The mystical tomb has long been rumoured to have deadly traps and an ancient map with liquid mercury rivers. It is buried deep under a 249-feet-high pyramidal mound and lies tomb lies within a necropolis in Xi’an’s Lintong District. It is famously guarded by the Terracotta Army.
The stunning statues were found in their thousands to the east of the tomb east, which historians think was a symbol to protect Qin Shi Huang in death from the eastern states he conquered in life.
The statues all used to be covered in bright paint, but now exposure to the dry Xi’an air before appropriate conservation techniques had been invented meant the majority of the soldiers’ colours faded after being recovered.
This is why Chinese officials have been hesitant to let the actual tomb be unearthed until it is guaranteed that artefacts inside the tomb can be successfully preserved.
Now, new proposals could see subatomic particle detectors out under the 2,229-year-old tomb to map out the structure’s layout in three dimensions.
Qin Shi Huang (259–210 BCE) successfully conquered and unified the whole of China in 221 BCE.
The empire he created and left behind lasted for around two millennia.
He also began the construction on the Great Wall of China, and created a nationwide road network and standardising writing and units.
His luxurious burial site was unearthed in 1974.
It has been the source of inspiration for films and video games alike, such as The Mummy and Indiana Jones franchises.
When high-energy cosmic rays from space interact with Earth’s atmosphere, it results in a shower of subatomic particles, including some called ‘muons’.
The scanning technique, known as muon tomography, functions much like an X-ray, with detectors measuring the rate at which muons are absorbed by the material they pass through.
Like bones absorb relatively more X-rays than flesh to create contrast in a radiograph, the stone and metal block the passage of more muons do too.
The same approach was used back in 2017 to reveal the presence of a previously hidden, 98-feet-long chamber within the Great Pyramid at Giza.
Physicist Yuanyuan Liu of the Beijing Normal University and her colleagues proposed the muon-scanning technique.
They usually use cosmic rays to investigate dark matter at the China Jinping Underground Laboratory.
This is the world’s deepest cosmic ray facility and is buried 3.7 miles under the Sichuan province.
The team told the Times: “As an ancient civilisation with a long history, China has a large number of cultural relics that are in need of archaeological research.
“For the non-intrusive detection of the internal structure of some large artefacts such as imperial tombs, the traditional geophysical methods used in archaeology have certain limitations.
“The application of muon absorption imaging to the archaeological field can be an important supplement to traditional geophysical methods.”
The team tested their proposal by using existing archaeological and historical data on the mausoleum to build models of the tomb complex.
They buried these in the ground above two muon detectors to indicate that they could image the chambers in their models.
The team said: “Preliminary imaging results prove the feasibility of muon absorption imaging for the underground chamber of the mausoleum of the first Qin emperor.”
They decided that what is needed to scan the real-life tomb is at least two muon detectors the would need to be put in different locations within 328 feet (100 metres) of the tomb’s surface.
Their studies were funded by the central Chinese government.