sites on record. The excavation uncovered a sprawling citadel with thousands of warriors, each designed with a unique face and clothing (although the bodies and limbs were mass-produced from molds).

most mysterious tombs in Chinese history begins way back in 260 BC when China was a place torn by civil war raged for centuries between no fewer than six different major feudal kingdoms, all of whom sought to be the one true ruler of the land. Rising up amongst these warring factions was the powerful state of Qin, which was briefly under control of a King Zhuangxiang, who died after 3 years on the throne to leave his kingdom to his first son, Ying Zheng.

Emperor Qin Shi Huang's past is still surrounded by a number of unsolved mysteries and controversies. His birth and death remain a great puzzle until this day.

According to the Historical Book, the natural father of the first emperor was Lu Buwei, not King Zhuangxiang of Qin. The explanation for this is that by the time Zhao Ji, the concubine of Lu Buwei, was sent as a gift to Zi Chu (later King Zhuangxiang of Qin), she was already pregnant by Lu. After one year's marriage to King Zhuangxiang of Qin, she gave birth to Qin Shi Huang. However, some scholars point out that the duration of the pregnancy lasting a full year was irregular based on modern medicine. To say the emperor was an illegitimate child is obviously a slander to him.

Ying Zheng became king of the Qin state in 246 BCE, upon the death of his supposed father. He ruled as Qin Shi Huang and unified China for the first time. The young king was only 13 years old when he took the throne.


It is a fact that Qin Shi Huang was the only emperor in Chinese history that did not have an empress. Is it because he had too many concubines than he could choose? Or his mother's bad behavior made his hatred of women? Or there was no woman qualified enough to be his empress? There were dozens of guesses.

Tomb of the Qin Shi Huang

Photograph by Fedor Selivanov

Qin Shi Huang (or Shi Huangdi) was the First Emperor of a unified China, who ruled from 246 BCE to 210 BCE. In his 35-year reign, he managed to create magnificent and enormous construction projects. He also caused both incredible cultural and intellectual growth and much destruction within China.


Qin Shi Huang true appearance remains a subject of debate. Was Qin Shi Huang a handsome or disfigured man? According to some sources he was tall and handsome while others hold that he was short and disfigured. The description of his features can be found in the Book of History.


The death of Qin Shi Huang is also a mystery. His sudden death gave people a lot of space to imagine. Some say he died of poisoning from the elixirs. Some believe that he died from overwork. And in other's view, he died of murder. Who is correct? There is no final conclusion.


As he entered middle age, the First Emperor grew more and more afraid of death. He became obsessed with finding the elixir of life, which would allow him to live forever.


The court doctors and alchemists concocted a number of options, many of them containing "quicksilver" (mercury), which probably had the ironic effect of hastening the emperor's death rather than preventing it.


Just in case the elixirs did not work, in 215 BCE the Emperor also ordered the construction of a gargantuan tomb for himself. Plans for the tomb included flowing rivers of mercury, crossbow booby traps to thwart would-be plunderers, and replicas of the Emperor's earthly palaces.

Tomb of the Qin Shi Huang

Photograph by Fedor Selivanov

To guard Qin Shi Huang in the afterworld, and perhaps allow him to conquer heaven as he had the earth, the emperor had a terracotta army of at least 8,000 clay soldiers placed in the tomb. The army also included terracotta horses, along with real chariots and weapons.


Most well-known and perhaps the most impressive of all was a full army of over 8000 life-sized terracotta warriors, with every single one painstakingly carved with incredibly intricate detail. Such is the detail that each warrior even has a different face, leading to speculation that each and every one of them may have been based on a real person. In addition to all of this, the entire complex consisted of an inner and outer city divided by walls, held at least 18 courtyard houses and a palace, and the whole thing in total measured a staggering 38 square miles (98 square kilometers) in the area. All of this was reportedly loaded with treasure and set up with sophisticated traps designed to swiftly kill any trespassers, although what these entail remains a mystery.


Many other experts hold a different view. They believe only the emperor's skeleton remains in the mausoleum, even though the underground palace was not ransacked, because it was not easy to preserve the dead body in hot summer. According to the Historical Book, the body had already begun to putrefy after being transported a short distance. To disguise the bad smell to avoid the news of the emperor's sudden death to be known (as this would cause a great disorder under heaven), Zhao Gao and Hu Hai had servants place baskets of abalone. After about 50 days traveling on a bumpy road, the body of the first emperor was probably not intact. Therefore, if the mausoleum was opened today, we would only find the bones of the emperor and his real appearance is forever a mystery.


In 2012, one of the most striking and exciting discoveries was made when a massive Imperial Palace measuring 249 feet high (76-meters) and covering an area of 6,003,490 cubic feet (170,000 cubic meters) was discovered around 20-50 meters below the surface, holding an earthen pyramid at its center believed to be the tomb containing the actual bodies of the emperor and his concubines.

Tomb of the Qin Shi Huang

Photograph by Vatchara Ruttikul

There are many reasons that no one has tried to penetrate into this massive palace tomb. More mysterious is that we have no idea what sorts of dangers lie in wait down there in the dark. Meaning that to open the complex could put many at risk of poisoning and also cause serious environmental pollution. There could also be potentially deadly bacteria living down there, and of course, there are the traps. It is known that the burial palace was armed with intricate traps the nature of which we don’t have a clue.

That tomb is seen as potentially holding incredible historical artifacts, vast treasures, and priceless cultural relics, to the point that many archeologists are fully prepared to risk the hurdles and potential dangers involved with getting to it. It could be the most important archeological find of the 20th century, or it may contain nothing but a looted chamber filled with skeletons and centuries of dust.

Does it hold danger and death, traps, poison, and ancient curses? No one actually knows until it is finally opened.