The Terracotta Warriors and Horses are the most significant archeological excavations of the 20th century. Located approximately 30 km outside of the present-day capital, X'ian (called Chang'an in ancient times), of the Shensi province of modern China, the tomb of Qin Shi Huangdi remains a symbol of the infinite power and ego of China's first Emperor.
The Terracotta Army was buried with the Emperor of Qin (Qin Shi Huangdi) in 210-209 BC (his reign over Qin was from 247 BC to 221 BC and unified China from 221 BC to the end of his life in 210 BC). Their purpose was to help rule another empire with Shi Huangdi in the afterlife. Consequently, they are also sometimes referred to as "Qin's Armies".
Qin Shi Huangdi (259 BC - 210 BC), the first emperor of China, ascended the throne at the age of 13, and immediately began construction of his extraordinary mausoleum. On completion of his many conquests, he ordered 720,000 laborers to hurry up on building his royal tomb. It was finished just-in-time in 210 BC for his use, 36 years after the work commenced. His son, second Qin Emperor, saw to his entombment.
The Terracotta Army was discovered in March 1974 by local farmers drilling a water well to the east of Mount Lishan. Mount Lishan is also where the material to make the terracotta warriors originated. In addition to the warriors, an entire man-made necropolis for the emperor has been excavated.
Archaeologists were uncertain when the excavations began of the great magnitude of this site. The although the tomb itself is, according to legend, very elaborate and beautiful, the center piece of Shi Huangdi's mausoleum is the terra-cotta army of approximately 8,000 life-sized men and horses.
Individually sculpted of 3 inch thick terracotta clay, each soldier and horse is unique, each with its own style of dress (the mineral paints used to cover the figures in bright, gay colors have since dissolved), weaponry, and facial expressions. Grouped into a specific military formation with crouching crossbowmen and bowmen at the point, archers at the flanks, large groups of infantry, chariots and cavalry, and a final guard of heavily armored infantry pulling up the rear, all are arranged according to the proper military procedures of the day.
All 8,000 troops are housed in three separate chambers for each section of the army: active duty troops in the largest chamber, reserves in another smaller chamber, and a small group of 68 commanders and elite officers in the third.
The three chambers are themselves part of a much larger burial complex.
According to the Grand Historian Sima Qian (145 BC-90 BC), the First Emperor was buried alongside great amounts of treasure and objects of craftsmanship, as well as a scale replica of the universe complete with gemmed ceilings representing the cosmos, and flowing mercury representing the great earthly bodies of water. Pearls were also placed on the ceilings in the tomb to represent the stars, planets, etc. Recent scientific work at the site has shown high levels of mercury in the soil of Mount Lishan, tentatively indicating an accurate description of the site’s contents by historian Sima Qian.The tomb of Qin Shi Huangdi is near an earthen pyramid 76 meters tall and nearly 350 square meters. The tomb presently remains unopened.
Qin Shi Huangdi’s necropolis complex was constructed to serve as an imperial compound or palace. It comprises several offices, halls and other structures and is surrounded by a wall with gateway entrances. The remains of the craftsmen working in the tomb may also be found within its confines, as it is believed they were sealed inside alive to keep them from divulging any secrets about its riches or entrance. It was only fitting, therefore, to have this compound protected by the massive terracotta army interred nearby. In July 2007 it was determined, using remote sensing technology, that the mausoleum contains a 90-foot tall building built above the tomb, with four stepped walls, each having nine steps. Researchers theorized it was built "for the soul of the emperor to depart."