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Horses in Qin mortuary practice: new insights from Emperor Qin Shihuang's mausoleum

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 June 2022

Yue Li
School of Cultural Heritage, Northwest University, P.R. China Key Laboratory of Cultural Heritage Research and Conservation, Ministry of Education, Beijing, P.R. China China-Central Asia Belt and Road Joint Laboratory on Human and Environment Research, Northwest University, P.R. China
Lina Wu*
Emperor Qinshihuang's Mausoleum Site Museum, Xi'an, P.R. China
Chengrui Zhang*
Department of Anthropology, Harvard University, USA
Huan Liu
School of Resource, Environment and Historical Culture, Xianyang Normal University, P.R. China
Zexian Huang
School of Cultural Heritage, Northwest University, P.R. China Key Laboratory of Cultural Heritage Research and Conservation, Ministry of Education, Beijing, P.R. China
Yifu Han
Lvshun Museum, Dalian, P.R. China
Jing Yuan*
Institute of Archaeological Science, Fudan University, P.R. China Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing, P.R. China


The horse played a crucial role in China through the first millennium BC, used both for military advantage and, through incorporation into elite burials, to express social status. Details of how horses were integrated into mortuary contexts during the Qin Empire, however, are poorly understood. Here, the authors present new zooarchaeological data for 24 horses from an accessory pit in Qin Shihuang's mausoleum, indicating that the horses chosen were tall, adult males. These findings provide insights into the selection criteria for animals to be included in the emperor's tomb and invite consideration of questions concerning horse breeds, husbandry practices, and the military and symbolic importance of horses in early imperial China.

Research Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of Antiquity Publications Ltd.

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