Bones of the Artists

The stories say that as Emperor Qin grew older he became more paranoid. Today it is suspected that it wasn’t his age that caused his paranoia, since he died at the age of 48, but the mercury pills that he was ingesting. These small doses of “elixir” were meant to make him immortal but instead they made him crazy, and eventually killed him.

The mercury was not the only cause of his paranoia. The assassination attempts, and of course his fear of death which came from premonitions had plagued him for most of his life. At the age of 13 Emperor Qin had commanded the building of the mausoleum. There was much to prepare for in the after-life and much to protect. It wasn’t only the fear of death that caused him to create these great tombs, but the fear of having the tombs discovered and then possibly destroyed. If these warriors were destroyed by his enemies before they were completed then he would not be able to pass into the next world as the great emperor he knew he was destined to be. In order to protect the tombs the artists who worked to create the soldiers were often killed and left to be buried among their art work.

Human bones have been found in the pits along with the broken soldiers and horses. Bones belonging to the artists and laborers who built the tombs, but also those who Emperor Qin felt he needed in his after-life like his many concubines who followed him to his death.

Xi’an, Terracotta Army, China, 2014.