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Horses and chariots played a crucial social, cultural and military role in the emergence and development of early states in China. Little research, however, has explored the life histories of individual chariot horses or assessed their role as working animals. Here, the authors present a detailed zooarchaeological and palaeopathological study of eight adult male horses, used for pulling chariots, recovered from a single chariot-horse pit at the burial site of Shijia in north-western China. The characterisation of key osteological differences between chariot horses and ridden horses is offered as a contribution to the toolkit available for the archaeological investigation of human-horse interactions around the globe.
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.
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