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Top 10 facts about the Terracotta Warriors

26 January 2018 by Scott Smith

Terracotta General

Terracotta General © Mr. Ziyu Qiu

With only 2 weeks to go until our blockbuster exhibition China’s First Emperor and the Terracotta Warriors opens, we thought we’d run you through the top 10 most interesting facts about the warriors and the First Emperor’s burial pit!

 They were discovered completely by accident

The Terracotta Army was discovered on 29 March 1974 when farmer Yang Zhifa uncovered fragments of pottery when digging a well. This pottery led to the discovery of the first warrior of the famous Terracotta Army. Quite the find!

There were no historical records of them existing

The discovery of the Terracotta Warriors was a complete surprise to everyone because there are no historical records of them, or of an underground army. They had sat untouched underground for more than 2,200 years. This only adds to the mystery, as it is now the largest and most important tomb site in China.

The scale of the discovery is immense

Since the discovery of the Terracotta Army, more than 2,000 warriors and horses have been excavated from three different burial pits with an estimated 6,000 still buried underground. It is perhaps the enormous scale of the discovery that has added to the mystery and captivated the world, leading people to start describing the warriors as the 8th wonder of the world.

Qin Shi Huang, China’s First Emperor

Amazingly, no two figures are exactly alike

Incredibly, despite the vast number of warriors, each warrior has unique facial features and styles. The warriors of different ranks were buried in battle formation to represent a real army and are split into infantrymen, archers, generals, cavalrymen, charioteers, officers, and guards of honour – all different in their expressions, clothing, and hairstyles.

They were part of the First Emperor’s search for immortality

China’s First Emperor Qin Shi Huang wanted to live forever. He spent a huge amount of resources building a magnificent underground empire, equipped with everything he would need for the afterlife. He had palaces, an army to protect him, chariots for travelling in, stables full of horses, entertainers and even his concubines. Covering an area of 56 square kilometers, it is the biggest burial site on earth. In 1987 the site was given UNESCO World Heritage status and is a major tourist attraction in Xi’an.

It’s not just soldiers

More recent discoveries include terracotta acrobats and strongmen. Another pit contained 15 terracotta musicians and 13 bronze water birds to entertain the Emperor in the afterlife. There was also a pit full of stone armour and several pits full of horse skeletons. You can see some of these amazing objects in the exhibition.

The figures were an early feat of mass-production

Government labourers and local craftsmen created the warriors in workshops. The warriors have the stamps or names of their makers, including administrators, craftsmen and foremen.  Each warrior was built from the ground upwards using different body parts made from thick coils of clay and the head was made and fired separately. Sculptural details such as hair, facial features and costume were added by hand before the figure was dried and eventually fired in a huge kiln.

Example of paint on a terracotta warriors

Example of paint on a terracotta warrior © Mr. Ziyu Qiu

The warriors were actually painted

Originally the warriors were not the terracotta colour that we see today but would have been painted in bright colours. After firing, each terracotta warrior was covered with lacquer before various bright pigments were applied with colours indicating different ranks. You can see traces of paint on two of the warriors in our exhibition.

The warriors carried real weapons

After the warriors were painted, they were then placed in military formation in the pits and were equipped with real bronze weapons. More than 40,000 weapons have been found in the partially excavated warrior pits including swords, lances, spears and arrows. Recent studies have revealed they were never used in battle but were produced specifically for burial with the terracotta army.

The greatest mystery is still to be revealed: the First Emperor’s tomb has never been opened

Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s actual tomb remains a mystery to archaeologists and historians as it is still sealed up. There have been geophysical surveys of the tomb mound, but the mausoleum itself has not been excavated. The tomb was written about by Han dynasty historian Sima Qian, who describes ‘palaces and scenic towers for a hundred officials’, as well as many rare artifacts and treasures. In addition, the two major rivers of China, the Yangtze and the Yellow River, were simulated in the tomb using mercury and the tomb ceiling was decorated with the heavenly constellations. From here, Qin Shi Huang could continue to rule over his empire even in the afterlife.

Discover more fascinating stories during your visit to our China’s First Emperor and the Terracotta Warriors exhibition. The exhibition opens on February 9 and tickets are available to book now.

  1. Catherine riley says:

    Would luv to see exhibition but didnt think it would be so much a once in lifetime must see 😊x

    • Anita Evans. says:

      I travelled to China to see the Terracotta warriors. The sight blew my mind away it’s unbelievable you cannot imagine the time the effort the skills. Not unusual in China ,however, numerous jaw dropping experiences.

