China – Xi’an – Terra-cotta Army

– OCTOBER 18, 2015

Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Terra-cotta Army was brought to light over 40 years when the discovery shocked the world.  The terra-cotta pits are the large attendant pits, located 1.5 km east of Emperor Qin Shihuang’s mausoleum, symbolizing the main defending force that guarded the capital before the emperor died.  The pits were never mentioned in the historical records until Pit 1 was discovered in March, 1974 by local farmers while drilling a water well.  After this discovery was shared with the local government, archaeologists began the explorations and excavations that lead to the site today.

All of the terra-cotta warriors and horses were made using local clay, then baked in the kiln.  After firing, the figures were completed with painted detail.  The Qin Terra-cotta warriors and horses were big in life-size and exquisitely made with ancient high technology.  The warriors and horses were all fired hollow, so the heat could escape when cooling.  The heads on the men were added after the bodies were cooled.  The horse tails were added after the bodies had cooled.

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Terra-cotta Army

The three underground pits are built in similar a basic earth and wood structure, but vary in size and shape.  The way to construct the pits is as follows: They were built about 5m beneath the present ground level with the terra-cotta figures placed in corridors.  The corridors, divided by earth-rammed partition walls, were paved with pottery bricks on which the figures were placed. The earth walks sustained a wood roof which was composed of huge and strong rafters.  The roof was covered by layers of fiber mats, earth fill and tilled earth.  The sloping roadways were rammed by earth.  All these were constructed to completely conceal the terra-cotta army.

Pit 1, the largest of the three pits, is a subterranean earth and wood structure.  It measures 230m long from east to west and 62m wide from north to south (covering an area of 14,260sm).  Up till 2015, about 2,000 pottery warriors/horses and 20 wooden chariots have been unearthed within an area of 4,000sm.  It is assumed that more than 6,000 pottery warriors and horses with 50 chariots will be unearthed from this pit.  All of the statues are life-size and exquisitely made, representing high technology in Chinese sculptural history.  They are reputed as the “Eighth Wonder of the World“.  The excavation of the terra-cotta warriors and horses provides extremely valuable data for the research of Chinese ancient politics, military affairs, science and arts.

Pit 1 is a combined battle formation of charioteers and infantrymen.  At the eastern end of the pit there are three rows of vanguards.  Immediately behind the vanguards is the main body of the battle formation  Around the outer edge, there is one row of soldiers facing south, north and west respectively as the flanks to guard the sides and rear of the army.  They are set up in a real battle formation.  All of the terra-cotta warriors in the pit held bronze weapons.  The main weapons were crossbows, arrows, arrow heads, spears, dagger-axes, halberds, swords, curved knives and other smaller weapons.

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Terra-cotta Army – You can see the warriors on the edge of the pit facing the wall, not the same direction as the others. This is the proper battle formation.

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Terra-cotta Army – The location of the dug well that discovered the terra-cotta warriors.

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Terra-cotta Army – The front line is 3 deep, as per the battle formation.

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Terra-cotta Army – Each warrior is an individual, as no two are the same.

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Part of Pit 1 still has the roof in place, as they do not want to expose all of the warriors at this time.  The wood roof was originally covered with layers of fiber mats.  Fine soil was then filled on the top of the mats.  It was the earth-rammed wall to sustain the wood roof.  It is about 2.5m wide.  The remains of crossbeams and logs burnt to ashes can be seen on the top of the walls.

The floors were rammed with earth 45cm thick and paved with bricks in order.

The remains of the pillars are found on both sides of the partition walls.  The pillars were for sustaining crossbeams.  The diameter of the pillar is 30cm.  There is an interval of 1.1m to 1.5m between pillars.

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The broken pieces of the warriors are being reconstructed by a team of specialists, piece by piece.  The back area of Pit 1 has been dedicated to the reconstruction of these warriors and horses.  Some have plastic wrap to keep them together.  They named this area “Terra-cotta Warrior Hospital“.

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Pit 3 is a smaller pit where some warriors and horses have been discovered, but it is a much smaller area.  Here some warriors are out of battle formation, instead they face each other.  This is the “conference” section where the military leaders discussed battle strategies.

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Pit 2 is the middle sized pit of the three, where some warriors and horses have also been discovered.  Most of Pit 2 has yet to be exposed.

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Kneeling Archer

It is one kind of the armored infantryman.  It was unearthed from the center of the archer formation, which is located northeast of Pit 2.  The pose of both hands is evidence that this figure held one crossbow originally.  Altogether 160 kneeling archers were found in Pit 2.

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Terra-cotta Army – Kneeling Archer

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Terra-cotta Army – Kneeling Archer

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Terra-cotta Army – Kneeling Archer – this warrior still has original colour on the backside.

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Terra-cotta Army – Kneeling Archer – this warrior still has original colour on the backside.

