right Emperor Qin's Tomb lies about a mile from his famous terra-cotta army. Reportedly built by as many as 700,000 workers over a 37-year period, the tomb is covered by a 260-foot-high mound with a square 1,500-x-1,700-foot base. To this day it remains unexcavated by archeologists but appears to have been robbed at least in early times by looters. What is inside its regarded as one of great mysteries of archeology. .

Emperor Qin’s burial complex covers 35 square miles. It embraces four pits—three with terra-cotta soldiers and one unfinished and empty . Pit 1 is situated about a mile east of the emperor’s underground burial structure. About a third of it—covering 3.5 acres—has been excavated so far. The other three pits are nearby.

The tomb plus the pits with the 10,000 terra cotta soldiers is recognized by Guinness Book of World Records as the world's largest tomb. It measures 7,129 feet by 3,195 feet and 2,247 feet by 1,896 feet. The entire tomb complex, including the terra-cotta army, extends over an area of 22 square miles. It is arguably the greatest afterlife palace ever built. The only things that rank with it are the great pyramids in Egypt.

Under the mound is a giant pit, covering 820,000 square feet, that was dug in terraces to a depth of more than 100 feet. The subterranean palace at the bottom of the pit is roughly 200 by 525 feet, the size of more than 3½ football fields. Surveys indicate that the tomb itself has a circular inner wall with four gates and a circumference of 2,500 meters, and an outer wall with a circumference of 6,000 meters---measurements that correlate with Ming-era accounts of the tomb. The outer wall reportedly was 23 feet thick but little of it remains today.

Qin bronze chariot

Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote: “Construction of his tomb had been a major preoccupation of the First Emperor during his life, and the scale of this advance guard indicates a great deal about the emperor. The figures were magnificently fashioned, each one uniquely modeled, suggesting that the emperor’s actual palace guard had posed for the figures. There were a total of over 7,000 human figures, all equipped with standard weaponry, and they were accompanied by over a hundred chariots with terra cotta war horses. Surely, such an assemblage as an adjunct to the imperial tomb is expressive of an outsized desire for self-exaltation. Yet it may be more significant that the army was composed of terra cotta soldiers, rather than the real article. Four centuries earlier, the First Emperor’s ancestor, Duke Mu, had felt it appropriate to order that his palace guard be buried with him, rather than using models of them (see reading 1.4: “Verses from the “Book of Songs”,” p. 18). The First Emperor does not seem to have anticipated his death as justification for the deaths of others (though the “Shiji” says that his concubines were buried with him, upon the order of his successor). [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu ]

Good Websites and Sources: Qin Dynasty Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Emperor Qin Wikipedia Wikipedia ; First Emperor Qin Royalty.nu : Xian : Wikipedia Wikipedia China Map Guide China Map Guide ; Film: The First Emperor (also known as The Emperor and the Assassin ) by Chen Kaige was made about Emperor Qin's life with $20 million budget and is regarded as over-produced and boring. Not only that Gong Li looks fat. Terra-cotta Army of Emperor Qin Wikipedia Wikipedia ; UNESCO World Heritage Site : UNESCO ; Emperor Qin's Tomb: National Geographic nationalgeographic.com UNESCO World Heritage Site UNESCO

Good Websites and Sources on Early Chinese History: 1) Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu; 2) Chinese Text Project ctext.org ; 3) Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization depts.washington.edu ; 4) Ancient China Life ancientchinalife.com ; 5) Ancient China for School Kids elibrary.sd71.bc.ca/subject_resources ; Books: Cambridge History of Ancient China edited by Michael Loewe and Edward Shaughnessy (1999, Cambridge University Press); The Culture and Civilization of China, a massive, multi-volume series, (Yale University Press); Mysteries of Ancient China: New Discoveries from the Early Dynasties by Jessica Rawson (British Museum, 1996); “Early Chinese Religion” edited by John Lagerwey & Marc Kalinowski (Leiden: 2009); A fully annotated translation of the “Shiji” text appears in William Nienhauser, et al., The Grand Scribe’s Records (Bloomington), v. 1.

