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114 terracotta warriors rise in new excavation

Over 100 brightly colored terracotta warriors have emerged from the Chinese site of the Terracotta Army in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province state media said on Wednesday.
/ Source: Discovery Channel

Over 100 brightly colored terracotta warriors have emerged from the Chinese site of the Terracotta Army in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province state media said on Wednesday.

Lying alongside various artifacts, such as pots, weapons and chariots, the clay figures have been unearthed at Pit 1, the largest of the three pits at the vast mausoleum of Qin Shihuang, China’s first emperor.

Begun in June last year, the excavation has focused on a 656-square-foot patch in the main pit.

It is the third dig undertaken since the site’s discovery in 1974, when farmers drilling a well some 1.2 miles from the unexcavated tomb of the emperor stumbled upon terracotta warriors and horses.

Since then, more than 1,000 fierce clay warriors out of an estimated 8,000 life-size figures have been unearthed in the three pits.

Considered an “Eighth Wonder of the World,” the Terracotta Army was crafted more than 2,000 years ago to protect Qin Shihuang (259-210 B.C.) in the afterlife.

A controversial figure labeled a tyrant, Qin Shihuang presided over the unification of China in 221 B.C. and declared himself the first emperor.

It is estimated that more than 700,000 workers slaved to build his tomb (the emperor's actual grave remains unopened), while it might have taken 12 years for more than 1,000 people to produce the more than 8,000 terracotta figures.

According to the archaeologists, all the warriors would originally have been brightly colored, but the paint has faded with time.

“We were pleasantly surprised to find rich colors on terracotta warriors," Xu Weihong, head of the excavation team, told China Daily.

Photos of the 114 warriors, which are mostly infantrymen, are expected to be released later this month. The archaeologists described them as over 6 feet tall, with black hair, black or brown eyes, and green, white or pink faces.

Many of the terracotta warriors bore traces of burns. According to Liu Zhanchang, director of the Museum of Qin Shihuang Terracotta Warriors and Horses, which attracts millions of visitors every year, the burn marks provide evidence that the pit had been set on fire.

Scholars are now carrying out more research to determine whether destruction occurred during a raid by General Xiang Yu, less than five years after the emperor's death.

Indeed, not only did most warriors have burn marks, but they were also broken into pieces.

"It was hard work to restore the clay warriors. … It took us at least 10 days to restore one," Xu Weihong said.

The excavation has already produced a number of important findings, including the discovery last year of several beardless terracotta figures, which represented teenage warriors.

After discovering that the pit has seven layers, archaeologists are still hoping to find a “general” amongst the various archers, infantry and charioteers. So far less than 10 generals have been found, and none in Pit 1.

Indeed, much of the site has yet to be excavated. It is estimated that as many as 6,000 terracotta figures and more than 180 chariot horses can be found when Pit 1 is completely excavated.