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Terra-cotta Army – Kneeling Archer – the shoe tread shows the amazing detail these warriors were made with.

Middle-ranking Officer

He wears double-layered flat hat and square-toed shoes.  A robe under the armor extends below the knees.  The armors for the middle-ranking officers have two different styles: one is with chest armor only and another is with both chest and back armor.

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Terra-cotta Army – Middle-Ranking Officer

High-Ranking Officer

This is one of seven “generals” found in the terra-cotta pits.  The height, clothing and headgear of this officer all indicate his high rank.  He wears double-layered robes under a colourful fish-scaled armor, and a high headgear tied with ribbons under the chin.  His shoes are with square opening and upwards-bending tips.  There are eight knots made of ribbons to decorate the armor, three knots on the front plate, three on the back and one knot each on the shoulder.

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Terra-cotta Army – High-Ranking Officer

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Terra-cotta Army – High-Ranking Officer

Cavalryman with his Saddled War-Horse

116 similar cavalrymen with their horses were found in Pit 2.  Horses were strictly selected from HeQu and well trained.  The horse is shown with a saddle decorated with girth and crupper, but no stirrup.  The figure wears a knee-length robe, an armoured vest and tight-fitting trousers.  Beneath the belted waist the robe appears full with pleats and folds.  The small tight hat is fastened under the chin.  He holds the reins in one hand and a crossbow in the other.

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Terra-cotta Army – Cavalryman with his Saddled War-Horse

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Terra-cotta Army – Cavalryman with his Saddled War-Horse

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Terra-cotta Army – Cavalryman with his Saddled War-Horse

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Terra-cotta Army – Cavalryman with his Saddled War-Horse

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Terra-cotta Army – Cavalryman with his Saddled War-Horse

Standing Archer

It is one kind of the infantryman dressed in an unarmoured battle robe.  It was unearthed from the exterior of the archer formation in Pit 2.  The pose of both hands shows that this figure was ready to shoot.  Altogether, 172 standing archers were found in this pit.

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Terra-cotta Army – Standing Archer

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The Unique Weapons in the Terra-cotta Pits

Approximately 40,000 bronze weapons have been unearthed from the terra-cotta pits.  These weapons were exquisitely made through the processes of modeling, molding, casting and finishing.  The surface of some weapons were plated with chrome-saline oxide coating, which has protected the sharpness of the weapons.  This has made them look as shiny as new when they were unearthed.  Different proportion of the elements of the alloy was regulated for making different weapons.  All these demonstrate that metallurgy of the Qin era reached a high level and the manufacturing of weapons started to become standardized.

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Terra-cotta Army – The Unique Weapons in the Terra-cotta Pits

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Terra-cotta Army – The Unique Weapons in the Terra-cotta Pits

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Terra-cotta Army – The Unique Weapons in the Terra-cotta Pits

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Terra-cotta Army – The Unique Weapons in the Terra-cotta Pits

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Terra-cotta Army – The Unique Weapons in the Terra-cotta Pits (the signature of the weapon maker is on each piece)

Painted Bronze Chariots and Horses in Qin Shihuang’s Tomb

A huge pit of funerary chariots and horses, which takes up an area of 3,025 sm, was discovered 20 m to the west side of Qin Shihuang’s Tomb in the summer of 1978.  At the end of 1980, two big sets of color-painted chariots and horses were unearthed 7.8 m deep underground during a partial excavation.

The two chariots were placed facing the west in a front and behind order in a box-like wood outer coffin and according to their order they are coded as Chariot No 1 and No 2.  Due to the coffin being rotten and the upper part collapsed, the chariots and horses were damaged and many parts of the paintings scaled when they were unearthed.  After eight years of restoration, the bright colours and grand postures of the chariots and horses were basically represented.

The two sets of bronze chariots and horses were made in the size of half scale of the real-size chariots and horses.  They are the symbol of Qin Shihuang’s chariot-horse guard of honor.  All of the main parts and units are made of a tin-bronze alloy with another 14 kg of units made of gold and silver.

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Terra-cotta Army – Painted Bronze Chariots and Horses in Qin Shihuang’s Tomb

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Terra-cotta Army – Painted Bronze Chariots and Horses in Qin Shihuang’s Tomb

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Terra-cotta Army – Painted Bronze Chariots and Horses in Qin Shihuang’s Tomb

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Terra-cotta Army – Painted Bronze Chariots and Horses in Qin Shihuang’s Tomb

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Terra-cotta Army – Painted Bronze Chariots and Horses in Qin Shihuang’s Tomb

This is definitely one of the top 5 sights we have seen on this trip thus far…simply amazing.  Xi’an needs to be on the list of places to see when a trip to China is in your plans.

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For more photos of our adventure go to our flickr account here.