Terra cotta warriors are seen during a media preview for the exhibit "Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China's First Emperor" at the National Geographic in Washington on November 17, 2009. The exhibit, which opens November 19, features 15 terra cotta figures. UPI/Kevin Dietsch | License Photo
XIAN, China, Nov. 25 (UPI) -- Nine people were held for allegedly robbing the city-size mausoleum of China's first emperor guarded by 8,000 lifesize terra-cotta soldier figures, police said.
The unnamed suspects were not arrested, pending a further investigation, Xian police said.
Police and public security and cultural-heritage specialists have been investigating the case since a 100-foot-deep tunnel was found leading into a mausoleum tomb in October, a cultural-heritage report cited by the official Xinhua news agency said.
Authorities said tools left by the suspects were found in the tunnel and damaged coffins were scattered in the tomb of the parents and grandparents of Qin Shihuang, the first emperor of a unified China, who ruled from 221 BC until his death at age 49 in 210 BC.
Experts said they suspected other mausoleum tombs were also robbed, but would not say for certain until further excavations were completed, Xinhua said.
The 35-square-mile Mausoleum of Qin Shihuang -- larger than any known city of the world at that time -- is a national cultural heritage site in China.
The terra-cotta figures, dating from 210 BC, were discovered by local farmers in 1974. They include warriors, chariots, horses, officials, acrobats, strongmen and musicians.
Qin Shihuang, whose personal name was Ying Zheng, was a pivotal figure in Chinese history, also ordering the construction of the first version of the Great Wall of China and a massive national road system.