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The Terracotta Warriors of Xi’an

2011 July 28
Terracotta Warriors, Xi'an

The main pit of the Terracotta Warriors.

In 1974, farmers in the outskirts of Xi’an, China were digging up a water well when they happened to come across one of the most important discoveries in China’s history: The Terracotta Warriors, thousands of uniquely made, life size sculptures which served to protect the final resting place of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang.

Depending on how you look at it, Qin Shi Huang was either an absolute genius or a fucking psychopath; interesting how the two often come hand in hand. In the time that he was alive, he defeated the armies of several states to unite the country for the first time in history; unified standards of measurement; built roads, canals and infrastructure; and laid the groundwork for what would become the Great Wall.

But all the good he did, Emperor Qin had some issues, particularly with death. The man was absolutely mortified by it. He spent the later part of his life looking for the fabled “elixir of life” and sent thousands to the far flung reaches of his empire to look for it. In one instance, boatloads of young men and women sailed across the sea and landed on an island. When they realized the futility of their search and impending execution for failure, they decided to settle down on the island that would become Japan.

Eventually, he realized that he couldn’t live forever so he built a tomb for himself. Like the Egyptians, this tomb was meant to bring all the comforts of life into the afterlife. Based on which estimate you believe, between 300,000 and 700,000 unpaid laborers built this city. Historians wrote of palaces, towers and rivers of mercury. Interestingly enough, the Terracotta Warriors were never mentioned in the historical texts.

In the present day, the Terracotta Warriors represent only a tiny fraction of what has been unearthed from Emperor Qin’s tomb. Everything else is buried underground and yet to be uncovered because scientists/archaeologists are waiting for more advanced technologies so as to not destroy the fragile artifacts. As for what lies underneath, the specifics are not known because Emperor Qin, in his last act of lunacy, killed all the workers so they would not reveal any secrets.

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I saw the Terracotta Warriors in May of this year and below are some more photos.

Terracotta Warriors, Xi'an

In addition to individual warriors, they also made horse drawn carriages.

Terracotta Warriors, Xi'an

One of the two preserved horse drawn carriage sets.

Terracotta Warriors, Xi'an

A side view of the second largest pit.

Terracotta Warriors, Xi'an

The side view of the largest pit.

Terracotta Warriors, Xi'an

The smallest pit where they put the generals and lieutenants.

Terracotta Warriors, Xi'an

A closeup view of one of the generals. 

Terracotta Warriors, Xi'an

Closeup of a lower ranking officer.

Terracotta Warriors, Xi'an

Another closeup.

4 Responses leave one →
  1. July 31, 2011

    I’ve heard about these terracotta warriors, but I never really realized how huge the tomb is until I saw your photos. It’s impressive! The fact that more are still buried and yet to be excavated makes the whole thing more interesting.

    • Paul permalink*
      August 1, 2011

      I actually didn’t know that the warriors were only a tiny piece of his tomb until after going there.

      You’re right, it’s pretty ridiculous, considering how large the unearthed portion is.

  2. August 1, 2011

    Such a fascinating place. We’re going back in the Fall and will definitely include a stop. Your photos came out really well, the lighting looks quite tricky.

    • Paul permalink*
      August 1, 2011

      Thanks! It’s definitely worth a trip.

      For the photos, I used a Nikon D40 + Tamron 10-24 3.5-4.5. ISO was cranked pretty high (1000-1600). I had to hold it pretty steady and shrinking the pictures down removes a lot of the noise.

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