THE TERRACOTTA WARRIORS

The main highlight of our visit to Xi'an came about on the 19th of October of 2009 when our tour group toured the archeological site of the Terracotta Army of Qin Shi Huang, the First Emperor of China. The burial complex lies about twenty miles east of Xi’an in Shaanxi Province in western China. Dating from 210 BC, these figures were discovered in 1974 in the eastern suburbs of Xi'an, Shaanxi Province (near the Mausouleum of the First Qin Emperor) by local farmers drilling a water well 1.5 miles east of Mt. Lishan. This discovery prompted archaeologists to proceed to Shaanxi Province, China to investigate.

The figures vary in height (6 ft to 6 ft 5 in), according to their role, the tallest being the generals. The high-ranking officers are dressed in a long, two-layered knee-length tunic. All the figures were originally painted in vivid colors but most of them faded after exposure to the air. The pottery warriors were originally equipped with weapons, including swords, spears, and bows and arrows, many of which have rotted. The work to excavate and restore the terracotta figures continues to this day. Each warrior is unique and must be painstakingly reassembled by a team. The figures include strong warriors, chariots, horses, officials, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians. Current estimates are that in the three pits containing the Terracotta Army there were over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried in the pits.

The Terracotta Army is a form of funerary art buried with the First Emperor of Qin in 210-209 BC. Their purpose was to help rule another empire with Shi Huang Di in the afterlife. Consequently, they are also sometimes referred to as "Qin's Armies." Mount Lishan is also where the material to make the terracotta warriors originated. In addition to the warriors, an entire man-made necropolis for the emperor has been excavated. The Terracotta Army is just one part. A mile west of the pits, a large hill, yet to be fully excavated, is believed to be the burial mound of emperor Qin Shi Huangdi, a tyrant preoccupied with death and the legacy he would leave behind. He spared no expense, enlisting 700,000 people over 36 years in the tomb's construction. The complex is also said to contain 48 tombs for concubines who were buried alive with the emperor, a fate also reserved for workers, to prevent the location and design of the tomb from becoming known.

According to the historian Sima Qian (145-90 BC) construction of this mausoleum began in 246 BC. Qin Shi Huang was thirteen when construction began. Sima Qian wrote that the First Emperor was buried with palaces, scenic towers, officials, valuable utensils and 'wonderful objects,' with 100 rivers fashioned in mercury and above this heavenly bodies below which he wrote were 'the features of the earth.' Recent scientific work at the site has shown high levels of mercury in the soil on and around Mount Lishan, appearing to add credence to the writing of ancient historian Sima Qian. The tomb of Shi Huang Di is near an earthen pyramid 76 meters tall and nearly 350 square meters. The tomb remains unopened, in the hope that it will remain intact. Only a portion of the site is presently excavated. Qin Shi Huang’s necropolis complex was constructed to serve as an imperial compound or palace. It comprises several offices, halls and other structures and is surrounded by a wall with gateway entrances. It was also said as a legend that the Terracotta Warriors were real soldiers, buried with Emperor Qin so that they could defend him from any dangers in the next life.

The terracotta figures were manufactured both in workshops by government laborers and also by local craftsmen. The head, arms, legs and torsos were created separately and then assembled. Studies show that eight face moulds were most likely used, and then clay was added to provide individual facial features. Once assembled, intricate features such as facial expressions were added. It is believed that their legs were made in much the same way that terracotta drainage pipes were manufactured at the time. This would make it an assembly line production, with specific parts manufactured and assembled after being fired, as opposed to crafting one solid piece of terracotta and subsequently firing it.

Upon completion, the terracotta figures were placed in the pits in precise military formation according to rank and duty. The terracotta figures are life-like and life-sized. They vary in height, uniform and hairstyle in accordance with rank. The colored lacquer finish, individual facial features, and actual weapons and armor from battle used in manufacturing these figures created a realistic appearance. The original weapons were stolen by robbers shortly after the creation of the army and the coloring has faded greatly. However, their existence serves as a testament to the amount of labor and skill involved in their construction. It also reveals the power the First Emperor possessed, enabling him to command such a monumental undertaking as this.

The State Council authorized the building of a museum on the site in 1975. Three pits have been excavated and a large hall has been built to protect them and allow for public viewing. Pit One, 230 meters long, was estimated to contain 8,000 figures. It covers an area of 172,000 square feet and 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. It was opened to the public on China's National Day, 1979.

The second pit, excavated in 1976, covers 64,500 square feet and contains one thousand warriors in the chariot cavalry corps, with horses and ninety lacquered wooden chariots. It is thought to represent a military guard and was unveiled to the public in 1994. The third pit, which went on display in 1989, covers only 5,000 square feet and appears to be a command center, containing 68 figures of high-ranking officers, a war chariot, and four horses. A fourth pit remained empty; it is possible that the emperor died before it could be completed. The four pits associated with the dig are about 1.5 km east of the burial ground and are about 7 meters deep. 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.

To view the photographs I took during our visit to the archeological site, just click on the link shown below:

The Terracotta Warriors

The Terracotta Warriors and Horses are the most significant archeological excavations of the 20th century. It is a sight not to be missed by any visitor to China. It has put Xi'an on the map for tourists. In 1987 it was listed by UNESCO as one of the world cultural heritages.