Chinese Ancient Warrior Excavation







The life-sized statute belongs to a garrison of some 1,400 pieces, archers, cavalry troops, charioteers, infantryman, and horses. They are part of a great terra-cotta army slowly being unearthed near the emperor’s tomb outside the city of Xiam.

Chinese Warrior

E XCAVATION CHIEF ZHU SIHONG KNOWS HIS SOLDIERS WELL. “Kneel beside that archer,” he says, “and imitate his expression. You will feel as if you are ready to fight.” I drop to the archer’s position and am energized to enter the battle—any battle!

Surrounded by a collapsed roof of ancient timbers protected by a new exhibit hall Zhu and I stand in a square recently excavated below the roof in Pit 2, one of three pits in Qin Shi Huang’s Museum of the Terra-cotta Warriors and Horses.

Workers brushing away tamped earth discovered remains of the 7,000-square- yard roof of pine logs that sheltered the terra-cotta army. The roof’s collapse may have been caused by a fire set by rebels shortly after the emperor’s death. I see remnants of the fire in charred timbers. The three pits are filled with about 8,000 clay soldiers and horses. Nearby, an eroded 250-foot-high earthen mound rises over the emperor’s tomb. Remains of a palace and secondary pits containing bronze chariots and the skeletons of horses and rare animals have been discovered as well. 

 “All of this,” says historian Li Yu-ning of St. John’s University in Jamaica, New York, “was a manifestation of the first emperor’s quest for immortality and eter-nal glory and power.

Qin Shi Huang declared himself emperor in 221 B.C., after defeating six warring states and unifying China. He quashed the power of the feudal nobility and recrui-ted competent administrators to manage a dynastic system that lasted into this century.

Archaeologists uncovered Pit 1, filled with over 6,000 life-size warriors and horses, in 1974 and then began searching for other pits nearby. A tip from an elderly farmer led them to a wide field, and extensive test drilling uncovered Pit 2 in April 1976. Pit 3 and an empty fourth pit were found later.

Fifteen sections were opened during the 1976 trial excavation of Pit 2, then refilled until the official excavation began in March 1994. The work is now proceeding in phases. After the entire roof is exposed—a chore nearly completed—authorities will decide on a sequence for unearthing the soldiers and horses still buried below.

                                                             Former Senior Assistant Editor

                                                             LOU MAZZATENTA contributed

                                                             16 articles to the magazine in his 32-year

                                                             career, his favorites being those on arch-

                                                             aeological subjects such as Ramses the

                                                             Great (April 1991) and Herculaneum

                                                             (May 1984).

Ancient Chinese Army

W HEN YUAN ZHONGYI FIRST ARRIVED IN 1974 TO INVESTIGATE artifacts found by farmers digging a well, he thought his work would take a week or so.

“A grandmother had placed terra-cotta heads on her mantel to worship as gods,” he recalls. “I collected all the pieces, and then we began to dig. We could not believe what we found.”

Now director of the terra-cotta army museum, Yuan still enjoys examining chariot horses coming to light in Pit 2.

The new exhibit hall made of four different colors of marble from Fujian Province, opened in October 1994. Covering Pit 2, the building allows visitors to observe an immense excavation in progress. At the same time, it protects the site from the elements and air pollution . Two million visitors view the terra-cotta army yearly.

Excavation of Pit 2 is expected to last seven or eight more years. Additional buildings may house other sites on the mausoleum grounds. Some archaeologist envision an extensive complex with structures over pits containing the horse stables, seven human skeletons (possibly Qin Shi Huang’s children, murdered in a palace intrigue after his death), a cemetery of prisoner-laborers who built the mausoleum, and more.

It is a prospect that would have seemed unthinkable to Yuan Zhongyi when he first set up his tent and collapsible bed in the middle of an open field two decades ago.

 I f we find one piece that fits in a day --that’s a lucky day,” says Song Yun, who has worked for 19 years mending broken soldiers. A company of partly assembled statues stands behind him as he tests a missing part with co-workers in Pit 1. If a perfect fit cannot be achieved, the piece goes back into inventory. Eight skilled workers toil daily trying to make the right connections.

A soldier’s face gazes wistfully sky-ward in a heap of crumpled comrades.. To aid assembly, pieces are coded. Marks indicate where the item was found and to which statue it might belong. Thousands of fragments awaiting connective surgery have lain for years in long piles at the western end of the pit. Buried beneath them, more statues await resurrection.

Each soldier’s face is distinctive, and some experts think that real soldiers served as models. “Because each statue has its own personality,” says an archaeologist, “we have special feelings for all of them.”

In the museum’s computer center a monitor displays a photograph and detailed sketch of the back and side of an armored soldier . An exhaustive database is being compiled on all statues, bronzes, and other artifacts found in the pits. Their images, descriptions, and conservation history will be stored for future reference.

The computer center is also working toward production of a CD-ROM for tourists and another for scholars . Inspired by the film Jurassic Park, one engineer would like to develop a program that would manage artifacts, buildings, and grounds. The system would be particularly important in any future excavation of Qin Shi Huang’s tomb.

“Instead of keeping track of dino“we will says He Fan, a technician at the computer center, “we will keep track of our warriors.


                                                               NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

                                                                        Vol. 190, No. 4 - October 1996.

(Pgs. 68 - 86 . Entire Article)

                                                                        (pgs. 70 - 75 - 82 only shown above.

                                                                        15 more pages of beautiful photos .

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