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Interesting Facts about China's Terracotta Warriors

The 'Terracotta Army' is one the most fascinating archaeological discoveries till date. Buzzle tells you exactly why archaeologists have had a field day excavating this site.
Fact about China's Terracotta Warriors
Approximately 700,000 workers were forced to work (until death) in order to construct the terracotta army.

The terracotta warriors were discovered by a group of peasants on March 29, 1974, while digging a well on the outskirts of the city of Xi'an, China. The Shaanxi province in China is known for its drought-prone conditions. Hence, little did the farmers know that looking for some water beneath the earth would lead to one of the most mind-boggling discoveries in today's age. The farmers immediately informed the concerned authorities, and the government then requested a group of experts to probe further into the matter. The archaeologists were shocked to find terracotta statues in exceptional state, buried in the earth.

The entire Terracotta Army was preserved in pristine condition below the earth for more than 2,000 years. The exquisite shape in which they were found baffles scientists till date. Today, some of the most striking sculptures are included in the museum's traveling exhibitions around the world, that give information on Qin Shi Huang's mighty reign. Approximately 1,900 of a potential 7,000 warriors had been unearthed until the project was halted for various reasons.

This magnificent archaeological site has now been accredited World Heritage status, and is one of the most popular tourists destinations in China. Buzzle digs up some interesting facts to help you understand what the hype and curiosity behind this ancient treasure is all about.

The Terracotta Army of China

The region to the east of Qin Emperor's tomb at Mount Li had always been a topic of interest among archaeologists due to the past record of finding fragments of terracotta works.

Archaeologists earlier thought the excavation to be limited to couple of statues, but were alarmed when they unearthed thousands of sculptures of warriors, and hundreds of clay figures of chariots and horses.

The mausoleum showed a display of numerous figures, each different from each other. Each figure had unique facial expressions, and although they were discovered in a uniform gray color, small areas of paint suggested their once colorful appearance.

Further digging led to astonishing findings of not just warriors, but also infantrymen, archers, cavalrymen, swords, crossbows, and other weapons.

Historian Sima Qian (145-90 B.C.) suggests that the mausoleum was constructed by Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, who had planned for his burial place long before he was enthroned. After Qin Shi Huang took the throne in 247 B.C., he ordered thousands of workers to construct the mausoleum.

The emperor chose a site in proximity to the foot of Mount Li, possibly due to the available geological richness in the form of gold and jade mines. Hence, the work to build an ulterior burial or a city in a mound increased manifold, which continued incessantly until Qin Shi Huang's death in 210 B.C.

The burial chamber was constructed 35 km from Xian, having a staggering 43 m high mound. The interior of the burial consists of two enclosures-a square one with four walls and four doors; and a rectangular one built in the north-south direction.

While the main structures over the chamber are missing, the first statues of the warriors were found under the ground while digging a well. The excavation of the first pit, thus, began at the same location and yielded as many as 1,087 warriors and other army personnel in a standing position, poised for battle, with archers guarding the flanks.

Pit 1 is 230 m in length and 62 m in breadth with 11 parallel corridors. The walls between these corridors were constructed with the help of pounded earth.

Subsequently, Pit 2 and Pit 3 were discovered to the north of Pit 1. The Pit 2 consisted figures of infantry, cavalry, and chariots. Pit number 3 comprised high-ranked officials with a war chariot that was drawn by four horses.

A considerable amount of headless statues were also excavated, indicating that thefts were rampant during that time and after the emperor's death. Digging of Pit 4 did not reveal any sculptures, probably due to unfinished work that was stopped abruptly after the emperor's death.

The four pits as a whole seem to resemble a fort, with Pit 1 and Pit 2 being the left and the right army respectively; Pit 3 the headquarters; and Pit 4 was possibly the middle army.

Studies reveal that figures of the army were constructed separately and then molded together. The figures, once put together, stood at a height of almost 6.5 feet with a unique build for each warrior.

While some warriors depict calm expressions, others have been given a ferocious look with alarming detail. Most likely, eight face molds were used before the expressions were carved.

The soldiers were dressed according to their ranks. Higher-ranked warriors had thick armor and detailed caps, whereas the infantrymen and other officials wore rather simple clothes with little work on them.

After baking the figures, it is believed that they were coated with a mixture of lacquer and colored pigments. Since archaeologists found stains of color on most clay figures, the lacquer's reaction to humidity probably led to peeling away of the paint.

The figures carried exceptional weapons, such as battle-axes, crossbows, arrowheads, swords, and spears; almost all weapons were made from bronze. In Pit 1 alone nearly 500 weapons and thousands of arrowheads were unearthed, with some still being extremely sharp. These weapons were coated with a 10-15 mm thick layer of chromium oxide that protected them from rusting.

Other findings from the pits included burial sites of horses, bronze cranes, ducks; and also carriages and armor suits made from stone.

On excavating further, archaeologists even found sculptures of musicians, dancers, and acrobats in action or performing. Unfortunately, due to unfavorable geological conditions, further excavation was not undertaken. So, the question still remains, why did the emperor choose a contrasting theme so close to the army?

People who believe Qin Shi Huang to be their ancestor were against excavating his tomb. Thus, considering their sentiments, and including the complexities involved in further excavation, the project has been stalled for now.
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Published: September 24, 2013
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I just saw a programme in Taiwan on this topic and archeologists said that the figures were mostly painted when discovered. The first diggers that found the figures said the colours all vanished within 20 minutes after exposure. What surprised me was that they said there are 6000 pits! A lot of them are under the mysterious pyramids in China only 6cm deep under the earth. They can't excavate as they do not know how to preserve them as they have already lost so many important relics due to exposure. Including Emperor Chin's robe which was woven in pure gold thread that was thought to be dyed gold in silk but was actually pure gold thread measuring 4000 metres. What's astonishing was that they cannot find a single seam on the entire robe so they don't know how it was made. The entire robe turned black in colour within 5 minutes and deteriorated so badly that hardly anything is left. It was from this huge loss that the government has decided not to excavate further until they can find a way to preserve them. They seem to be developing a way to inject a special "air curtain" to protect it before they start digging but they're still not sure whether it's going to work. It's a huge task as each pit is the size of a large football field. My Chinese is not 100% fluent but there are so many interesting facts about this that the West don't know. Partly due to China's secrecy and language barriers. I have been to the X'ian Terrocotta Tombs and nothing of this deep detailed facts is written in English so although the site was one of the most amazing historic sites I've ever seen I just wish these detailed facts were at least explained on the displays so we at least know that what the public see is merely a small fraction of what these amazing people achieved 2000 years ago.

Also the a lot of the warriors armour was woven with extremely highly engineered bronze fasteners which I have never seen before. Most archeologist agree that to achieve this intricacy kilns are needed to be at least 1000c. However w, not a single kiln has been found so the actual technique is not known to date.
- Mickster [January 29, 2014]