Whose Warriors?“A new age is inaugurated by the Emperor . . .”
—Sima Qian, Grand Historian of the Han Dynasty, about 145-86 B.C.
Help the Archaeology Team!
Stand face to face with recreations of a small army of Terra Cotta Warriors each with a unique face like the ones found in massive pits in Xi'an, China. Work with the archaeologists to piece together clues and unravel the mystery of who made these figures, and what is their purpose.
- Excavate! There are thousands of these figures and they were all broken into pieces. Help excavate the pieces in the Dig Pit.
- Reconstruct a Warrior. Work together to put one of three different figures back together.
- Paint a Warrior. By examining the shards and mineral pigments left on some of the figures, scientists have been able to determine how the warriors were originally painted. Examine a shard, scan it for mineral pigments, and virtually repaint a warrior based on the analysis.
An Accidental Discovery
On a cool March morning in 1974, a group of farmers gathered in a rural area 40 miles east of the Chinese city of Xi'an and, after finding the lowest spot in the field, they began to dig. It had been a dry season, and the farmers were in danger of losing their crops. In dire need of water, they were digging a well.
Over a period of several days their well hole had reached a depth of more than 13 feet, but the ground was still dry. Then one man's shovel struck something hard. It hit a large piece of baked clay. When they unearthed it, they saw it was in the form of a human body! That collision of a farmer's shovel with terra cotta baked earth would begin the excavation of what many now consider the Eighth Wonder of the World: the Terra Cotta Warriors of China's first emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi.Read More
In 1974, a group of farmers gathered in a rural area 40 miles east of the Chinese city of Xi'an and began to dig a well. Over a period of several days of digging the ground was still dry. Then one man's shovel struck something hard — a piece of baked clay. When they unearthed it, they saw it was in the form of a human body!
As archaeologists reached a depth of 8 to 10 feet, they began to find broken pieces of many life-size statues of warriors, and to their astonishment, it appeared that each warrior was individually sculpted, with unique facial features, hairstyles, and clothing details.
The farmers reported their discovery to government officials, and the next day an archaeologist arrived from Xi'an. The scientist drilled test holes and discovered evidence of artifacts almost everywhere. By July 1974, a team of archaeologists had been assembled from universities across China, began a full-scale excavation.
Weather and security soon became obstacles to the excavation, so a structure was built over the first pit to protect it. In 1979 the Museum of the Terra Cotta Warriors opened. The museum's exhibition hall, which covers Pit 1, measures 755 feet, or the length of more than two football fields!
At the time of their discovery, no one knew the purpose of the Terra Cotta Warriors or who had created them, but archaeologists very quickly suspected that the warriors were part of the burial complex of China's first emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi.
The emperor's large, unexcavated burial mound overlooks the Terra Cotta Warriors site. The story of its creation was recorded by Sima Qian, the Grand Historian of the Han dynasty. Sima Qian wrote that more than 700,000 laborers worked to build Qin's tomb complex.
Archaeologists believe that the Terra Cotta Warriors were meant to be a spiritual army that would guard the emperor in the afterlife. To date, the site has yielded nearly 8,000 figures and more than 10,000 weapons, and more pits have been discovered.
Archaeologists estimate it may take 50 to 100 years to complete the excavation. Qin's tomb complex became a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site in 1987.
To date, the site has yielded nearly 8,000 figures and more than 10,000 weapons, and more pits have been discovered.
In the third century B.C., China was broken into several smaller states, each with its own ruler. They were almost constantly at war. The future first emperor of China was born in 259 B.C. Named Zhao Zheng, the young prince took the throne when he was only 13 years old.
Zheng set out to become the most powerful ruler China had ever seen. He unified it both politically and economically. He standardized laws, language, writing, and weights and coins so that everyone in China was under the same system. As ruler of China, Zheng took the title Qin Shi Huangdi.
Qin Shi Huangdi set a goal of finding a potion that would allow him to live forever, ingesting things like powdered jade and poisonous mercury. He also began building an elaborate tomb complex guarded by an army of larger than-life-size Terra Cotta Warriors and other figures that would defend him for eternity.
"All the country's streams, the Yellow River, and the Yangtze were reproduced in mercury and by some mechanical means made to flow into a miniature ocean. The heavenly constellations were above and the regions of the earth below." –Sima Qian (describing Qin's tomb).