Posts by Jennifer Grindley
From the tender age Qin Shi Huang first became king to the enormous terracotta army built to protect him for eternity, we delve into some of the astonishing numbers that make up the story of China’s First Emperor and his world-famous burial site.
Shaped like a pyramid and clearly visible above ground on the outskirts of China’s ancient capital Xi’an, the tomb mound of China’s First Emperor has been well-known for more than 2,000 years. Almost everything we think we know about it comes from the historian Sima Qian, writing a century later in the early Han Dynasty. Curiously though, his writings contain no mention of the vast terracotta army guarding the Emperor’s tomb and so their chance discovery on 29 March 1974 surprised the world.
The future First Emperor – then a prince named Ying Zheng – was just 13 years old when he became King of the Qin state in 246 BC. Remarkably, in just over a decade he overpowered the six remaining independent kingdoms of the Late Warring States Period (the Han, Zhao, Wei, Chu, Yan and Qi), declaring himself Qin Shi Huang, First Emperor of China, in 221 BC. According to Sima Qian, construction of the Emperor’s mausoleum began soon after he ascended the throne as King of Qin, whilst modern archaeological surveys suggest the scale and complexity of the site grew considerably when he became First Emperor.
Stretching about 5,000 kilometres, the Great Wall of the Qin Dynasty was one of many ambitious construction projects completed during the First Emperor’s reign. Made of compressed earth, the wall connected, lengthened and fortified the pre-existing walls built by individual states during pre-unified times to create a single defensive system against northern tribes. With some sections remaining today, the wall was extended in later dynasties to become the Great Wall of China and stretches over 20,000 kilometres.
200 times bigger
Spanning 56 square kilometres, Qin Shi Huang’s burial site is the biggest-known on earth and is almost 200 times bigger than the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. Poised for battle to protect the Emperor in his afterlife, the terracotta warriors are buried in three pits to the east of the Emperor’s mausoleum. A fourth pit has been left empty, suggesting the Emperor died before his immortal army could be completed.
Standing at an average of 1.8 metres, the life-size terracotta warriors are far taller than an average citizen of the Qin Dynasty would have been. Incredibly, each warrior also weighs between 110 and 300 kilos. Not surprising then, that archaeologists estimate the creation of the warriors alone – who are thought to number almost 8,000 – would have taken at least 10 years to complete.
The scale of the terracotta army is even more impressive when you consider it is only a small part of the First Emperor’s grand preparations for the afterlife. Designed like a microcosm of his earthly world, more than 600 pits to date have been identified across the burial site. Only a tiny number have been excavated so far, revealing a trove of riches including armour, chariots, terracotta musicians, cauldrons and weapons so that in death, as in life, the Emperor had everything he needed to rule.
In a monumental feat of engineering and organisation, an estimated 700,000 labourers from all corners of the Empire toiled for almost 40 years to construct the Emperor’s tomb complex. Work even continued after the Emperor’s unexpected death at the age of 49 in 210 BC. In the 1980s, 42 mass graves were uncovered near the mausoleum, and archaeologists believe these belong to the workers who were buried to keep the secrets of the First Emperor’s underground kingdom once it was completed.
For all the elaborate preparations the First Emperor made to rule eternally, his Qin Dynasty collapsed after only 15 years following a period of civil war. The popular revolt was finally quelled in 206 BC, and Liu Bang was proclaimed Emperor of the Han Dynasty. This makes it by far China’s shortest ruling dynasty. Despite its brief tenure though, the Qin Dynasty’s political, social and cultural achievements were immense and laid the foundations for the China we know today.
See incredible finds from this eighth wonder of the world at our blockbuster exhibition, China’s First Emperor and the Terracotta Warriors that runs until Sunday 28 October 2018.
1 March 2018 by Jennifer Grindley
For World Book Day, we’re celebrating all things literary. From some of the world’s earliest writing to botanical books that hold precious specimens, explore books and writing in its many forms across World Museum’s diverse collections.
Cuneiform script is one of the world’s earliest systems of writing and was first developed by the ancient Sumerians of Mesopotamia around 3500-30000 BC. It’s likely that cuneiform was created not for scripture, literature or letters, but for accountancy. This clay tablet is inscribed with administrative text giving a list of supplies for a possible construction project at a location away from, but near the ancient city of Umma. The inscription reads: [Obverse] 90000 litres of barley (by the measure of) Agade 18000 + 9000 litres of salt 1200 litres of lard 900 small brick moulds [Reverse] 12000 litres of straw (from) Umma Naidmahras the scribe carried it away year 2 month 7.
