The legend says the army was once buried with Emperor Qin so that they can defend
him from any dangers in the afterlife. 7000 pottery soldiers, horses, chariots and
weapons slept along with Emperor Qin in the underground necropolis for over 20
The Terracotta Army was discovered in eastern suburbs of Xian, Shaanxi Province by
local farmers drilling water well 1.5 miles east of Lishan mountain, where the
material to make the terracotta warriors originated. The next step was taken by
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 on 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. Archeologists had established beyond doubt that these
artifacts were associated with the Qin Dynasty (211-206 BC).Their purpose was to
help rule another empire with Shi Huang Di in the afterlife. In addition to the warriors,
an entire man-made necropolis for the emperor has been excavated.
According to the historian Sima Qian (145-90 BCE) construction of this mausoleum
began in 246 BCE and involved 700,000 workers. Qin Shi Huang was thirteen when
construction began. At the time of the warriors’ creation, it was thought that a person’s
spirit should be treated just as his mortal body, and it was customary to be buried with
everyday objects that could be used in death. Sima Qian, in his most famous work,
Shiji, completed a century after the mausoleum completion, 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. Some translations of this
passage refer to models or imitations but in fact he does not use those words. 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.
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 were used in manufacturing these
figures created a realistic appearance. Each of the three underground pits where the
Terra Cotta Warriors were discovered is between 15 and 20 feet below ground.
Special roofing covered with earth was used to conceal the tomb’s location, but based
on some deterioration in the support system; it is thought that looters may have gained
access to the area.
The clay figures were fired at a much higher temperature than traditional Chinese
pottery of the time. It is estimated that the temperature was between 950 and 1,050
Each warrior weighs between 300-400 pounds. The torsos are hollow, but their heads
and limbs are solid. 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.
Until October 18, 2009 The Houston Museum of Natural Science is hosting this one
of the most extraordinary archaeological finds of the 20th century, considered by
many to be the Eighth Wonder of the World. The largest part of the archeological
discovery that traveled to U.S. so far, 15 terra cotta figures and 120 artifacts will be on
display during Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China’s First Emperor.