Terracotta warriors discovery

Terracotta warriors discovery

Very early in the spring of 1974, local farmers – Zhi-fa Yang, Xi-An Yang, Gao-Jian Yang and Ji-De Yang – from the village of Xi yang in Lintong county, were digging up some dried wells in search of water. In the course of doing this, they surprisingly stumbled upon some pottery fragments and ancient bronze weapons. At the time of the incident, no one expected that this accidental discovery would go on to become another amazing addition to the history of human civilization. However, it’s been over five decades since the terracotta warriors discovery and today it stands as a unique and majestic spectacle before the world.

After so many years of digging, excavation and textural research, it has been concluded that the site where the terracotta warriors were discovered is one of the largest burial pits of China’s first feudal emperor Qin Shihuang. After the first terracotta warriors discovery in 1974, three other similar pits were discovered in 1976 and were numbered Pits 1,2 and 3, according to their order of discovery. The whole site had a total area of 20,0000 square meters and almost 8000 terracotta armoured warriors and horses, and over 100 chariots were found, buried beneath the ground. The pits which contained infantry, cavalry and other arms of services, was a huge establishment.

The terracotta warriors discovery was a huge contribution to the history of human civilization. After the first two discoveries, so many other discoveries have been made consistently for over thirty years. In 1979, a museum was established on the sites. With time, this museum did not only grow into a well-known beautiful area, it also became a modern on-site museum in China. Today, Pits 1,2,3 and a collection of exhibition buildings are open. According to statistics, in the last twenty years, the museum has had over 50 million visitors, including over 100 President of several countries. The former Prime Minister of Singapore, Mr Guang-yao Li was filled with praises for the museum when he visited. He referred to it as ‘the miracle of the world, pride of the Nation’. Jacques Chirac, the President of France in 1978, called it the ‘eighth wonder of the world‘ and since then it has become a popular nickname of the Terracotta Army museum. Additionally, the terracotta warriors were exhibited in the presence of 30 countries from all around the world, to the astonishment of over 10,000 visitors.

In 1987, Emperor Qin’s mausoleum, including the Terracotta Army museum, was acknowledged by UNESCO as a world-class culture heritage site. This recognition made the mausoleum more famous and more people became interested. Additionally, archaeologists are also making more discoveries from the mausoleum. Not long ago, a building project about Qin Shi Huang’s Mausoleum on-site garden was initiated. The garden is being built to show the rich cultural relics of Qin’s Mausoleum on a bigger scale.

With the terracotta warriors discovery, the brilliance of an old dynasty which existed 2,200 years ago, was made known to today’s world.



The pits that house the pottery figures are located 1.5 kilometres east of Emperor Qin’s mausoleum and are the biggest and most inspiring of the burial pits. The impressive scene of an organized army, ready for warfare, does not only show a strong royal army, but also gives us an insight on ancient Chinese battle formations, weaponry, strategies and tactical thinking.


Pit No 1

Pit 1, the biggest pit, has a rectangular shape. It covers a length of 230 meters from east to west and a width of 62 meters from north to south, occupying an area of 14,260 square meters in total. The pit approximately contains over 6,000 terracotta armoured warriors and horses, and almost 40 woody chariots. These foot soldiers and chariots constitute quadrate battalions. Three rows of leaders are positioned in front; 68 in each row, making it a total of 204 soldiers who were initially equipped with real bows and crossbows. They make up the leaders. At the rear of the galley, partitioned walls divide pit 1 into 11 latitudinal passage-ways and 38 columns of warriors stand there facing the east, with horse-drawn chariots arranged in a regular pattern. Nearly all the warriors have protective covering and are armed with weapons like pears, barbed spears, halberds or crossbows. As heavily-armed soldiers, they constitute the main body of the army in pit 1. On the outer edge, soldiers with crossbows are arranged in rows facing the south, north and west respectively. These soldiers with crossbows act as flanks to protect the sides and rear of the army. The formation is extremely organized.


