[Image - life-size model of a Zhou Dynasty "4 Horses 3 men" War Chariot in the China's People's Revolutionary Military Musuem in Beijing]
In the remote village of Yangshe on the banks of the Yellow River, Chinese archaeologists are little by little bringing an ancient culture back to life after nearly 3,000 years. The vast cemetery they are excavating belonged to the rulers of the Jin state, which is finally emerging in all its remarkable diversity in what is now northern China's Shanxi Province. It is a discovery that in most countries would excite the entire scholarly community, but in China it is just one in a string of startling finds.
At the Yangshe dig, the outstanding feature is a large pit containing 48 chariots and 105 horses that were buried with a Jin ruler particularly noted for his military campaigns during the Western Zhou Dynasty (1120-781 BC).
The find is the largest horse and chariot pit dating from the Shang and Zhou dynasties (1600-256 BC) so far found in China and predates the terracotta warrior tomb of China's first emperor, Qin Shihuang, by more than 600 years, Ji said.
Among the finds are ceremonial carriages exquisitely painted with red lacquer and which include finely crafted doors with bronze hinges. Armoured war carriages protected by bronze plates are also among the finds.
"We believe the chariots and horses were the actual cavalry used in the military campaigns of the Jin leader," Ji said. "So far we have counted at least 105 horses, which we believe were drugged and buried alive as some of their heads were erect and others had their legs bound," he added.
The state of Jin existed as part of the Zhou Dynasty, which was divided into western and eastern periods.
The Jin cemetery was first discovered in 1992, but funding for major excavations only began in 1996.
Since then all 19 tombs have been excavated with the dig of the largest horse and chariot pit alone taking four years, Ji said.
Coinciding with the discoveries, archaeologists in China are seeing funding on a scale they could only have dreamt of a few years ago. "The Museum of the State of Jin, which begins construction in March, will sit on top of the horse and chariot pit and is expected to be opened by 2010," he said.
The 100-million-yuan (13-million-dollar) museum will house a treasure trove of bronze and jade artifacts from all 19 tombs of the early Jin rulers and their wives.