Dating back to AD 1200-152, the Codex Fejéváry-Mayer is one of the most precious and remarkable artefacts to have survived from the time before Hernán Cortés destroyed the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan, in 1521. This sacred or ‘dream’ book is a condensed or ritualised version of reality which deals with fundamental human experiences. It is made from deer hide folded into 23 pages and painted with pictograms rather than words derived from an alphabet. The Codex portrays a ‘map’ of the cosmos, a series of gods, a calendar system known as day counts associated with the maize harvest, and long-distance traders. Aside from its literary and artistic merit, it was used for education and to make assessments of the future.
Book of the Dead
This ancient Egyptian collection of spells was designed to guide the recently deceased through the obstacles of the underworld, ultimately enabling them to achieve eternal life. Almost 200 spells survive, though no one collection contains all of them. The final hurdle was to be judged at the court of Osiris. Here, a person’s heart was removed and weighed by the god Anubis against a feather which represented truth. A light heart meant an honest life and entry to the afterlife. Djedhor’s Book of the Dead can be seen in full for the first time in our Ancient Egypt gallery.
The botany department at World Museum houses an extensive botanical library, with books containing specimens of national and international significance. World Museum’s botany collections are particularly rich in material from some of the pioneer explorations of the world’s flora, dating back to the late 1700s and are still being added to today. Liverpool’s worldwide links as a port are highlighted in the collections which hold a wide geographic spread.
The Han Dynasty (206 BC – AD 220) was one of the longest surviving Chinese dynasties and rivalled the almost contemporary, but smaller Roman Empire. Following a period of civil war after the succession of Qin Shi Huang’s son in the Qin Dynasty, rebel leader Liu Bang defeated his rivals and became Han Gaozu, the First Emperor of the Western Han Dynasty. Spanning more than 400 years with only minor interruptions, the Dynasty was characterised by significant advances in science, technology, mathematics, astronomy and literature which can still be felt in China today.
Explore this golden age of Chinese history through some of the objects that feature in our China’s First Emperor and the Terracotta Warriors exhibition:
Terracotta cavalrymen and horses
The rulers of the Han Dynasty followed in the footsteps of the Qin kings and showed a strong belief in gods, spirits and the afterlife. Discoveries so far suggest that, like the First Emperor of China, they had armies of terracotta warriors and horses to protect them, as well as servants, entertainers and animals. These cavalrymen and horses are two of more than 500 figures buried near the tomb of a general at Yangjiawan. Originally, the cavalrymen held the reins in one hand and a weapon in the other, and details of the saddles, harnesses and bridles were painted on the figures with bright colours.
People decorated many objects with images of wild and mysteries animals during the Qin and Han periods. In the Han Dynasty, the animal mask became a popular motif used to decorate the handles of various objects such as doors, vessels and coffins. This ornamental handle was probably attached to a coffin, and is missing a bronze ring which would have hung from the mouth of the creature.
A comparison of major tombs dating from the Spring and Autumn Period (771 – 476 BC) to the Han Dynasty, reveal a great increase in the use of jade between the third and second centuries BC. Jade was more valuable than gold as it was strongly associated with immortality, and its use was restricted to the highest members of society. Coffins of high-ranking individuals were embellished with protective jade discs such as this one which is the largest ever discovered in China. The hole in the centre of the disc is designed to allow the spirit of the deceased to travel in and out.
Pottery model of a well
Models of buildings and real-life objects such as houses, granaries, cooking stoves and wells were very popular in the Han Dynasty, and were produced specifically for burial in tombs. This was not the life-sized world of the scale created by China’s First Emperor, but miniature versions of the world the deceased had lived in. In modern China, many people still believe in the afterlife and worship their ancestors in cemeteries or at home. They buy miniature paper models of servants, horses, houses, cars, money and even iPhones as offerings for their relatives so they can enjoy their life in the next world.
Emperors used gold ingots as gifts to reward their subjects or as gold reserves to store their wealth. Many ingots were stamped or engraved with inscriptions such as family names or good luck messages, and more than 400 gold ingots dating to the Han Dynasty have been found in China so far.
Pottery zun 樽 wine container
Containers of this shape were made to store liquors such as wine. Ancient Chinese wine was made from fermented grain and rice wine is still one of the most popular drinks in China today. This green glazed pottery ‘zun’ is decorated with cloud designs around the sides. Its lid is in the shape of a mountain; probably representing the mythical ‘Isles of the Immortals’.