Good Chinese History Websites: 1) Chaos Group of University of Maryland chaos.umd.edu/history/toc ; 2) WWW VL: History China vlib.iue.it/history/asia ; 3) Wikipedia article on the History of China Wikipedia 4) China Knowledge; 5) Gutenberg.org e-book gutenberg.org/files ; Links in this Website: Main China Page factsanddetails.com/china (Click History)

Inside the Tomb of Emperor Qin

Construction of Emperor Qin's tomb began soon after he became emperor at age 13 and grew bigger and more grandiose as he became more powerful. According to a 1st century B.C. historian chronicled in Ming-era records, the tomb contains a throne room, a copper dome, models of pavilions and palaces filled with gold, gemstones and other treasures, sacred stone tablets, copper coffins, inscribed soul towers, prayer temples, and a relief map of China with a miniature ocean and models of Yangtze and Yellow rivers filled with flowing mercury.

The Emperor is said to have been dressed in jade and gold with pearls in his mouth, with his coffin floating on mercury. Placed around the Emperor's body were vessels with precious stones and relics. The floor was inlaid with gold and silver ducks. The ceiling of the copper dome featured a starry sky of pearls and gems, and constellations made from candles made of whale oil, which burn longer than normal wax. To keep intruders out, the tomb was protected by crossbow booby-traps that shot anybody who tried to enter. The entire sanctuary has a circumference of nearly two miles.

So their secrets wouldn't be revealed, the craftsmen, architects and designers who made the tomb were reportedly buried inside the tomb along with court women who couldn't conceive children. When the Emperor was buried the men that carried him in were sealed in with him by a jade gate to ensure that no one knew how to penetrate the intricate tomb.

Exploration of the Tomb of Emperor Qin

Exploratory excavations near the tomb in the late 1990s and early 2000s unearthed China's earliest life-size statues with realistic bodies. The most interesting is a statue of a fat man, perhaps an entertainer, with a pot belly and protruding butt, described as an "artful blend of fat and muscle." Archaeologists also found armor made of tea-bag-size plates of limestone tied together with bronze wire and a 467-pound bronze cauldron, the largest ever found at a Qin site, terra-cotta acrobats, and an armored vest made of polished stone. [Source: Peter Hessler, National Geographic, October 2001]

The foundation of two massive rectangular walls encircling the tomb area and a 20-meter-high chamber have been found. Tests have also revealed unusually high measurements of mercury, up to 100 times higher than normal, suggetsing that the stories of mercury rivers and seas might he true.

Archeologists plan to wait until preservation techniques improve before excavating to royal tomb. Requests to excavate the tomb have been repeatedly turned down by the Chinese government. It claims the money and technology isn’t available for such an important endeavor. Some archeologists agree, saying that if the job is going to be done it has to done right. Some archeologists think that it is likely the tomb has been looted, in all likelihood not long after Emperor Qin’s death and the collapse of his empire. Others disagree, saying surveys indicate the main structures are intact and if anyone has entered they would have been poisoned by mercury and the mercury would have evaporated and would be undetectable today.

Terra Cotta Army of Emperor Qin

left The terra-cotta Army of Emperor Qin consists of 8,000 or so life-size figures found in three massive pits with ramps used for putting the soldiers in their places. Most of the figures are armed warriors, meant to accompany to Emperor Qin to the after-life and protect him in heaven from his enemies. When it was unearthed by a man digging a well in 1974 in rural China, the Terracotta Army took the world by storm to become one of the greatest archaeological finds of all time.

The Chinese believe that a person takes to heaven whatever he is buried with. Emperor Qin no doubt made many enemies in his long, ruthless career. He may have been worried that these enemies might gang up against him in the afterlife, which explains why he wanted to have such a large force to protect him.

Much of the work on the terra cotta army was done while Emperor Qin was still alive. In 206 B.C., four years after his death, the burial vaults containing the terra-cotta soldiers were burned and vandalized by peasants, who stole the real crossbows, spears, arrows and pikes carried by the statues and used them in a rebellion against Emperor Qin's descendants.

