Ancient Soldiers on the March
A 2,300-year-old set of sculpted Chinese warriors visits New York
Farmers in Xi’an, China first discovered the statues in 1974. (Jim McMahon)
In 1974, farmers in Xi’an (shee-an), China made a big discovery. Buried beneath the ground were thousands of life-size statues of warriors from ancient China. They had been untouched since their burial in the 3rd century B.C. Made of terracotta, a type of clay, the statues are known as the Terracotta Warriors or the Terracotta Army.
Ten of the warriors are now on display in New York City. This is the maximum number of the statues that can be displayed outside of China at one time. Visitors to the exhibit at Discovery Times Square get to view the warriors up close—unlike in Xi’an, where the statues must be viewed from behind glass.
The exhibit also features artifacts, or objects from the past, dating from the rule of Qin Shihuangdi (chin shee-whong-dee). He was the first Emperor of China and oversaw the creation of the Terracotta Army. He believed that these clay soldiers would protect him in the afterlife.
THE EMPEROR’S TOMB
In its early history, China was made up of seven states that were frequently at war with one another. Qin Shihuangdi conquered all seven of these kingdoms and united China under his rule. But the Emperor couldn’t live forever.
Qin Shihuangdi commissioned, or hired, workers to build him a huge funeral complex. It is believed that 700,000 people built the complex, which was meant to be a tiny version of the Emperor’s kingdom. Ancient accounts say it included rivers made of mercury, which represented eternal life. The Terracotta Army was part of this giant tomb.
“The idea for China and the afterlife is that you wanted to bring everything with you to serve you in the afterlife that served you [in your life on Earth],” says Kristin Romey, an archaeologist (a person who studies objects from the past) working on the exhibit.
About 1,000 artisans, or craftsmen, sculpted an estimated 8,000 warriors. Each soldier has unique armor, a military rank, and a particular job. Among them are archers, foot soldiers, and even cavalry (soldiers who ride on horseback). The warriors also demonstrate six different facial shapes that reflect the native peoples from different areas of China.
Archaeologists in China are still finding artifacts from the funeral complex. In June, researchers found even more clay soldiers buried in Xi’an. Romey estimates that only 2 to 3 percent of the complex has been uncovered. Who knows what other secrets may lie hidden in the Emperor’s tomb?
The exhibition at Discovery Times Square closes on August 26.