Terra Cotta Warriors of Xi’an China – Guards of the Largest Tomb in the World


The story of the Terra Cotta Warriors is an incredible one. I’ve been wanting to go to see the Terra Cotta warriors for years… since before my first trip to China.  Xi’an is a short 3 hour bullet train away from Beijing or you can take the overnight train and get there in about 12 hours… the flight is even quicker.  We ended up looking at all options.

Ying Zheng took the throne in 246 B.C. at the age of 13. By 221 B.C. he had unified a collection of warring kingdoms and took the name of Qin Shi Huang Di—the First Emperor of Qin. He is credited for the first version of the great wall. Beijing was not the capital of China at the time.

largest tomb in the world

The terra cotta warriors are the guards of the tomb of Qin Shi Huangdi—he was the first emperor of China in 221 B.C.  The tomb itself has not yet been excavated due to mercury poison concerns, but understand this… it is the largest mega tomb in the world.

For almost four decades, archaeologists have been excavating the site. So far, they’ve uncovered about 2,000 clay soldiers, but experts estimate there are more than 8,000 in total.

For over 2000 years the story of the thousands of warriors and horses was lost to the world.  While the tomb was known, but was also known as extremely dangerous we didn’t know there were pits of thousands of warriors over a mile from the actual tomb of the emperor.  A group of farmers were digging a well when they came upon the greatest discovery of the century… if not since king Tut’s tomb… what they found was extraordinary underground treasure: an entire army of life-size terra cotta soldiers and horses, interred for more than 2,000 years. Over the past 35 years, archaeologists have located some many pits, a complex of underground vaults as yet largely unexcavated, across a 22-square-mile area. Some are hard to get to, but three major pits are easily accessible, enclosed inside the four-acre Museum of the Terracotta Army, constructed around the discovery site and opened in 1979. In one pit, long columns of warriors, reassembled from broken pieces, stand in formation. With their topknots or caps, their tunics or armored vests, their goatees or close-cropped beards, the soldiers exhibit an astonishing individuality. A second pit inside the museum demonstrates how they appeared when they were found: some stand upright, buried to their shoulders in soil. The third pit has horses and chariots made from bronze. Our guide explained there are many thousands of warriors and more that are purposely still buried that are filled with color that burns off in the days after it is exposed to the air. For this purpose they are waiting to unbury a large quantity of warriors and more. Read more about the history of the terra cotta warriors on Smithsonian magazine.

The Back of Pit #1

The warriors look different and there are different warriors indifferent groups with different skills and even different shoes.

Scientists work in pit #2 to uncover and put the warriors back together. Think about it… they’ve been doing this since 1979.

Meeting the man. This was the farmer who was digging the well in 1974 when he found the terra cotta warriors.  Still blows my mind.

In addition the actual tomb is still unexcavated. Imagine us saying we haven’t been inside the pyramids, and as well haven’t yet been inside King Tuts tomb. We know there are traps and danger with large amounts of mercury. “The tomb was filled with models of palaces, pavilions and offices as well as fine vessels, precious stones and rarities,” reads a translation of the text.

The account indicates the tomb contains replicas of the area’s rivers and streams made with mercury flowing to the sea through hills and mountains of bronze. Precious stones such as pearls are said to represent the sun, moon, and other stars. Modern tests on the tomb mound have revealed unusually high concentrations of mercury, lending credence to at least some of the historical account. Chinese archaeologists are also using remote-sensing technology to probe the tomb mound. The technique recently revealed an underground chamber with four stair like walls. An archaeologist working on the site told the Chinese press that the chamber may have been built for the soul of the emperor.”

Experimental pits dug around the tomb have revealed dancers, musicians, and acrobats full of life and caught in mid-performance, a sharp contrast to the military poses of the famous terra-cotta soldiers.

Pit #3

But further excavations of the main tomb itself are very very slow, at least for now.
I expect when China is really ready for tourism they will excavate the main pyramid. It will absolutely be the reveal of the century if not the mellenium. China has the largest pyramid in the world under wraps due to danger…. what would it take for them to decide it is worth the risk?!!

“It is best to keep the ancient tomb untouched, because of the complex conditions inside,” Duan Qinbao, a researcher with the Shaanxi Provincial Archaeology Institute, told the China Daily.

When will the world be ready for the mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor in China, this UNESCO mausoleum was constructed over 38 years, from 246 to 208 BC, and is situated underneath a 76-meter-tall tomb mound shaped like a truncated pyramid

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