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Shi Huangdi's Tomb (China)


Two of Emperor Qin's terracotta soldiers stand quietly awaiting conservation in a storage shed

Two of Emperor Qin's terracotta soldiers stand quietly awaiting conservation in a storage shed

Amy Hirst

The emperor Shi Huangdi [246-210 BC] was the Tiger of Qin, the first emperor of China, who unified the warring tribes into one group. The founder of the Qin Dynasty, Shi Huangdi ruled China between 221 and 210 BC. He was even the subject of the recent film by Zhang Yimou called "Hero".

In 1974, workmen discovered the tomb of Shi Huangdi near the city of Xi'an in the modern Shensi province. Among the treasures found there is a marvelous army of terracotta (fired clay) soldiers and horses, consisting of nearly 8,000 life size individual sculpted statues.

Shi Huangdi and Recent Discoveries

Investigations reported in Minerva (vol 16, iss 2) in 2005 indicate that archaeologists opening another section of Qin's tomb have found a life-size model of a wetland, complete with 40 bronze sculptured aquatic birds, cranes, swans, and geese.

A new technique was developed that reveals the vivid colors of the terracotta soldiers, including classic Chinese purple. Chinese or Han Purple is based on copper silicate, and it has been found on objects used in the Zhou dynasty (1046-221 BC), centuries before the emperor Qin's rule.

Most recently, pollen studies conducted on a warrior and a horse sculpture revealed that they were built in different kilns: the horse was constructed near the tomb while the warrior was built farther away.


Biography of Qin Shi Huangdi

Try the Shi Huangdi Trivia Quiz

Goho, Alexandra. 2003. The March of History: Terra-cotta warriors show their true colors. Science News 164(22):340.

Hu, Ya-Qin, et al. 2007 What can pollen grains from the Terracotta Army tell us? Journal of Archaeological Science 34:1153-1157.

This glossary entry is part of the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Also Known As: Qin's Tomb, the mausoleum of Emperor Qin
Alternate Spellings: Ch’in Shih-huang-ti, Shihuangdi
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