October 28, 2006

Xi’an Terracotta warriors

Talk about a massive ego…

The army of terracotta warriors guarding the tomb of the first Emperor of China have stood in battle ready formation for over 2000 years. It remained undiscovered in the Xi’an countryside until the 1970’s, reportedly because the Emperor had all the artisians involved with the construction of his tomb killed.

All of which got me to thinking… What kind of objects could I be buried with, that 2000 years later when my grave is “discovered”, would people say, “Oh my God, that is sooo amazing!” ? I mean, really, even given unlimited wealth (ala Bill Gates), what could one do to top this? Buried with jewels and riches? So done. Buried with your concumbines? Hardly novel. Buried underneath an enormous pyramid? Practically cliche…

But an entire stone army…very cool.

The scale of the project is almost unbelievable. There is a large diarama mapping the area excavation and the surrounding countryside. The actual tomb of the Emperor Qin is 1.5 km to the east of the terracotta warriors. Since they have unearthed some terracotta warriors only 200 meters from the tomb, it is likely that there are guards all the way to the tomb itself. A mindblowing use of human sweat and resources, of thousands of hand forged bronze weapons, complete with copper chariots drawn by stone horses, including bridles and reins.

Besides the sheer numbers of statues created, each individual life sized terracotta warrior is amazing in detail. They are so life like, each with unique facial expressions, hairdos, armor and hand gestures that I felt sure that when I looked away, they would move. The silence that settled when large tour groups moved on was eerie.

Likewise, the scale of the archeological dig to unearth these warriors is as impressive. What really struck me was the condition they found the warriors, sometimes fragmented into hundreds of tiny pieces. Various displays around the pit showed the warriors in states of repair, and the painstaking work of reconstruction.

What I didn’t know before was that they haven’t even scratched the surface on excavation. Half of Pit 1, the largest one where most of the pictures are taken, remains under tarps, and x-ray imaging has even revealed more pits.

What a way to go!

1 Comment

  1. What I found somewhat surprising/disturbing while I was there was that, at the back of the Pit 1 exhibit, there was nothing but a rope to keep some crazy tourist from jumping in and playing a round of “terracotta dominoes” with the soldiers–a vulnerability that was recently demonstrated by this guy:

    Don’t know if you saw it, but the Discovery Channel aired an interesting documentary a few months ago about the life of the first emperor and his burial complex. You probably heard, while you were there, the legends that the actual tomb chamber was laid out like a map of the emperor’s conquered lands–with rivers of flowing mercury. An interesting fact from the documentary was that recent soil core samples taken from the tomb area actually produced mercury readings high enough to support the reality of that legend.

    Comment by Mike E. — October 30, 2006 @ 1:18 pm

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