INSTAGRAM

Terracotta Army: Ancient Wonders Rediscovered


            The Terracotta Army of China has slept beneath the hard, dry soils of the Shaanxi province, resting in stoic servitude to the long since passed Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi who commissioned their creation 2,000 years ago.[1] Surrounded by ancient earth, they first reclaimed the light of day in 1974 when a group of people began digging a well in hopes of satiating a draught stricken land. The discovery of pieces of clay, remnants of a broken warrior, transitioned the mission from searching for water to rediscovering an ancient mausoleum belonging to the First Emperor of China through decade’s long excavations. The preserved terracotta soldiers along with their armaments, the vast compound of the mausoleum, and the wealth of historical context residing there within has earned it the title of the greatest archaeological find in modern history and a well-deserved candidacy for one of the top Seven Ancient Wonders of the World.
Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi stood for his coronation to the throne when he was only 13 years old in 246 BC, though he was named Ying Zheng at the time.[2] Within 25 years as emperor he was able to bring together warring nations within China and introduce “the standardization of currency, writing, measurements…”[3] and “…connected cities and states with advanced systems of roads and canals”[4] as well as acted as a major contributor to the building of the original Great Wall. After these prodigious accomplishments, he declared himself the First Emperor of China and birthed his new name, Qin Shi Huangdi.[5] However, he did not stop there. During the adolescence of his reign, he commissioned the start of the project that would become his tomb and over the course of its construction more than 700,000 artists and craftsmen would contribute to its development.[6] Emperor Qin had a fascination with death that approached near obsession with immortality. The compound was to act as his otherworldly palace supplied with earthly riches, designed to incorporate nearby environmental structures such as rivers, and its very own army and royal court.[7] Sadly, in 210 BC he died of a disease contracted on an expedition to locate “magical herbs” rumored to stave off death before he would see the completion of his tomb.[8] The years to follow would see the Empire embroiled in a bloody battle for the throne as evidenced by official writings of the Han-dynasty’s historian, Sima Qian, some 100 years after the Emperor’s death, and the burial grounds located within the uncovered complex.[9] The Qin Dynasty would only survive the First Emperor by four years.[10] During this unrest, many of the terracotta warriors were damaged by raiding forces through looting of their weaponry and the mass burning of fires which damaged the integrity of the wood beams holding up the structure surrounding the terracotta soldier pits. Many of the clay statues were smashed when the structure finally buckled.[11] The Qin Dynasty’s collapse had, for centuries, been attributed to an egregious overspending of Emperor Qin’s Ebang Palace, however, recent excavations of the palace site in 2003 proved that the collapsed was indeed due to the civil war following Emperor Qin’s death as the palace was never actually built beyond its foundations.[12]
It was originally thought that the terracotta soldiers were a stand-alone discovery, their thousands of brethren arranged meticulously in columns, shoulder to shoulder, lining the trenches in which they were found accompanied by their beasts of burden and bronze chariots. However, it was discovered that these soldiers were a small piece to a much larger mausoleum located less than a mile from the terracotta army. This compound was laid out as an underground palace, some 38 square miles, equipped with stables and horses, government offices, palace dwellings, prisons, worker and convict burial grounds, and the Emperor’s own tomb.[13] The compound is believed to be a replica of the palace grounds in which he lived in the capital city of Xianyang with the Emperor’s tomb built within an earthen mound as the center focal point. While Emperor Qin’s tomb itself has remained untouched and, instead, less invasive excavation techniques utilizing modern remote-sensing technologies are being employed to further research, archeologists understand that there is much left to learn about the compound.[14]

Figure 1: An artist’s rendering of what the entire mausoleum and its physical relationship to the terracotta army. Source - National Geographic
One of the most profound observations of the currently uncovered 1,900 terracotta soldiers is their uniqueness.[15] Emperor Qin approached the construction of the total estimated 7,000 soldiers much the same way that modern cars are put together on an assembly line. The clay bodies were mass produced while their heads were given individualized attention by the use of small molds creating unique features for each warrior. This includes mustaches, goatees, different-shaped ears and noses as well as clothing alterations such as hats and shoes.[16] Though it is not current conjecture that these soldiers were modeled after specific individuals, it is thought that they are meant to be representations of the different types of people found across China.[17] However, warriors are not the only statues that have been uncovered in the burial complex. Rather, a stunning court of bronze birds and terracotta musicians, officials, and acrobats frozen in mid-performance of celebratory demeanor[18] appear to have accompanied Emperor Qin to the afterlife.[19]

