The Terracotta Soldiers, dating from 210 BC, were discovered in 1974 by some local farmers near Xian in the Sichuan province of China, near the Mausouleum of the First Qin Emperor. The figures vary in height (183–195 cm - 6ft–6ft 5in) according to their role, the tallest being the generals. The figures include strong warriors, chariots, horses, officials, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians. Current estimates are that in the three pits containing the Terracotta Army, there were over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried in the pits.
The Terracotta Army was discovered in 1974 in the eastern suburbs of Xian in the Sichuan province by local farmers drilling a water well 1.5 miles east of the mountain Lishan. This discovery prompted archaeologists to proceed to the Sichuan province to investigate. The Terracotta Army is a form of funerary art buried with the First Emperor of Qin (Qin Shi Huang) in 210-209 BC. Their purpose was to help rule another empire with Shi Huang Di in the afterlife. Consequently, they are also sometimes referred to as "Qin's Armies." Mount Lishan is also where the material to make the terracotta warriors originated. In addition to the warriors, an entire man-made necropolis for the emperor has been excavated.
The Terracotta Army were manufactured both in workshops by government laborers and also by local craftsmen. The head, arms, legs and torsos were created separately and then assembled. Studies show that eight face molds were most likely used, and then clay was added to provide individual facial features. Once assembled, intricate features such as facial expressions were added. It is believed that their legs were made in much the same way that terracotta drainage pipes were manufactured at the time. This would make it an assembly line production, with specific parts manufactured and assembled after being fired, as opposed to crafting one solid piece of terracotta and subsequently firing it. In those days, each workshop was required to inscribe its name on items produced to ensure quality control. This has aided modern historians in verifying that workshops that once made tiles and other mundane items were commandeered to work on the terracotta army. Upon completion, the terracotta figures were placed in the pits in precise military formation according to rank and duty.
The terracotta figures are life-like and life-sized. They vary in height, uniform and hairstyle in accordance with rank. The colored lacquer finish, individual facial features, and actual weapons and armor from battle used in manufacturing these figures created a realistic appearance. The original weapons were stolen by robbers shortly after the creation of the army and the coloring has faded greatly. However, their existence serves as a testament to the amount of labor and skill involved in their construction. It also reveals the power the First Emperor possessed, enabling him to command such a monumental undertaking as this.
The four pits associated with the dig are about 1.5 km east of the burial ground and are about 7 meters deep. The outside walls of the tomb complex are as if placed there to protect the tomb from the east, where all the conquered states lay. They are solidly built with rammed earth walls and ground layers as hard as concrete. Pit one, 230 meters long, contains the main army, estimated at 8,000 figures. Pit One has 11 corridors, most of which are over 3 meters wide, and paved with small bricks with a wooden ceiling supported by large beams and posts. This design was also used for the tombs of noblemen and would have resembled palace hallways. The wooden ceilings were covered with reed mats and layers of clay for waterproofing, and then mounded with more soil making them, when built, about 2 to 3 meters higher than ground level. Pit two has cavalry and infantry units as well as war chariots, and is thought to represent a military guard. Pit three is the command post, with high ranking officers and a war chariot. Pit four is empty, seemingly left unfinished by its builders.
There is evidence of a large fire that burned the wooden structures that once housed the Terracotta Army. It was described by the famous historian Sima Qian (145-90 BC), who said that the fire was a consequence of a raid on the tomb by General Xiang Yu less than five years after the death of the First Emperor. According to Sima Qian, General Xiang’s army looted the tomb and the structures holding the Terracotta Army, as well as setting fire to the necropolis and starting a blaze that allegedly lasted three months. Because of this, only one statue has survived intact: a statue of a kneeling archer. Despite the fire, however, much of the remains of the Terracotta Army still survives in various stages of preservation, surrounded by remnants of the burnt wooden structures.