Emperor Qin’s Terracotta Museum – The Largest On-site Museum In China
Emperor Qin’s Mausoleum which is located at the northern foot of Mount Li, almost 35 kilometres east of the Xi’an city, is one of the largest on-site museums in China. In the history of China, nearly all the emperors considered it ideal to build mausoleums during their reign. This was because of their belief in the existence of an afterlife. Those days, many Emperors tried their best to build mausoleums and so did Emperor Qin.
Records show that Emperor Qin started building mausoleums for himself immediately he turned 13, and just within a short time, the construction of the mausoleums – which was happening on the foot of Mount Li – became the biggest activity in his Empire. The construction of the mausoleums lasted for 38 years (247 BC – 208 BC) and those years can be divided into three stages, with over 720,000 conscripts assisting in the work. According to Si Ma Qian, a historian in Han dynasty, “they burrowed through three streams and used molten copper to create the outer coffin. The tomb was built to look like a palace. It was luxuriously equipped with pavilions, officials, fine vessels, precious stones and some other rare treasures. The security system placed in the mausoleum was so effective and it could easily detect when there was a breach on any part of the building. The coffin was well decorated and all the women who had no children were commanded to go into the grave with the Emperor. All the people who assisted in building the tomb were also buried alive, just to ensure that the existence of the tomb remained a secret.” A similar record can be found in Han shu, another text written by Ban gu. This record reveals that Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum was actually an underground kingdom of monumental structure and a glorious treasure.
The first data gotten through archaeological excavation and digging shows that the burial mound which was a solid triangular shape, used to be 115 meters high 2200 years ago. However, so many years have gone by since then, and it has now reduced to 76 meters. The burial mound was situated 345 metres from east to west and 350 metres from north to south (ramparts, palaces and some other constructions were located here). The underground sepulchre was much more luxurious. The centre of the tomb in which the Emperor’s casket was kept, was 30 metres away. With the Emperor’s tomb situated at the centre, over 100 satellite pits and tombs has been discovered within the area which covers 56.25 square kilometres, and there’s still more to be discovered. Those satellite pits and tombs contain pits of bronze chariots and horses, pits of uncommon birds and animals, pits of pottery acrobats, pits of civil officials and pits of stone armour and helmets. Recently, millions of artifacts – including rare treasures – have been discovered. These discoveries will help us understand the secret behind the construction of this mausoleum. Here are the details:
The Pits Of The Civil Officials
The new burial pits situated southwest of the emperor’s tomb mound was found in the year 2000. It had a size of over 140 square metres and contained 12 figures in it. The figures were not armed but had a cross at the waist and were covered with long loose sleeves. In this pit, vehicles constructed with wood were discovered, as well as bones of living horses. It is believed that these three pottery figures might be the mid-ranking civil officials that were part of the central government of the Qin empire.
The Pits Of Stone, Armour And Helmets
In 1998, a big burial pit was discovered and stone armour and stone helmets were found inside it. It was located 200 meters southeast of the emperor’s mausoleum. The pit had a rectangular shape and covered an area of almost 13,000 square meters. Since then, almost 80 stone armour suits and 40 stone helmets have been excavated. These objects lay at the bottom of the pit in a disorderly manner. Inside the pit, there were lots of pillars supporting a wooden ceiling covered by layers of straw, and several parts of the pit were separated by rammed earth.
After observing the features closely, archaeologists decided to divide the armour suits into three categories: small stone flakes, medium stone flakes and large stone flakes. Small stone flakes are tiny but are made to look attractive, just like fish scales. The armour suits are made up of almost 800 stone flakes. Majority of the stone armours that have been discovered are composed of medium stone flakes. The stone flakes usually have a rectangular or square shape and they come with a tiny holes which are used to link them up during decoration. So far, only one piece of large stone flake has been dug up. Almost all the armour suits were designed to look like real armour coats and helmets and even had the same size. Archaeologists explain that the armour coats were not really created for practical use, they might just have been made to serve as funeral objects for Emperor Qin Shi Huang.
The Pits Of The Pottery Acrobats
In 1999, archaeologists discovered another pit, just 800 square meters to the south of the stone armour and helmets pit. During the first excavation, 11 pottery figurines were uncovered. These figurines had the size of real people and were clothed in shorts that resemble the miniskirt women wear today. Some of the figures looked quite tall and strong while others appeared short and thin. They had varying postures; a particular figure has his hands raised while another holds a piece of his outfit. Unlike the Terracotta warriors, these figures didn’t have any serious expressions on their face. Rather, they looked more animated and expressive. After analysing the unearthed figures, archaeologists have concluded that these pottery figures might be the acrobats who served in Emperor Qin’s imperial palace, displaying the excellent acrobatic art of the Qin dynasty.
The Pits Of The Bronze Water Birds
In the year 2000, thirty-one bronze water birds were uncovered around the edges of the wall on the northeast side of the mausoleum, with an area of almost 1000 square meters . The bronze water birds were built in the size as actual water birds. They were kept in an environment with that looked like an aquatic habitat. 31 birds including swans, geese and wild goose, were uncovered. Asides the water birds, different pottery figures were also uncovered in this pit. The pottery figures had different expression. The reason behind the creation of this pit still remains a mystery till today.