The Terra Cotta 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, Lintong County, Shaanxi Province. It is a sight not to be missed by any visitor to China.The lines of warriors seem to have brought people to the ancient and quiet eternal world. But even in their frozen state, people can still feel the forceful impetus of the Qin army.
The “Terracotta Warriors and Horses” or the Terracotta Army is a collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. It is a form of funerary art buried with the emperor in 210–209 BC and whose purpose was to protect the emperor in his afterlife.
The figures, dating from approximately the late third century BC, were discovered in 1974 by local farmers in Lintong District, Xi’an, Shanxi province. The figures vary in height according to their roles, with the tallest being the generals. The figures include warriors, chariots and horses. Current (2007) estimates are that in the three pits containing the Terracotta Army there were more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses, and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried in the pits nearby Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum. Other terracotta non-military figures were also found in other pits and they include officials, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians.
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 terracotta army figures were manufactured in workshops by government laborers and local craftsmen using materials originated on Mount Li. Heads, arms, legs, and torsos were all created separately and then assembled. Studies show that a total of eight face moulds were most likely used, with clay then added to provide individual facial features after assembly. It is believed that the warriors’ legs were made in much the same way that terracotta drainage pipes were manufactured at the time. This would classify the process as assembly line production, with specific parts manufactured and assembled after being fired, as opposed to crafting one solid piece and subsequently firing it. In those times of tight imperial control, each workshop was required to inscribe its name on items produced to ensure quality control. This has aided modern historians in verifying which workshops were commandeered to make tiles and other mundane items for the terracotta army. Upon completion, the terracotta figures were placed in the pits in precise military formation according to rank and duty.
The terracotta figures are life-sized. They vary in height, uniform, and hairstyle in accordance with rank. Most of them originally held real weapons such as spears, swords, or crossbows. Originally, the figures were also painted with bright pigments, variously coloured pink, red, green, blue, black, brown, white, and lilac. The colored lacquer finish, individual facial features, and weapons used in producing these figures created a realistic appearance. Most of the original weapons were thought to have been looted shortly after the creation of the army, or have rotted away, while the colour coating has flaked off or greatly faded.
The State Council authorized to build a museum on site in 1975. When completed, people from far and near came to visit. Xian and the Museum of Qin Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses have become landmarks on all travelers’ itinerary.
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, 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.
A collection of 120 objects from the mausoleum and 20 terracotta warriors were displayed at the British Museum in London as its special exhibition “The First Emperor: China’s Terracotta Army” from 13 September 2007 to April 2008. The Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses is a sensational archeological find of all times. It has put Xian on the map for tourists. It was listed by UNESCO in 1987 as one of the world cultural heritages.