Chinese archaeologists announced on Tuesday that more than 10,000 skeletons were found with handcuffs and fetters in the criminal tombs built in the Western Han Dynasty (202 BC–9 AD).
The excavation of the criminal tombs was first reported to the public at the Symposium for Research on Hanyang Mausoleum and Han Culture which was held on Tuesday in Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi province.
The report said the prisoners had endured cruel conditions in the criminal tombs, with some bodies bound with handcuffs and fetters and even some cut into two pieces at the waist.
Archaeologists first revealed that they had found skeletons with handcuffs and fetters in 1972 in a place some 1.5 km away from the Hanyang Mausoleum, in the tomb where Hanjingdi Liu Qi (188 - 141 DC), the fourth emperor of the Western Han Dynasty, and his wife are buried.
Excavations which followed in the next few decades revealed a large number of tombs with more than 10,000 bodies with handcuffs and fetters in the area.
According to the historical record, the mausoleum started to be built in 153 BC and was completed in 126 BC during which more than 100,000 prisoners worked on the project.
Ma Yongying, researcher with Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology, said the prisoners were bound with handcuffs and fetters even when they worked to build the emperor's tomb and the death rate of the prisoners was very high as they had to work hard under very poor conditions and corporal punishment.
"After their death, the prisoners were buried simply in the places near the emperor's Mausoleum without any objects for funerary rites aside from the handcuffs and fetters, so we call the tombs criminal tombs," Ma said.