Ar­chae­ol­o­gist who re­stored first ter­ra­cotta war­riors

Marlborough Express - - FRONT PAGE -

Zhao Kang­min, who has died aged 81, was the lo­cal mu­seum cu­ra­tor who first recog­nised the sig­nif­i­cance of frag­ments of pot­tery un­earthed in March 1974 by farm­ers dig­ging a well in China’s Shaanxi prov­ince.

He went on to piece to­gether the first mem­bers of the Ter­ra­cotta Army of Em­peror Qin Shi Huang (220-210BC), the first em­peror of China’s feu­dal dy­nas­ties.

The farm­ers did not know they were dig­ging above the em­peror’s buried mau­soleum and when, some four me­tres down, they came across the head of a life-size pot­tery statue, they as­sumed it was from a bod­hisattva fig­ure (a sort of saint) from an old Bud­dhist tem­ple. As they con­tin­ued to dig, more heads, along with pieces of limbs and tor­sos, emerged, most of which they left ly­ing on the ground.

Zhao heard of the finds about a month later and hopped on his bike to visit the site. ‘‘I went to the site with another of­fi­cer,’’ he re­called later. ‘‘Be­cause we were so ex­cited, we rode on our bi­cy­cles so fast it felt as if we were fly­ing.’’

By the time he ar­rived, vil­lagers had al­ready taken some pieces home as tro­phies. Chil­dren were play­ing games with other frag­ments. But Zhao im­me­di­ately un­der­stood the po­ten­tial sig­nif­i­cance of the find.

The ter­ra­cotta pieces, some as small as a fin­ger­nail, were loaded on to trucks and taken to his mu­seum, where he be­gan the la­bo­ri­ous task of piec­ing them to­gether. Within two months he had re­con­structed two life-size war­riors, and went on to con­struct two more, plus a horse.

But he was ini­tially ner­vous about re­port­ing the find; 1974 was the tail-end of Mao’s

Cultural Revo­lu­tion. As a his­to­rian of China’s an­cient em­per­ors, Zhao was re­garded as ide­o­log­i­cally sus­pect, and had been forced to crit­i­cise him­self for en­cour­ag­ing the re­vival of feu­dal­ism.

By chance, how­ever, a jour­nal­ist vis­it­ing his fam­ily in the area heard about the dis­cov­ery and wrote a short ar­ti­cle that came to the at­ten­tion of the au­thor­i­ties. They im­me­di­ately sent a team of ar­chae­ol­o­gists, and ex­ca­va­tions soon be­gan in earnest.

They would go on to un­earth thou­sands of fig­ures – in­fantry­men, of­fi­cers, archers and char­i­o­teers – each with unique fea­tures, cos­tumes, weapons and even hair­styles.

In 1990 Zhao was of­fi­cially recog­nised by China’s State Coun­cil as an ex­pert who had made out­stand­ing con­tri­bu­tions to his field.

He is sur­vived by his wife and two sons. – Tele­graph Group

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