Tracing the locality of prisoners and workers at the Mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang: First Emperor of China (259-210 BC)
The mausoleum complex of the First Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang (259-210 BC), is one of the most famous and important archaeological sites in China, yet questions remain as to how it was constructed and by whom. Here we present isotopic results of individuals from the Liyi (n = 146) and Shanren sites (n = 14), both associated with the mausoleum complex. Those buried at Liyi represent the local workers/inhabitants of the Qin population, and the δ13C (-8.7 ± 1.5%) and δ15N (10.3 ± 0.7%) values indicate that they consumed predominately millet and/or domestic animals fed millet. In contrast, the Shanren individuals were prisoners forced to construct the mausoleum (found buried haphazardly in a mass grave and some in iron leg shackles), and their δ13C (-15.4 ± 2.9%) and δ15N (8.0 ± 0.6%) results indicate a more mixed C3/C4 diet, with possibly less domestic animals and more wild game protein consumed. This pattern of decreased millet consumption is also characteristic of archaeological sites from southern China, and possible evidence the Shanren prisoners originated from this region (possibly the ancient Chu state located in modern day Hubei Province and parts of Hunan and Anhui Provinces). Further, this finding is in agreement with historical sources and is supported by previous ancient DNA evidence that the mausoleum workers had diverse origins, with many genetically related to southern Chinese groups.