Features of Terracotta Warriors

True Colors of Terracotta Warriors

The terracotta warriors were not terracotta but colorful when they were originally made. They generally had black hair, pink faces, purple or red gowns, black armor, light green pants and black shoes. However, after being buried underground for over 2,200 years, the terracotta warriors original colours faded or peeled off after being excavated. Fortunately, modern technologies have been adopted to preserve the colors. Hopefully in the future, we can see some colorful terracotta warriors as they were originally.
A Restored Painted Terracotta Warrior
A Restored
Painted Terracotta Warrior
Colorful Terracotta Warriors
A Terracotta Warrior
in Original Colors

How Many Colors Do the Terracotta Warriors Have?

Altogether 8 colors and approximately 20 hues have been found on the pottery figures. When applying color to the terracotta warriors, Qin workers painted the figures’ faces, hands, feet, and arms and legs with pink, which is the similar to the color of human skin. Furthermore, the warriors have black hair, eyebrows, eyeballs as well as beards. The experts also found many different colors, such as red, green, white, blue, and purple in different parts of the clothing.

After technical tests, experts found that 12 different pigments were adopted during the coloring process. Most of them are natural mineral substances while a few were composed artificially such as purple, white and red. 

How Were the Terracotta Warriors Colored?

According to the experts, the workers who built the terracotta warriors used a brushing method to apply color to the warriors. This fact is attested by recognizable traces of brush marks on the warriors’ appearances. The colorizing process consisted of four main steps:

1. fill the gaps and crevices and polish the surface with putty (Not all of the terracotta warriors were smoothed in this way. Only the more rugged potteries needed to go through this step.); 

2. brush one or two layers of lacquer on the warriors; 

3. color the warriors’ different body parts after color selection (During the step of 2 and 3, more than 10-centimeter-long (0.13-inch-long) big brushes would be used to paint some broader areas.);

4. depict and apply specific colors on some detailed parts, such as the eyebrows and beard. 
The artisans applied the pigments using small paintbrushes. It was also found that the workers took advantage of a ruler as a tool to assist with this step.

Colorful Terracotta Warriors Why Don't We See the Colors on the Terracotta Warriors Today?

One of the reasons is that because most pigments are mineral substances they can easily fade or vanish after a period of over 2,200 years. Another reason is that over their history the terracotta army experienced burning, collapsing and flooding which damaged their colors considerably.

As well, the pottery warriors were buried underground in humid conditions for a long time. The lacquer layer often became detached from the warriors but remained tight while still covered with earth. However, when excavated, the lacquer layer stuck easily to the earth instead of to the warriors. Even if the warriors were successfully excavated with the lacquer layer intact, after being exposed to the dry air of Xi'an, the layer would curl so fast in only 15 seconds that in about 4 minutes the colorful lacquer layer with 2,200 years of history would fall off. 

Modern Technologies Adopted to Preserve the True Colors of Terracotta Warriors

In order to preserve and restore the colorful paint on the clay sculptures, the conservation experts spray a kind of protective reagent onto the newly unearthed warriors and relics, and then wrap them with plastic film to keep in their humidity. Afterwards, the colorized warriors are transferred to a laboratory to go through further process of preservation. This method has successfully protected the colors of some terracotta warriors.

As well as the method noted above, the experts are mastering another useful technology. They carefully separate the colored lacquer layer from the soil and then attach it back onto the terracotta warrior.

Further Reading:
Let's Smash the 5 Rumors of the Terracotta Army

 Recommended Tour Itinerary:
Terracotta Warriors Tour: One-day to visit Terracotta Warriors and Horses and more
More Xi'an Tours   

 Next: Bronze Chariots and Horses

- Last updated on Apr. 12, 2021 -
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