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How Were the Terracotta Soldiers Made in Ancient China?

By: April Carson

The Terracotta Soldiers in Xi'an are one of China's archaeological treasure troves and an exquisite illustration of sculptural realism. Qin Shi Huang (259 BCE-210 BCE), the First Emperor of China, ordered funerary statues to protect him during his journey into the afterlife and erected them within his 38 square mile mausoleum.

Each of the approximately 8,000 life-sized soldiers and horses discovered in 1974 in Lintong District by farmers digging a well has its own hair, face, and outfit down to the tiniest features. China had never produced anything like them before, so how were the Terracotta Soldiers created?

The Terracotta Warriors are about six feet tall and weigh more than 600 pounds. In China, this form of artwork was completely new, and it appeared suddenly. Changes in funerary customs had been taking place for centuries before the First Emperor. Human sacrifices were frequent in the fifth century BCE. Victims were laid in the mausoleum of a noble person when he perished, and they were taken to the next world along with him.

If death was merely a continuation of life, as the ancient Chinese believed, any ruler had to take his court, wives and concubines, employees, slaves, wealth, and possessions. In truth, research shows that the majority of individuals willingly died to accompany their dead leaders.

During the Qin Dynasty, Chinese archaeologists discovered numerous graves with hundreds of casualties in Qin. However, as efforts were required to wage the continuing conflicts during the Warring States period (475 BCE-221 BCE), huge sacrifices became infeasible. Instead of actual people, small funerary statues were used as a result of this thinking. However, Qin Shi Huang changed the notion of funerary goods in his own mausoleum in the third century BCE.

Were the Terracotta Soldiers Influenced by Greeks?

What motivated the First Emperor to build a full-size clay army in perfect battle formation complete with regalia, horses, and weapons for his mausoleum? Nobody knows for sure, but there are some parallels between Greek Hellenistic sculptures and the Terracotta Soldiers that seem convincing.

However, Alexander the Great is credited with establishing East-West contact when he conquered territories in Central Asia and India before dying in 323 BCE, according to Seán and Colette Hemingway of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. After Alexander's empire fragmented in the third century BCE, "an illustrious dynasty of Greek and Macedonian ancestry ruled over a vast kingdom that stretched from Bactria to the Far East" for about two hundred years. They constructed several large statues during their reign.

The First Emperor, on the other hand, had grandiose ideas for his mausoleum. He invested a large amount of money and manpower into groups of men that became experts in the manufacture of Terracotta Soldiers as a result.

Acquisition, Processing, Distribution

The acquisition of the raw materials was the first stage in the process. Quinn et al. studied clay samples from the Terracotta Soldiers using a method developed by University College London's Institute of Archaeology and Qin Shihuang's Mausoleum Site Museum archaeologists (also terracotta acrobats discovered within the mausoleum). They determined that the statues' raw materials were sourced locally.

The extraction and purification processes, which may have included both centralizing and local operations, were next. Analysis of clay samples revealed that the soldiers' bodies were composed of a dark clay with a siltier lighter clay component. Perhaps this combination was intended to look beautiful or serve a purpose. Those in charge of processing increased sand temper to the clay for a variety of reasons.

The first step, first, would have reduced the clay's "stickiness" and made it more moldable. Second, the sand increased the porosity of the clay, allowing sculptures to dry out before being fired. Finally, sand resulted in a more durable end product.

After the processing unit had completely refined the clay, it was dispersed to various workshops. These most likely existed near to or in the mausoleum. Stamps and inscriptions found on the statues' hidden surfaces indicated a royal government installation known as Gong, which was probably located close to or even inside the capital. Engravings of other cities have been added to the previously mentioned: Xianyang (the ancient capital), and three additional locations that bear little resemblance to those already known (Li et al.). Once they had obtained the clay, sculptors began working on their masterpieces using two primary methods: clay coils and molds.

Clay Coils

The clay is first pounded until it is soft before being coiled. The rolls are then formed by molding them into long coils. The Qin artists constructed the Terracotta Soldiers' bodies using multiple layers of coils. They were able to achieve a completely different form by controlling the diameter of each coil.

Torso shapes vary, with some being thinner and others rounder. The sculptors finished their coils and smoothed them in before adding the tiny details of the armor and folds of clothing.


In contrast to the clay-coil technique, molds were played a minor role. Pre-fabricated molds were used for various body parts, such as heads, ears, and hands. The craftsmen pressed the clay into the mold only far enough to connect the piece after they allowed it to harden sufficiently.

The majority of the Terracotta Soldiers' heads have a two-part mold: one for the front, and another for the rear. The two pieces were bonded behind the ear. Then, using hand tools, artists created the eyes, mouths, noses, and beards. The hair appears to have been molded, and braids and hair-knots were applied to the head. On the other hand, a few heads seem to have had a mold for the face, including the eyes and mouth, while the back section of the head was constructed by hand.

Kiln Firing

After the clay parts had dried and solidified to a degree that allowed petrographic analysis, they were fired in a kiln. The location of the kiln is still unknown because no one has yet discovered it completely. However, most experts believe that the soldiers were produced and fired close to the last Terracotta Army pits. Some theories also propose that the artists built and fired the soldiers in the same location. As a result, this would have relieved the pressure to move the extremely heavy, yet fragile, sculptures across significant distances.


The warrior was completed with a color application after being fired in the kiln. The grayish Terracotta Warrior statues that we see now were not this way originally. The coats were vibrant. Artisans coated the brilliant exteriors with a protective lacquer called qi, which was quite valuable but not readily available.

Collectors entered the forests of lacquer trees and obtained the precious sap. However, they could only remove about ten grams from each tree without causing harm. Some experts believe that 25 trees' worth of sap was necessary for each terracotta warrior. According to the researchers, they expect over 200,000 trees for the entire army. They kept the clay beneath them wet and protected it from being exposed by the Terracotta Soldiers' colored layers of paint.

Degradation and Conservation of Colors

Unfortunately, after excavations, the Terracotta Soldiers' hues vanished when the qi lacquer cured. The colors of the soldiers were kept intact as long as they remained damp in the earth. Once the lacquer was exposed to air and dried, all of the original paints chipped and flaked off.

Excavations have slowed down in recent decades, owing to a lack of effective conservation methods. Chinese scientists, on the other hand, have been collaborating with researchers from the Technical University of Munich to develop techniques that will preserve the delicate hues after excavation. The museum will hopefully exhibit more terracotta soldiers with original pigments in the future.

The Sum of Tyranny and Brilliance

The First Emperor was a ruthless ruler, and he murdered those who opposed or displeased him. However, he had another side to his personality. Experts think that he was capable of organizing large groups of people into highly organized enterprises with an incredible degree of skill. The emperor's use of forced labor, combined with his meticulous attention to detail and competent management, allowed his workers to reach exceptional levels of skill. In his more authoritarian wielding of power and intelligence, the emperor accomplished quickly.

The first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang (259-210 BC), unified and conquered the country. For all of his subjects, he established a single system of writing, weights, and measures. Furthermore, the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, is credited with building many other significant projects throughout his reign. These include the Great Wall (which was originally a superhighway linking the empire), as well as the largest mausoleum with thousands of realistic life-sized terra cotta soldiers. His legacy continues today.

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About the Blogger:

April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on

To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav





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