In A Nutshell
Over 2,000 years ago, Qin Shi Huang was the first emperor to rule a unified China. He was responsible for several vast construction projects built on the blood of his people, including the Great Wall of China. Determined to be remembered, he had a huge necropolis built in his honor, his tomb guarded by thousands of terracotta warrior statues. Legend has it that the tomb is heavily booby-trapped and run through with “100 rivers made with mercury.” Perhaps because of the danger, Qin Shi Huang’s tomb remains unopened to this day.
The Whole Bushel
Qin Shi Huang was the ancient king of the State of Qin and later Emperor of a unified China. History indicates that he was a brutal dictator, turning his people into slave laborers and forcing them to build huge structures like the Great Wall of China. Perhaps even more astounding than the Wall was the immense, palatial tomb he had built in his honor, which was surrounded by thousands of clay soldiers, each painstakingly unique. Despite the elaboration of the mausoleum he’d built for himself, he fought a desperate battle to avoid moving in. Huang was obsessed with immortality and finding an “elixir of life.” Unfortunately, one of the elixirs his alchemists prescribed was mercury. He died in 2010 B.C., aged just 39, likely succumbing to his own homeopathic remedies.
Most of what we know about Huang’s tomb comes from a historian named Sima Quan, who wrote about a century later. His writings claim that hundreds of thousands of workers toiled over the mausoleum, a veritable city of the dead replete with “rare utensils and wonderful objects,” palaces, crossbow booby traps, and 100 rivers of mercury. Strangely enough, Sima Quan never mentioned the vast terracotta army, which was only accidentally discovered in 1974. This may be due to the emperor’s nasty habit of killing off workers in the name of preserving his secrets.
Although its location is public knowledge, the government of China has not yet elected to open Huang’s tomb, likely for several reasons. One is because opening it could potentially destroy invaluable artifacts. There is also significant danger to any archaeologists on hand. In addition to untold traps meant to deter grave robbers, probes that have been sent into the tomb have detected incredibly high levels of mercury. There is no telling what secrets lie inside the grave of China’s first emperor or when we may gaze upon his face.