Ready for battle in the afterlife

Heads, feet and hands lie in pieces intermixed with horses’ rumps and legs – the broken remains of the Terracotta Army. Thousands have been renovated and stand with military precision in their ranks. But still more are waiting to be unearthed.

Emperor Qin Shi Huang ordered the start of his Terracotta Army in 246BC when he was just 13 years old to protect him in the afterlife. It took 40 years to create the estimated 8,000 warriors, 130 chariots and 650 horses, which then stood guard in battle formation, armed with bows and swords, for almost two thousand years.

Made from clay, each warrior is unique. No face the same. You can see the fine detail given to each with buttons on uniforms, creases in faces and even the tread marked on the bottom of the archers’ boots.


Made larger than life to intimidate any possible enemy, they face north, south, east and west to protect the emperor against enemies from all directions. His tomb is several miles away closer to the mountains. He was buried with his concubines, servants and the workman who built the tomb (and knew the secrets on how to access it). Bummer!

The army was set down in three massive pits. Earth walls were built around the warriors which had wooden struts across the top to support a roof. Feathers and then woven material were laid on top of the wooden beams before the earth was replaced on top. Over time the wood rotted and fires caused the roof to collapse onto the clay army.

imageBronze chariots, now on display in glass cases, once marked the entrance to the underground chambers. These would have been the emperor’s personal carriages to take him to the afterlife in style.

The site was discovered in 1974 by a farmer digging a well. Since then archeologists have been painstakingly piecing together each soldier and horse to recreate the Terracotta Army. During excavation, archeologists discovered more recent tombs with fossilised human bones around the site. The weapons were stolen at some point.

Pit number one is the largest of the three. It is effectively a large high-ceilinged shed. Two and three, discovered more recently, are housed in large stone buildings. They get pretty busy so it is worth getting there early to avoid the afternoon crowds.

Photos do not do this place justice. It is immense. So much of the army is still in ruins – a huge challenge for archeologists to piece together several thousand 3D jigsaw puzzles all mixed together in millions of pieces. I would like to come back in 20 years to see how many warriors will then be stood ready for battle.


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