A team of Chinese archaeologists unearthed a set of elaborate tombs surrounded by 28 chariots and 98 horses in the province of Hubei in China in 2015. The incredible discovery dates back 2,800 years and is just one example of a practice used by high-ranking nobles to demonstrate their power and strength.
According to a report in Haaretz, researchers unearthed 30 elite tombs of various sizes in the city of Zaoyang. They date back to what is known as the Summer and Autumn Period in Chinese history (770 – 476 BC), which corresponds roughly to the first half of the Eastern Zhou dynasty, and was characterized by the creation of powerful states and the birth of a wealthy merchant class.
Following the discovery of the tombs, researchers stumbled across something entirely unexpected – an enormous chariot pit measure 33-meters (108ft) long and 4-meters (13ft) wide, which contained more than two dozen well-preserved chariots. Many of the wheels had been taken off, and chariot parts were placed carefully alongside them.
Five meters away from the chariots, they found a massive horse pit consisting of 49 pairs of horses lying back-to-back.
“Judging from the way the horses were buried, they were buried after they were killed, as there was no trace of struggle”, Huang Wenxin, researcher from the provincial archaeological institute, told Haaretz. “Second, it is the way they were laid. They were laid back to back, lying on their sides. It means that two horses pull one chariot.”
Liu Xu, professor from School of Archaeology and Museology of Peking University, told Haaretz that a noble’s power was demonstrated through the number of chariots he owned.
“The strength was measured by the number of chariots,” he said. “In modern words, the chariots represent a kind of high-tech product. Only people with rather high ranks can own chariots.”
In 2016, researchers decided to take a stab at recreating a chariot – one of the most luxurious modes of transportation in ancient China. Although the wood of the 2,400-year-old cart found in the Majiayuan cemetery of the Gansu province had rotted away, they were able to create a version of “ancient China’s No. 1 luxury car” by combining the archaeological evidence with modeling software.
The Zaoyang finding is reminiscent of the 1960s discovery of the tomb of Duke Jing of Qi in Shandong Province, China. Duke Jing’s tomb, which also dates back to the Summer and Autumn Period in Chinese History, was found surrounded by pits of horses, believed to have been sacrificed to accompany him in the afterlife and to show his power and strength even after his death. Researchers found 251 horses, along with 30 dogs, 2 pigs, and 6 other domesticated animals, although it is believed there may be up to 600 horses buried in Duke Jing’s honor.
Haaretz writes that the reasons for burying nobles with chariots is not entirely clear, “but it is known that in ancient China of the time, human and animal sacrifices were made to appease the gods of weather, on whose goodwill mankind depended.”