In 1974, local farmers in Xi’an, China, discovered a vast underground complex of mausoleums while drilling for water. They had serendipitously stumbled upon the burial ground of Qin Shi Huangdi, the First Emperor and the unifier of China.
According to legends, the First Emperor was buried alongside great treasures inside a tomb with pearl-laced ceilings (in a pattern that represented the cosmos) and channels dug in the ground with flowing mercury to represent the rivers of China. But the most famous feature of the tomb is the Terracota Army, about 8,000 life-like and life-sized statues of soldiers buried alongside Qin Shi Huangdi to help the Emperor rule in the afterlife.
The face and pose of each Terracota army soldier is distinct from every other.
The terra cotta figures, dating from 210 BCE, are located near the the Emperor's mausoleum. The figures vary in height according to their role, the tallest being the Generals.
The figures include warriors, chariots, horses, officials, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians. Current estimates are that there were about 7,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority are still buried. So far, every figure found is unique in pose, size, and detail. And yes, in the pictures above, even the chains ropes and harnesses on the horses are made from terra cotta. In addition to the warriors, an entire man-made necropolis for the emperor has been excavated.
Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi's reign was from 247 BC to 221 BC. He unified China from 221 BC to the end of his life in 210 BC.
According to the historian Sima Qian (145 BC-90 BC) construction of this mausoleum began in 246 BC and involved 700,000 workers. Sima Qian, writing a century after its completion, wrote that the First Emperor was buried with palaces, scenic towers, officials, valuable utensils and 'wonderful objects', with 100 rivers fashioned in mercury and above this, heavenly bodies below which he wrote were 'the features of the earth'. Some translations of this passage refer to 'models' or 'imitations' but in fact he does not use those words. Recent scientific work at the site has shown high levels of mercury in the soil of Mount Lishan, appearing to add credence to the writing of ancient historian Sima Qian.
The tomb of Qin Shi Huangdi is near an earthen pyramid 76 meters tall and nearly 350 square meters. The tomb remains unopened, with hopes that it remains intact. Only a part of the site is presently excavated.
For the advanced viewers:
For information on how the figures were made, the sizes and other measurements, and their role in the death and burial of the emperor, click here .