11 Fascinating Facts About China’s Terracotta Army

Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, built the huge Terracotta Army to protect him in the afterlife. An elaborate tomb complex in Xi’an, the city-size compound came equipt with everything the emperor would require in the afterlife. Like the Egyptians, the ancient Chinese believed the items they took with them to the grave would accompany them into the afterlife. But instead of burying actual people with him underground, the emperor created clay reproductions of warriors, servants, horses, and other objects. An incredible feat of design, the army also features a number of ancient Chinese inventions, many of which no one realized dated back as far as the Qin dynasty.

Despite excavating it for over 40 years, archeologists have barely made a dent in this wonder of the ancient world. In total, they’ve unearthed approximately 2,000 soldiers and believe 6,000 remain uncovered. The focal point of the tomb, the Emperor’s resting place, may never even be touched due to the hazardous material found near it. So even 2,000+ years later, the famous Terracotta Army still manages to protect its Emperor from the greedy hands of the living.

The Emperor Built The Army Because He Feared Revenge

During his reign, Emperor Qin not only defeated armies in six states of China, he massacred them. As a result, he feared the military from these states would pursue him into the afterlife, so he built his Terracotta Army. One of the reasons the Terracotta Army looks east is because it faces the direction an enemy would likely come from to attack the underground mausoleum.

700,000 Laborers Built The Statues, And Some Of Them Died For It

After he took the Qin State throne in 246 BCE, Emperor Qin Shi Huang ordered the Terracotta Army to be built. Over 700,000 laborers spent 40 years working day and night to finish the soldiers and the tomb. The workers molded the legs, arms, torsos, and heads, which were then assembled together. Many laborers and artisans died during construction, some possibly executed to keep the location of the tomb and treasures a secret.

When the work was finally completed in 206 BC, Qin had already been dead for four years.

No Two Soldiers Look Alike

 Amazingly enough, each of the 8,000 statues is different and unique in its own way. If you look at them closely, you notice the subtle differences the craftsmen included to differentiate each solider. While laborers only used about eight different molds for the soldiers, each warrior sports its own facial features, which were added in clay.

Aside from being separated into different ranks, infantry, archers, generals, and calvary, each soldier features unique facial expressions, clothing, and hairstyles. They also have varying heights, the taller ones representing generals. Most of the statues are 5 feet, 11 inches tall, but some stand as tall as 6 feet, 7 inches.

The Horse Statues Received As Much Attention As The Warriors

The horses in the army are equipped with saddles, proving the saddle’s invention came about during the Qin Dynasty, much earlier than scholars originally believed. In ancient armies, the calvary and war chariots held great importance. The excavated steeds, accurate in size to living horses, are depicted as well-fed with erect ears, wide open eyes and open mouths. Some believe the horses resemble the Hegu horses who live today in Gansu, while others posit they’re based off of Heitian horses from Xinjiang. These animals are good at climbing hills and racing and are very strong.

Acrobats, Birds, And Horses Were Found Alongside The Warriors

In addition to the 8,000 soldiers, the three pits contain 130 chariots pulled by 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, most buried near the Emperor’s mausoleum. The pits also include non-military statues, such as acrobats, strongmen and musicians. Bronze ducks, cranes, and waterfowl also appear featured among the human statues, a sign that Emperor Qin hoped to be surrounded by similar people and animals in the afterlife.

The Warriors Were Hidden Underground For Over 2,000 Years

For over 2,200 years, the Terracotta Army remained untouched underground. Nobody knew about them until 1974, when a group of farmers discovered them while digging a well in Xi’an. The Chinese government naturally investigated the area, and it turned into one of the country’s greatest archeological sites.

The Army’s Weapons Stood The Test Of Time

While excavating the pits, archeologists uncovered about 40,000 bronze weapons, such as battle axes, crossbows, arrowheads and spears. Even though they remained underground for over 2,000 years, the weapons emerged in excellent condition and free of rust. This is likely because they were covered in a protective chrome plating – a technique thought to have been pioneered by the Germans in 1937. The discovery proved how ancient Chinese metallurgy was far ahead of its time.

The Statues Were Originally Painted

Tourists today won’t see the Terracotta Army in its original form. After being molded, the statues also received vibrantly colored paint jobs. However, once buried underground for several centuries, most statues lost their color. When archeologists excavated the area, the dry air took its own toll, disintegrating the paint right off the statues. The lacquer beneath the paint curls in the exposed air, causing layers to flake off within minutes. Fortunately, scientists developed a solution known as PEG, which they spray onto any statue the moment it becomes unearthed.

The Emperor’s Tomb Is Thought To Be Surrounded By Rivers Of Liquid Mercury

Though known today as one of the world’s most toxic chemicals, mercury was considered by the ancient Chinese as the elixir of life. Emperor Qin, in his quest to live forever, ingested mercury pillsregularly, likely contributing to his death by the age of 50. The Emperor’s belief in mercury may also mean his unexplored tomb is surrounded by rivers of the substance.

Only One Percent Of The Emperor’s Tomb Has Been Excavated

Even though the Terracotta Army was discovered over 40 years ago, only one percent of the emperor’s tomb has been excavated. At first, archeologists worried an excavation would damage the emperor’s corpse and artifacts in the tomb. But the biggest concern is safety. In his quest for immortality, the Emperor allegedly tasked laborers with creating rivers of mercury throughout the tomb. Tests on the burial ground found high levels of mercury in the area, leaving archeologists struggling to find safest way to excavate the tomb, if they can at all.

It Is The Oldest And Most Significant Burial Ground Discovered In Modern Times

The Terracotta warriors, horses, chariots, and the emperor’s tomb are spread out over a 20+ square-mile compound. One pit (roughly the size of an airplane hanger) contains the soldiers, a second contains the cavalry and infantry units, and a third holds high-ranking officers and chariots to represent the command center. It is believed the tomb was left incomplete, largely due to a fourth, empty pit that wasn’t finished even after the emperor died.