China unearths ruined palace near terracotta army

Excavations near Xi'an reveal vast ancient palace complex a quarter of the size of Beijing's Forbidden City

Archaeologists have found the remains of an ancient imperial palace near the tomb of emperor Qin Shi Huang, home of the famous terracotta army, China's state media reported on Sunday.

The palace is the largest complex discovered so far in the emperor's sprawling 22 square-mile (56 square-km) second-century BC mausoleum, which lies on the outskirts of Xi'an, an ancient capital city in central China, an associate researcher at the Shaanxi provincial institute of archaeology told China's official news wire Xinhua.

It is an estimated 690 metres long and 250 metres wide – about a quarter of the size of the Forbidden City in Beijing – and includes 18 courtyard-style houses with one main building at the centre, according to the researcher, Sun Weigang.

Sun called the palace a clear predecessor to the Forbidden City, which was occupied by emperors during the later Ming and Qing dynasties. Both were built on north-south axes in keeping with traditional Chinese cosmology.

Despite wars soon after Qin Shi Huang's death – and more than 2,000 years of exposure – the foundations are well preserved. Archaeologists have found walls, gates, stone roads, pottery sherds and some brickwork, according to Xinhua.

They have been excavating the foundations since 2010. Qin's tomb is guarded by an estimated 6,000 life-sized terracotta warriors, including remarkably well-preserved cavalrymen, chariots and horses, each one unique. They were first discovered in 1974 by workers digging a well. About 2,000 have been excavated; 110 of them were unearthed this summer.

The United Nations educational, scientific and cultural organisation (Unesco) declared the army a world heritage site in 1987.

Qin began designing the palace for his afterlife shortly after he became king of the Qin state, aged 13. The complex took 700,000 workers about 40 years to build and was completed two years after his death.

According to writings by the Han dynasty scholar Sima Qian, Qin Shi Huang's tomb is 120 metres high, sealed off by a vermilion stone wall, surrounded by rivers of mercury and protected by booby traps. It has not been excavated for fear of damaging the potentially priceless artefacts inside.

Chinese historians portray Qin as a great unifier, who conquered six states and established an expansive feudal kingdom with a united currency and writing system. He is also known as a ruthless leader who burned books, buried opponents alive and castrated prisoners of war.


Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
China's mighty terracotta army gains 100 soldiers
New terracotta troops unearthed, bringing total number of clay warriors found at Xi'an mausoleum to more than 8,000

Tania Branigan in Beijing

11, Jun, 2012 @4:57 PM

Article image
Ancient Greeks 'may have inspired China's Terracotta Army'
Archaeologists say design of clay warriors suggests close contact between east and west 1,500 years before Marco Polo

Maev Kennedy

12, Oct, 2016 @6:19 PM

Article image
Terracotta warriors unveiled in China – video

Archaeologists unveil 120 new terracotta warriors at the Qin Shihuang Unesco World Heritage site in Shaanxi province

09, Jun, 2012 @4:38 PM

Article image
China teams up with Hollywood for terracotta army superhero movie

Paramount among studios trying to cash in on Chinese box office boom with film transplanting ancient clay soldiers to modern world, writes Ben Child

Ben Child

21, Jan, 2014 @1:12 PM

Article image
China's tomb raiders laying waste to thousands of years of history

Bulldozers and dynamite used to strip priceless artefacts from remote sites, with booty sold on to wealthy collectors

Tania Branigan in Beijing

01, Jan, 2012 @3:05 PM

Article image
Mes Aynak highlights Afghanistan's dilemma over protecting heritage

Quest for copper riches in Mes Aynak develops as battle between culture and commerce

Emma Graham-Harrison in Mes Aynak

23, May, 2013 @4:13 PM

Article image
Chinese archaeologists' African quest for sunken ship of Ming admiral

Search for remains of armada which came to grief on a pioneering voyage to Kenya 600 years ago

Xan Rice in Nairobi

25, Jul, 2010 @3:14 PM

Chinese archaeologists 'discover' tomb of notorious pantomime villain Cao Cao

Henan dig 'yields bones' of warlord, but sceptics say more tests needed

Jonathan Watts in Beijing

27, Dec, 2009 @6:58 PM

Article image
Mining threatens Afghanistan's Buddhist treasures
Aynak, one of country's richest historical sites, faces destruction as Chinese create world's largest opencast copper mine

Jon Boone in Aynak

15, Nov, 2010 @1:08 PM

Article image
Fossilised skull may end row over origin of 1.3bn Chinese
· Archaeologists hail biggest find since Peking Man
· Discovery came as team were about to leave site

Jonathan Watts in Beijing

24, Jan, 2008 @8:51 AM