  2. Barry says:

    An excellent explanation of the Terracotta Army it is no longer mysterious, well described, looking forward to seeing them .

  3. Gordon brereton says:

    i went to china a few years ago an amazing sight to see the size of the warriors and the detail a sight you will never forget

  4. Christine Partridge says:

    How many warriors will me in the display?

    • National Museums Liverpool says:

      Hi Christine,

      There will be 10 life-sized figures from the First Emperor’s burial site as well as over 180 other objects including weapons, armour, architecture, jewelry and royal artefacts.

      The exhibition spans almost 1,000 years of Chinese history; from the conflicts and chaos of the Warring States period, to the achievements and legacy of the Qin and Han dynasties.

      Best wishes,

      Scott

  5. Kera Sage says:

    Can’t seem to buy tickets. When I click on select time and date, it comes up briefly then disappears, I’ve tried everything, even disabling my antivirus thinking that might be blocking it, but nothing. I don’t want to use Ticketmaster because they charge extras. How can I book this?!

    • National Museums Liverpool says:

      Hi Kera,

      We are sorry for the difficulties you’ve experienced. We are aware that there were issues with the site over the weekend which we are looking into. The site is now working and you should be able to purchase your tickets. Let us know if you have any more problems, or you can ring the ticket office on 0151 478 4444.

      Best wishes,

      Scott

  6. Elizabeth Lyons says:

    Just seeing the pictures and reading about the Terracotta Army captures the imagination with the enormity and wonder of it all, fabulous can’t wait to see them.

  7. Sue J says:

    I have bought tickets to this exhibition but just wondered how long you are able to stay in the exhibition bearing in mind that they are timed.

    • National Museums Liverpool says:

      Hi Sue,

      The booking slots are every 30 minutes but we expect that visitors will spend around 1 hour in the exhibition.

      Best wishes,

      Scott

  8. Nobby says:

    Looking forward to seeing the Terracotta Army !how many will be on display?

    • National Museums Liverpool says:

      Hi,

      There will be 10 life-sized figures from the First Emperor’s burial site as well as over 180 other objects including weapons, armour, architecture, jewelry and royal artefacts.

      The exhibition spans almost 1,000 years of Chinese history; from the conflicts and chaos of the Warring States period, to the achievements and legacy of the Qin and Han dynasties.

      Best wishes,

      Scott

  9. Amanda Butwell says:

    I’ve booked 10am tickets on 2nd March for my husbands birthday suprise! We get into Lime Street station approx 9.25 will it be a problem if we are a little late? Is it far from the station?
    So looking forward to seeing the exebition. Regards Amanda

    • Debora Davies says:

      Hi Amanda! Lime street station is very close to the Liverpool museum! You have to cross the road only! It will take around 3 minutes from lime street to the museum! I can’t wait to see the terracota warriors too!!! Xxx

  10. Heather says:

    We visited the Terracotta Army at the British museum several years ago. How different will the Liverpool exhibition be please?

    • National Museums Liverpool says:

      Hi Heather,

      This exhibition was organised by National Museums Liverpool and the Shaanxi Provincial Cultural Relics Bureau and Shaanxi History Museum.

      The exhibition will include a number of objects that have never been on show in the UK before including material from museums and institutes from across Shaanxi Province, excavated over the last 40 years from the Imperial Mausoleum and selected tombs.

      Please visit http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/warriors to find out more.

      Thanks,

      Scott

  11. Heather says:

    If I buy a membership for the World Museum to see the terracotta warrior exhibition what other events will the membership cover please?

    • National Museums Liverpool says:

      Hi Heather, like many museums and galleries, we offer a membership scheme, which provides exclusive members-only benefits to those who sign up. For Terracotta Warriors, members not only get free, unlimited entry to the exhibition but also other benefits, including discounts in our shops and cafes, and members only events. For more info, please visit: http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/membership

      Best wishes,

      Joe

  12. Russell Berg says:

    Will there be any talks or discussions about the exhibition, and if so when?

  13. carol osborn says:

    I live near London and will be in Liverpool for 22/23 February when tickets for the Terracotta Warriors exhibition are unfortunately sold out. Will this exhibition be travelling to London?