Terra-Cotta Soldiers

The terra-cotta soldiers are amazingly life-like and detailed. Each one has an individual face, and its own hairstyle and facial expressions. Some look savage; some look serene and composed; others look bold and self-assured; a few look like they are about ready to crack a smile. A name, possibly from artist or maybe from soldier, is stamped on the neck of every soldier. Some scholars believe each one is a facsimile of a real soldier in Qin's army.

stone helmet and armor of terracotta soldiers

From what scholars can ascertain the hollow bodies and arms of the soldiers were most likely made from loops of clay pressed together with a paddle (fingerprints and paddle marks have been found on the soldiers). The figures were dried with a low-heat fire in a kiln. Coal was then added to raise the temperatures to 1800̊F. The statues baked for several days until they turn red. About 10 percent of soldiers produced in modern workshop fail because of the difficulty in controlling the temperature. After they cool, successfully-made statues produce a metallic sound when tapped. Defective ones produce a hollow thud.

The faces were made in one of a dozen molds. Details such as ears, hairdos, eyebrows, mustaches and beards were added by the sculptors. The bodies were created separately. Hairstyles and headgear reflected rank with the most elaborate generally belonging to the higher ranks. Soldiers wore simple caps over hair tied into a topknot. Officers wore caps crowned by ornamental designs.

The heads and hands were cast in molds and added to the bodies after they were fired. The clothing and armor details were also added later by craftsmen, who also added a half inch of clay to the heads, which were reworked to give their faces and hairstyles their individual character. The soldiers were then painted. Only a few of the figures contain original pigments, which were made from minerals mixed with a binders such as egg whites or animal blood. Most have lost their colors to erosion, water and time.

In addition to soldiers there are stern-looking terra cotta bureaucrats to run the administration as well as acrobats and musicians to entertain the Emperor in the afterlife. Terra cotta was most likely chosen for the afterlife because flesh and wood rots. Earlier rulers had their servants, concubines and soldiers--not clay copies of them--buried alive with them.

Ranks of Terra-Cotta Soldiers

In the general area of the pits with the terra-cotta soldiers and the tomb, archaeologists have found the remains of a palace, secondary pits containing horse stables, bronze chariots, a cemetery for prison laborers who built the mausoleum, the skeletons of horses and exotic animals, and seven human skeletons that may be Emperor Qin’s children.

Most of the figures represent ground troops—soldiers and archers. About for dozen are charioteers and officers of varying ranks. Most face east, the direction from which the imperial capital was most vulnerable to attack. The figures were aligned in battle formation with warriors in the front and side rows carrying a range of weapons, including crossbows and lances. Behind them are officers with short range weapons such as swords and charioteers with bows and arrows. Although the soldiers were recreations the weapons, in many cases, were real bronze ones. Hundreds of blades and crossbow triggers have been found, along with more than 40,000 arrowheads.

left Pit 1 is filled with over 40 war chariots and 6,000 life-size warriors organized in rank. The terra-cotta figures, mostly infantrymen, are organized into 300-meter-long rows, the same way that Emperor Qin's honor guard used to line up before they set off on a military campaign. There are five rows of warriors (standing four abreast) and six rows of chariots, each pulled by four horses and accompanied by 15 soldiers. Among the soldiers are two "generals." The figures are 5½ to 6 feet tall. Officers are always taller than ordinary soldiers.

The soldiers weigh around 330 pounds. Most of them originally carried swords, spears and crossbows. The terra-cotta horses are magnificent creatures: strong yet graceful. They look alert and ready to do battle. Their ears are propped forward, their tails are short and knotted and their jawlines are bold and powerful. They are slightly less than six feet tall, 7 feet long and weigh 440 pounds. Gold, jade, bamboo and bone artifacts, linen, silk, pottery utensils, bronze objects, swords and iron farm tools were unearthed beside the warriors and chariots.

Pit 2 contains 900 terra-cotta figures, including archers, cavalry troops, charioteers, infantrymen, 356 chariot horses, 116 saddled horses, and 89 war chariots. The terra-cotta figures are arranged in the L-shaped pit like real soldiers in a real battle. In the forward position are standing and kneeling archers. Behind them are calvary units and charioteers and infantry organized in four abreast units. Reserve chariots are off to one side. Among the soldiers are two "generals."

The space where the warriors were housed was comprised of a black tile floor and a ceiling made of tightly-placed, log-like wooden beams. Wood posts supported the beams. Walls were made of rammed earth. On top of the beams were fiber mats, clay and earth fill. After Pit 1 was looted the ceiling and the layers of clay and earth above it crashed on to the warriors, shattering them all.

