The Terracotta Army (Terracotta Warriors and Horses) are the most significant archeological excavations of the 20th century. Work is ongoing at this site, which is around 1.5 kilometers east of Emperor Qin Shi Huang's Mausoleum in Lintong, Xian, Shaanxi Province. It is a sight not to be missed by any visitor to China.
Upon ascending the throne at the age of 13 (in 246 BC), Qin Shi Huang, later the first Emperor of all China, had begun to work for his mausoleum. It took 11 years to finish. It is speculated that many buried treasures and sacrificial objects had accompanied the emperor in his after life. A group of peasants uncovered some pottery while digging for a well nearby the royal tomb in 1974. It caught the attention of archeologists immediately. They came to Xian in droves to study and to extend the digs. They had established beyond doubt that these artifacts were associated with the Qin Dynasty (211-206 BC).
The State Council authorized to build a museum on site in 1975. When completed, people from far and near came to visit. The Museum of Qin Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses have become landmarks on all visitors' itinerary.
Life size terracotta figures of warriors and horses arranged in battle formations are the star features at the museum. They are replicas of what the imperial guard should look like in those days of pomp and vigor.
The museum covers an area of 16,300 square meters, divided into three sections: No. 1 Pit, No. 2 Pit, and No. 3 Pit respectively. They were tagged in the order of their discoveries. No. 1 Pit is the largest, first opened to the public on China's National Day - Oct. 1st, 1979. There are columns of soldiers at the front, followed by war chariots at the back.
No. 2 Pit, found in 1976, is 20 meters northeast of No. 1 Pit. It contained over a thousand warriors and 90 chariots of wood. It was unveiled to the public in 1994.Archeologists came upon No. 3 Pit also in 1976, 25 meters northwest of No. 1 Pit. It looked like to be the command center of the armed forces. It went on display in 1989, with 68 warriors, a war chariot and four horses.
Altogether over 7,000 pottery soldiers, horses, chariots, and even weapons have been unearthed from these pits. Most of them have been restored to their former grandeur.
Since Oct. 1st, 2010 the Museum of Qin Terracotta Warriors and Horses and the Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum have been combined into one large attraction area, Emperor Qinshihuang's Mausoleum Site Museum, which also includes three other small sites opened in 2011. The Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum and the nearby three unopened sites (namely the Museum of Terracotta Acrobatics, the Museum of Terracotta Civil Officials and the Museum of Stone Armor) constitute the so-called Lishan Garden. Besides, 30 free shuttle buses have been available for visitors' convenience to travel between the Lishan Garden and the Museum of Qin Terracotta Warriors and Horses from then on.
The Terra Cotta Army is a sensational archeological find of all times. It has put Xian on the map for visitors. It was listed by UNESCO in 1987 as one of the world cultural heritages.
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Workers digging a well outside the city of Xi'an, China, in 1974 struck upon one of the greatest archaeological discoveries in the world: a life-size clay soldier poised for battle.
he diggers notified Chinese authorities, who dispatched government archaeologists to the site.
They found not one, but thousands of clay soldiers, each with unique facial expressions and positioned according to rank. And though largely gray today, patches of paint hint at once brightly colored clothes. Further excavations have revealed swords, arrow tips, and other weapons, many in pristine condition.
The soldiers are in trenchlike, underground corridors. In some of the corridors, clay horses are aligned four abreast; behind them are wooden chariots.
The terra-cotta army, as it is known, is part of an elaborate mausoleum created to accompany the first emperor of China into the afterlife, according to archaeologists.
Ying Zheng took the throne in 246 B.C. at the age of 13. By 221 B.C. he had unified a collection of warring kingdoms and took the name of Qin Shi Huang Di—the First Emperor of Qin.
During his rule, Qin standardized coins, weights, and measures; interlinked the states with canals and roads; and is credited for building the first version of the Great Wall.
According to writings of court historian Siam Qian during the following Han dynasty, Qin ordered the mausoleum's construction shortly after taking the throne. More than 700,000 laborers worked on the project, which was halted in 209 B.C. amid uprisings a year after Qin's death.
To date, four pits have been partially excavated. Three are filled with the terra-cotta soldiers, horse-drawn chariots, and weapons. The fourth pit is empty, a testament to the original unfinished construction.
Archaeologists estimate the pits may contain as many as 8,000 figures, but the total may never be known.
Qin's tomb itself remains unexcavated, though Siam Qian's writings suggest even greater treasures.
"The tomb was filled with models of palaces, pavilions and offices as well as fine vessels, precious stones and rarities," reads a translation of the text.
