To put it simply, the Army of the Terracotta Warriors is just mind boggling insane.
It is everything you ever dreamed it would be, plus so much more that you never thought it would. There is literally a life-size army of thousands standing in subterranean formations. Not just warriors, but horses and chariots. There are generals, officers, infantry, archers (both crossbow and longbow, both kneeling and standing), spearman, cavalrymen and chariot-drivers. Non-military figures include acrobats, musicians and officials.
It is true that no two warrior’s faces are alike. Whether their features resembled real men of the time, we’ll never know, but the individual details are remarkable. The facial expressions, hairstyles, armour and clothing on each warrior make them seem so real.
What seems even more remarkable, is that they originally had bright pigments in various colours with a lacquer finish. Photos in the site’s museum reveal the individual colour scheme each warrior had had when they were first discovered in 1974 by local farmers drilling a well.
Unfortunately the immediate exposure to air caused the pigment to come off completely or fade away, leaving them the plain terracotta colour we have come to know them as. On the other had, fortunately many are still to be excavated. When scientists eventually discover a successful method to preserve the pigment, we may in the future see them in a different light (or colour, pardon the pun!). Some recently uncovered warriors have been wrapped in shrink wrap to protect them…for now.
The sight is still under excavation and will be still for many years. Currently there are three pits to visit. The largest Pit 1 is just epic. Under a mammoth warehouse roof stands some 6000 warriors and horses in long rows, all in battle formation, facing east.
Many of the soldiers would originally have been holding/carrying wooden weapons such as spears, swords, dagger-axes and other long-shaft weapons. All have disintegrated away, along with wooden chariots, leaving chariot drivers holding invisible handles as their horses carry on without them.
The rows were meant to represent rivers and evidence shows that they were filled with mercury and the original timber ceiling above them was decorated with heavenly bodies.
Pit 2 contains around 1300 warriors and horses, including archers, cavalrymen, officers and generals. Much still to be excavated here.
The smallest Pit 3 contains 72 warriors and horses in what is believed to be the army headquarters. The arrangement of the figures and horses in the well preserved rooms is astounding.
The best preserved warriors are housed in the sight’s excellent museum, safely behind glass (and the crowds).
The mind cannot comprehend why the First Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, felt so compelled to be buried with a life-size terracotta army of thousands. Perhaps he was terrified of the afterlife or he expected to rule it after death.
We shouldn’t overlook the man responsible for eventually yielding the world with arguably the greatest archaeological find of the 20th century and the greatest insight we have into the world of ancient China.
Qin She Huang was the first man to unify China in 221, ending the Warring States Period and marking the beginning of the Qin Dynasty. He created a government system that would be followed by later dynasties, he standardized measurements, currency, writing system, built thousands of kilometres of new roads and canals and unified diverse state walls into a single Great Wall of China. And then as his life-departing gift, he left us his tomb and guardians; the Terracotta Warriors.
And in doing so, gave us our second Bucket List item and a cool set of souvenier warriors of our own to take home!
We hope modern history never forgets the man behind it all too.
Visited 2nd February 2014.