Don’t be too surprised if a new special soon finds its way to your favorite local Chinese eatery.  Chinese archaeologists may have just discovered the ancient equivalent of Wheaties.  If you want to learn to eat like a king, or at least one of the king’s military officers or land owners, you might want to pay attention to the tests being conducted to determine the ingredients of a 2,400 year old “soup” of liquid and bones that was just found in a sealed bronze cooking vessel near the ancient Chinese capital of Xian in China’s Shaanxi Province.

China’s Future Meets Its Past

The discovery was a product of China’s efforts to pave the way for further economic development.  The vessel was uncovered while excavating a tomb to make way for an extension to the local airport.  For a country and civilization as old as China, the process of building the future is also one of getting closer to the past.  Rather than putting the pace of economic advance above all else, China deserves some praise for making a concerted effort to uncover and preserve the ancient pieces of its storied history along the way.

Qin Dynasty Terracotta Warriors

In 1974, Chinese farmers happened on the vast Qin dynasty tomb complex near Xian while digging a well to help combat a troublesome drought.  About three meters down, they hit fragments of what turned out to be the remains of one of the now famous army of Terracotta Warriors.  Through ongoing excavations at the complex that have continued ever since, archaeologists have unearthed a total of more than 8,000 Terracotta Warrior statues that date back all the way to the year 221 BC.

Earlier this year, Chinese archaeologists unearthed 114 more Terracotta Warriors in one of three pits in the tomb complex.  The statues were found broken in many brightly colored pieces alongside weapons, pots, and other items.  Xu Weihong, head of the research team, told the China Daily newspaper it took the team at least 10 days to restore just one warrior to its original form.

Grand Scale of Chinese History

The mausoleum was originally built in honor of Emperor Qin Shihuang, who is considered the first emperor of China.  About 700,000 workers from every province labored from the time Qin became king in 247BC until after his death to construct a massive underground replica of the palace, empire, and world at the auspicious site selected by Qin’s geomancers.  The Terracotta Warriors were created to protect the Emperor after his death in the afterlife.  Emperor Qin presided over the unification of China and ruled until 201 BC.  Xian served as China’s capital for more than 1,100 years.

Cultural Diplomacy

In 2007, China loaned a small sample of artifacts from the tomb complex for a major exhibition at the British Museum in London.  In addition to the Terracotta Warriors, museum curators were anxious to show the public a diverse range of new discoveries from the complex, including life-size acrobats, civil officials, bronze birds, and stone arms.  The exhibit turned out to be hugely popular with the public, with large presales, long lines and wait times, and greatly extended viewing hours.  Museum staff compared the event to the hugely successful Tutankhamen show of the 1970s.

Archaeologists involved with the latest “soup” discovery are excited that the finding will help them learn more about the eating habits and culture of China’s Warring States Period during the years 475 – 221 BC.

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China Unearths 144 New Terracotta Warriors. BBC News.  May 12, 2010.

Chinese Archaeologists Unearth 2,400-Year Old “Soup.” BBC News.  December 13, 2010.

Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor.  World Heritage Convention.  United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

Sommerville, Quentin.  China’s Terracotta Amy on the Move.  BBC News.  August 7, 2007.