The account indicates the tomb contains replicas of the area's rivers and streams made with mercury flowing to the sea through hills and mountains of bronze. Precious stones such as pearls are said to represent the sun, moon, and other stars.
Modern tests on the tomb mound have revealed unusually high concentrations of mercury, lending credence to at least some of the historical account.
Chinese archaeologists are also using remote-sensing technology to probe the tomb mound. The technique recently revealed an underground chamber with four stairlike walls. An archaeologist working on the site told the Chinese press that the chamber may have been built for the soul of the emperor.
Experimental pits dug around the tomb have revealed dancers, musicians, and acrobats full of life and caught in mid-performance, a sharp contrast to the military poses of the famous terra-cotta soldiers.
But further excavations of the tomb itself are on hold, at least for now.
"It is best to keep the ancient tomb untouched, because of the complex conditions inside," Duan Qinbao, a researcher with the Shaanxi Provincial Archaeology Institute, told the China Daily in 2006.
Qin Shi Huang, founder of the Qin dynasty, ruled a unified China as its first emperor from 221-207 B.C. Among the many massive building projects he ordered during his reign was the earliest version of China’s Great Wall, which ran along the country’s northern border and was designed to protect against barbarian invasions. But Emperor Qin’s most memorable project was the massive mausoleum complex he had constructed for himself near the ancient city of Xi’an. Guarded by an army of more than 6,000 life-size terra cotta soldiers, the emperor’s tomb would remain hidden for more than 2,200 years after his death. Explore some surprising facts about the Terra Cotta Army.
Farmers digging a well in a field approximately 20 miles east of Xi’an stumbled upon a pit containing 6,000 life-size terra cotta statues in March 1974. The site was soon identified as the burial place of Emperor Qin, and excavations began almost immediately. Historians now believe that some 700,000 workers worked for nearly three decades on the mausoleum. So far, archaeologists have uncovered a 20-square-mile compound, including some 8,000 terra cotta soldiers, along with numerous horses and chariots, a pyramid mound marking the emperor’s tomb, remains of a palace, offices, store houses and stables. In addition to the large pit containing the 6,000 soldiers, a second pit was found with cavalry and infantry units and a third containing high-ranking officers and chariots. A fourth pit remained empty, suggesting that the burial pit was left unfinished at the time the emperor died.
After a 200-year period of provincial conflict called the Warring States Period, Qin Shi Huang is credited with unifying the provinces under one centralized government and establishing the capital at Xianyang. The stability of his rule enabled China to experience great advances in politics, economy and culture, including the introduction of a standard written script, a system of canals and roads, advances in metallurgy, standardized weights and measures and large-scale public works projects like the early Great Wall. However, Qin was also known for his brutishness: He ordered the killings of scholars whose ideas he opposed, and showed little regard for the life of the conscripts who built those public works projects, including his burial complex. Numerous laborers and artisans lost their lives during its construction, while others were reportedly killed in order to preserve the secrecy of the tomb’s location and the treasures buried within.
The army of life-size terra cotta soldiers, archers, horses and chariots was stationed in military formation near Emperor Qin’s tomb in order to protect the emperor in the afterlife. The painstaking restoration of the figures—many of which were apparently vandalized soon after the emperor’s death—revealed that they were creating using molds and an early assembly-line-type construction. Though most of their hands are identical, and only eight molds were used to shape their heads, distinctive surface features were added with clay after assembly. As a result, each terra cotta soldier appears to be unique in its facial features, revealing a high level of craftsmanship and artistry.
During excavation of the pits containing the Terra Cotta Warriors, archaeologists have found some 40,000 bronze weapons, including battle axes, crossbows, arrowheads and spears. Even after more than 2,000 years, these weapons remained extremely well preserved thanks to protective chrome plating, a seemingly modern technique (first used in Germany in 1937 and the United States in 1950) that reveals the sophistication of ancient Chinese metallurgy.
Even 40 years after its discovery, less than 1 percent of Emperor Qin’s tomb has been excavated. Initial fears of damaging the corpse and the artifacts within the tomb later gave way to concerns about the potential safety hazards involved with excavation. According to an account by the first century B.C. Chinese historian Sima Qian, entitled “The Grand Scribe’s Records,” mercury streams were inlaid in the floor of Qin’s burial chamber to simulate local rivers running through his tomb. And in 2005, a team led by Chinese archaeologist Duan Chingbo tested 4,000 samples from the earthen burial mound for mercury; all came back highly positive. Given such historical and chemical evidence, debate continues over whether to excavate the tomb at all, and what methods should be used to best protect its contents as well as the people working at the site.