Terra Cotta Warriors myths…busted!

Middle Ranking Officer
Creative Commons License photo credit: Richard.Fisher

As you may have noticed from the anticipation, excitement, and general hullabaloo…we recently opened an exhibition chock full of Terra Cotta Warriors. And while museum people tend to find every exhibit that comes through our doors fascinating (part of the reason we take the leap from avid exhibition attendees to employees of said institutions) there are some things – King Tut, T. rex, and the Terra Cotta Warriors among them – that seem simply to have universal appeal.

Other exhibitions do well with particular demographics (history buffs loved Benjamin Franklin, engineers and art lovers packed in to see Leonardo da Vinci, kids couldn’t get enough of the Dino Mummy) but some topics fascinate across the board. Whether from historical importance, sheer size or the stunning nature of a discovery – some artifacts from our collective past stand out, almost demanding that we come and experience them for ourselves.

Due to this, Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China’s First Emperorhas created a lot of conversation – both in our exhibition halls and online – and so we thought we’d address some of the common questions here – and do a little mythbusting of our own.

The Terra Cotta Warriors on display at HMNS are fake. FALSE.

The exhibition contains 17 authentic Terra Cotta figures, including 11 warrior figures – but also court officials, acrobats, musicians, servants and more. Its fascinating to see the incredible detail crafted into each individual warrior – as well as the ways in which various stations in society were represented in clay. The warriors are imposing, the generals are enormous – but the kneeling servant is child-size.

All of the artifacts on display were excavated from the necropolis of Qin Shi Huang, China’s First Emperor. They were brought to Houston as part of an agreement with the Museum of the Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses of Qin Shi Huang, Peoples Republic of China.

The exhibition does contain a few replica figures, however these are labeled as such. The replicas were included to represent horses and carriages that have recently been excavated, and are too fragile to travel.

Some confusion may also have arisen due to the existence of the Forbidden Gardens, in Katy. This display recreates the Emperor’s entire necropolis, in one-third size replica figures.

This exhibit has been to Houston before. FALSE…and TRUE.

We’ve heard this several times, but no one seemed to know where the rumor came from. The exhibition itself is newly created and has certainly never been to Houston before it opened here May 22. However, the misconception seems to have arisen from another exhibition that came though Houston, with Terra Cotta Warriors. Thank you to Laurie, one of our intrepid volunteer docents; Donna; one of our fabulous Museum bloggers; and David, a collections registrar from MFAH, for helping us track down the answer!

In 2000, the Museum of Fine Arts hosted The Golden Age of Chinese Archeology; Celebrated Discoveries from the People’s Republic of China, an exhibition of Chinese art that did contain several authentic figures from the terra cotta army. Organized by the National Gallery of Art, the exhibition covered a large span of time – from the prehistoric era to the late 10th century A.D. – and surveyed a broad range of highlights of Chinese archaeology.

Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China’s First Emperor, currently on display at HMNS, is a totally new exhibition that contains the most Terra Cotta Warriors and other “Level One” artifacts ever allowed to travel outside of China at once – there are 11 warriors alone, alongside many other kinds of tomb figures, such as acrobats and musicians. It’s also a much more specific look at the time in which the warriors were created – around the end of the 2nd century B.C. – the first time the lands today known as China were unified. A visit to this exhibition is the very best look at these marvels you could possibly get outside of Xi’an, China where the Warriors were discovered.

All of the Terra Cotta Warriors have been found and excavated. FALSE.

aerial-view-terra-cotta-warriorsIt is estimated that 7,000 or more warriors were created to accompany the Emperor to the afterlife – but only 1,000 have been fully excavated. Just recently, two decades after initial excavations ceased, Chinese authorities began new excavations in Xi’an, utilizing new technology that will preserve the warriors’ original colors.

Though excavations continue in the necropolis, the actual tomb of Qin Shi Huang remains intact, due to the high levels of mercury found in the surrounding soil – suggesting that the “rivers of mercury” said to have flowed through the tomb were actually left there and likely stil make the area to toxic to excavate.

