China’s media will be scratching its collective head this week, as a cache of 100 new Terracotta Warriors it claimed to have been unearthed may be ten at best. The embarrassing shortfall comes two months into excavations of ‘pit three’ of the First Qin Emperor‘s Mausoleum in Xi’an. And while officials at the (officially named) Xi’an Terracotta Warriors and Horses Museum are keeping tight-lipped about their discoveries, they admit the haul is nowhere near state-controlled Xinhua’s predictions. “It is impossible, the pit is only 200sq m,” says Chao Wei. “If you were here and saw the site you would see it was not possible to have a hundred figures in the pit. Potentially there are maybe ten figures, but work has only just begun.” The museum’s vice director gave a similar response: “We are not allowed to discuss this too much with outside sources,” says Liu Zhancheng. “I think there has been a discovery, but there is no way there are so many figures.” An estimated 5,000 warriors and horses are still thought to be hidden in the mausoleum, which was attacked following the emperor’s demise.
Anticipation has been at fever pitch since the dig began in late June. Team leader Xu Weihong told Xinhua at the time that the greatest discovery thus far was an officer figurine; a rarity among the myriad archers, infantrymen and charioteers which were supposed to accompany Qin Shi Huang into the afterlife. Yet despite working with a German group on ground-breaking methods to preserve the warriors’ colours, Xu said the officer had barely retained any of his former lustre: “The original colours have faded after more than 2,000 years of decay, but a corner of the officer’s robe suggested it was in colours other than the greyish clay.”
The double-whammy of disappointing news isn’t likely to go down well with Xi’an transport chiefs, who this year announced plans to build a special underground station outside the museum. 30km long, the journey from the city to the museum will be cut from an hour to 50 minutes. The museum saw over three million tourists last year, with more expected in the near future.
If you live in America but can’t make it to China, you can catch a Terracotta Army exhibition this year, first at Houston Museum of Natural Science (22 May – 18 Oct) then Washington D.C’s National Geographic Museum (19 Nov – 31 Mar ’10). You could even catch a glimpse of Chi Chang – the human warrior – if you’re lucky.