Figure 2: A close up of some of the better preserved soldiers. Source - Science News for Students
The Terracotta Army is still under excavation as additional pits have been slowly rediscovered over the last 35 years accumulating into an astounding 600 pits discovered so far.[20] While some pits within the yet to be fully uncovered complex are easy to access, many are not. The Museum of the Terracotta Army was built around the first rediscovered pits only five years after their initial debut into the modern world.[21] These pits include rows of soldiers, some pieced together after falling and breaking over the course of their 2,000 year slumber as well as terracotta horses.[22] Tourists are able to walk along the balcony which surrounds one of the larger pits in an open air display for roughly $70+ depending on the tour purchased.[23]
Figure 3: The main viewing pit of The Museum of the Terracotta Army.  Source - Will Clayton
Fortunately, if China is too far away, there are also traveling exhibits titled Legacy of the First Emperor of China and the Guardians of Immortality that display real specimens of terracotta warriors, two terracotta horses, two replicas of bronze chariots, and over 100 pieces of jade and bronze.[24] The 2019 tour schedule is wrapping up with the last stop at the Bowers Museum in the United States in October, but other American locations visited in the past include Chicago, Indianapolis, San Francisco, and Seattle.[25] While other international locations include Wellington, New Zealand; Melbourne, Australia; Tampere, Finland; Bucharest, Romania, and Bern Switzerland.[26] The 2020 tour schedule is yet to be released.
Figure 4: Part of the traveling display.  Source - Cincinnati Art Museum
The remarkable rediscovery of the lost mausoleum of Emperor Qin has inspired the wonderment and curiosity of people across the globe for the last four decades and contributed to the rewriting of China’s historic narrative about the Qin Dynasty. The incredibly well-preserved terracotta platoons who guard this compound act as a glimpse into an ancient world wrought with incredible craftsmanship, artistry, and death. With over 700,000 contributors to this manmade structure, some of whom were interred within its burial grounds, it is a piece of ancient history that deserves its time in the spotlight as an Ancient Wonder of the World as it has spent long enough buried out of sight.



 Bibliography
  1. Bower, Bruce. "Clay Reveals Secrets of China's Mysterious Terra-cotta Army." Science News for Students. September 29, 2017. Accessed April 21, 2019. https://www.sciencenewsforstudents.org/article/clay-reveals-secrets-chinas-mysterious-terra-cotta-army.
  2. Clayton, Will. "Terracotta Warriors - Xi'an." Flickr. April 19, 2010. Accessed April 21, 2019. https://www.flickr.com/photos/spool32/4535488885/.
  3. Lubow, Arthur. "Terra Cotta Soldiers on the March." Smithsonian.com. July 01, 2009. Accessed April 21, 2019. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/terra-cotta-soldiers-on-the-march-30942673/.
  4. Motsinger, Carol. "This Wonder of the World Is Now in Cincinnati." Cincinnati.com. April 20, 2018. Accessed April 21, 2019. https://www.cincinnati.com/story/entertainment/2018/04/20/wonder-world-coming-cincinnati/510489002/.
  5. "Overseas Exhibitions of Terracotta Army." Terracotta Warriors Exhibition Schedule, 2019 Warriors Tour. Accessed April 21, 2019. https://www.travelchinaguide.com/attraction/shaanxi/xian/terra_cotta_army/exhibition.htm.
  6. Roach, John. "Unearthing Emperor Qin's Terra Cotta Army." About Emperor Qin's Terra Cotta Army | National Geographic. March 23, 2017. Accessed April 21, 2019. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/archaeology-and-history/archaeology/emperor-qin/.
  7. "Terracotta Warriors from the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor of China." Khan Academy. Accessed April 21, 2019. https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/ap-art-history/south-east-se-asia/china-art/a/terracotta-warriors-from-the-mausoleum-of-the-first-qin-emperor-of-china.
  8. Williams, A. R. "Discoveries May Rewrite History of China's Terra-Cotta Warriors." National Geographic. October 12, 2016. Accessed April 21, 2019. https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/10/china-first-emperor-terra-cotta-warriors-tomb/.





