Rediscovered Stories: First Emperor Qin’s Terracotta Warriors

by Melissa Gordon

Qin Shi Huang Di, the First Emperor of Qin, took the throne in China in 246 BCE at the age of thirteen. He is credited for building the first version of the Great Wall of China as well as being the first emperor to unify the country.

In 1974, local farmers discovered what archaeologists would later identify as the grave site of Qin marked by a giant mound fifty-one meters high and an underground complex which appears to replicate the capital Xianyan. The underground mausoleum spans fifty-six square kilometers and contains burial sites and three partially excavated pits that hold a terracotta army2.

After his death in 210 BCE, Qin was buried with a hand-sculpted terracotta army. According to documentation from court historians of the time, the construction of the army took place over thirty-eight years and involved 720,000 workers1. In the mausoleum, there are estimated to be at least 8,000 sculpted terracotta soldiers, along with horses, chariots, and weaponry from the Bronze Age. The terracotta warriors, each painted with individual characteristics, stand guard in pits surrounding Qin’s tomb. Their uniforms as well as the horses’ halters are carved with incredible detail. Based on the position and number of terracotta soldiers, it is thought they represent the Imperial army of the time2.

The tomb of Qin has yet to be excavated, as archaeologists are concerned with preservation once the tomb is unsealed and exposed to the elements1. In 1987, the site became a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. The site is a major archaeological find that sheds light onto the time’s technology, military, and artistic capabilities. The dimensions, detail, and preservation of the mausoleum that holds the tomb of Qin and his army of soldiers offers us incredible insight into a culture that existed 2,000 years ago2.



1. Roach, John. “Terra-Cotta Army Protects First Emperor’s Tomb.” National Geographic, n.d. Web. 12 Jan. 2014.

2. “Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor.” UNESCO World Heritage Centre, n.d. Web. 12 Jan. 2014.