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The Xianyang International Airport construction site where some of the thousands of new Xian tombs were recently discovered.          Source: Cultural Heritage Bureau of Shaanxi

Thousands Of Tombs Found in Xian, Home of China’s Terracotta Army

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The legendary Terracotta Army is a collection of 3rd century BC clay sculptured warriors that were designed to protect Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, on his journey to the afterlife. This world-famous archaeological site in Xian dates back to approximately the third century BC. Recently, thousands of new Xian tombs and artifacts have been discovered in the area during a major series of construction projects.

Thousands of New Xian Tombs Will Yield New Insights

Located on the Guanzhong Plain in Northwest China, Xian is one of the oldest cities in China and is the capital of modern Shaanxi Province. As one of China’s four great ancient capitals, Xian is the starting point of the Silk Road , which connected the city to Europe. It was in Xian, in the 1970s, that archaeologists unearthed the legendary Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang .

China’s famous Terracotta Army of warriors were found in the 1970s, and the thousands of recently discovered Xian tombs are not far from the army location. ( Guido Amrein / Adobe Stock)

Now, according to a report in the South China Morning Post , “thousands of archaeological items have been discovered at two construction sites in the Chinese city of Xian,” including over 3000 tombs.

According to a press release by the Cultural Heritage Bureau of Shaanxi the new findings were made at a 76-hectare (188-acre) site which is now being excavated for new metro lines, including an airport extension that requires 50 miles (80 km) of new subway line.

The excavation site at Xianyang International airport. (Cultural Heritage Bureau of Shaanxi)

The excavation site at Xianyang International airport. ( Cultural Heritage Bureau of Shaanxi )

An article in Sputnik News says the construction workers’ discoveries were deemed so important that teams of archaeologists had to “skip their holidays and work overtime” to salvage as many artifacts as possible before the whole area is ripped apart for the new underground transportation lines.

The latest Xian tombs have been excavated before the city’s newest subway lines extend through the site from Xian Station pictured here. (David Castor / Public domain)

The latest Xian tombs have been excavated before the city’s newest subway lines extend through the site from Xian Station pictured here. (David Castor / Public domain )

The New Xian Tombs Lie In The Middle Of A Construction Site

The city of Xian was home to 13 royal dynasties and remained the capital of ancient China for 1,100 years. Late in 2001 Chinese scientists announced they had found the tomb of Li Chi, a princess from the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 AD) and only one year later the same team of researchers unearthed the tomb of Zhang Tang, a top judicial official of the Han dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD).

Now, the Bureau say more than “4,600 items of archaeological significance have been identified by workers, including 3,500 tombs.”

The vast number of artifacts being recovered, and the sheer scale of the site is being described as “a huge workload.” Further exemplifying the size of the operation, the Bureau added in their press release that “the archaeological excavation is enormous.”

The planned subway is to run through a district densely populated with Xian tombs dating back to the Sui and Tang dynasties (581- 907 AD). The Bureau said that before any construction project starts, or before the government sells a certain parcel of land in Xian, an archaeological survey will be carried out. However, Wang Zili, deputy director of the ICOMOS International Conservation Center-Xi’an , said “This is rare in China.”

The ancient Chinese couple’s tomb dating back to the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) which was found in the Tangjiawan cemetery in Nanfentang Village, Hunan Province. (Lui Jing / Xinhua)

The ancient Chinese couple’s tomb dating back to the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) which was found in the Tangjiawan cemetery in Nanfentang Village, Hunan Province. (Lui Jing / Xinhua)

Pros and Cons of Construction Projects

The upside of construction projects is they often uncover lost treasures. The downside is that archaeology doesn’t always trump progress. Recently, in May 2020 I wrote an Ancient Origins news article when a 1000-year-old Chinese couple were removed from their brick-walled graves in an ancient cemetery “to make way for a motorway.”

Archaeologists from the Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology of Hunan Province were called out to this discovery at the ancient Tangjiawan cemetery, which is becoming part of the new Ningxiang-Shaoshan motorway.

Thought to have been interred during the Northern Song Dynasty (960 to 1127 AD), the ancient Chinese couple were found lying on a tiled floor in a brick-lined grave with their heads upon a tile pillow. According to a report in the Daily Mail , the lead archaeologist at the site, Professor Yang Ningbo, said this was “a rare find” in ancient Chinese burials. According to the Daily Mail report, archaeologists in China first found these two bodies in 2007, and they were left alone because “they were of such rarity and cultural value to China.”

However, last summer archaeologists were “instructed,” rather than “asked,” to excavate the two skeletons prior to the construction of a motorway, which ploughs right through the ancient burial ground. And, with little time available, these buried lovers were “removed” from their tomb. At least in England they’re building a tunnel!

Top image: The Xianyang International Airport construction site where some of the thousands of new Xian tombs were recently discovered.          Source: Cultural Heritage Bureau of Shaanxi

By Ashley Cowie

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