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The well preserved crossbow remains half buried in the ground beside a terracotta warrior. Photos: SCMP Pictures, AFP

Qin dynasty crossbow found at China’s Terracotta Army site may reveal secret of emperor’s success

A 2,200-year old 1.3-metre long crossbow believed to have had a range of up to 800 metres has been found by archaeologists during excavations in China

A 2,200-year old crossbow believed to have had a range of perhaps twice that of a modern assault rifle has been found by archaeologists during excavations at the site of China’s Terracotta Army.

The large bow, measuring about 1.3 metres in length, could possibly have fired arrows at distances of up to 800 metres, said archaeologists at the Emperor Qinshihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum in Xian, in Shaanxi province.

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Shen Maosheng, the lead scientist working on the excavation work, told Chinese Business View that the discovery of the “sophisticated” weapon at the burial site was very exciting.

Previous crossbows found buried at the site had been badly damaged, causing researchers difficulty in estimating the effectiveness and power of the weapon, Shen said.


However, the newly uncovered crossbow remained well preserved and had almost all of its parts intact.

The ancient weapon contained some rare parts that researchers had only read about in historical documents, he said.

It will still take a lot more work by archaeologists to retrieve the fragile bow in its entirety from the site.

Shen said they would carry out the final part of excavation work on the bow with the utmost care as it was very fragile.


For the moment it remained half buried in ground alongside a terracotta warrior, he said.


Shen said the crossbow could have a range of perhaps twice that of a modern assault rifle.

Although the new find might not be the most powerful weapon used by the Qin army, it could shed new light on advancements in technology at that time.

The crossbow is referred to in many ancient historic documents, which stated that the victories of Qin’s army owed much to its use of bows, which could fire arrows over long distances and cause large numbers of casualties among its enemies.


However, the precise distance the bow could fire arrows has always remained a matter of debate.

Historical texts recorded the distance at 800 metres or more, but doubts have been expressed about whether the ancient weapon was really so effective.

The new discovery offered the hope that such disputes could finally be settled, the archaeologists said.


Qin’s terracotta army – a collection of terracotta sculptures of his army – was created to protect the emperor in the afterlife.

The site was uncovered in 1974 by local farmers and was later listed as a world heritage site by Unesco.

So far more than 7,000 terracotta soldiers, horses and chariots have been unearthed.