China's mighty terracotta army gains 100 soldiers

New terracotta troops unearthed, bringing total number of clay warriors found at Xi'an mausoleum to more than 8,000

Emperor Qinshihuang's terracotta army appears even mightier after Chinese archeologists unearthed more than 100 additional soldiers, though the warriors fell prey to arson and looting by the military leader who overthrew the First Emperor's dynasty, the new find suggests.

"We have found large quantities of red clay and charcoal along with holes for robbing in the major pit," Shen Maosheng, who is leading one of the teams, told Shanghai Daily. "Rebel leader Xiang [Yu] was the person with the power, time and motive to destroy the terracotta warriors."

He believes Xiang's troops stole the weapons and smashed figures before setting fire to parts of the pit.

In all, more than 8,000 soldiers have been uncovered at the world famous mausoleum in Xi'an, north-west China, but much of it is still unexplored. The 310 relics found in this phase of excavation, which began in 2009, are believed to be only a fraction of those that remain.

Archaeologists found scores more soldiers, war horses, two sets of chariots, weapons, drums and a shield – the latter being the first of its kind to be found in the three pits of warriors, archaeologist Yuan Zhongyi told the state English language paper China Daily.

Xu Weihong, executive director of the excavation team, said eight of the figures were officials, with more complicated and delicately detailed armour than that of the rank-and-file figures.

There was also more colour left on the figures than in previous excavations. Some had black and taupe eyeballs and one even had eyelashes painted on.

Yuan said the colour could have been lost from figures because they had been submerged in water or affected by the fire. Another possibility was that the paint had flaked away. "At that time, craftsmen would paint raw lacquer on them before decorating. After so many years, the lacquer separates from the body, stripping off the colour," he said.

A separate excavation in a nearby pit at the site has found more than 20 terracotta figures in two lines facing each other, which experts believe may have been part of a performance troupe.

Even more striking is a headless figure of 2.2 metres tall, which experts believe would have measured 2.5 metres with its head.


Tania Branigan in Beijing

The GuardianTramp

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