Terracotta Army History

Written by Sally Guo Updated Apr. 28, 2022

The ancient China Terracotta Army has a history of 2,200 years, which can date back to the Qin dynasty. Emperor Qin Shi Huang ascended the throne when he was 13, he gives orders for its construction in 247 BC.

The construction of the terracotta Army was aiming to protect his power after death. It was finished in 208 BC. Let’s take a quick through the history timeline.

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terracotta army history Timeline
Terracotta Army History Timeline

Terracotta Army was Built from 247 BC to 208 BC

According to the Records of the Grand Historian, Emperor Qin Shi Huang ordered to build his mausoleum since he ascended the throne in 247 BC. His prime minister Li Si was reasonable for planning and design, while the senior general Zhang Han supervised the construction.

Emperor Qin became China's first emperor when he was 38 after the Qin had conquered all of the other Warring States and unified China in 221 BC. It takes 39 years to complete in 208 BC, 2 years after he died.

In the historical record, the total population of the Qin Dynasty was about 20 million. However, more than 700, 000 labors were served in building this grand underground terracotta army. What a massive project!

Terracotta Army Museum
Terracotta Army Museum

In 206 BC, Burned and Destroyed by Xiang Yu

In the first year of Qin Ziying (206 BC), the mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang suffered the largest man-made damage. According to historical records, Xiang Yu (a noble of the Chu state), rebelled against the Qin dynasty and became a prominent warlord.

He invaded Guanzhong (Central Shanxi Plain), the mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang was been destroyed on a massive scale, the buildings were razed to the ground, the underground mausoleum was been excavated, and the terracotta warriors and horses were also seriously damaged, partly burned with fire.

Archaeologists found there some black charcoal ash scattered over Pit 1 and Pit 2, which indicated that the collapse was caused by fire.

In 1974, Pit 1 Terracotta Army Was Discovered

The Terracotta Army was first discovered in March 1974 by five local farmers in Xian. They came across pieces of a clay figure while digging a well in the field. Then inform local authorities who notify archaeologists in this region.

Zhao Kangmin, the local archaeologist, the real person of first recognize the Terracotta Warriors, identified it as a cultural relic and initially restored it to protect this great cultural heritage.

In 1976, Pit 2 and Pit 3 Was Excavated

After discovering pit 1, archaeologists began to research and protect the site, as well as find other relics. In 1976, pit 2 was excavated with 1,000 warriors in the chariot cavalry corps and unveiled to the public in 1994. Pit 3 was found in 1976 and opened to visitors in 1987. In December 1987, the site was listed as a world cultural site.

Terracotta Warrior Found in Pit 2
General Warrior Found in Pit 2

In 1979, The Pit 1 of the Terracotta Army Was Open to the Public

After 5 years of excavation and investigation, The Museum of the Terracotta Army was built on the site where the Terracotta Army was found. Pit 1 was first opened to the public on Chinese National Day in 1979.

In 1996, The Mysterious Pit 4 Was Found

On February 22, 1996, archaeology confirmed that there was also a mysterious pit 4 in the mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huang.

"Pit 4" was suited between pits 2 and 3, with an area of 4,600 square meters. Surprisingly, it was an empty pit, they couldn’t find any pottery figures at all. Archaeologists conjectured that the pit was a proposed military array, which may not be completed due to the outbreak of peasant uprising in the late Qin Dynasty. Another conjecture was that "pit 4" was an earth trench, they used the soil for building terracotta pits.

Protection of Terracotta Army at Present

Over the years, the Terracotta Army suffered natural disasters, corrosion, weathering, and man-made damage, until it was accidentally discovered. Since the year 2000, Archaeological teams cooperate with well-known international biological companies, to establish a multi-functional laboratory for pottery status protection, material analysis, and environment preservation. They will be continued to excavate and research its cultural significance.

Popular the Terracotta Army Trips

Want to get to know the history of China? Go to Xi'an. Want to get to know about Xi'an? Not miss Terracotta Army! Please see our more popular trips to explore this ancient wonder:

We have developed some special activities in Xi'an, including discovering a mysterious place to have a close experience with a Terracotta Warrior. Contact us if you want to add these activities to your itinerary.

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