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Search for terracotta army chief

CHINESE archaeologists began a new excavation of the famous terracotta army site yesterday, hoping to find more clay figures -- and possibly one appearing to be in command -- and unravel some of the mysteries left behind by the "First Emperor."

It was the third excavation in the pit, the first and largest of three pits at the site near Xi'an, capital of northwestern Shaanxi Province, since 1974 when the terracotta army was discovered by peasants digging a well.

The new dig began at 1pm yesterday, the country's fourth Cultural Heritage Day, and it lasted about five hours on the first day.

"The most important discovery today is two four-horse chariots that are standing in tandem very closely," said Cao Wei, deputy curator of the Qinshihuang Terracotta Warriors and Horses Museum. "It is the first time for us to find such an existence in the excavation history," Cao said.

Another important discovery was that a few newly unearthed terracotta warriors were richly colored. Archaeologists covered them with sheets of plastic for protection.

Richly colored clay figures were unearthed from the mausoleum of Qin Shihuang in the Qin Dynasty (221 BC-207 BC), the First Emperor of a united China, in previous excavations, but once they were exposed to the air they turned an oxidized grey.

"From what we have excavated today, the preservation of the cultural relics is better than we thought," said Xu Weihong, head of the excavation team.

"For instance, the discovery of the richly colored terracotta warriors gave us great confidence. I believe the future excavation will go smoothly," Xu said.

The 230x62-meter pit was believed to contain about 6,000 life-size terracotta figures, more than 1,000 of which were found in previous excavations, said Wu Yongqi, museum curator.

Cao said the State Administration of Cultural Heritage had approved a five-year excavation plan submitted by the museum.

"We plan to dig about 2,000 square meters in the coming five years," Cao said.

Archaeologists hoped they might find a clay figure that appeared to be "in command" of the huge underground army, said Liu Zhancheng, head of the archeological team under the terracotta museum.

"We're hoping to find a clay figure that represented a high-ranking army officer," he said.

The first formal excavation of the site lasted for six years from 1978 to 1984 and produced 1,087 clay figures.

A second excavation, in 1985, lasted for a year but was cut short for technical reasons.


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