In 1974, a group of farmers was slowly digging a well in Xi’an, China, when one of them hit something hard with his shovel. As he continued to dig, she realized that he had discovered an ancient clay statue.
Archaeologists knew that China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi, had an underground mausoleum somewhere in the area. But the mausoleum had been intentionally hidden after his death in 210 BC. C., and the keepers planted trees on top in the hope that they would never be found. But when archaeologists began to investigate, they realized the clay statue was one of thousands buried just below the surface.
Called the Terracotta Army, there are no other burial sites that rivals this underground army. And in recent years, new technologies have helped scientists understand how they came about. Archaeologists have even found 20 more terracotta warriors in 2022.
Scientists have yet to unearth all the soldiers buried with the emperor, but love as much as 8,000 statues make up this clay army. The statues were buried in three separate pits, and include life-size warriors, officers and horses.
the warriors wear uniforms that distinguishes them from the officers. The horses wear harnesses and the chariots have wheels with dozens of spokes. Some of the cars are covered but have an open window, others are open-air and have an umbrella to protect the driver from the sun.
The soldiers were arrayed in battle formation, protecting the emperor in the afterlife. scientists believe that the workers began creating the clay army when Qin Shi Huangdi ascended the throne at age 13 in 246 BC.
More about the Terracotta Army:
As king, Qin Shi Huangdi spent 25 years fighting and conquering warring states. Once he unified China, he declared himself the first emperor. His dynasty ended only four years after his death, but the landmass he ruled remained unchanged for centuries.
Some archaeologists believe that it took as many as 700,000 craftsmen and workers to build the army over the years and that production stopped when the emperor died in 210 BC. C. They worked for almost 40 years to build the army and experts suspect that many of these workers were slaves who were executed once their services were no longer needed.
There are many mysteries surrounding the clay army, and in recent decades new, non-invasive technologies have helped scientists understand how the clay army formed.
building an army
Researchers have used remains found among the statues to determine the material used to build the army. in a study 2017 in ancient, The scientists examined 12 fragments that came from warrior statues in Pit 1, which is the largest of the three pits. They also looked at samples of cobblestones and other statues, such as a figure representing a palace acrobat.
They discovered that the statues were made of a non-calcareous clay paste that could have come from the loess deposits, a type of siltstone that is common in northwest China. The acrobat and warrior shards also contained sand temper, meaning the sculptors changed the recipe at one point.
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Non-invasive technologies have allowed researchers to better understand the production process. in a studies 2021 in archaeometrythe researchers used portable X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy to see inside the statues.
X-rays revealed distinct markings on the statues, ‘Gōng’ (宫) and ‘Xianyang’ (咸阳). They believe that these are the names of the two workshops in charge of making the clay army. The names help explain variations in clay sources and distinctions in clay paste.
Protecting the protectors
Although the warriors were made of terracotta, the bronze weapons they carried were real and well preserved. For years, scientists wondered if the creators had intentionally used an anti-rust agent to protect the bronze.
In an article from 2019 in scientific reports, the researchers were curious about the chromium detected in the bronze and whether it was used intentionally to preserve weapons. They analyzed samples of the weapons and the soil in which they were buried. They found that a lacquer had been used to coat the clay warriors and that it was rich in chromium. Over time, lacquer became mixed with the earth and chrome spread to bronze weapons.
Although the chrome covered the bronze, the researchers did not think it was responsible for the preservation of the weapons. They suspect that the bronze has remained due to the soil having a moderately alkaline pH content and small particle size.
The Terracotta Army was meant to defend Qin Shi Huangdi in the afterlife, and now the warriors have their own protection. the site was added to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage list in 1987, and a government-run museum manages and oversees the excavation as it continues.