New dig could reveal 5000 more terracotta warriors

China said yesterday it was set to start a new excavation to find more terracotta warriors in a bid to unravel the mysteries which surround the ancient figures buried in the tomb of the first emperor.

The work will begin Saturday in the site's largest pit which is believed to be still hiding around 5000 of the life-size figures, the State Administration of Cultural Heritage said in a statement on its website.

This will be the third excavation in the pit -- one of three at the site near Xian, the capital of northern Shaanxi province -- since 1974 when the army of terracotta warriors and horses was discovered by a peasant digging a well.

"This time, the excavation could open many unresolved mysteries, such as whether there are civil servant officials in the pit as well as soldiers," the statement said.

According to the official China Daily newspaper, the majority of the discovered figures are archers, infantrymen and charioteers that the Qin Emperor, who had the site built, hoped would follow him into the afterlife.

Less than 10 armoured generals have been unearthed with the army, part of a burial site for Qin Shi Huang, who presided over the unification of China in 221 BC and declared himself the first emperor of the nation.

An official at the Terracotta Army Museum, who refused to be named, said he did not know how long the dig would last.

"We have applied for a dig period to the end of this year, and if we haven't finished it, we will apply for another period from then," he said.

This is the first excavation of the pit that the museum will undertake without outside help, and experts are hoping that new technology might be able to help keep the original colour of the undiscovered soldiers.

In past excavations, according to the China Daily, richly coloured clay figures have turned an oxidised grey when they have been exposed to the air.

Tourists will still be allowed into the pit while the excavation is under way, the museum official said, adding it was the fifth such work undertaken at the site since it was discovered.

The Terracotta Army is one of the greatest archaeological finds of modern times, and was listed as a World Heritage Site in 1987.


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