As one of the most stunning pieces of creation in Chinese history, the Terracotta Army is a truly special finding. We can only imagine what it would have been like for those who first came across them.
The story of how they are so well-preserved, though, has remained shrouded in mystery for a long time. Indeed, one theory is that the preservation was carried out using some form of high-end anti-rust solution. However, it appears that the actual preservation was a happy accident, caused by the natural conditions of where the monument was first erected.
This comes from the UK Department of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge. Lead by Marcos Martinon-Torres, the aim was to find out how the Terracotta Army came to exist in the first place.
Working alongside Chinese experts, they’ve looked at the ancient civilization of the earth to work out how this could have actually taken place. Dating from around 210-209 B.C. was built for Qin Shi Huang, who was the founder of the unifying Qin dynasty.
With around 8,000 soldiers and over 100 chariots, with hundreds of horses and cavalry also, this was a sizeable undertaking. Buried alongside the first emperor of unified China, this became a major part of history. It was first discovered as late as the 1970s, and since then it has been a subject which confuses and fascinates the scientific community.
With not much to go on until now, though, it’s always been quite a confusing part of history. However, one interesting find was that the bronze weapons of the army were found to have chromium traces. However, Martinon-Torres and his team have managed to finally rule out the theory that the Terracotta Army was preserved with advanced technology.
How is the Terracotta Army preserved, then?
According to their report in the Scientific Reports journal, the analysis was that a contaminated lacquer might be the culprit. This was used to help treat the wooden sections on the weapons. Given less than 10% of the tested weapons contained chromium, it can be ruled out as the sole cause for preservation.
Soil composition is unique in the burial site, as are the levels of tin and bronze used throughout. Therefore, while the theory was always quite cool, it appears that the preservation of this amazing piece of history is not intentional, but a happy accident.
While that might feel like a disappointment to some, to others it will feel like a happy conclusion to a very confusing, mysterious part of archaeology.