The weather was very dry in 1974, and the grain was dying in the fields in Lintong county, Shaanxi province, near Xian, China, and some local farmers decided to try to establish a new water well by digging at a low point in the terrain.
They encountered very hard red earth about a meter down and then, on the third day, they dug out something resembling a jar whch one of the villagers wanted to take home to use as a container.
They also recovered a clay torso which was “like a statue in a temple”.
In time the torso was to become established as having been the body of one of an actual army of terracotta clay warriors and the ‘jar’ to have been the head of one of these clay warriors.
The farmers in this area had routinely come across terracotta clay fragments as they worked their fields and had sold many bronze arrowheads they also discovered to the recycling station.
Some time later a Lintong county official responsible for cultural relics learnt that a large number of terracotta fragments had been found and rushed to the site and asked the farmers to collect the fragments of heads, torsos, arms and legs they had recovered and pile them into three trucks, before taking them to Lintong Museum and attempting to reconstruct the fragments into their original statues.
It wasn’t until archaeologists arrived months later it was realized that the farmers had stumbled upon an astonishing find in the form of large-scale terracotta warriors buried in the ground in which they had been digging.
The authorities were called in and subsequent investigations over a number of years have yielded up a terracotta clay army of figures depicting warriors, archers and calvalry men together with a number of horse-drawn chariots and some figures which were believed to depict persons of officer rank.
The chinese terracotta army has been dated to around 210 B.C. and is believed to have been created by the first Emperor of a unified China – Qin Shi Huang.
The words Shi Huang translate as – First Emperor – so this individual is also known as the first Emperor of the Qin dynasty. Chinese civilization has its roots in Shaanxi and Henan provinces where the Huang He, or Yellow River, winds its way through its fertile valleys. The Han Chinese settled this area in the 3rd century BC. Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi Province, lies just a few miles to the west of where the Wei and Huang He converge.
Qin, who died in 210 BC at the age of 50, created China’s first unified state by conquering seven rival kingdoms. He built an extensive system of roads and canals along with an early incarnation of the Great Wall of China. He introduced standard measurements, a single written language, currency and law.
As these images and pictures show the terracotta warriors were buried in place in their ranks in several long pits close to the tomb of the first emperor – possibly as aides for a future after-life.
It has been estimated that perhaps, 700,000 people were involved in the construction of an imperial tomb or mausoleum with an associated necropolis (i.e. city of the dead) and its accompanying army of terracotta warriors.
The terracotta warriors were seemingly originally cast, as wet clay, into moulds before being processed into long-lasting fired clay. Slight adjustments having been made to the original clay moulding allowing for the depiction of a range of physical characteristics and bodily attitudes.
The terracotta figures of warriors and horses, each of which tends to vary in height, uniform, and hairstyle in accordance with rank, are arranged in battle formations. At between five feet eight inches and six and a half feet (or two metres) tall, the statues weigh between three and four hundred pounds (or one hundred and eighty kilos).
To date four major, and several hundred lesser, underground pits, totaling 22,000 square meters, have been discovered with an estimated 8,000 life-size terracotta figures of warriors together with 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses.
Some of the terracotta warriors have no been found with no beards, but for ancient Chinese, facial hair was part of the culture, so those warriors could be considered to represent soldiers under 17 years old.
There are also some terracotta figures of actors, performers and civilian officials as well as ancient armour from the Qin Dynasty that were made in some of the smaller pits, The terracotta actors are depicted mostly half-naked, wearing skirts of ancient court performers hired to amuse the emperor and officials. Each terracotta actor is in a different pose to show the variety of court entertainment.
Each of the major pits lies 15 to 20 feet (5-7 Meters) below current ground level and was constructed with the figures placed in corridors or rooms. These corridors, separated by earthen walls, are paved with pottery bricks on which the warriors and horses stand. Large wooden planks placed over the corridors between the earthen walls and covered by layers of mats made from reed fibres formed the roofing. This was then covered by earth to conceal the the army’s location.
The Qin Imperial burial ground itself exhibits a 80-metre-high earth pyramid standing on top of a burial chamber but this is located at the center of a giant necropolis, or city of the dead, spread over 2.13 sq km with an inner underground palace surrounded by an outer city. The outside walls of the tomb complex are as if placed there to protect the tomb from the east, where all the conquered states lay. They are solidly built with rammed earth walls and ground layers as hard as concrete.
The four seven-meter-deep principal pits associated with the dig are about 1.5 km east of the Qin Imperial burial ground.
Pit one, (the largest at 230 meters long, first opened to the public in 1979), which contains the main army, has 11 corridors, most of which are over 3 meters wide, and paved with small bricks with a wooden ceiling supported by large beams and posts. This design was also used for the tombs of noblemen and would have resembled palace hallways. The wooden ceilings were covered with reed mats and layers of clay for waterproofing, and then mounded with more soil making them, when built, about 2 to 3 meters higher than ground level.
Pit two (found in 1976 and unveiled to the public in 1994), housed cavalry and infantry units as well as war chariots, and is thought to represent a military guard. Pit three (found in 1976 and on display in 1989) is the command post, with high ranking officers and a war chariot. A fourth pit is empty, seemingly having been left unfinished by its builders.
In the 2,000 years since the construction of the pits the roofing collapsed damaging the figures.
The first excavation of the site lasted six years betweeen 1978 and 1984, during which some 1,087 clay soldiers were discovered. A second excavation started in 1985 but was cut short after a year.
The Museum of Terracotta Warriors and Horses in Lintong county, some 35 km from central Xi’an, has received about 70 million visitors, including at least 7 million from abroad since opening to the public in 1979. The terracotta clay army is one of the greatest archaeological finds of modern times and forms the centrepiece of a major archaeological discovery location that was listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
In 2009 archaeologists resumed fairly large-scale investigations into the terracotta warriors in the hope that more recent technological advances would allow a greater insight to be obtained into the original pigmentation applied to the individual members of the terracotta army when they were originally made.
In past excavations, clay figures bearing traces of rich colour were unearthed but once they were exposed to the air the colours began to lose their definition and turned into an oxidized grey.
One archaeologist working on site said, “there is colour here, in the pupil and on this part of the cheek and on the forehead you can see the colour of the hair,” as he drew attention the faint colours on the face of a recently uncovered warrior.
Exposure to air and light had depleted to original colouration on the many terracotta warriors already recovered largely as a result of a laquer coating originally binding the pigment to the figures had been damaged in the damp soils leading to flaking off of the original pigments as the figures dried out.
A museum archaeologist said the museum has been cooperating with a cultural relics department in Germany for years trying to find a satisfactory technology to preserve the original colours of the terracotta warriors, and has “made some headway.”
It is hoped that freshly unearthed figures can be promptly treated to prevent such depletion and this will help to yield up important information about how the warriors, infantrymen, archers, cavalrymen, officers, chariots, horses, officials, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians of this chinese clay army of 8,000 plus figures were originally presented.
Investigations already undertaken suggest that no two figures were painted in the same colours and that the colour purple was reserved for persons of officer rank.