[1] Arthur Lubow. "Terra Cotta Soldiers on the March." Smithsonian.com. July 01, 2009. Accessed April 21, 2019. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/terra-cotta-soldiers-on-the-march-30942673/.
[2] John Roach. "Unearthing Emperor Qin's Terra Cotta Army." About Emperor Qin's Terra Cotta Army | National Geographic. March 23, 2017. Accessed April 21, 2019. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/archaeology-and-history/archaeology/emperor-qin/.
[3] "Terracotta Warriors from the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor of China." Khan Academy. Accessed April 21, 2019. https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/ap-art-history/south-east-se-asia/china-art/a/terracotta-warriors-from-the-mausoleum-of-the-first-qin-emperor-of-china.
[4] Ibid 1
[5] Arthur Lubow. "Terra Cotta Soldiers on the March." Smithsonian.com. July 01, 2009. Accessed April 21, 2019. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/terra-cotta-soldiers-on-the-march-30942673/.
[6] John Roach. "Unearthing Emperor Qin's Terra Cotta Army." About Emperor Qin's Terra Cotta Army | National Geographic. March 23, 2017. Accessed April 21, 2019. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/archaeology-and-history/archaeology/emperor-qin/.
[7] "Terracotta Warriors from the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor of China." Khan Academy. Accessed April 21, 2019. https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/ap-art-history/south-east-se-asia/china-art/a/terracotta-warriors-from-the-mausoleum-of-the-first-qin-emperor-of-china.
[8] Arthur Lubow. "Terra Cotta Soldiers on the March." Smithsonian.com. July 01, 2009. Accessed April 21, 2019. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/terra-cotta-soldiers-on-the-march-30942673/.
[9] A. R. Williams. "Discoveries May Rewrite History of China's Terra-Cotta Warriors." National Geographic. October 12, 2016. Accessed April 21, 2019. https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/10/china-first-emperor-terra-cotta-warriors-tomb/.
[10] Arthur Lubow. "Terra Cotta Soldiers on the March." Smithsonian.com. July 01, 2009. Accessed April 21, 2019. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/terra-cotta-soldiers-on-the-march-30942673/.
[11] Ibid 1
[12] Ibid 1
[13] A. R. Williams. "Discoveries May Rewrite History of China's Terra-Cotta Warriors." National Geographic. October 12, 2016. Accessed April 21, 2019. https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/10/china-first-emperor-terra-cotta-warriors-tomb/.
[14] John Roach. "Unearthing Emperor Qin's Terra Cotta Army." About Emperor Qin's Terra Cotta Army | National Geographic. March 23, 2017. Accessed April 21, 2019. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/archaeology-and-history/archaeology/emperor-qin/.
[15] Arthur Lubow. "Terra Cotta Soldiers on the March." Smithsonian.com. July 01, 2009. Accessed April 21, 2019. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/terra-cotta-soldiers-on-the-march-30942673/.
[16] Ibid 1
[17] Ibid 1
[18] John Roach. "Unearthing Emperor Qin's Terra Cotta Army." About Emperor Qin's Terra Cotta Army | National Geographic. March 23, 2017. Accessed April 21, 2019. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/archaeology-and-history/archaeology/emperor-qin/.
[19] Arthur Lubow. "Terra Cotta Soldiers on the March." Smithsonian.com. July 01, 2009. Accessed April 21, 2019. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/terra-cotta-soldiers-on-the-march-30942673/.
[20] Arthur Lubow. "Terra Cotta Soldiers on the March." Smithsonian.com. July 01, 2009. Accessed April 21, 2019. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/terra-cotta-soldiers-on-the-march-30942673/.
[21] Ibid 1
[22] Ibid 1
[23] "Overseas Exhibitions of Terracotta Army." Terracotta Warriors Exhibition Schedule, 2019 Warriors Tour. Accessed April 21, 2019. https://www.travelchinaguide.com/attraction/shaanxi/xian/terra_cotta_army/exhibition.htm.
[24] Ibid 1
[25] Ibid 1
[26] Ibid 1