While digging a well outside the city of Xi'an in the drought-parched Shaanxi province in northwest China in 1974, the local farmers unknowingly struck upon a life-size clay soldier poised for battle. On being intimated, archaeologists were sent to the site and they discovered thousands of those clay soldiers, each with unique facial expressions and positioned according to rank. The clay soldiers were positioned in some trench like underground corridors and in some of the corridors, clay horses were aligned four abreast, in front of wooden chariots.
The archaeological site of the Terracotta Army is a dry, scrubby land planted in persimmon and pomegranate, which is bitterly cold in winter and scorching hot in summer and marked by dun-colored hills pocked with caves. Once it was the capital of Xianyang, where Qin Shi Huangdi reigned from 259 to 210 BC. He conquered much in his life, but his driving aim was to conquer death. He desperately wished to achieve immortality and to fulfill his dream, he built a tomb for himself, a vast underground city guarded by a life-size terracotta army, which included warriors, horses, chariots and complete with all their attendant armour and weaponry.
It is estimated that the three pits containing the Terracotta Army held more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses, and 150 cavalry horses, though its major portion remained buried in the pits near the mausoleum of Qin Shi Huangdi. Apart from that, terracotta figures of non-military persons were also found in other pits, which included officials, strongmen, musicians and acrobats.
According to the archaeologists, the Terracotta Army is only a part of a much larger necropolis, covering an area of approximately 38 square miles or 98 Square km, created to accommodate the first emperor of China into the afterlife. History says, Ying Zheng took the throne in 246 BC, at the age of 13. However, within 221 BC, he unified different warring kingdoms, interlinked all the states with canals and roads and took the name of Qin Shi Huang Di, the First Emperor of Qin. He is credited for building the first version of the Great Wall and standardized coins, weights and measures. Shortly after taking the throne, he took up the project of constructing the massive mausoleum, where more than 7000,000 men worked. However, the progress of the construction was halted amid uprisings in 209 BC, a year after Qin's death.
The necropolis was constructed as a small replica of the emperor's huge imperial palace compound and covered a large area around the tomb mound of the first emperor. The earthen tomb mound is located at the foot of Mount Li and built in the shape of a pyramid, surrounded by two solidly built earthen walls, complete with gateway entrances. Four main pits of approximately 23 feet deep have since been excavated, located approximately 1.5 km east of the burial mound. The 750 feet (230 m) long and 203 feet (62 m) wide first pit, containing the main army of more than 6,000 figures, has eleven corridors paved with tiny bricks, while the wooden ceiling was supported by large beams and posts.
The wooden ceilings were further covered with reed mats and layers of clay for waterproofing and further mounded with more soil raising them about 6’7’’ to 9’10’’ above the ground level. The second pit inside the museum demonstrates the position of the terracotta figures, as they appeared when they were found. While some of them were standing upright and some were buried to their shoulders in soil, others lie toppled on their backs. The third pit was the command post, with high-ranking officers and a war chariot, while the fourth was empty, which was probably left unfinished by its builders.
The terracotta figures are life-sized, with varying height and expression, in different types of uniform and hairstyle and positioned in accordance with their ranks.
The long columns of warriors with their close-cropped beards, dressed in their tunics or armoured vests and crowned with their topknots or caps, stand in formation. Each of the soldiers exhibits their astonishing individuality and separate expressions. Originally, the figures were painted with coloured lacquer finish, which should have given the figures a realistic look. Unfortunately, much of the animated colour coating peeled off, within four minutes after removing the mud surrounding the army.
Considered as the most significant archeological excavations of the 20th century, the Terracotta Army in China is enlisted in the UNESCO World Heritage Site and ranks as one of the premier tourist attractions within China, along with the Great Wall.