3/12 – In the 3rd century BCE, Emperor Qin Shi Huang decided he needed a vast army to protect him in the afterlife. He enlisted thousands of slaves to create over 8000 thousand terracotta warriors, armed with bronze weapons, and over 500 horses and wagons, to surround his tomb. Word has it that he then killed all the slaves, so no one would reveal the location of the army or the tomb.
In 1974, a farmer, digging a well outside Xi’an, started to bring up bits of clay. He had inadvertently tapped into Pit number 1 of the collection of life-size terracotta figures, buried for 2400 years. Archeologists have been piecing them together ever since. See the location of the farmer’s well in lower right.
We took an hour’s bus ride from the train station (take bus 603 or green bus 915, they leave every 15 minutes for 8 yuan – you do NOT need a private tour or a guide) to the site, where three huge pits are being excavated. As soon as the once brightly painted figures were subjected to the dry, polluted air, the paint curled and fell off within seconds. This is how the figures once looked.
After exposing over 2000 figures in the first pit, and having them turn mud-brown, archeologists are now taking their time exposing more, to enable scientists to develop better methods to preserve them.
The first pit was pretty impressive.
Here are some soldiers being reassembled.
The second and third pits show more recent excavation, with many warrior and horse figures still buried.
Some pieces retained a bit of color, and are preserved under glass.
Although molds were used to cast each piece of the figures so they could be fired and put together in an assembly-line fashion, each face was formed individually with clay to make it unique.
The horses once pulled wooden carts, but the wood has all decayed away. This is the impression of a wagon wheel from Pit 2.
There are archers, swordsman, charioteers, musicians, officers and infantry, as well as horses. It is believed that Pit 3 houses a command post for officers.
Like other wonders of the world, you have to give credit to those who thought so extravagantly, while simultaneously wondering what this emperor accomplished in his lifetime to justify his glorious death. His tomb remains intact.
Outside, it was 70 degrees, and the cherry blossoms are starting to bloom!