Life + Arts

Warriors come to Houston

In 1974, farmers were digging a well near Xi’an, Shaanxi, China when they uncovered a terra-cotta warrior. This initial discovery led to the excavation of approximately 8,000 terra-cotta figures, all created for the necropolis of China’s first emperor Qin Shi Huang.

The Houston Museum of Natural Science has 14 of these warriors on display, as well as 120 other artifacts from the tomb in the exhibition Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China’s First Emperor.

At the beginning of the exhibition is weaponry, including a series of daggers and a giant crossbow, the primary weapon used by Huang’s cavalry. Limestone armor, a heavy yet decorative display, connected by copper links worn by many of the terra-cotta warriors, is also on display.

The warriors are artfully detailed and large, each weighing an estimated 300-400 pounds.

A statue of the ‘Kneeling Archer’ is particularly outstanding, as his clay hands wrap around a missing weapon. Other figures include a ‘Chariot Driver’ with his hands outstretched for the reins, a ‘Musician’ kneeling without his instrument and a giant, headless ‘Strongman.’

These warriors demonstrate the history of the Qin Dynasty, the lavish lifestyle of the Emperor and the style of the era.

One of the most beautiful discoveries of the excavation is the ‘Pit of Bronze Birds.’ The museum has on display a bronze crane and swan, both constructed in natural and delicate poses. The crane is a symbol of longevity in Chinese culture and was perhaps meant to praise the life of Qin Shi Huang.

Finally, there is a set of bronze chariots on display, intended to serve as transportation for Huang in the afterlife. Beautifully crafted clay horses adorned with gold bridles lead the chariots. One must wonder how much effort went into the shaping of the features and the construction of the gear and carriage.

Terra Cotta Warriors, also coined the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World,’ will be on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science until Oct. 18, when they will be sent to the National Geographic Society Museum in Washington, D.C.

Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China’s First Emperor is worth seeing just to experience the marvel of this ancient discovery and learn about the fascinating history behind these pieces. The small exhibition, often crowded, takes away from the grandeur of the artifacts, but still, a visitor can get the sense of what it was like to discover an entire underground city of terra-cotta warriors.

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