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China's Terracotta Army

By: Grahame Johnston - Updated: 7 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Terracotta Army China Qin Dynasty Bronze

In 1974 a group of agricultural peasant farmers in the Shaanxi province of China were digging a well near to the royal tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang when they uncovered some pottery items. The objects immediately captured the attention of archaeologists, who descended upon the location and began to excavate the site in a proper scientific manner.

The Qin Dynasty

Shortly after extending the digging site and after examination and study of the other artefacts that were uncovered, archaeologists were in no doubt that this site was associated with the short five-year reign of the Qin Dynasty beginning 211 BC.

The artefacts being uncovered were so important to ancient Chinese history that the following year the Chinese government commenced building an enormous museum to cover the site and preserve its finds.

Warriors and Chariots

Archaeologists were quick to uncover hundreds of life sized Chinese warriors with weapons, horses, and chariots. The figures are made of terracotta and remarkably well fashioned and finished. Although much of the original paint had been worn away from time and environment, conservators have been able to restore them to their former glory.

The soldiers are warriors of the Imperial Guard of the Emperor and were excavated in their battle positions, as they would have first stood when placed there 2,200 years ago.

The Museum

The museum itself is divided into three sections according to the respective pit number and the order of their discovery. The entire covered area is an impressive 16,000 square metres. Pit number one is the largest area and contains rows of warriors at the front with war chariots to their rear. This section of the museum was opened to the public in 1979.

North of the first pit is pit number two containing more than one thousand foot soldiers and about 90 war chariots made of wood. Near to this is pit number three, which is thought to be the command post of the army. In this pit where discovered a further 68 warriors, four horses and one war chariot.

To date the three pits have yielded an unprecedented quantity of artefacts. Thousands of large items have been recovered and restored. Archaeologists have excavated more than 7,000 terracotta warriors along with their weapons.

Life Like Figures

The true realism of this is the sheer size of the figures. Each warrior stands a realistic 1.8 metres tall. They have a characteristic square face and the head features a broad forehead with a thick-lipped mouth. Some have ornate hairstyles but all show a distinct determination of duty as their eyes focus directly forward into the distance.

Like the soldiers, the horses of the chariots are realistic and bright-eyed. Their wide nostrils and strong, muscular legs and hips position these cavalry animals at the ready gallop.

Two Branches of Arms

The soldiers in Pit 1 are of two types: Heavy infantry and artillery. The artillery soldiers wore knee-length tunics with short trousers and carried a crossbow in their hands. Their light uniform permitted maximum movement and in a real battle could be rapidly dispatched to launch a hail of arrows from any location on the battlefield.

The more heavily armoured warriors were infantrymen that stand nearly 1.9 metres in height and were armed with a sword weapon in their left hand. Draped over their armour is a cape and they also wore a colourful cap and shin guards.

The Weapons

Along with the 7,000 soldiers, more than 10,000 bronze weapons have been discovered. Each warrior is armed with a weapon of the period. Much of the perishable materials have long vanished but the abundance of bronze arrowheads, spearheads, and axe heads reveal the massive number of armaments. Adding to this mass of projectiles is the abundance of swords, daggers and other weapons of war.

Emperor Qin shows us, through his army’s weaponry, the amazing level of metallurgical attainment in China at that time. Most of the weapons are cast in moulds to ensure a standardised design. Graduated, double-edged blades reveal a startling advancement in weapon technology for that period.

The astonishing find of the Terracotta Army speaks to us about the people of the Qin dynasty. By studying the proportions of alloy elements in their bronze weapons we can conclude that Qin’s people, had researched metal production and had established well-principled scientific standards for bronze weapon construction.

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