Chinese archaeologists will soon begin excavation of the horse and chariot chamber in a tomb dating back as much as 2,400 years, more than 100 years older than the tomb containing the terracotta army.
"Excavation will start on the 131-square-meter horse chariot sector of the Xiongjiazhong Tomb before February 2008," said Yan Pin, director of the Archaeology Bureau of Jingzhou, Hubei Province where the tomb is located.
The tomb is the largest and best preserved found to date from the State of Chu in the Warring States Period (475-221 BC). Since 1979 three comprehensive surveys have been made of the tomb, and the formal excavation was launched in August 2006.
"We have found more than 30 horse and chariot pits arranged in a row. It is the largest of such finds from the Warring States Period," said Yan.
The excavation has progressed scoop by scoop, but the work would be near impossible without the state-of-the-art mapping and computerized technology archeologists have at their disposal.
Archaeologists do not yet know the occupant of the tomb, which covers an area of 60,000 square meters. They surmise that the master of the tomb was a Chu noble, since a large amount of treasures, particularly jade items, have been unearthed from the tomb's burial sector.
Over 1,300 jade items from the tomb were put on display in Jingzhou in September, the largest exhibition of jade articles in China.
"The burial is large in scale and well arranged. We have found 92 graves that might be people buried with the dead, which was a burial custom of the State of Chu - showing a dedication to the master even after death," said Yan.
Many scholars suspect that the master of the tomb was one of the kings in the State of Chu. In all, 11 kings ruled Chu successively. "The great probability is that the tomb is of King Zhao of Chu, named Xiong Zhen, who was the last king of the state," said Xu Wenwu, a professor with the Changjiang University.
The king's name is also linked with the name of the tomb, Xiongjiazhong, which literally means the tomb of the Xiong family. But professor Xu said this theory must be supported by findings from the tomb.
According to sources with the Jingzhou city government, the tomb is expected to become a museum, like that of the tomb of the terracotta warriors in the mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shihuang in Shaanxi.