In 1974, when a group of farmers were digging a well in Xi’an, Shaanxi Province in the northwest of China, little did they know that they were about to unearth the key to one of of the greatest and most important archaeological discoveries in the world. The 2000-year-old clay figure they found turned out of be one of an entire army of terracotta soldiers and horses from the tomb of China’s First Emperor Qin Shi Huang, known today as the Terracotta Warriors.
A powerful emperor
Born in a time when China was separated into warring states, Qin Shi Huang founded the short-lived Qin dynasty (221-207 B.C.E) and became the First Emperor of a unified China. Throughout a reign filled with bloodshed, Qin Shi Huang’s many accomplishments included forging the seven warring states into one imperial nation, building the Great Wall, and standardizing weights, measures, and currency.
But his greatest legacy of all was his mausoleum, an elaborate subterranean palace that symbolized his power and supremacy. From the moment the First Emperor ascended the throne at age 13, a workforce of 700,000 men carried out the construction of a mass army of detailed terracotta figures near the tomb to accompany his burial and protect him in the afterlife.
The Terracotta Warriors
Chinese archaeologists have excavated three major pits near the emperor’s tomb containing the Terracotta Army, revealing more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses, and 150 cavalry horses. These soldiers were discovered in long lines stationed in actual military formation to guard the emperor’s tomb and protect him after death.
Despite the numbers, the life-sized sculptures exhibit incredible individuality, with varying height and distinct uniform, hair, and facial features. Some figures wore caps and loose tunics, others had braided hair and carried armored vests, and all were strategically positioned in accordance to their rank.
After the emperor of the Qin Dynasty died, numerous terracotta figures were vandalized and burnt. Painstaking restoration and conversion techniques have been performed to piece them back together. Inside the pits containing Terracotta warriors, archaeologists have also discovered over 40,000 bronze weapons, such as spears, crossbows, and arrowheads, that appear to remain extremely well preserved.
The First Emperor’s legacy reveals a great deal about China’s history, as well as the sophistication of ancient Chinese craftsmanship and its advanced metallurgy technology in use 2,000 years ago.
Today’s archaeological excavation techniques are inadequate to ensure the protection of Emperor Qin’s burial chamber. It therefore remains an untouched and unexplored underground mausoleum, leaving intact many secrets and wondrous treasures buried within it.
But Emperor Qin Shi Huang will always be remembered as an important seminal figure of China’s history — the founder of the first unified empire, the Qin Dynasty, and creator of extraordinary architectural wonders.
Written by Peter Wu and Translation by Lucy Wu
Original story: http://www.visionmagazine.com.au/