The thousands of clay soldiers that have come to be known as the Terra Cotta Army were created during the reign of Shihuangdi, the founder of China’s Qin dynasty (221–207 BCE). Shihuangdi unified the Chinese empire, began construction of the Great Wall of China and prepared for his own death by constructing a 20-square-mile (50-square-km) funerary compound, the treasures of which began to come to light only some 2,100 years after his death.
DID YOU KNOW?
- The chamber containing the Terra Cotta Army was discovered in 1974 by a group of farmers attempting to dig a well near the ancient capital city of Chang’an in what is today the Shaanxi Province, near the modern city of Xi’an.
- The “army” is made up of more than 6,000 figures including soldiers, horses, chariots, bowmen and archers. The figures are life-sized, and each has a unique face and details.
- The terra cotta soldiers were found arranged in military formation in large pits with rammed earth walls dividing the rows. Four main pits have been excavated: three with figures in them and one empty, suggesting that the full tomb army was not completed before the emperor’s death.
- The figures were made using molds for different pieces, which were then assembled. Although the statues were originally brightly painted, the paint has since mostly flaked away.
- The tomb of the Terra Cotta Army was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987. It attracts an estimated 2 million visitors each year.