It was common for wealthy individuals to have a stone door built at the entrance of their tomb which was carved with images of mythical creatures to guard against evil spirits. On the lintel at the top of this doorway, the sun is shown on the right as a red circle with a black bird, while the moon appears as a circle on the left. Together with the clouds depicted on the doorframe, they represent a celestial space high above the human realm. Images of dancing figures and chariots on the doorframe illustrate the activities at the tomb site during the ceremonial service. Two immortals in black at the top on each side of the doorframe are poised ready to guide the deceased to heaven.
Coins with Greek script
Bearing Parthian-style Greek inscriptions on one side and decorated with a Han-style dragon on the reverse, these coins offer a glimpse into the cultural exchange between China, Greece and Central Asia via the Silk Road. The establishment of this huge network of trade routes linking China to the Mediterranean extended over 7,000 kilometres and created new opportunities for Chinese merchants who traded silk, lacquerware and salt in exchange for gold, jade, silver, ivory, glass, spices and exotic goods.
Brass incense burner
Up until the Han Dynasty, people burned fragrant plants as incense. In later times, it became more common to heat scented wood with charcoal. Exotic incense imported via the Silk Road became one of the most expensive goods traded in the Han Dynasty.
Discover more fascinating objects from the Han Dynasty at our landmark exhibition, China’s First Emperor and the Terracotta Warriors which runs from 9 February until 28 October 2018.
China’s First Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, was born on this day (18 February) in 259 BC – that’s 2,277 years ago! Famed for his army of terracotta warriors built to protect him for eternity, the Emperor is also one of the most controversial figures in history. Seen as a visionary by some and a tyrant by others, his achievements in such a short space of time were nevertheless remarkable and far-reaching. On his birthday, we take a closer look at the life of the man at the heart of our landmark exhibition. Read more…
Save the date! Tickets for World Museum’s unmissable exhibition, China’s First Emperor and the Terracotta Warriors, will go on general sale at 10am on Thursday 9 November.
Showcasing incredible finds from one of the world’s greatest archaeological discoveries, 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. At the heart of the exhibition is China’s First Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, his massive burial site and his world-famous terracotta warriors.
Running from 9 February to 28 October 2018, the exhibition will feature more than 180 artefacts from museums across Shaanxi Province in north-west China, many of which have never been seen in the UK before. These spectacular objects shed led on the pursuit of immortality in ancient China, and help us to understand more about everyday life in the country more than two thousand years ago.
Tickets for ‘China’s First Emperor and the Terracotta Warriors’ are available to book from 10am on Thursday 9 November, priced from £14.50 for adults, £13.00 for concessions and £5.50 for children aged between 6 and 17 years. Entry to the exhibition is free to children aged 5 years and under.
Can’t wait to get your hands on tickets? New and existing members of National Museums Liverpool will enjoy free, unlimited entry to the exhibition, plus an exclusive online ticket pre-sale period from Monday 6th November.
Discover more about membership benefits and sign up on our website.
4 September 2017 by Jennifer Grindley
Radiocarbon dating involves destroying a tiny piece of the object you want to test. Although this will only leave a small trace on the object itself, it’s really important to have a good record of what the teeth and jaw were like. e before they were sampled to preserve them for future research. So on July 8th, we took the teeth and jaw to the Cambridge Biotomography Centre for micro-CT scanning by our colleague, Dr Laura Buck at the University of Cambridge.
Dr Emma Pomeroy from Liverpool John Moores University reveals all about some exciting discoveries in World Museum’s collections.
We’re excited to announce a new collaborative project led by researchers from the School of Natural Sciences and Psychology at Liverpool John Moores University and World Museum. The project will radiocarbon date five human teeth and part of a jawbone from World Museum’s collections. These all come from the same site that yielded the oldest known human remains from north-west Europe. These teeth and jaw could be important evidence for some of the earliest members of our species in
When you imagine life in ancient Egypt, gardens probably don’t automatically spring to mind. Marion Servat-Fredericq from our Antiquities team explores the important role they played.
While photographing Egyptian objects for our new online database, I came across the remains of ancient Egyptian fruit which were left in tombs as funerary offerings for the deceased: pomegranates, grapes, figs, dates, persea fruit, dom palm fruit, but also barley, wheat and even lentil seeds! I was amazed Read more…