Ev­i­dence of war­riors’ pro­tec­tion set in stone

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By MA LIE and LU HONGYAN in Xi’an

The Ter­ra­cotta War­riors, the sculp­tured guards de­signed to safe­guard the first em­peror of a uni­fied China in his af­ter­life, had ar­mor and hel­mets made of stone for pro­tec­tion.

Ar­chae­ol­o­gists have found what they be­lieve to be an un­der­ground arse­nal in Xi’an, the cap­i­tal of Shaanxi prov­ince, at the mau­soleum of Qin Shi­huang, found­ing em­peror of the Qin Dy­nasty (221-206 BC).

The Em­peror Qin Shi­huang’s Mau­soleum Site Mu­seum in the city’s Lin­tong dis­trict says ar­chae­ol­o­gists ex­ca­vat­ing a burial pit at the ceme­tery have found many ex­am­ples of stone ar­mor and hel­mets.

Some of the stone ar­mor has been re­paired, Zhang Weix­ing, deputy di­rec­tor of the mu­seum’s ar­chae­ol­ogy depart­ment, told China Daily.

“You can see that ev­ery flake of the stone ar­mor is linked by thin bronze strands and it can roll and flex, pro­vid­ing free move­ment for the an­cient sol­diers who wore it.

“From one re­paired stone hel­met, you can see that ev­ery stone flake has a dif­fer­ent radian, meet­ing the con­tours of the wearer’s face, and the part of the hel­met near the wearer’s shoul­der has a curved re­cess, match­ing the struc­ture of the hu­man body,” Zhang said.

Af­ter ex­am­in­ing the newly dis­cov­ered relics, the ar­chae­ol­o­gists said they may have un­earthed an un­der­ground ar­mory next to the em­peror’s tomb.

The pit, about 200 me­ters south­east of the mau­soleum, is 130 me­ters long from west to east and 100 me­ters wide. Oc­cu­py­ing 13,000 square me­ters, it is the largest burial pit found in­side the mau­soleum.

Af­ter a trial ex­ca­va­tion of the pit, the ar­chae­ol­o­gists found many stone flakes linked with thin bronze strands, which could be re­paired to form 87 pieces of ar­mor and 43 hel­mets.

Ex­perts said the ar­mor and hel­mets were prob­a­bly cut from large stones and then fine-sanded to make the thin flakes. Holes were then drilled into the flakes and they were linked by bronze strands.

The ar­mor mainly con­sists of two large pieces, pro­tect­ing the an­cient sol­diers’ chests and backs, and some pieces also cover the arms and shoul­ders.

The hel­mets are 30 cm high, from the top of the head to the shoul­der.

Ex­per­i­ments com­pleted by the ar­chae­ol­o­gists show that it would have taken a man, work­ing eight hours a day, be­tween 344 and 444 days to com­plete a piece of ar­mor com­pris­ing 600 stone flakes.

“There are more than 5 mil­lion flakes in the pit, and from th­ese we know that the man­u­fac­ture of the stone ar­mor and hel­mets re­quired a huge amount of la­bor in an­cient times,” Zhang said.

Ex­perts think that more than 1,000 pieces of ar­mor and hel­mets will be found if the whole pit is ex­ca­vated.

The ar­chae­ol­o­gists also found some stone ar­mor for horses and some bronze parts for horses and char­i­ots.

Ex­perts said the tex­ture of the newly dis­cov­ered relics is very dif­fer­ent to that of the Ter­ra­cotta War­riors and Horses.

“The pro­duc­tion tech­nique for the stone ar­mor is much more so­phis­ti­cated,” Zhang said.

His­tor­i­cal data show that ar­mor and hel­mets were mainly made from leather dur­ing the Shang Dy­nasty (c. 16th cen­tury - 11th cen­tury BC), Western Zhou Dy­nasty (c. 11th cen­tury-771 BC) and the East­ern Zhou Dy­nasty (770-256 BC).

The stone ar­mor and hel­mets made in the Qin Dy­nasty us­ing ad­vanced man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­niques will pro­vide sig­nif­i­cant in­for­ma­tion for study­ing so­cial and tech­ni­cal de­vel­op­ments in an­cient times, ex­perts said.

Zhang said some of the newly dis­cov­ered ar­mor was scale ar­mor used by high­rank­ing of­fi­cials and thought to have been made dur­ing the Western Han Dy­nasty (206 BC-AD 24).

The Qin Dy­nasty was China’s first uni­fied dy­nasty, with Qin Shi­huang (259-210 BC) its found­ing em­peror.

Con­struc­tion of his mau­soleum took 37 years.

The Ter­ra­cotta War­riors and Horses were found in 1974 and the mu­seum was built in 1979.


A video grab shows a set of stone ar­mor un­earthed from the mau­soleum of Qin Shi­huang, found­ing em­peror of the Qin Dy­nasty (221—206 BC), in Xi’an, Shaanxi prov­ince.

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