Ancient Chinese crossbow which had range like an assault rifle to be auctioned

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An ancient Chinese crossbow which once had a range similar to an assault rifle is to be auctioned.

The weapon is more than 2,000 years old and dates back to the Han dynasty from 206BC to 220AD, auctioneers at Cheffins in Cambridge said.

The crossbow is estimated to fetch between £15,000 and £20,000 when it goes under the hammer next month.

Philippe Smolarski, head of Asian art at the auction house, said it is the first time a crossbow of its type, with the bronze firing mechanism still within its wooden arm, has been offered to the open market.

It is a smaller example of the crossbow found by archaeologists in China during excavations of one of the Terracotta Army pits in 2015.

The Terracotta Army, discovered by Chinese farmers digging a well in 1974, is comprised of thousands of life-like terracotta figures which were buried in the tomb of the first emperor of China to protect him in the afterlife.

“Crossbows were known to have played an important part in the history of warfare in early China,” said Mr Smolarski.

“The crossbow was essential on the battlefield and was a huge technological advancement during the period.

“Archers were trained and then had use of this extremely powerful weapon which changed the course of history throughout early China.

“Early bronze examples of crossbow mechanisms from ancient China do come to the market on occasion, however one such as this with the mechanism still intact within the wooden arm of the bow is a completely unique piece.”

The crossbow that is to be auctioned shot bronze arrows.

It is thought to have had a range of 260 metres (853ft), which is almost on a par with a modern assault rifle which can fire 300 metres (984ft), Mr Smolarski said.

Scale markings, showing how far the crossbow could have fired, are visible on the 21cm-high (8.2in) firing mechanism in the 54cm-long (21in) arm.

It is being sold by a Hong Kong-based collector who had bought it from a private collection in Taiwan.

The collector from Taiwan had bought the crossbow from a Hong Kong street market, and does not have information on its origin before this.

Many such artefacts change hands within a small collecting circle, Mr Smolarski said.

– The crossbow is part of Cheffins’ Asian sale on November 8.

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