The Terracotta Army of China is a collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. They were buried with him in 210 to 209 BCE and rediscovered by a group of Chinese farmers in 1974 in Lintong County, outside Xi’an, Shaanxi. One estimate suggests that over 8,000 soldiers have been found – each unique – each evidently representing one regiment out of ten infantry units, nine cavalry units, and three chariot-drawn artillery units. The Terracotta Army was created more than 2,200 years ago as an army for Qin Shi Huang’s afterlife. It is also considered one of the most significant archaeological discoveries of the 20th century.
The History of the Terracotta Army
The history behind the construction of the Terracotta Army in China dates back to about 221 BC when Qin Shi Huang became the first emperor of a unified China after winning a civil war against his political rivals. During this time many wars and battles were fought throughout China where several cities and towns were destroyed by enemy forces such as the Chu who attacked Xianyang.
After unifying all of China under one rule, Qin Shi Huang wanted protection from future attacks so he ordered the building of his own mausoleum guarded by an army made up entirely out of clay soldiers and horses which each had unique characteristics and features. This took approximately 38 years to complete the construction of these artifacts. The Terracotta Army was buried with Qin Shi Huang to protect him in his afterlife. Other reasons for the construction of these artifacts may have been a way to honor those who fought valiantly during battle and also as a form of propaganda.
About 700,000 workers were involved in the building process which all started by transporting materials such as soil and stones from Mount Li. Prefabricated soldiers and other components such as chariots were manufactured prior to being taken near the mausoleum where they would be assembled.
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Each soldier was first built then painted before finally being placed in their respective positions. The soldiers were all built from the same molds and just altered the faces, clothes, and hairstyles of each soldier, which made each sculpture unique.
After being lost for 2,000 years, they were accidentally discovered in 1974 by farmers, Yang Zhifa, his five brothers, and neighbor Wang Puzhi—who were digging a well nearly 1.5 kilometers east of the Qin Emperor’s tomb mound at Lishan Mountain—in this region riddled with underground springs and watercourses.
How was the Terracotta Army Build
By examining different findings such as the tools used in manufacturing the Terracotta Army, it is possible to determine that they were constructed by pressing wet clay into a mold in order to create uniformity. Although this process was simple enough, it required great skill and artistry to depict each soldier with such unique facial features.
In addition, each type of figure had a distinct hairstyle which depicted how soldiers wore their hair during that time. Even though there are slight differences between each of the figures, they all stand upright and hold weapons such as spears or swords.
The geographical location near water allowed laborers to use shrinkage cracks as natural air holes while firing the pieces in kilns about 700 degrees Celsius, allowing for quick drying times. In addition, the soldiers were fired in three sections with a thin top section as the head and upper body as well as tin arms which connected to another section which was used for legs and lower torso. Then finally they were all assembled at their final destination.
In order to paint the Terracotta Army, the people involved in their construction first built a layer of white slip and then painted it with pigments such as red or green. The original purpose of adding these colors was most likely because Qin Shi Huang wanted his army to resemble real-life warriors who would possibly be wearing brightly colored clothing.
Perhaps the most puzzling feature about these warriors is how life-like each figure appears even though they are all made out of the same materials. It is unknown whether this trait was a coincidence or intentional but it has been suggested that facial hairstyles were used as a way to assign ranks among the Terracotta Army. In addition, it seems as if a sense of realism was a priority throughout the creation process for there are subtle differences in height and posture.
More information about the Terracotta Army exhibition