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China science

Craftsmen who built China’s Terracotta Army ‘ate dogs’: study

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 June, 2016, 9:02am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 June, 2017, 12:53pm

China’s famous Terracotta Army was created by workers and craftsmen who ate dogs, a study published today in the journal Scientific Reports suggests.

Archaeologists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology made the discovery by examining the bones found in the tombs of workers and craftsmen near the mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang, China’s first emperor of the Qin Dynasty.

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After analysing carbon nitrogen isotopes in the remains, they found the majority of the them had survived on a diet “predominately derived from domestic animal proteins”.

The researchers, led by Dr Ma Ying, compared the composition of trace elements in the craftsmen’s remains to the remains of domestic animals at the time.

Dogs were the closest match, followed by pigs and sheep. Cattle and chicken appear to have been consumed less often.

Historical texts such as Shiji and the Book of Han “mentioned that dog meat consumption was prevalent during the Qin and Han Dynasties, since many people made their living by butchering dogs”, wrote Dr Ma and his co-authors.

The researchers also examined the remains of prisoners in a mass grave and found their diets contained much less meat than the craftsmen.

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The prisoners, probably from southern China and whose food consumption over their lifespan consisted substantially of rice, were forced to do the most labour-intensive jobs in the construction of the imperial tomb while surviving on limited rations.

Wild game was a possible source of supplementary nutrition, the researchers said.

Emperor Qin Shi Huang, who lived from 259BC to 210BC, conquered all the kingdoms in the chaotic Warring States Period and established the first unified empire in Chinese history.

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His enormous mausoleum in Xianyang, Shaanxi was “protected” by the Terracotta Army consisting of more than 8,000 life-sized sculpted warriors.

Dubbed by some as the eighth wonder of the world, the terracotta warriors were created by skilled craftsmen – no two faces on the statues are the same.

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It was believed the emperor had built an entire city, Liyi, to house 100,000 workers and craftsmen for the construction of his tomb. But some historians estimate an additional 600,000 people, mostly prisoners of war from the defeated kingdoms across China, were forced to toil at the construction site.

Where these people came from and how they lived, laboured and died over the course of the mausoleum’s construction is a matter of intensive investigation by archaeologists.