The story of the terra cotta warriors is one of the “grand sweep of history” stories. A young emperor, 2200 years ago, starts planning his mausoleum. The plans include being surrounded by terra cotta warriors–infantrymen, cavalry men, and soldiers in chariots. Over a period of 38 years, 700,000 men build the mausoleum and fill it with the terra cotta warriors. Thousands of life size warriors, horses, armor, and chariots. Thousands of the workers die in the process; it is hot, heavy, dangerous work. The emperor reigns for 38 years, conquering six other kingdoms and uniting China. He installs common weights and measures and common language characters, important actions for centuries to come. He dies, and he is interred in the mausoleum, surrounded by the terra cotta warriors. The warriors are in long corridors, with walls of hard packed earth separating the columns. The pits are protected by heavy wooden beams, covered with mats, and earth is filtered over all of it, masking its place for centuries to come.
In 1974, the farmers around Xi’an were suffering from a major drought, and they were digging wells to attempt to get to water. One farmer discovered large pottery fragments 1.5 km east of the emperor’s mausoleum. That led to the discovery of one pit of terra cotta warriors; since then, two more have been discovered. Among the three pits are more than 8000 terra cotta warriors, all of them in pieces from plundering and destruction following a rebellion that overthrew the young emperor’s successor nearly 2200 years ago. Since then, archaeological teams have painstakingly reassembled the warriors, working where they find them, and restoring them to the positions in which they stood at the time they were first put in place.
The farmer who is credited with the discovery lost his farm, as all that’s below the earth in China belongs to the government. Today, he sits at a table in the gift shop at the excavation, signing books that that describe this important discovery. And our guide speaks with pride as she describes the work that has happened to bring this remarkable find to the world. It’s history made real, on a grand scale, right in front of our eyes.
Posted from Xi'an, Shaanxi, China.