For more than two thousand years, no one knew an entire army of terra cotta soldiers - in battle formation - were underground near the former imperial capital of Xi-an. These treasures were rediscovered in 1974 when farmers, digging a well, found three vaults filled with some of the most exciting archeological finds of the 20th century.
The second vault contained about 1,400 soldiers and cavalry while a third pit contained 68 officers. Experts now believe each figure was made from a variety of molds which were assembled and covered with clay. Final details for each were carved.
By filling his mausoleum with soldiers, the emperor took great care to protect himself in the afterlife. His actions in burning books, however, greatly damaged the pursuit of knowledge both while he was alive and later. Even the books he ordered saved were eventually destroyed in the chaos following his death in 210 BC.
Ancient sources tell us that life for workers during the Qin (Ch’in) dynasty was filled with misery. “The ditches were filled with corpses” of workers and "piled-up skeletons supported one another."
Although the First Emperor said his dynasty would last 10,000 years, it ended (sparked by a worker’s rebellion) shortly after his death. But the Great Wall (which took the lives of countless laborers) and the Terra Cotta soldiers (standing at attention twenty-three centuries later) remind us of a time when the word of one man resulted in the misery of so many.
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