Terracotta Army. Statue in Shaanxi, China

Terracotta Army

Statue in Shaanxi, China

Terracotta Army Photo © Karl-Heinz Adam

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Terracotta Army

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Terracotta Warriors - Terracotta Army
Terracotta Warriors - Terracotta Army. Photo by Pedro Szekely
The Terra Cotta Army was discovered in 1974 in Xi'an, China, by farmer Yang Zhifa, while digging into his farmland to create wells. As he began to dig, he and his workers were shocked to find fragments of body parts started to emerge one by one from the soil. These weren't the body parts of humans, rather pieces of clay statues, revealing one of the greatest archaeological discoveries ever to be found.

This staggering discovery included clay statues reaching up to 2.0 meter tall, weighing in at, around, 600 lbs each, in the form of warriors, archers, generals, and even horses and their chariots. Around 8,000 of these life sized figures were revealed, systematically scattered in 3 pits, throughout 5 acres of farmland. Each soldier is complete with unique characteristics, from their hairstyle and facial expressions, to their expanding waistlines depicting wealth and rank, and surprisingly, no two soldiers are the same.

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Terracotta Army. Photo by stephen


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Terracotta Army. Photo by unknown
These remarkable figures date back to thousands of years ago, to 221 BC, the year of China's first emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi (Wikipedia Article). Qin was, undoubtedly, the most powerful ruler in Chinese history. He conquered a vast amount of territory, unifying China, created the first form of currency, and standardized measuring systems. Although he had many successes that progressed China, he was a very brutal ruler, killing thousands of people throughout his conquests.

Qin demanded his people create an army of life-like soldiers, to be placed in the city-sized mausoleum he had built for himself, to protect him through his journey into the afterlife. The craftsmen were ordered to have this army ready by the unknown time of his death, which happened to be 11 short years later, in 210 BC. It is estimated that about 700 clay statues were created per year, giving him his final count of nearly 8,000 protectors. This is a staggering achievement considering the complication and great amount of detail that went into each individual statue.

Being buried with an army was not a new concept to the Chinese people of that time. In fact, rulers before Qin actually had their best soldiers, generals, and even wives buried alive with them, so they could accompany the ruler in the afterlife. Although this was a great honor to the people, the amount of human sacrifices made during these times left the real world with a smaller, weaker population, which halted many of the advancements made by the Chinese. As future battles claimed thousands of lives throughout China, the human sacrifice used in ruler burials was no longer a luxury that China could afford. Clay figurines, representing the strong and important people of the rulers life became the alternative way. These small figurines were not good enough for Emperor Qin, and being the egotistical and paranoid ruler that he was, demanded his vision of a life-sized warriors to come about.

These statues were uncovered all facing the East, towards the states Qin conquered. It is believed that they were placed this way because of Qin's fearful anticipation of vengeful troops coming to attack.

	army, lower rank warriors - Terracotta Army
Terracotta army, lower rank warriors. Photo by hll816

The Creation Process

After numerous archaeological studies, it was found that these thousands of statues were made individually by hand by expert craftsmen, without the use of a mold. Strings of clay were combined and coiled together for various body parts, individually placed in the urn and completed by attaching all pieces of the body together. It is no wonder so much detail went into each statue, as the punishment for any flaw resulted in prison, or in some cases, even death. Small initials of the craftsmen have been discovered on each statue, in a unseen area, which was believed to be done to hold the craftsmen accountable for their work.

Among many exciting discoveries throughout the years, the archaeological findings in the soils also included specks of pigment, revealing that the warriors were majestically painted in unique and hard to fabricate colors, such as Chinese purple and Egyptian blue. The majority of the paint has now disappeared due to sun and air exposure, however scientists found a way to preserve any remaining color on the pieces, which can still be seen today. Although many of the statues are now without color, the few pieces that were preserved are breathtaking when you take their age and story into consideration.

Tourist Info

Hundreds of replicas of all sizes, including the actual size of the originals, are created each year and shipped worldwide. Although very similar and detailed, they are nowhere near as impressive as the originals considering they are now created by a mold, not by hand. These can be seen and purchased at the original site of the Terracotta warrior excavation site, where thousands of the soldiers lay in their original positions within the now-covered farm land. The original farmer who made this great discovery is often present at the site, signing books and souvenirs for visitors from around the world. This awe-inspiring site is definitely worth the trip.

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Author: Kadie Hummel. Last updated: Apr 13, 2015

Pictures of Terracotta Army

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Terracotta Army - Photo by Nathan Wind

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Terracotta - Terracotta Army. Photo by Sharon Drummond


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