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The Discovery and Excavation of Qin's Terra-cotta Army

It was in March 1974, when local farmers were drilling a well in search of water, that large pottery fragments were discovered 1.5 kilometers east of Emperor Qin’s Mausoleum. This finds subsequently led to the revelation of one pit of the First Emperor’s buried army 2,200 years ago. Since then continual archaeological work on excavation discovered another two pits successively. It has been revealed that three underground pits totally cover an area of 22,000 square meters, housing an estimated 8,000 life-size pottery warriors and horses.

The three pits were built in similar basic construction. They are five to seven meters beneath the present ground level with the terra-cotta figures placed in corridors. The corridors, divided by earth-rammed partition walls, are paved with pottery bricks on which the figures were placed. The earth walls sustained wood roof that was composed of huge and strong rafters, the roof was covered by layers of fiber mats, earth fill and tilled earth. All these were constructed to totally conceal the army.

The three pits vary in size and shape. Pit 1 is the largest one in rectangular shape, housing the main force of the army; Pits 2 is located some 20 meters north of Pit 1, which is a complex battle formation formed by charioteers, archers, cavalrymen and infantrymen. It is specially used for supporting the main force; Pit 3, located 25 meters to the north of Pit 1 and to the west of pit 2, was evidently the headquarters. The total three pits are located to the east of Emperor’s Mausoleum, determining that the army was facing east, with its back to the tomb, serving as guardians to protect the entrance of the Emperor’s burial.

Pit 1:

Pit 1, the largest pit, is in a rectangular shape. It measures 230 meters long from east to west, 62 meters wide from north to south and 5 meters deep, covering an area of 14,260 square meters, five sloping roadways into the pits were constructed on eastern and western sides of pits to permit access.

The terra-cotta warriors and horses are arrayed in a practical battle formation. At the eastern end of the pit there are three rows of vanguards, 68 in each, totaling 204 soldiers who were originally equipped with genuine bows and crossbows. Immediately behind the vanguards is the main body of the battle formation: 30 chariots, each of which was drawn by four horses, armored and unarmored soldiers held weapons originally, such as spears, halberds etc. Around the outer edge, there is one row of soldiers with crossbows facing south, north and west respectively as the flanks to guard the sides and rear of the army. According to the density of each trial trench that has been excavated, it’s assumed that more than 6,000 pottery warriors and horses will be unearthed from Pit 1, most of which are infantrymen.

Pit 2:

Located 20 meters to the north of Pit 1 at the eastern end, Pit 2 is in "L" shape with a protruding rectangular area at the northern corner. This pit was discovered in 1976, covering an area of 6,000 square meters. Different from Pit 1, over 1,300 pottery figures in Pit 2 were placed in four specialized military forces:

The protruding northeast area houses 332 archers in all, 160 kneeling archers were arrayed into four columns with 172 standing archers surrounding. All these archers, whatever kneeling or standing soldiers, face eastward.

The south area is composed of war chariots. Total 64 chariots were arrayed in 8 columns, also facing east, eight chariots with their chariot horses in each column. Originally made of wood, the chariots were completely deteriorated when unearthed. Each chariot in this group was accompanied with a charioteer, who was flanked by two attendant soldiers carrying long weapons.

The middle area consists of war chariots in the front, immediately followed by infantrymen and the cavalry at the rear.

The north area consists of war chariots in the front, immediately followed by infantrymen and the cavalry at the rear.

The north area has only cavalry. There are totally 108 cavalrymen. Each of the cavalrymen stands in front of his saddled war-horses, holding the reins in right hand and a bow in left hand.

The four arrays seemed to exist independently, but could be assembled immediately to constitute a complete battle formation during the war times. This reflected the unique military strategy of the Qin army-army array within army array.

Pit 3:

Terra Cotta Army
Tour to Terra Cotta Army Museum

It is the smallest of the three pits and was discovered in 1976. Only 68 pottery figures and one chariot drawn by four horses were unearthed in the pit. It is of U-shape about 520 square meters. Pit 3 is now known as the command center of the entire army, because the following reasons:

Once the terra-cotta warriors and horses were all arrayed inside the corridors, the entrances were closed. it meant a sealed united army was formed to guard Emperor Qin's underground palace.