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1974 - Terracotta Army Discovered in China


Buried clay terra cotta warriors.

terracotta buried soldiers in main enclosure

Grant Faint/ The Image Bank/ Getty Images

Terracotta Army Discovered in China (1974): On March 29, 1974, three farmers were drilling holes in the hopes of finding water to dig wells when they came upon some ancient terracotta pottery shards. It didn't take long for news of this discovery to spread and by July a Chinese archaeological team began excavating the site.

What these farmers had discovered was the 2200-year-old remains of a life-sized, terracotta army which had been buried with Qin Shihuangdi, the man who had united the varied provinces of China and thus became the very first emperor of China (221-210 BCE).

Even before Qin Shihuangdi unified China, he began building his own mausoleum nearly as soon as he came to power in 247 BCE at age 13. It is believed that it took 700,000 workers to build what became Qin Shihuangdi's necropolis and that when it was finished, he had all 700,000 workers buried alive within it to keep its intricacies a secret. The terracotta army was found just outside of this tomb complex, near modern-day Xi'an in the Shaanxi province.

The terracotta army consists of over 8,000 soldiers of varying ranks. Each one is life-sized and unique. The details in the faces and hairstyles as well as clothing and arm positioning make no two terracotta soldiers alike. When placed, each soldier also carried a weapon; however either time or tomb robbers have removed these. Each soldier had also been painted but as each one is unearthed by archaeologists, the remaining paint unfortunately crumbles off the figures. All the soldiers have been placed facing east, standing in battle formations.

In addition to the terracotta soldiers, there are full-sized, terracotta horses and several war chariots.

Archaeologists continue to excavate and learn about the terracotta soldiers and Qin Shihuangdi's necropolis.

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