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In the late 1970s a farmer was digging a well. As he dug to about 5 meters he made one of the most important archaeological discoveries probably ever.

This humble farmer had discovered emperor Qin’s army of soldiers, the guardians of his spirit in the afterlife. The legend says the emperor wanted to bury his actual living army with him as protection but was dissuaded from doing so by his advisors so he had then made out of pottery instead – the Terracotta Warriors.

I can’t imagine what it must have been like for that farmer to shine a light into a hole expecting to see water but instead seeing earth and rubble, then maybe lowering himself into a hole and coming face to face with the broken pottery bodies of countless fearsome warriors.

The tour first took in the unromantically named “pit 1” which contains 6000 foot soldiers arranged in ranks as the first line of defence of their emperor. Further archaeological investigation has unearthed a vast complex and more warriors , some with their original colours still showing.

We were able to visit the equally unromantically named “pit 2” which contains a number of officers and horses and “pit 3” which housed the emperor’s cavalry and archers.

The warriors were created to be around 10% larger than the real soldiers – the better to defend their emperor – and the bodies and arms and legs were mass produced by pressing clay into moulds, air drying for 7 days, firing for 5 then finally painting with various colours.

However the soldiers’ faces are all different and show ethnic variation confirming that soldiers from all over China fought. The features are so realistic and varied that they must have been modelled on the actual army: if so by looking on the terracotta army I have looked on the faces of soldiers who were born, fought and died 2 thousand years ago!

The legends of Emperor Qin’s burial place don’t end there… it is rumoured that he ordered to be built a vast underground palace with gardens featuring lakes of mercury and in fact high levels of mercury have been found nearby.

My own personal rumour concerns the state of the warriors when they were found. All of the foot soldiers were damaged in some way – arms or legs missing, head removed, body broken open. In fact only one soldier – an archer- has so far been found intact. In the 80s a theory was put forward that at some time in the past – 200 years ago or so – some bandits had broken in and in their search for loot had destroyed the warriors.

This seems rather unlikely given that the Chinese are hugely superstitious and to do such a thing would be extremely bad luck not to mention incurring the wrath of rather a lot of spirits, not least the Emperor himself. Besides there were no signs of entry and to this day the door has not yet been found. My fanciful theory is that there was a huge battle after the emperor’s death, that his army was destroyed in his defence.

Whether this occurred in the real world and the warriors each contained a spirit to bring then to life when needed or the battle occurred in the spirit world and this was echoed in their physical terracotta forms is unknown but there are definitely things we don’t know about and who’s to say either way?

Ps you may remember from *this post* that is was emperor Qin who also united both China and the great wall…

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