Qin Shi Huang Imperial Necropolis

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Shaanxi, China; 246–207 BCE

In Hollywood films, archaeologists seem regularly to get themselves into scrapes that involve lethal mechanisms associated with ancient tombs. When treasures are buried with the dead, it makes sense for robbers to violate the tomb. Nevertheless most tombs have relied for their protection on their sheer solidity and the presence of guards, rather than resorting to elaborate booby-traps designed to kill intruders.

The Imperial Necropolis at Shaanxi is an exception. According to ancient texts, there were crossbows in its underground passages, primed to shoot a bolt into the head of anyone ...

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