"); ");
Exploring Chinese History
- Archaeology -

Qin Mausoleum and Terra Cotta Army

The Terracotta Army (Chinese: 兵馬俑; Pinyin: Bīng Mǎ Yǒng; literally "Soldier and Horse Figures") is a collection of 8,099 life-size terra cotta figures of warriors and horses located in the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor (秦始皇陵; Qín Shǐ Huáng Líng).
The figures were discovered in 1974 near Xi'an, Shaanxi province, China.


SEE Also:


Replica statues are readied for firing at 1000°C in a museum factory kiln.
About 10% of these firings fail.
The exact method of original creation remains largely a mystery.

The terra cotta figures were buried with the first Emperor of Qin (Qin Shi Huang) in 210-209 BCE. Consequently, they are also sometimes referred to as "Qin's Army."

All 8,099 soldiers are unique and distinguishable with different height and facial features. The soldiers are modeled after selected soldiers from the time period who were considered to be the finest of China. The figures are in several poses including standing infantry and kneeling archers as well as charioteers with horses. Each figure's head appears to be unique showing a variety of facial features and expressions as well as hair styles.

There are three separate pits, which represent three different sections of the army. The largest pit, and most famous, holds the infantry. The second pit contains the cavalry, and the third contains the officers. A fourth pit, which was planned but never built, is thought to be the supply unit.

Qin Shi Huang had the figures created and buried with him in the belief that they would protect him after his death. The figures were buried in battle formation in many vaults, 1.5 kilometers east of Qin Shi Huang's tomb, which is 33km east of Xi'an. The army was built facing enemy territory, and in between these enemies and the Emperor's tomb.

Terra Cotta figure still partially embedded in the earth surrounded by other pieces.


It is believed that the statues were destroyed only some 50 years after their original creation, due to a fire set during a peasant uprising. The original design included a wooden roof covering the rows of soldiers, and the statues were crushed when this burning roof collapsed in on them. The fire also destroyed the paint which gave the statues a more realistic look. However, the separate pit which contains the "officers" of the army escaped fire, and some paint remnants can still be seen on these figures.

Excavation and Re-construction

Excavation progress of Pit 2.

The statues were discovered in March 1974 during the sinking of wells for farmland irrigation construction by three local farmers, one of whom is still alive today and working at the tourist center. Professional excavation of the vaults started soon after their discovery. At the time, all of the soldiers were badly broken. A group of archaeologists are still in the process of piecing the soldiers back into their original form. It is estimated that it will be approximately 50 years before they finish the project. All the archeologists involved are native Chinese, since offers of foreign aid in the project have been refused.

Rows of figures awaiting reconstruction.
The process is a giant jigsaw puzzle whose pieces may yet be removed from the earth.

Three or more vaults, measuring about 4-8 meters deep, have been excavated and a museum set up on the ruins, called Xi'an First Qin Emperor's Terracotta Army Museum (西安秦始皇兵馬俑博物館). Vault One was opened to the public in 1979, and the whole museum was completed in 1994. Currently, several vaults are open for viewing. Other vaults have been discovered but have yet to be excavated.
In 1987, UNESCO added the Terracotta Army and the Tomb of the First Qin Emperor to the list of the World Heritage Sites.

Imperial Tomb

Diagram of the Tomb site, with the Terra Cotta Army pits in detail.

The tomb of Qin Shi Huang (located at 34°23′N 109°15′E) is near an earthen pyramid 76 meters tall and nearly 350 meters square. The tomb presently remains unopened. There are plans to seal-off the area around the tomb with a special tent-type structure to prevent corrosion from exposure to outside air. However, there is only one company in the world that makes these tents, and their largest model will not cover the site as needed.
It is thought that the tomb will contain many rooms, valuable treasures, and also the remains of the "interior designers" of the tomb, who were supposedly sealed alive inside the tomb to prevent them from telling anyone of the contents of the tomb or the location of its entrance. Also buried with Qin Shi Huang were all the women from his court who had not borne any children. Some historians believe that they were buried alive.
Magnetic scans of the land above the tomb have confirmed the legend of a great map of China, with rivers of flowing quicksilver. The scans have even shown concentrations of quicksilver where great bodies of water would be on such a map.

Bronze chariot and horses of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, excavated in Xi'an.

Bronze Chariots

In 1980 two painted bronze chariots were discovered 20 meters west of Qin Shi Huang's tomb. Consisting of 3000 parts, each of the chariots is driven by an imperial charioteer and drawn by 4 horses. According to the Han Dynasty scholar Cai Yong (蔡邕 132-192), the first chariot was for clearing the road for the Emperor's entourage, and the second was his sleeping chariot. The bridles and saddles of the horses are inlaid with gold and silver designs and the body of the number 2 chariot has its sliding windows hollow cut. Both are half life size and are now displayed in the Museum.

Model Displays in the United States

Forbidden Gardens, a privately-funded outdoor museum in Katy, Texas has 6,000 1/3 scale replica terra-cotta soldiers displayed in formation as they were buried in the 3rd century BCE. Several full-size replicas are included for scale, and replicas of weapons discovered with the army are shown in a separate Weapons Room. The museum's sponsor is a Chinese businessman whose goal is to share his country's history.


Scroll to Top