Unearthed with the terra-cotta soldiers are two large painted bronze chariots. Weighing 2,200 pounds each, the chariots each have two wheels, four horses and a driver. They are made completely of bronze and are about half the size of real chariots. Produced to carry the dead to the afterlife, the chariots were made using a number of advanced technologies: casting welding, riveting, casing, chain-making, fastener-making and metal painting.

Colors of Emperor’s Qin’s Terra-Cotta Warriors

with original pigments

Brook Larmer wrote in National Geographic, “The monochrome figures that visitors to Xian’s terra-cotta army museum see today actually began as the multicolored fantasy...Qin’s army of clay soldiers and horses was not a somber procession but a supernatural display swathed in a riot of bold colors: red and green, purple and yellow. [Source: Brook Larmer. National Geographic, June 2012 \*\]

Various materials including precious stones were ground into powder that provided pigment for the egg-based paint that was applied over two layers of lacquer. The materials and colors included cinnabar for red, charcoal for black, cinnabar and barium copper silicate for purple, azurite for blue, iron oxide for dark red, crushed bones burned at high temperatures for white and malachite for green. Brown, back and the ground layer were made of the sap of a local tree. \*\

When archeologist began uncovering the army, the lacquer had dried and flaked off, taking the color with it. Today, scientists using a variety of techniques have figured out what the ancient hues were and in some cases where they went on the warriors so that the original colors of entire soldiers could be determined. \*\

Larmer wrote: “Sadly, most of the colors did not survive the crucible of time—or the exposure to air that comes with discovery and excavation. In earlier digs, archaeologists often watched helplessly as the warriors’ colors disintegrated in the dry Xian air. One study showed that once exposed, the lacquer underneath the paint begins to curl after 15 seconds and flake off in just four minutes—vibrant pieces of history lost in the time it takes to boil an egg. Now a combination of serendipity and new preservation techniques is revealing the terra-cotta army’s true colors. A three-year excavation in Xian’s most famous site, known as Pit 1, has yielded more than a hundred soldiers, some still adorned with painted features, including black hair, pink faces, and black or brown eyes. The best-preserved specimens were found at the bottom of the pit, where a layer of mud created by flooding acted as a sort of 2,000-year-long spa treatment.” \*\

3D Imaging Reveals Terracotta Army Modeled on Individual Soldiers

archer head

In 2014, scientists announced they had discovered the first evidence which they say could prove that each of the clay figures in the army is modelled on an individual, real soldier. [Source: Adam Withnall wrote in The Independent, “Despite the soldiers’ varying facial expressions and hairstyles, it has been speculated that such a large clay installation would have required an almost factory-like system of production, churning out lines of standard ears, noses, mouths and so on that were then assembled into full soldiers. Exploring the precise detail of the clay soldiers has proved incredibly challenging over the years – the site is more or less completely closed off due to the army’s fragile nature. The soldiers are packed so tightly together that it is impossible to move between them without risking damage. [Source: Adam Withnall, The Independent, November 20, 2014 ^^^]

"But using the latest 3D imaging technology, a team of archaeologists from University College London (UCL) and from Emperor Qin Shi Huang's Mausoleum Site Museum in Lintong, China, have been able to digitally recreated soldiers from the army for further study. According to a National Geographic report, the team was able to accurately map the ears of a sample of 30 soldiers from a safe distance and then study their geometries back in the lab. UCL’s Andrew Bevan explained that human ears are so distinct they can be “as effective as a fingerprint”. If the army truly represented real people, their ears would be unique. Sure enough, not only were no two ears in the group exactly the same – but they differed to the same extent as would be expected in a human population. ^^^

Archaeologist Marcos Martinón-Torres told National Geographic: “Based on this initial sample, the terra-cotta army looks like a series of portraits of real warriors.” The initial results support previous suggestions that the army was in fact produced in a large series of workshops rather than assembly lines. The study will now be opened up to a wider sample size to confirm the findings. ^^^

Discovery of the Terracotta Army

Archaeologists were stunned when the terra-cotta soldiers were discovered in the spring of 1974. Unlike Emperor Qin's tomb there was no written records of the terra-cotta army. When archaeologists arrived, they discovered some terra-cotta heads in the home of an old woman who had placed the heads on an altar and worshiped them as gods. The archaeologists had no idea either of the magnitude of what had been discovered. They expected only to stay for a few weeks. More than 40 years later, they still here uncovering new stuff.