    • National Museums Liverpool says:

      Hi Carol,

      There will be a small allocation of tickets available on the day from the ticket booth outside museum. Alternatively, you can become a member of National Museums Liverpool to get free entry to the exhibition. For any more information about tickets please ring the ticket office on 0151 478 4444.

      Thanks,

      Scott

  14. Jo says:

    Are the life size figures real warriors or are they replicas?

  15. Martha says:

    I’m hoping to get tickets to see the exhibition and was wondering if you are you able to take photos?

    • National Museums Liverpool says:

      Hi Martha,

      Yes, non-commercial, non-flash photography is allowed in the exhibition.

      Best wishes,

      Joe

  16. Dr David Collins says:

    Hi are the public allowed to take photographs ?

    David

    • National Museums Liverpool says:

      Hi David,

      Yes, non-commercial, non-flash photography is allowed in the exhibition,

      Best wishes,

      Joe

  17. Linda Evans says:

    My husband has even agreed to come with me “to save a visit to China!!” Will photography (amateur) be allowed at all please?

    • National Museums Liverpool says:

      Hi Linda,

      Yes, non-commercial and non-flash photography will be allowed in the exhibition.

      Best wishes,

      Scott

  18. Dr David Collins says:

    Very much looking forward to visiting Liverpool as it will be my first visit, looks a beautiful city.

  19. Carol says:

    Can members access the exhibition anytime or do they have to book online for a time slot?

  20. Magsie says:

    Hello Liverpool Museum!
    I am really disappointed that a body of several warriors could not be put together to get some feeling of the density of the army. Still it looks very interesting. Having had to cancel a trip due to a death in the family some years ago and never got the opportunity again. So really looking forward to this with my Nephew, who I have purchased the book for.
    Will there be a video presentation showing it in reality?

    • National Museums Liverpool says:

      Hi Magsie,

      There is an audio visual projection behind the warriors which shows them in situ at the First Emperor’s burial site in China.

      Best wishes,

      Scott

  21. frederick allen says:

    Fred, Birmingham. Looking forward to seeing The Terracotta Army, can;t wait just gonna comfirm with a friend and need to book a day of work as i fear a Sunday will be to busy.

  22. Brian Naylor says:

    My wife and me are visiting the exhibition on Weds 14th Feb, booked in for 1pm tour. Can we get something to eat / drink close by, as we aim to arrive around 11 am, and my wife can’t walk too far at the moment . Thank you

    • National Museums Liverpool says:

      Hi Brian

      There is a cafe in World Museum which serves a selection of hot meals, salads, soups, sandwiches, cakes and hot and cold drinks – details here: http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/wml/visit/cafe.aspx and the Walker Art Gallery is less than 2 minutes walk away and also has a cafe. There are also a number of restaurants in Queen Square nearby.

      We hope you enjoy your visit.

      Sam

  23. Sandra Creighton says:

    I bought 2 tickets for Saturday 15th September at 1600 I should have bought them for Friday 14th at 1600. I’ve tried all day to try and get through on the phone to see if can get them changed but can’t get through. There is no e mail contact address. Not sure what to do will likely have to buy 2 more for the right date. Anyone want to buy 2 tickets for 15th September at 1600 !!!!

  24. Tony Bernat says:

    For how long does one’s ticket to the exhibition allow one to stay?

    • National Museums Liverpool says:

      Hi Tony,

      You can stay in the exhibition for as long as you like but last entry to the exhibition is at 4pm.

      Best wishes,

      Scott

  25. Emma says:

    How long will I need to see everything. I’ve booked a 4 pm slot. Will I have enough time ?

    • National Museums Liverpool says:

      Hi Emma,

      We estimate that visitors will spend around 1 hour in the exhibition, so you should have enough time to get around before the museum closes.

      Best wishes,

      Scott

  26. Carrie says:

    Are their any tickets left at all and how much are they please for a child and an adult and how long is the exhibition at liverpool for as well please.

    • National Museums Liverpool says:

      Hi Carrie,

      Tickets are still available for the exhibition, which runs until 28th October 2018. If tickets are sold out on a particular day you wish to attend, there is a limited number of tickets available each day at the ticket booth outside World Museum.

      An adult ticket costs from £14.50, concessions are available. A child (6-17) ticket costs £5.50, and children under 5 and members go free. Our full range of ticket prices can be found here: http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/wml/exhibitions/terracotta-warriors/index.aspx

      Best wishes,

      Joe

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