Monday, December 10, 2018

Rivers of Mercury and Immortality

Folk Belief: Immortality

Throughout ancient Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang Di’s massive tomb, thousands of lifelike clay statues of soldiers stand guard. They even once held real weapons to protect their leader in the afterlife. When the statues were first made in 208 BC, they would have been painted to look even more realistic.

Aside from the clay army, Qin's grave was filled with toxic pools of liquid mercury. During his time, the Chinese practiced alchemy, and mercury was thought to be the key to immortality. However, the huge amount of this poisonous substance has made it nearly impossible for modern archaeologists to properly excavate the site. Many sections still haven’t been explored.

In Mexico, Teotihuacan’s Pyramid of the Plumed Serpent was built to house the body of their emperor when he died. In 2016, archaeologists discovered that there was a pool of liquid mercury underneath the grave site. Some historians speculate that this may have some religious significance. Whether or not these ancient peoples intended it for that purpose, liquid mercury has become a very effective way to ensure that their dead leaders can rest in peace without being disturbed.

Rivers of Mercury

Ancient writings say the emperor created an entire underground kingdom and palace, complete with a ceiling mimicking the night sky, set with pearls as stars. Pits full of terracotta concubines have never been discovered, though experts predict they exist somewhere in the complex.

And Qin Shi Huang's tomb is also thought to be encircled with rivers of liquid mercury, which the ancient Chinese believed could bestow immortality.

Some archaeologists believe this may be the cause of his death. He was taking mercury pills because he wanted to live forever. Unfortunately, it killed him by the age of 39.

That moat of mercury also presents another reason why archaeologists are loath to explore the tomb just yet — doing so would likely be very dangerous, according to soil samples around the tomb, which indicate extremely high levels of mercury contamination.

In the end, scientists and historians must always weigh their desire to know more with the damage such inquiry would cause.

Archaeology, ultimately, is a destructive science,they report. Materials have to be destroyed in order to learn about them.

 Opulent Burial

When he died, Qin Shi Huang was buried in the most opulent tomb complex ever constructed in China, a sprawling, city-size collection of underground caverns containing everything the emperor would need for the afterlife. The ancient Chinese, along with many cultures including ancient Egyptians, believed that items and even people buried with a person could be taken with him to the afterlife.

But instead of burying his armies, concubines, administrators and servants with him, Qin came up with an alternative: clay reproductions.


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