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14 January 2005
Ancient Chinese horse skeletons to be DNA tested

Twelve horse skeletons unearthed from ancient burial tombs in China are to be DNA tested in a bid to learn more about the way they were treated.
    Scientists from Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology, Peking University and Cambridge University will undertake the project. Archaeologists have processed material collected from the skeletons to record the size and weight of the skulls, spinal columns and limbs, while a laboratory in Cambridge, England, will analyse the DNA next month in a bid to provide information such as the horses' bone mineral density and other trace elements which could shed light on their diet and how they were tamed.
    Li Gang, a Shaanxi Provincial Administration of  Cultural Heritage official, said "These unearthed skeletons were chosen as samples especially because they are  more fresh and without any pollution."
    The horses were found in the No.1 tomb of Duke Jinggong (577-537 BCE) in Fengziang County, Shaanxi province, north-west China. The duke's tomb was excavated between 1976 and 1986 and uncovered 3500 valuable artefacts, although the horses were discovered in June 2004.
    The funeral chamber was 24 metres from the surface, 16 metres long, 5.7 metres wide and 4.2 metres high. It was separated by a wooden partition, with the eastern part designed in imitation of the duke's office, and the western part in imitation of his dining room.
    This is the first comprehensive study of ancient Chinese horses despite sacrificial horses and carts being fairly common in northern China.

Source: China Daily (11 January 2005)

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