An exciting history: The discovery of the Terracotta Warriors

Terracotta Warriors in Vault One

I visited Xian, China in 2014 as part of a tour party. I never thought that I would ever visit China or even get to see the Terracotta Warriors. Now I have and have a great desire to return.

After visiting the Terracotta Warriors, I wanted to understand a little bit more of their discovery. Here is a short story on their discovery.

Now described by many as the eighth wonder of the world, the Terracotta Warriors may never have been brought to the world’s attention and remained hidden forever.

Now a major tourist attraction. In 2015, five million tourists visited the Terracotta Warriors (Tang).

National Geographic states that the find within the tomb complexes may rewrite history (Williams, 2016).

The first discovery of the Terracotta Warriors

The first discovery was in a dry March, the Spring of 1974. People were desperate, particularly for water. One peasant family – the Yang’s – of six brothers, aged in their 40 and 50’s decided to dig a well to locate the desperately needed water supply for the family and their fruit trees. If the drought kept on going, they would not have enough food to feed their families through the next winter. They looked for the most likely place to find water, which after much deliberation was a water course which runs through their farm from nearby Mt Li.

The following day digging started, the going was hard, the ground dry, but the brother kept on making progress, unearthing bits of terracotta pots, which meant nothing to them. They knew from history a kiln had been operating nearby. At one stage the brothers thought that they had found a large terracotta jar intact, excitedly the brothers tried to unearth it, only to find a clay torso. Disappointed the brothers planned to throw it away.

They kept on digging uncovering increasingly more terracotta torsi. Nervousness started to descend, they were starting to think that where they were digging was more than a kiln. Eventually fear overtook the brothers, thinking that they had found a temple and the temple would bring them bad luck, they decided to cover in their hole and made a pact that they would not mention the find to anybody for fear of bad luck descending on the families.

Unfortunately for the Yang’s, children nearby had been observing what they were doing, becoming interested in terracotta items left on top of the filled in well. Then more people from the local village came to hear of the find, but really nobody knew of its real significance until it reached provisional government level. Where an astute government official and archaeologist decided that more interest should be given to the find and ordered new digging to start, eventually unearthing the 2200-year-old treasure that is now known as the ‘Terracotta Warriors’.

We may only know about a small part of the discovery of the Terracotta Warriors

Local Chinese people believe that the Terracotta Warriors found to date is only a small proportion of what is underground, and what is on display is only a small percentage of that discovered.

Unearthed Terracotta Warriors are in all stages of condition from good to severely damaged.
Some of the unearthed warriors and artifacts are in many pieces.

Currently, there are 3 vaults open to public viewing, with Vault 1 being the biggest.

Unearthing Terracotta Warriors excavation.
Unearthing Excavation of the warriors

Of the six brothers that discovered the Terracotta Warriors only two are still alive and Yang Zhefa, who is in his 80’s, and claims to be the leading architect of the digging and discovery, occasionally is at the bookstore to sign purchases. These days Yang Zhefa avoids publicity and discussing the find due to failing health.


Man, J. (2007). The Terracotta Army China’s First Emperor and the Birth of a Nation. Philadelphia: Da Capo Press.

Tang, C. (n.d.). The Top 10 Amazing Facts You Probably Don’t Know about the Terracotta Army. Retrieved from China Highlights:

Williams, A. (2016, October 12). Discoveries May Rewrite History of China’s Terra-Cotta Warriors. Retrieved from National Geographic:

April 2017 and revised December 2020

My other stories from travelling in China

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