Xi'an, once the capital of eleven Chinese dynasties, is famous throughout the world for life-sized terra-cotta warriors and horses. They have won fame as one of the greatest archaeological finds of this century. Back in 1974, while digging a well to fight drought, some farmers from Lintong county, about thirty kilometers east of Xi'an, unearthed some brown pottery fragments, which led to the great discovery of the executed terra-cotta legions as an exterior section of the mausoleum, of Qin Shi Huang or First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty (255-210B. C.)
Details of Qin Shi Huang's tomb can be traced in The Historical Records (compiled by Sima Qian) and legends about it have been widespread. However, for technical reasons, the major part of the tomb remains unexcavated today with its mound still standing 76 meters high against the slopes of Mt. Lishan and facing the Huishui River.
After 20 years of careful excavation three underground vaults officially opened to the public in 1979, 1989, and 1994 respectively, displaying thousands of terra-cotta warriors, horses and chariots, all arranged in battle formations.
Vault 1, built with earth and timber, measures 210 meters long, 60 meters wide and 4.6 to 6.5 meters high. In this area of 12, 600 square meters, six thousand life-sized warriors and horses of terra-cotta were found in rectangular battle formation. The troops were of a fairly uniform height of 1.8 meters. They wear helmets and armor and carry real bows and arrows, swords, lances, javelins and crossbows in their hands. Each chariot, made of wood, is drawn by a team of four horses, 1. 5 meters in height. Three rows of infantrymen make up the vanguard of the formation, and these are followed by the main body of the army, 38 rows of troops. There are also flank columns and rearguards. The array breathes the power of Qin Shi Huang's army.
Vault 2 is approximately one half vault I in size, housing nearly a thousand pottery warriors. Compared with Vault 1, these warriors are of a larger variety and arranged in more complex battle array. Unlike Vault 1, the war chariots and infantrymen are arranged separately in four square formations which are linked to one another in a polygon. Again, however, the warriors carry real weapons. The projecting part of the polygon consists of archers, either standing or kneeling, with crossbows or handbows and quivers and so appears to be the vanguard of the phalanx.
The archers are followed by a unit of cavalrymen to the left and one of chariots to the right, forming the two wings of the phalanx. Infantrymen and war chariots bring up the rear. Each chariot drawn by four horses has1l driver and two assistants, one on either side. The charioteers are armored and carry spears, swords and crossbows, Indicating that they could engage in long-range battles, short-range fighting and hand-to-hand combat. All the cavalrymen carry crossbows, a sign that shooting on horseback was a common practice in the army at that time.
From among the chariots a robust and unusually tall figure at 1. 95 meters has been unearthed. His armor is interlinked and overlapped with finer metal pieces than that of the common soldiers, and he is believed to be a high-ranking commander of the 1egion.
Vault 3 is a modest building more resembling a gallery. It has 69 pottery warriors with defensive weapons and a wooden chariot pulled by four magnificent horses. The structure of the gallery and the line-up of the soldiers suggest that this was likely the headquarters of the troops of Vault 1 and 2.
However, the commander is missing. Many archaeologists believe that since the underground army represents the emperor's garrison under his direct command, no marshal was necessary.
Altogether ten thousand pieces of actual weaponry have been unearthed from the three vaults, including arrow-heads, swords, spears and halberds. Two long-handled swords dug out recently are still sharp and gleaming despite their burial for more than two thousand years. Some bronze arrow-heads from Vault 2 are 41 cm in length and 100 grams in weight. They are the biggest bronze weapons excavated in China. Important to the study of Qin technology was the discovery of bronze arrow-heads and swords treated with a preservative that has prevented erosion for 22 centuries. Chemical analysis revealed the sword to have been cast of an alloy of copper, tin and various other elements, including nickel, magnesium, and cobalt. The arrow-heads which contain 7.71 percent lead are considered by archaeologists to be the world's most poisonous.
Experts expect future discoveries to unearth even more amazing art treasures. But they warn that it may require the efforts of one or two generations to recover the entire tomb complex of Emperor Qin Shi Huang.
The three vaults are well preserved in three modern constructions, each with an arched dome and a corridor along the side of the vault so that visitors may overlook the restored figures of warriors, horses and chariots in their original formations. Vault 2 is equipped with devices for regulating temperature, lighting and air humidity.