Photo by I. Noyan Yilmaz/Shutterstock
The ancient terra-cotta warrior sculptures depict the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the founder of the Qin dynasty and the first emperor of China.
A recent excavation at the tombsite that holds the iconic Terra-Cotta Army in Xi’an, the capital of the Shaanxi province, unearthed a swath of previously unknown life-sized military figurines buried alongside China’s first emperor.
In 1974, a group of farmers attempting to dig a well in northwestern China unearthed what archaeologists consider to be one of the greatest finds of the 20th century: the tomb of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang. Inside the ancient burial complex, estimated to date back more than 2,200 years, thousands of life-sized military figurines were uncovered guarding the tomb of the former ruler, who founded the 2nd century B.C.E. Qin dynasty and initiated the construction of the Great Wall of China.
In the decades since the Xi’ian tomb site was first discovered, millions of travelers have flocked to the site to see the Terra-Cotta Army soldiers. That number may spike after the December 31, 2019, announcement that hundreds of formerly unearthed warriors were discovered following a decade-long excavation at the ancient mausoleum.
The findings include more than 200 warriors, 12 clay horses, 2 chariots, and a number of bronze weapons—all uncovered within a roughly 4,300-square-foot entrenchment, marking one of four burial pits surrounding the Xi’an site. Shen Maosheng, the archaeologist who led the dig, told the state-run Xinhua news agency that most of the human-sized soldier figurines were armed with pole weapons or bows, and each was arranged in the pit based on five different military ranks, one of which (a lower-level status) was previously unknown to experts.
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Before these additional artifacts were discovered, it was estimated that Qin Shi Huang’s burial complex held approximately 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots, 520 horses, and 150 cavalry horses. Researchers think it took around 700,000 laborers and up to 40 years to complete the tomb and its interior figurines, each of which is unique in appearance and features distinct physical characteristics such as height and hair length, plus detailed armor denoting military status.
Today, there’s a museum with viewing theaters situated around the excavation sites, which includes the “No. 1 Pit” where the newly discovered warriors are located. It’s never been easier to visit China’s most famous landmarks—even on a quick layover—thanks to the country’s recently updated visa-free program, so if you’re interested in discovering the Terra-Cotta Army with your own eyes, now might be the perfect time to make the trip.
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