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The mystery that will be examined in this paper is the sheer size and complexity of the Tomb of Shi Huangdi (China’s first emperor). The tomb complex is an array of mercury-filled moats, massive walls, corridors as well as an army of terracotta warriors, which current estimates place at 8,000 or more. When examining the buried war materials (spears, carriages, terracotta horses, etc.) along with the massive size of the complex, the most obvious question that comes to mind is, “why would someone build such an elaborate tomb that defies logic?”
Theories Explaining the Practice
Present-day logic dictates that death is a finality wherein what you currently possess on Earth will not come with you when you die. However, based on the work of Liu, Pagán & Liu (2011), it was noted that death was thought of differently in the ancient world. In fact, there was a prevalent belief that there was life after death, which manifested itself in the practice of people burying their possessions with them when they die.
Another potential theory to explain the elaborate nature of the tomb comes from the work of Nickel (2013), who explained that Shi Huangdi was obsessed with the concept of immortality; he believed that he could emulate his current life even in death. This was one of the reasons behind the theorized presence of “rivers of mercury” that are around the tomb due to the belief that such a substance could cause a person to live a lengthier than normal life.
After taking into consideration the various pros and cons of the theories that were presented, it was decided that the best possible theory to explain why the Tomb of Shi Huangdi was created was due to the belief that a person’s possessions can be brought with them into the afterlife. The reason why this theory was chosen is that it simply “fits” with the various items that were found in the tomb.
It should be noted that Shi Huangdi is historically known as the Emperor that united the feuding regions of China through the use of military force (Terracotta heroes, 2006). When excavating the tomb, the sheer amount of terracotta soldiers and armaments seems to imply that Shi Huangdi expected to bring his army with him into the afterlife in order to continue his campaign of conquest (Terracotta heroes, 2006). This is the only plausible explanation as to why the Emperor was buried with so many terracotta soldiers.
In support of the theory postulated by Liu et al. (2011), other forms of evidence can be seen in the tombs of Ancient Egyptian Pharaohs (the most famous example is the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamen) as well as in other elaborate examples seen from Ancient Mesopotamia, Iraq and Scotland.
These locations had evidence showing the belief that the tools and possessions that a person was buried with could be utilized by that individual in their next life. Such a practice is actually not an exclusive practice of early civilizations since the study of Wilson (2007) noted that ancient cavemen were often found buried with the tools that they had apparently utilized. While this does not imply that ancient cavemen had a belief in the afterlife, it does show that the practice of burying a person with their possessions has been around for quite some time and is a plausible explanation for the sheer size and scope of the Tomb of Shi Huangdi.
Liu, C. Y., Pagán, V., & Liu, N. S. (2011). The Terra Cotta Army of Qin Shi Huang. World Neurosurgery, 75(3/4), 352-353. Web.
Nickel, L. (2013). The First Emperor and sculpture in China. Bulletin Of The School Of Oriental & African Studies, 76(3), 413-447. Web.
Terracotta heroes. (2006). Travel Trade Gazette UK & Ireland, (2731), 14. Web.
Wilson, J. (2007). Mortal combat. New Statesman, 136(4861), 38-41. Web.