Terracotta Army and Museum
Review of an exhibition at the Terracotta Army and Museum
Venue: Xi’an, China
In March 1974, farmers digging a well east of the ancient city of Xi’an in central China accidentally came across a pit containing 6,000 clay terracotta statues in battle formation. The incredibly detailed life-size carvings were part of a huge burial complex built for the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang di (221-207) to guard and protect him in the afterlife. Wooden structures which lay beneath fiber mats and soil have since perished with only the supportive earthen partition walls left which divide the rows of archaeology. More remains have been discovered over the years with approximately 8,000 warriors found, plus weapons, horses and bronze chariots.
The rank and age of each individually styled statue can be identified by their size, hairstyle and dress – the larger and more elaborately dressed the figure, the higher the rank. It is thought that over 700,000 workers were used to build the site and its archaeological contents. Wooden chariots that would have once been part of the formations have sadly rotted away, their former locations identified by the spaces left behind and the shape of the hands of the warriors positioned close by whom once held the reins. The warriors were originally painted with elaborate colours that were lost to the elements through oxidation during early excavations by archaeologists unsure of how to preserve them. Consequently, some of the excavations were back-filled to prevent further damage following specialist advice.
It’s estimated the existing site could take a single archaeologist 600 years to excavate due to the slow, painstaking process of identifying and restoring the various missing fragments of the archaeology which is thought to have been burnt and vandalised by enemies of the Emperor. In addition to the three pits, there is also a mausoleum nearby which houses the Emperor’s tomb, though it has remained largely unexcavated due partly to safety concerns over the presence of large quantities of mercury inside.
The farmland that once surrounded the well is now home to a thriving tourist industry estimated to be worth in excess of 200 million RMB per year, providing livelihoods for the many local people born into poor farming communities. The Chinese farmers whom discovered the Terracotta Army were provided with a salary for life in return for the land now recognised as the eighth wonder of the world.
Photographs can never do justice to such a magnificent archaeological site as this. To have the opportunity to view such historic beautifully crafted works of art in their original setting was a truly humbling experience and one that I shall never forget.