The hidden information behind the Terra-cotta Warriors

A few weeks ago at this blog, I presented two pictures of the most important holdings from the national museum of China. These two pieces of masterwork were excavated from very different location of China, and probably from different age, but they tell us a similar story – how the human beings got themselves fed in the Stone Age.

Today we will review two series of sculptures from the Museum of Terra-cotta Warriors and Horses. The same as the vast amounts of other sculptures and objects, they were produced as funeral objects for the first Emperor of China – Qin Shihuang.( 259B.C. — 210 B.C.)

 Standing shooting figures.


Kneeling shooting figures.

They were arrayed together when unearthed. The standing figures were arraying at the periphery and the kneeling ones at the heart. Thanks to the bows and arrows discovered beside them, the discoverers were able to find out these two series of sculptures are shooting figures. Thus they were identified in terms of their gesture – the standing and kneeling shooting figures.


However I personally suggest that the military units they represented had no similarities except they were both ranged. They were using different weapons and their functions were totally different in the battle field.

 The observed differences between these two series of figures are listed as follow:

 Standing and kneeling.

  1. Hand gesture.
  2. Light armor and heavy armor.
  3. Arraying at periphery and at the center.
  4. Hand gestures.
  5. One of the standing figures is a left-hander, and the other ones have very different right hand gesture. The kneeling ones are mostly the same.

First of all, if you are interested in the military history of the cold weapons era, or having fun with archery, you might notice the arm position and hand gesture of these sculptures are suggesting they might use different weapons.

The standing figures are the model of archer. It appears they are pulling a bowstring with one hand while holding the bent body with the other. And the kneeling figures are more likely using a crossbow. Thumbs of their right hands look like they are holding a trigger rather than a string.

And this theory explains why some of figures are standing and the others are kneeling. The crossbow they use at this age was mostly built with bronzes, which means it was heavier than a bow. In order to shoot smoothly and accurately the soldier had to kneel to spread the pressure caused by the weight of the crossbow.

The crossbow found in same excavation pit.

 As we can observe in the picture, the crossbow is not only heavier but also more delicate than the bow. It is reasonable to believe that the crossbow is more expensive, rare and correspondingly powerful than the bow. And we know from later historical evidence that the crossbow usually has better range, accuracy and strength; and the bow takes advantage in low price, less weight and fast loading speed.

 Now we can understand why the crossbowmen were arraying in the center – they had better firing range; and why they were in heavy armor – they were more expensive and essential. Therefore the crossbowmen were more likely better trained and restrained, and functioned as the main strength of the army. They are supposed to firing at their position once in the battlefield.

 In the contrary, the military unit standing figures define were the ranger of the name. These bowmen were not functioning for the superior force, but the flexibility. They were likely maneuvering around the battle field, harassing enemy from side or rear, shooting them from hide, and protecting main force by distracting enemy cavalry. They are probably also in charge of tasks like scouting, anti-scouting, raiding enemy villages, sabotaging enemy supply line and so on. That is why they were lightly armored, not restricted in their posture and arraying at the periphery.

 Above is the hypothesis I am proposing from observation, more are left to your exploration. Maybe you will find more exciting stories when you have a close look to the massive unveiled collections of terra-cotta warriors in Xi’an.

 If you are interested in visiting Xi’an, do contact us in following email:

 You are always welcome.



 Official website of Terra-cotta museum:



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4 Responses to The hidden information behind the Terra-cotta Warriors

  1. Företagsresan says:

    hello! 😛 i am at the job right now, thus i don’t have very much time to write… nonetheless! I truly liked reading through the article. It turned out to be a bunch of excellent stuff. thank you! Regards, Temple

    • Shabana says:

      I haven’t ever been to the Kane Show, but I do expect to atetnd OTSN again this year. In fact, made my reservations last week. I’m going specifically to pick up Barzso’s new Battle of Lexington playset with the injection molded British and Colonials, as well as TSSD’s new surprise playset they’ve been promising. With the price of shipping being as high as it is, the cost of driving and hotel is substantially off set by being able to pick up the new offerings directly at the show. Expect I will once again see Ed Borris. But before OTSN comes Joseph Saine’s Michigan Show in July, which always has Hobby Bunker, MarxMan, and Allan Ford in atetndance.

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