colored soldiers

Two men in Xian claim to be the first man to unearth the terra-cotta man. Yang Quanyi, works at a tourist shop with a sign "The Man Who Discovered the Terra-Cotta Warriors," and maintains he was discovered even though he offers few details. Yang Zhifa says he was part of a crew digging a well during a drought. After digging six feet into the ground, he said, he hit sometime hard. "At first I thought I had hit a brick," he told the New York Times. "But when I scraped away the dirt, it was the length of a full body." Today, According to the China Daily, the hoe he used that day is framed and hanging proudly on the wall of his sitting room.

For Sun Shengan, the hundreds of life-size terra-cotta warriors are impressive, but sad. “Look carefully at their faces, and you will see each is different,” Mr. Sun, a former government employee now working as a private guide, told the New York Times “not a single one looks happy. Perhaps because they were too oppressed,” nodding meaningfully. [Source: Didi Kirsten Tatlow, New York Times, December 28, 2011]

Many of the six-foot statues of famous Terracotta Army remain buried. The museum has restored and displayed about 1,200 of the estimated 6,000 warriors in Pit 1. The soldiers stand on well-baked pottery bricks sturdy enough to sustain the figures, which weigh an average of 200 kilos each. A wooden ceiling that once sheltered the warriors rotted away hundreds of years ago, along with the large beams that supported it and the rammed earth that was laid on top. "All the wooden sections have been reduced to dust. by the grind of time, " Pan Ying, 28, a museum guide, told the China Daily, pointing to impressions left in the earth by the wheels of long-gone wooden chariots, and the undulating earth that avalanched into the pit when the rafters gave way, completely covering many of the terracotta figures. [Source: Lu Hongyan and Zhao Xu, China Daily, October 31, 2014]

Robbing the Graves of Qin Shi Huangdi’s Ancestors

In November 2010, Tom Peck wrote in The Independent, “Nine people have been arrested in China after grave robbers targeted the tombs of the ancestors of the country's first Emperor, Qin Shi Huang. The intrusion was discovered on 8 October, when a routine patrol by guards from the Cultural Relics Bureau discovered traces of new earth on top of a mud seal that blocks the entrance to the tombs at the ancient capital of Xi'an, where China's earliest leaders are buried. The bureau keeps watch over the graves, which archaeologists lack the resources to excavate properly. [Source: Tom Peck, The Independent, November 26, 2010]

“Hacksaws and mobile phone covers were also found nearby. Police were called after another patrol 12 days later found walkie-talkies near the entrance. They found a hole measuring 70 cm by 50 cm opening into a 36-meter-long tunnel in which had been left disposable gloves, ropes and plastic pipes, apparently used as rudimentary breathing apparatus.” [Ibid]

“Video cameras lowered into the hole revealed the coffins of the ancient Chinese royals had been smashed open. The nine suspects arrested by police confessed to using dynamite to blast the tunnel into the tomb. They said they encountered evidence that it had been looted in the past and were concerned the roof would collapse. Only when their boss raised their wages did they agree to continue.” [Ibid]

“The grave robbers were so well-equipped they had laid electricity cables along the tunnel and installed fans to pump air into the tomb. Local newspapers said a single relic had been recovered, but gave no details. Other reports said nothing had been found. The suspects denied taking anything from the tomb where King Zhuangxiang and Lady Zhao, his concubine, are believed to have been buried. News of the robbery at such a major tomb was deemed so serious that there was a ban on any reporting while officials carried out their investigations.” [Ibid]

Zhuangxiang ruled one of many small states and died in 246BC at the age of 35 after a three-year reign. His son was Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi. The incident has led to calls for the graves to be officially excavated, removing the temptation for grave robbers. In the past several years treasures have been stolen from ancient burial sites that are poorly guarded. The theft has also intensified calls for the group of tombs, discovered in 1986 and covering 24 square kilometers, to be resealed.

Image Sources: Terra Cotta Army, Ohio State University; 7) Terra cotta soldiers, Louis Perrochon http://www.perrochon.com/photo/china/

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2016

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