Why Don’t They Excavate the Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum?

Being the first, largest and richest imperial mausoleum in Chinese history, the Mausoleum of the Emperor Qin Shi Huang contains a large number of precious cultural relics, such as silk, fresco and paintings according to the historical records. Why don’t they excavate the mausoleum to reveal these precious relics? There are several main reasons as follows:  

Limited Excavating & Researching Ability

Mature preservation and research techniques for cultural relics are indispensable prerequisites for unearthing the grave. A series of exploration, excavation and restoration techniques are also needed for the actual digging. No one can ensure the avoidance of mistakes and losses during the process because there are no relevant excavating experiences and precedents in Chinese history. 

For instance, in order to protect and collect every piece of the cultural relics, bulldozers, excavating machines and explosives are prohibited during excavation, and a manual excavation may last quite a long time. Therefore, a giant shelter is necessary to defend the site from wind and rain. However, if it is covered by a shelter, visitors cannot appreciate the surrounding magnificent landscape. 

In addition, the mausoleum consists of two parts: the mound above ground and the underground palace. It is impossible to dig a hole or several holes to enter the underground grave for large-scale excavation. The only way is to remove a large portion of the above ground mound, and then this nonrenewable historical mound will disappear.

The Mausoleum is Too Deep to Be Excavated and Viewed Easily

After an archeological exploration, the grave of the First Qin Emperor would be about 35 meters (38 yards) below ground level. Tourists can see the terracotta warrior pits clearly because of their shallow depth of 3-5 meters (3-5 yards). This grave is too deep to unearth and view with ease because a landslide may occur when excavating if the grave is built with soil walls like the terracotta warriors pits. 

Excavating Work May Take a Long Time

Archeologists have spent nearly 30 years excavating about one third of the terracotta warriors pits. The area of the Qin Shi Huang mausoleum is about thirteen times that of the pits, and it is uncertain how many years it will take to complete the excavating work on the mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huang.

Immature Protection Technology on Unearthed Cultural Relics

Many people hold the opinion that the mausoleum should not be excavated, because present technology cannot protect the cultural relics buried in the tomb. The silk, frescos and paintings are the most difficult to preserve. For example, the lacquered coffin and colorful paintings discovered in the Mawangdui Han Tombs are not as bright and complete today as when they were unearthed. Current preservation techniques cannot effectively satisfy the requirement for protecting the underground grave, either. In a sense, excavation is equivalent to damage.

Big Investments Are Required

It is estimated that excavating the massive Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum will require a lot of manpower and resources, and it’s difficult to start or continue the work without enough financial support. 

Flowing Mercury Inside the Mausoleum May Poison People and Pollute the Environment

A large amount of mercury was detected in the grave. It can harm archaeologists when they enter the tomb. Besides, once the mercury leaks out, it can cause serious environmental pollution. 

What Is Buried inside the Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum?

In the book of Historical Records written by Sima Qian, the underground palace of the mausoleum is described as follows: the tomb chamber was full of rare treasures collected from all over the country and the states he conquered. The interior lakes, rivers and seas were made of flowing mercury. The legendary luminous pearls decorating the dome of the tomb were a symbolization of the sun, moon and stars. In order to protect the tomb from being disturbed, booby-trap arrows were installed to kill any daring intruder. 

Has the Underground Mausoleum been Destroyed by Grave Robbers?

The answer is probably “no”. The large amount of mercury around and in the mausoleum tells us that the “underground palace” is likely sealed as before. If it had been disturbed by grave robbers, the mercury would have volatilized through the holes. In addition, there are no trances of digging on the currently known passages leading to the mausoleum. Of course, this is just a guess and the true answer will not be revealed until the day the mausoleum is excavated. 
- Last updated on Nov. 07, 2022 -
Questions & Answers on Why Don’t They Excavate the Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum?
Asked by SiowPeng from MALAYSIA | May. 01, 2015 13:36Reply
I really wish I have the opportunity to see what is inside Xi'an terra cotta warriors museum.
I am 52 now
Answers (2)
Answered by Dalia from PHILIPPINES | May. 01, 2015 21:12

Yes, you can surely visit inside. For the old, there are related facilities you can access to, such as wheelchair, tour guide. Don’t worry too much, you can do it.
Answered by Charles | Nov. 07, 2022 01:36

What does that matter you can still visit.

Asked by Ms.???? from USA | Mar. 13, 2011 18:57Reply
Why did the emperor drink/eat mercury?
Answers (5)
Answered by Ms.Cindy | Mar. 14, 2011 02:29

For longevity. Ridiculous, right? In ancient time, mercury is one ingredient when people make elixir.
Answered by Mr.dan from USA | May. 05, 2011 14:43

Mercury was used overseas for many illness in the 1800's and was not very unusal.
Answered by jack | Oct. 30, 2013 10:26

because he belived that if you drink mercury you will live forever
Answered by Barbara from UNITED KINGDOM | Jan. 15, 2015 11:20

Funny how it was most probably the reason he died so young.
Answered by Ms.taylor from USA | Apr. 21, 2016 20:38

It was the reason he died at an early age.
Asked by Mr.James Hunter from USA LOS ANGELES | Apr. 16, 2010 03:28Reply
would there be anyway that we can maybe having a rover with a camara to look at the inside while preserving the air thats inside to keep from degrading anything thats inside
Answers (3)
Answered by Mr.dan from USA | May. 05, 2011 14:46

you would have to use a multi=seal with a oneway vacum to keep air and co2 from getting into the tome. This would be very expensive to use.
Answered by Indiana Jones from USA | Oct. 13, 2014 22:32

Totally worth the price! A pin sized camera would do little damage, if any at all.
Answered by Douglas T. | Sep. 03, 2021 11:19

China can sent a rover to Mars. Then they can sent a rover to the tomb.
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