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Flowers & Power: Preserving China’s famous Terracotta Warriors and other relics

New Contributor III
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You never know what you’re going to find when you go digging. In 1974, a group of farmers digging a well stunned the world with their discovery of the now-famous Terracotta Warriors and Horses in China.

They unearthed over 8,000 soldiers and their associated chariots and horses, all made of terracotta, a type of earthenware. They also found other figures, such as terracotta musicians and acrobats.

All of these life-sized figures were made around 200 B.C. and buried underground with the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, to protect him after death.

Under all that dirt, these masterpieces were safe and protected. But now that they are exposed for all to see, they also are exposed to pollution and other environmental factors that are deteriorating them. You can’t easily move 8,000 life-sized figures to a safe locale, so researchers have studied how to preserve them where they were found.

ZhaoLin Gu and colleagues say in ACS’ journal Environmental Science & Technology that this problem isn’t unique to the Terracotta Warriors. This is also a concern in other museums that display large artifacts in huge open spaces. To give you an idea of the type of space we’re talking about, the Qin museum covers an area of more than 17,500 square yards, almost three football fields.

The study recommends new measures to better preserve such artifacts. One, for instance, involves the use of an “air curtain” that would blow across the space to separate the figurines in the Qin Museum from the outside environment. The air curtains would keep pollutants and heat away from the inside of the pits in which the figures stand. A layer of cool air would also be used in the bottom of the pits to help form a blanket of stagnant air around the relics for protection from the environment. 

What do you think? Will this protect the figures? What other measures would you recommend?

“Primitive Environment Control for Preservation of Pit Relics in Archeology Museums of China,” Environmental Science & Technology

*Journalists can request a PDF of the journal article by emailing


Credit: American Chemical Society 

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