Visiting the Terracotta Army was one of the attractions that I was most excited to see on our tour through China. I still remember going to the Pacific Science Center in Seattle when they displayed an exhibit on China. There were wax and metal artists creating miniature statues of lions and an exhibit on how silk was produced. But the highlight for me was the  section on the Terracotta Army. I even have a mini Terracotta Warrior statue that I keep on my desk at home. So, it was a given that I wanted to see the real thing.

At the train station we caught the special Terracotta Army bus for the 40km trip outside the city of Xian. Since there was so much history surrounding the army we decided to hire a guide to get the whole picture.

The terracotta figures, dating from 210 BC, were discovered in 1974 by some local farmers who were digging a well.The site was soon taken over by the government which quickly excavated the area. The local farmer who found the army was even there when we visited, signing copies of his latest book. We were told that for his find the government gives him about US$2000 per month; a pretty good amount for a local farmer but nothing compared to what they must take in.

The army’s purpose was to help rule another empire with Shi Huang Di (the First Emperor of Qin) in the afterlife. In the three pits there are over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses, and 150 cavalry horses—the majority of which are still buried. The head, arms, legs, and torsos were created separately and then assembled. Studies show that eight face moulds were most likely used, and then clay was added to provide individual facial features.

I always thought that the excavated warriors looked exactly how they looked the day that they were buried but I was grossly mistaken. In fact, five years after the death of the emperor, a raid on the tomb started a fire that allegedly lasted three months. Because of this, only one statue has survived intact: a statue of a kneeling archer. The rest of the warriors on display have been painstakingly glued back together. Another interesting thing that we learned was that all of the warriors were originally painted. Our guide explained that after being exposed to the air the natural dye on the terracotta disappears after a few days. Thus much of the army remains buried until scientist find a way to preserve the colors.

More pictures from our visit to the Terracotta warriors can be seen on Chris’ and Jodi’s respective flickr pages.

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