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How the Terracotta Warriors were Made

A Statue of a General
Polychrome Terracotta 
Warriors Pictures

 Materials
Experts have confirmed that the material used to mould the terracotta warriors and horses is a "yellow earth" sourced from around the mausoleum. The yellow earth is easy to obtain, and is proved to be an appropriate material due to its adhesive quality and plasticity. The earth underwent screening and grinding to remove impurities and to ensure it was fine and pure. Moreover, a certain amount of white grit which contained quartz sand, mica and feldspar was added. Adding grit to the earth strengthened its mechanical properties which allowed the large figures to be easily shaped.

 Figure Creation
How were the terracotta warriors made? Experts have reconstructed the techniques for making the warriors by repeatedly observing, comparing and researching the figures during their sorting out and preparatory work.

The Making of Terracotta Warrior's Head: the shaping of the head is generally acknowledged to be the most difficult, and the procedure was very complicated. First, artisans molded an inner core roughly in head shape, and then applied several layers of mud to get different facial shapes. Finally by kneading, carving, scraping and pasting, artisans successively drew eyebrows, eyes, noses, mouths, ears, hair buns and hat decorations for the heads of terracotta warriors. They drew each figure with a distinctive face, and experts have confirmed that these facial features were reproductions of individual Qin warriors.
 

Foot of Clay Figure
Foot of Clay Figure

The Making of the Soldiers' Body: Artisans used mud to make a rough cast which was molded from bottom to top in sections. First they made the foot plate which was molded in a square pattern; the feet were the next and above which were connected the two legs and short pants. In order to represent muscles and bones to make the legs more lifelike, artisans would do some detailed repair. The way to make short pants was to carve a circle with a cord pattern above which were pasted prefabricated pieces of mud to mould as pant leg.

Next was the hollow torso. It was made by winding strips of clay upwards. In order to make the clay strips tight and strong, artisans would put sackcloth inside as underlay and this was pounded from outside until they got a satisfactory shape and size. After the torso had been dried in the shade, artisans attached the hollow arms. The straight arm was built by adopting the clay-strip forming technique. Divided by the elbow, the bent arm was made in separate pieces and then glued together. The warrior's hand was inserted and pasted onto the arm.


 Firing
The figures of the terracotta warriors and horses were fired in kilns. In order to be well ventilated, the Qin artisans left holes in the figures in appropriate position. For example, in the terracotta horse's belly, there were two holes through which flames could evenly enter the horse's body cavity. During the firing, artisans paid special attention to the degree of heating which was maintained around 1,000 C (1,830 F). Moreover, experts did many experiments and found that the figures were put head over heels during firing. This was because the upper part of the figure was heavier than the lower part. It was comparatively more stable to put the figures upside down, which shows that Chinese workers had mastered the centre-of-gravity rule as early as two thousand years ago.

Belly of Clay Figure
Belly of Clay Figure
Different Expressions on Soldiers'''' Faces
Different Expressions on Soldiers' Faces
Glazing and Coloring
The Qin terracotta warriors we see today are steel grey without fresh colors. But archaeological investigations have found that this was not the original color of the mighty force. In the April of 1999, there were astonishingly unearthed six kneeling armored warriors whose bodies retained large sections of colorful painting, which demonstrated that the Qin's artisans had elaborately painted the terracotta warriors and horses after firing, to make this majestic army more lifelike. 

Experts have found that the ways used to paint these six warriors were different. For some, one or two layers of raw lacquer were applied on certain parts, and for the others, they first painted a layer of raw lacquer, and added one or two layers of pigment above the raw lacquer. The figures were gaily colored. The hair buns were reddish brown, faces were pink, hands were dark red or white, legs were pinkish green or dark red and they wore pinkish green robes and reddish brown shoes.

 Recommended Tour Itinerary:
Terracotta Warriors Tour: One-day to visit Terracotta Army and more
More Xian Tours

Next: Stories before Unearthing