China's "First Army"

Can you imagine what it would be like digging in your backyard and finding a great world treasure? This is exactly what happened to a family of Chinese farmers. The family of farmers were digging a water well on their land in the Lintong District near the city of Xi’an, China, in March of 1974 when they came across fragments of an ancient terracotta figurine. As they continued to dig, they discovered more statues made of this same terracotta clay. Yang Zhifa, the owner of the land, immediately informed the local government of their discovery. Archeologists flocked to the scene and began the dig to discover (what is today) the largest collection of pottery figurines ever uncovered, Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s Terracotta Army.


"Great Warriors"


In 246 B.C., Ying Zheng (who was only 13 years old at the time) ascended to the throne after his father’s death (Yiren). In 221 B.C., Zheng declared himself The First Emperor of China and changed his name to Qin Shi Huangdi (which translates to “First Emperor”). Upon his ascension, he commissioned the construction of a GREAT army of warriors made from terracotta clay to lead and protect him in the afterlife. Emperor Qin’s reign lasted from 221-210 B.C. when he died from illness. His army of terracotta warriors is only a part of Qin’s vast necropolis which spans 38 square miles.


The discovery of Emperor Qin’s Terracotta Warrior Army consists of a collection of over 8,000 soldiers, 520 horses, 150 calvary horses, and 130 chariots… and there are new discoveries still being unearthed today, adding to this spectacular find. Hundreds of pits have been discovered; however, four main pits containing the largest groupings of these warriors have been unearthed. Each pit measures approximately 23 feet deep (7 meters). The pits lay about one-half mile (1 km) to the east of Emperor Qin’s primary burial tomb, and believed they were positioned there to protect his tomb from this direction. Could it be possible that this was his actual army in life? No one knows for sure, but the discovery of such a piece of history is astonishing.


One of the greatest discoveries found thus far of Emperor Qin's Terra-cotta Army was a complete chariot, driver, and horses. These statues were found almost completely intact and painted. After resided underground for almost 2,000 years, they now reside in an air-tight chamber in the museum for all to enjoy.



Every warrior found from Emperor Qin's Terra-Cotta Army is unique, like this "great" warrior. The speculation is that this army of terra-cotta warriors were modeled after Qin's own army.


Aside from the fact that this discovery laid untouched and undiscovered for over two millennia, one of the most fascinating features of this find is that NOT ONE soldier appears to be identical… every soldier is unique! The details of the soldiers’ facial features, weaponry, garments, horses and chariots were all sculpted and painted to such detail; however very few fully painted and intact soldiers have been discovered and preserved. The paint itself is so delicate from age that most of it would flake off the statues when contacted with air. Those fully preserved soldiers and figurines have been removed from their pits and encased in air-tight glass enclosures to protect them from exposure and further deterioration.


As a professional photographer, I take great joy in shooting history. Much like my landscape and wildlife photography, historical photography creates a mood and tells a story. I’ve tried to do my best to bring out the details in the terracotta warrior figurines and those archeologists that strive to preserve history. With this shoot, I wanted to “tell the story” of this great historical find. As we explored the museum and the sight, I wanted to capture the expressions on the faces of the statues; I wanted to document through photography the work that the archeologists were conducting and the work that they do to preserve the tomb. And I wanted to paint the scene and create a sense of being there with the Zhifa family as they uncovered this great discovery and history of ancient Chinese culture.


I hope that you’ve enjoyed this short read and the photos of our visit to the site of China’s “First Army”, Emperor Qin’s Terracotta Warriors. And remember... travel on, and travel often!



Hard at work, this archeologist documents another soldier to be restored and placed back in place where he was found in the tomb.



Ancient cultures believed strongly in protection in the afterlife. It was very common for kings, emperors, and leaders of ancient civilizations to construct statues of guardians and armies to protect the tombs of their leaders.



The Terra-Cotta Army of China's first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, is one of the greatest discoveries of Chinese history.



All of the Terra-Cotta Warriors found in Emperor Qin's necropolis are facing the same direction, to the east. Qin Shi Huang always wanted to unify all the states in China. His kingdom was the most western state, and historians believe that he purposed faced them to the east, facing the other states, as a final gesture of unification.

11 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All