Have you heard a Terra Cotta myth that needs debunking? Leave it in the comments and we’ll do our best to get to the bottom of it!

Looking Back…

In case you were wondering about notable science events that happened the week following September 5…

Grand Jaguar 2
Creative Commons License photo credit: auntjojo

September 6, 3114 BC, is the supposed start date for the Mayan Long Count Calendar. The Mayan calendar ends with a cataclysm, which is actually fast approaching. On our calendar, the cataclysm is set to take place on December 21, 2012.

On Sept 7, 1776, the first submarine attack took place, when the Americans used a submersible craft called the Turtle  to attack British Admiral Richard Howe’s flagship HMS Eagle while it resided in the New York Harbor. The boat, designed by David Bushnell, consisted of two wooden shells covered by with tar and reinforced by steel bands. It was 8 feet across and six feet tall and was built to be piloted by one man. It submerged by allowing water into the bilge tank, and surfaced by pushing water out through a handpump. It contained approximately 30 minutes of oxygen. Benjamin Franklin came up with the idea to use foxfire inside the submarine, as a regular flame would have depleted the oxygen at a quicker rate. The attack, which was piloted by Sergeant Ezra Lee, was unsuccessful. After two attempts to drill through the hull of the ship, Ezra was forced to give up and flee.

On September 9, 1947, the first computer bug attack happened – literally. A Mark II computer at Harvard began malfunctioning. Operators found a moth trapped in a relay, causing the computer errors. Although the term “bug” had previously been used to describe faults and errors, this event coined the term “computer bug.”

On September 10, 1945, farmer Lloyd Olsen, from Fruita Colorado went out in his yard to kill a chicken for dinner. He beheaded the chicken, but surprisingly enough – the chicken did not die. He did not completely decapitate the head, leaving the jugular vein intact as well as one ear and most of the brain stem. The bird, later affectionately called “Mike” by the Olsen family, lived for another 18 months. Lloyd would feed the bird by using an eyedropper (I would assume pouring it directly down the throat.) The rooster occasionally had a buildup of mucus in its throat, which the Olsens would help clear using a syringe. The authenticity of this was proven by the University of Utah. The Olsens took their headless chicken Mike on a roadshow, charging a quarter to see it and raising about $4,500 a month (the equivalent of $50,000 in 2005.) The bird died 18 months after losing its head – some sources say the death was caused by a buildup in mucus, but the following video says Mike choked on corn. 

Looking Back…

In case you were wondering about notable science events that happened the week of June 13th…

This round is on the house! On June 14th of 1789 the Reverend Elijah Craig used his distillery to age corn whiskey in charred oak barrels, successfully making Bourbon. Reverend Craig named the new liquor after his home county, Bourboun County, Kentucky. On a related note, Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith founded Alcholics Anonymous on June 10th, 1935.

Red Strip
Creative Commons License photo credit: steelight

Does anybody really know what time it is? On June 15th, 763 B.C. the ancient culture known as the Assyrians recorded a solar eclipse. Using modern technology astronomers can calculate the exact day the eclipse happened. Using this date historians can calculate the time of other events that the Assyrians and other cultures wrote about.

On June 15th, 1667, Dr. Jean Baptiste Denys attempted the first human blood transfusion. After several doctors had drained a 15 year old boy with fever of blood, Dr. Denys tried a transfusion using nine ounces of lamb’s blood. The attempt was unsuccessful.

rayo 3
Creative Commons License photo credit: El Garza

On June 15th, 1752, Benjamin Franklin performed his famous lightening experiment. Using a kite, a key, and a silk thread, Franklin proved that lightening was electric. However, Franklin was not the first scientist to try this experiment. The French scientist Thomas-Francois Dalibard conducted a similar test just a few weeks before.

The first Father’s day was celerated on June 19th, 1910, in Spokane, Washington. It was started by Sonara Smart Dodd, whose father was a single parent of six. Historians believe she was also inspired by Anna Jarvis, who had started the tradition of Mother’s Day just three years before.