By Lu Hongyan and Ma Lie in Xi'an
Archeologists working on the latest dig at the site of the Terracotta Warriors in Xi'an say the project has already turned up vital historical finds.
Experts restarted work on the No 1 pit of the Terracotta Warriors in 2009 and have so far unearthed 310 artifacts, including parts of chariots, weapons and tools, along with 12 pottery horses in three groups, and about 120 more warriors.
"For the first time, we have found a painted, cortex shield on a chariot, which is the first of its kind to be discovered in any of the three pits," said Cao Wei, curator of the Museum of the Terracotta Warriors and Horses of Qin Shi Huang.
Shields used by soldiers in the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) were 60 cm long and 40 cm wide, with red, green and white geometric patterns.
Facts of the Terracotta Figures
Emperor Qin Shi Huang (259-210 BC) came to the throne of the Qin kingdom at the age of 13, and took the helm of the state at the age of 22. By 221 BC, he had annexed the six rival states of Qi, Chu, Yan, Han, Zhao and Wei and established the first unified state in China's history.
Qin Shi Huang, or the First Emperor, conscripted some 700,000 convicts to build his mausoleum immediately after taking the throne so as to ensure his peaceful and eternal sleep. It took 38 years to complete the project.
Qin Shi Huang's Mausoleum is located at Lishan Mountain in Lintong district, Xi'an, capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi province. The tomb is square with a flat roof and it measures 76 meters in height, 345 meters in length and 350 meters in width from the north to south, covering 120,750 square meters.
An archaeological survey showed that the burial site has inner and outside areas. The mausoleum is unexcavated and well-protected. Three pits with large numbers of terracotta warriors and horses were found 1 kilometer east of the mausoleum.
The No 1 pit was discovered by accident in March 1974 when farmers from a nearby village found some broken pottery figures when digging a well.
Archaeologists found the life-size pottery figures were the terracotta warriors and horses of Qin Shi Huang. The pottery figures later became known as the Terracotta Warriors.
In 1976, the No 2 pit was found 20 meters north of the No 1 pit, and the No 3 pit 25 meters north of No 1 after a drilling survey.
The terracotta warriors and horses were arrayed according to the Qin Dynasty battle formation, symbolizing the troops keeping vigil beside the mausoleum. The figures vary in face and height, even in their facial expressions.
This discovery aroused much interest in China and abroad. In 1975, a museum, housing the site of the No 1 pit and covering 16,300 sq m, was built with the permission of the State Council.
The museum officially opened to the public on Oct 1, 1979.
The total area of the three pits exceeded 20,000 sq m and more than 8,000 pottery figures as well as a number of chariots and weapons were excavated from the pits.
In 1980, two bronze chariots were found, and they were the largest ones in China.
The first excavation for the No 1 pit was carried out between 1974 and 1984 when 1,087 terracotta warriors and horses were unearthed.
Later in 1985, the museum started the second excavation, but it only lasted for a year because of limited technology and equipment.
The warriors, which were supposed to be standing, were broken when they were unearthed. After repair and restoration by archaeologists, the Terracotta Warriors were shown the way they were buried.
Based on the soldiers' density, archaeologists believe that much of the Terracotta Warriors remain buried.
The mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang and the Terracotta Warriors, which are among the world's greatest archaeological discoveries, were put on the World Heritage List of the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization in 1987.
"The shield was partly broken, and it's believed it was the type used by a high-ranking official, as it's larger and had colorful patterns," said Zhang Weixing, a researcher on the archaeology team.
"The brightness of the painting exceeded our expectations," he said, adding that it was a surprise to unearth such a number of painted figures as many archaeologists considered before the excavation that the paintings on the figures would be damaged because the pit had been damaged in a number of ways.
This is the third dig to take place in the museum's No 1 pit in Xi'an, capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi province.
Yuan Zhongyi, the former curator who presided over the No 1 pit's first excavation, said one of the important achievements of this dig is the arrangement of the Qin army.
"Archaeologists speculated in the past that the ancient army should have a wing guard to prevent enemy attacks from the side, and this excavation confirmed that the Qin army really had wing guards," Yuan said.
According to Xu Weihong, the researcher in charge of the excavation from 2009 to last year, archaeologists found a number of warriors with black or gray-brown eyes, and even a figure with red eyeballs and black pupils.
"We also found a figure that was believed to have had a high rank as he had well-made and colorful armor," Xu said.
For a long time, there were two views about the burning of the warriors and horses: One was that it was spontaneous combustion that was caused by biogas produced by wood and other organic materials inside the pit; and the other was that it was a deliberate act.
During this third excavation, archaeologists found evidence confirming that the fire was deliberate.
"Now, many archaeologists think that Xiang Yu (232-202 BC), one of the leaders to overthrow the Qin Dynasty, and his soldiers may have set the fire to the pit," said Shen Maosheng, head of the archaeological team for the third excavation.
"This finding is one of the major achievements of the third excavation."
According to the team leader, archaeologists also found a pit with performers.
"From the pit located in the southeast part of the mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty, we unearthed 41 figures that were very different from the military figures. From their gestures, we can see that they were performing," Shen said.
"Among the performers, we found one that was 2.5-meters tall, and all of the figures had red, purple or black and red patterns," Shen said.
According to curator Cao Wei, the third excavation will be completed within two or three years.
"The third excavation stated on June 13, 2009, and the public can see the archaeologists at work in the pit," said Cao, who added that more than 1.4 million people have witnessed the excavation work at close quarters over the past three years.