VOICES Voices Icon Ideas and Insight From Explorers


The Mudmen Cometh: It’s Terra Cotta Time


Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China’s First Emperor opened today at the National Geographic Museum. By the time NatGeo staff welcomed the first ticketholders at 10 a.m., the Society had sold more than 105,000 tickets to the spectacular exhibition.


Just before the opening, the first wave of exhibition visitors stretched outside Geographic headquarters along M Street…


… around the corner, and down 17th. Long-time Washington, D.C. resident Stephanie Faul got out early and headed up the line. “When I heard they were coming months ago,” she told me, “I immediately bought a ticket. This is our history, everyone’s, our ancestry. It’s exciting to get the chance to see it.”


More than 2,200 years ago, Qin Shihuangdi…


… led the conquest of half a dozen warring states to form an empire two-thirds the size of the U.S. He established a common currency and written language, standardized volume and weight measurements, built roads, and laid many of the enduring foundations of the Chinese nation. He also constructed hundreds of palaces…


… and is thought to have been so paranoid that he never slept in the same palace two nights in a row. Evidently, that paranoia had some justification: History records at least three foiled assassination attempts on the ruthless emperor. To guard him in the afterlife, he chose a burial site surrounded on three sides by mountains, and had a vast army of clay warriors constructed to face the valley’s single entrance, standing vigilant for eternity.


Qin Shihuangdi’s army for the afterlife included thousands of terra cotta infantry, cavalry, archers, and generals, plus counselors, musicians, and strongmen to advise and amuse the emperor. Fifteen of the life-size terra cotta figures are among the 100 ancient artifacts on display.


Learn more about the Terra Cotta Warriors and the exhibition on David Braun’s NatGeo News Watch, on the Intelligent Travel blog, in National Geographic magazine, and here on BlogWild. And if you’ll be in Washington, D.C. sometime between now and the end of March, 2010, get some tickets!


Photographs by Ford Cochran