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Footprints tell of an ancient battle

Newly discovered footprints of different sizes, apparently left by men, women and children, on an ancient military route in Shaanxi Province have helped archeologists paint a picture of a war scene that occurred at least 2,000 years ago.

The footprints were unearthed in Huashugou Village of Fuxian County on the outskirts of Yan'an City.

The footprints, the smallest of which were believed to belong to children around six years old, were found last week along vehicle tracks on China's first interprovincial road, a 700-kilometer dirt road built under the reign of the First Emperor, Qin Shihuang, said Zhang Zaiming, a researcher with Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archeology, based in Xi'an.

Qin Shihuang was the first emperor of a united China and his best-known legacy is an underground army of terracotta figures and horses. "We also found an arrowhead close to the footprints," Zhang said.

"Judging from its location, we assumed whoever left the footprints had been its target."

Zhang said it would have been a chaotic scene, with men trying to fight back enemies and women running after panic-stricken children. "There was no blacktop road back then, and the footprints they left on the muddy route remained intact even today."

Near the footprints Zhang and his colleagues also found primitive buildings, which they believed were barracks or military service stations.

The footprints, arrowhead and buildings all dated back roughly to the Qin (221-207 BC) or Western Han (206 BC-24 AD) dynasties, he said. "A coin unearthed in the same pit was engraved with characters indicating it was the currency of the Han Dynasty."

The new findings have set Zhang and his colleagues wondering whether China's dictatorial First Emperor had allowed soldiers to take their families to barracks.

Existing historical records, however, indicated soldiers were not allowed to take their family to the barracks until at least 800 years later, in the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties.

Zhang and nine colleagues have just finished a two-month hike in the mountainous areas of Fuxian County to search for items telling the story of the military road.

The route, linking Xianyang in today's Xi'an with Baotou City in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, was reportedly built between 212 and 210 BC by 300,000 people. It was originally built for Qin soldiers to march north to fight the Huns who lived in today's Inner Mongolia and Mongolia.

The route is buried under mountain villages and modern highways. Its excavation started in Fuxian County in early March. Experts have so far located about 50 meters of the dirt road.


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