Pit No 2

This pit is situated 20 meters to the north of pit 1 at the eastern end. It has an ‘L’ shape with a rectangular area that protrudes at the northern corner. Pit 2 has a length of 124 meters and a width of 98 meters, occupying a land mass of over 6,000 square meters in total. Through drilling and checking for excavation at different points, it was discovered that the pit is made up of over 900 terracotta warriors and 350 terracotta horses together, with about 90 wooden chariots positioned in a well-arranged battle formation of a combined army of soldiers, cavalry and chariots. The formation contains four small groups. The first, located in the front of the L-shaped battle formation, is a group of 330 standing archers in armour, all armed with crossbows. The kneeling soldiers are positioned in the centre. During real combats, both the kneeling and the standing archers rotate their positions and take turns in shooting arrows at their attackers.

The second group is stationed at the right of the L-shaped formation. It is made up of 64 chariots, with each one carrying three warriors. The third group which is made up of chariots, infantry and cavalry is a line formation in the centre of the L-shaped army. This group, with 19 chariots as the principal force assisted by a few infantrymen and cavalrymen, is just an addition for mobility. The fourth group is situated on the left of the L-shape formation. It contains almost 108 individual cavalrymen on saddled horses, arranged in a rectangular pattern. Pit 2 comprises of tinier groups and camps placed within larger ones which are connected and in symmetrical shape. The combined formation of charioteers, foot soldiers and cavalry particularly played an important role in the development and change in army’s formation. This displays the creative military strategy of the Qin army to grasp the initiative during the war.


Pit No 3

Pit 3 is situated 20 meters to the north of Pit 1 at the western end, and 120 meters to the east of Pit 2, occupying a land mass lesser than 500 square meters. This U-shaped pit contains only 66 pottery figures and one chariot drawn by four horses. The number is probably small because the pit covers a small area.

On the east side of the pit, there is a slope that acts as point of entry, followed by a fancily decorated canopied chariot with four armed soldiers. Even though Pit 3 is the smallest of the three pits, it plays a more significant role when compared to Pit 1 and Pit 2. The terracotta warriors are not positioned in a battle formation, but they stand facing each other in two rows, in a type of formation known as ‘the guard of honour’. They are armed with sharp-edged bamboo weapons for self-defence. The excavation of this pit also revealed deer horns and animal bones which were discovered in the north chamber. Pit 3 is renowned to be the command centre of the whole army.

The contradictory meaning of each pit and the relationship between the three pits show that all the attendant burial pits were carefully designed. It does not only contain the headquarters which is well protected, but also the triumphant strong army. Closely observing such gigantic scenes helps us to understand Emperor Qin’s great achievement and grand ancient battlefield.

The Terracotta Army Museum has not only been a monumental military museum of ancient China, but also an archaeological and artifact restoration site, which has gotten great attention from historians and archaeologists all over the world.

The records of historians reveal that Emperor Qin’s mausoleum was considerably damaged. Even though there isn’t much information on who damaged the mausoleum, there is proof that a great part of the ground construction and terracotta pits were destroyed deliberately. Several relational experts are of the opinion that the damage was most likely done by Xiang Yu, a rebel in the Qin Dynasty, who burnt Emperor Qin’s palace and his mausoleum in 206 BC. The three pits were constructed with earth and wood. While investigating, people discovered that the fire destroyed the construction of the pits and that the fallen roof crushed the terracotta warrior into pieces.

So much work has been put in to ensure that this valuable historic treasure (the great army of the Qin Dynasty) is protected. The rules of archaeology stipulate that the terracotta warriors excavation should be done scientifically. According to the rules, the at archaeologists have to dig up the items, take photos, and record data carefully so that it is taken and interpreted, making it possible for more information to be obtained. Meanwhile, the experts who fix cultural artifacts and scientifically protect them went into the pits and advanced their research. None of the terracotta warriors and horses were in one piece when they were dug up, some of them were even in thousands of fragments. Fixing these broken figures can really be a difficult task for archaeologists and other workers.

Immediately the warriors and horses were dug up, the experts assigned a number to each of them. Every fragment was marked to display where it was discovered and to which figure it might belong. In order to keep the paint from peeling off and fading after being unearthed, researcher in the museum have collaborated with foreign experts for many years. After several years of research, lots of new technological methods were invented.

Additionally, multimedia is used in the museum to collect and display the correlative data. The actions of the museum made systematic archaeological information more reliable, taking scientific skills to a higher level and adding more experience to the excavation and scientific management of Emperor Qin’s Terracotta Army Museum.


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