Ancient China: 100 Horse Skeletons Discovered in 2,400-Year-Old Burial Pit Next to Tomb of Lord
Archaeologists digging in the Henan Province in China have uncovered a funeral pit containing chariots and as many as 100 horses, likely belonging to a lord from a noble family.
The tomb is being called the No. 3 Horse and Chariot Pit. Along with two others in the immediate vicinity, it’s thought to belong to a member of a noble family from the Zheng State from the Spring and Autumn (770-476 BC) and Warring State (475-221 BC) periods. This pit is the largest of the three to be excavated so far.
“As the main tomb has been looted and no written records have been found yet, it is difficult to identify the tomb owner,” dig leader Ma Juncai, of the provincial cultural heritage and archaeology institute, told Chinese state news agency Xinhua.
The 2,400-year-old pit was found near the city of Xinzheng. The region contains at least 18 pits and more than 3,000 tombs. Ma told Xinhua that the horses and chariots were likely those used daily by the lord and his wife. Meanwhile, director of the Zheng State Horse and Chariot Pit tourist site Li Hongchang told the news agency that traditionally, the horses were killed first; the chariots were then added on top after the horses had been arranged next to the tomb of the owner himself.
While the scale of the tomb’s contents is what makes it impressive, one chariot in particular did stand apart. Xinhua describes it as significantly larger than the others, a little over eight feet long by around five-and-a-half feet wide, lavishly adorned with bronze and bone.
Ma said that the tomb also contained numerous bronze artifacts, which should give new insight into not just the precise social standing of the owner of the tomb, but the technological capabilities of that era. Since February, excavation of the tomb has revealed four chariots and 90 horses already; Ma expects the number of horses to likely exceed 100.
The Zheng State was a vassal state in northern China. It was at the height of its economic power during the Spring and Autumn period, eventually declining through civil war. The later Warring State period saw the end of the Zheng State’s reign with the Qin wars of conquest, and the subsequent arrival of the Qin dynasty in 221 BC.