The life-sized terracotta warriors of China are known throughout the world. This clay army of 8,000 including infantry, archers, generals and cavalry was discovered by archaeologists in 1974 after farmers digging a well near the Chinese city of Xian unearthed pieces of clay sculpted in human form.
An amazing archaeological find, the terracotta warriors date back more than two thousand years. But what was the purpose of this army of clay soldiers? Who ordered its construction? How were they created? Secrets of the Dead investigates the story behind China’s Terracotta Warriors and documents their return to former glory for the first time. The film premieres nationally Wednesday, May 4 at 8 p.m. on PBS (check local listings).
Secrets of the Dead is a production of THIRTEEN in association with WNET– one of America’s most prolific and respected public media providers.
The extraordinary story of China’s 8,000 terracotta warriors begins two centuries before the birth of Christ with a conqueror named Qin Shihuangdi. After unifying seven warring kingdoms into an empire named China, Qin gave himself the title First Emperor of China. When preparing an extravagant tomb for his journey into the afterlife, the First Emperor of China decreed that he be protected forever by a monumental army. But unlike earlier rulers, who practiced the ritual killing of the entire court to serve them in the afterlife, as they had in life, the First Emperor’s soldiers were made of clay. Secrets of the Dead reveals why the thousand-year–old Chinese tradition of mass human sacrifice ended and uncovers how the custom of tiny tomb figurines became life-size tomb figures.
Since their discovery, no one has seen these ancient warriors in their original splendor, brightly painted and fully armed, ready to protect their Emperor for all eternity. Clues in the faded fragments of terracotta and old excavation reports help to reconstruct what the warriors originally looked like. Incredibly, the bodies of all 8,000 warriors were made individually by hand and each face is unique. But how was a terracotta army of this size made in less than two years using the technology of 2200 years ago? Led by archaeologist Agnes Hsu, the investigation shows that the Chinese may have Henry Ford beat by more than 2,000 years with their own assembly line used to produce the 8,000-strong Terracotta Warriors.
THIRTEEN’s Secrets of the Dead: China’s Terracotta Warriors is a Natural History New Zealand Ltd production for THIRTEEN in association with WNET and National Geographic Channel. Narrator is Liev Schreiber. Writer/producer is Steven R. Talley. Executive producer for NHNZ is Andrew Waterworth. Executive in charge of production for NHNZ is Michael Stedman. Executive producers for WNET are Jared Lipworth and William R. Grant.