The most outlandish claim about Qin Shi Huangdi – that he declared war on death itself – has now been proved true, so long after his demise. Sima Qian wrote in great detail about the subterranean mausoleum, recounting how the emperor’s tomb, with its rivers of mercury and its jewel-encrusted ceiling, was protected by great underground ramparts. According to the historian, the fortifications, built way below the water table, were sealed watertight, and the tomb candles, made from whale oil, were designed to burn for eternity. He even described elaborate booby traps: artisans constructed crossbows that would be triggered mechanically, firing a volley of arrows at any unsuspecting grave-robber.
In recent years, geological surveys have proved his seemingly fanciful descriptions to be accurate. The subterranean chambers, protected by huge protective walls, really exist. Even more astonishing is the revelation that the subsoil of the tomb mound contains unnaturally high quantities of mercury, concentrated in a series of apparent channels – indicating that the silvery streams representing the Yangtze and the Yellow River are still flowing around a gold coffin.
more from The New Statesman here.