The Terracotta Warriors of Xi’an

The Terracotta Warriors of Xi’an

In 1974 villagers of Linton County near Xi’an were digging a well and came across some terracotta fragments and bronze weapons. This led to one of the largest archaeological discoveries to date- the Terracotta Warriors and Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huang.

Qin Shi Huang was the first emperor of China (259 – 210 BC). Construction of his tomb began upon his ascension to the thrown at age 13. 720, 000 labourers worked to complete the tomb that is larger than the Great Pyramid in Egypt. Many labourers died while working on the mausoleum and all of the workers were entombed along with the emperor and all the barren royal concubines.

The tomb is vast. It is believed that the Underground Palace is decorated with pearls gems and likened to palaces above ground. Booby traps were place throughout to prevent grave robbers from entering.

Excavators discovered almost 9, 000 warriors by 1979 along with chariots and horses. While most of the artefacts are still underground, many have been restored and placed where they once stood.

The army was constructed to guard the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. While the faces were created from moulds, details were added by hand to make each face distinct. There are three pits filled with warriors and numerous pits housing other artefacts.

Pit 1

This is the first discovered pit and the largest of the three. It holds 6, 000 Terracotta warriors and horses. The pit includes infantry, cavalry and chariot warriors arranged in battle formation. Each warrior is uniquely designed in terms of facial features and expressions, armour, weapons, hairstyles and gestures- making them seem extremely life-like. Excavations discovered charcoal in the pit and belive that an overlord set fire to the pit during the West Chu Period (between 232-202 BC). The fire destroyed some of the artefacts.

A large arched hall was built over the pit in 1976 and the area was made open to the public in 1979.

Pit 2

Pit 2 is smaller than Pit 1 but hosts a wider variety of different warriors ranging from Infantry to cavalry, chariot warriors to archers. Only about a sixth of the pit has been excavated with the remaining area being partially excavated – revealing the remains of wooden shelters. The warriors of pit 2 are arranged in more complex battle formations than those of pit 1. Excavators estimate that the pit holds around 1, 300 warriors and horses, 80 war chariots (64 of which are pulled by 4 life-sized terracotta horses) and thousands of bronze weapons. Here visitors can see the terracotta general, a kneeling archers and a cavalry warriors. In 1999 excavators uncovered coloured warriors. This discovery included the famous green-faced warrior.

Pit 2 was discovered in 1976 and opened to the public in 1994. There is an exhibition hall next to pit two that has cultural relics and unearthed weapons on display.

Pit 3

Pit 3 is the smallest pit but served as the headquarters of the terracotta army. The pit can be divided into 3 sections: the chariot-and-horse section, the northern wing and the southern wing. It is believed that the northern wing was used to pray for victory while the southern wing served as a meeting room to discuss military tactics. A total of 68 terracotta warriors were excavated from Pit 3 but many of them are missing their heads. The Pit also held many gold, stone and bronze decorations along with bronze weapons.

Discovered in 1976, this pit is fully excavated and opened to the public in 1989.

The property has a Hall of Historical Relics of Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum. Here visitors can see two bronze chariots and horses, uncovered in 1980. The chariots were meant to serve Emperor Qin Shi Huang in the afterlife and are half-size scale models. The horses and chariots have intricate details that include gold and silver pieces and the chariots are painted with vibrant colours.

Excavators have discovered over 600 pits in the area, each holding accessories that they believe that Emperor chose to take with him to the afterlife. While some of the pits are still being excavated, a few are open to the public with more artefacts displayed in the Exhibition Hall of Historical Relics of Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum. The pits contain civil official figures, bronze aquatic birds, stone armor and helmets, acrobatic figures and bronze chariots and horses.

The Terracotta warriors of Xi’an is an impressive sight to see and was a vast undertaking, especially during that era. But it is a fitting resting place for the man who constructed the Great Wall of China.

*A version of this article first appeared at

Juanita Pienaar

Juanita Pienaar is a citizen of the world, recently settled back down in her home country, South Africa, after spending time traveling and living in Asia and Africa. She has a passionate love affair with the ocean and loves to share that passion by teaching scuba diving. She is a yoga teacher and fully believe in finding the balance in life. She has recently discovered the joy and freedom of wearing yoga pants ‘out-and-about’. Juanita loses herself in the written and spoken word.

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