The Discovery of the Terra-Cotta Warriors


In 1974, farmers in China’s Shaanxi province made an extraordinary find while digging a well: fragments of life-sized clay soldiers. These fragments led to the discovery of an entire army of Terra-Cotta Warriors buried near the mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. The site, located in Lintong District, contains thousands of these clay figures, which are part of a massive necropolis designed to accompany the emperor in the afterlife. Each figure is unique and meticulously crafted to represent different ranks within the military, including infantry, charioteers, and cavalry.

The Significance of the Warriors

The Terra-Cotta Warriors were created as part of Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum complex, which spans approximately 20 square miles. This vast burial site reflects the emperor’s quest for immortality and his desire to maintain his rule in the afterlife. The construction of the mausoleum began shortly after Qin Shi Huang ascended to the throne at the age of 13 and continued for nearly four decades.

The warriors, along with other life-sized figures of officials, acrobats, and musicians, showcase the emperor’s power and the organizational prowess of his reign. Qin Shi Huang is credited with unifying China, standardizing measurements, and building much of the Great Wall.

Preservation and Legacy

Despite being buried for over two millennia, the Terra-Cotta Warriors have been remarkably well-preserved. However, the excavation and preservation of these figures pose significant challenges. The vibrant paint that once adorned the warriors faded rapidly upon exposure to air. Efforts to preserve and restore the site are ongoing, with international cooperation playing a key role.

Lonely Planet Images // Corbis

Today, the Terra-Cotta Warriors are one of China’s most popular tourist attractions, drawing millions of visitors each year. The site not only provides a glimpse into ancient Chinese art and culture but also underscores the enduring legacy of Qin Shi Huang, whose ambitious projects laid the foundation for the future of China.