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The figures are of these general types: armored warriors; unarmored infantrymen; cavalrymen who wear a pillbox hat; helmeted driver of chariots with more armor protection; spear-carrying charioteers; kneeling archers who are armored; standing archers who are not; as well as generals and other lower-ranking officers.
The wooden ceilings were covered with reed mats and layers of clay for waterproofing, and then mounded with more soil raising them about 2 to 3 metres (6 ft 7 in to 9 ft 10 in) above the surrounding ground level when completed.
The construction of the tomb was described by historian Sima Qian (145–90 BCE) in his most noted work Shiji, written a century after the mausoleum's completion.
Work on the mausoleum began in 246 BCE soon after Emperor Qin (then aged 13) ascended the throne, and the project eventually involved 700,000 workers.
This discovery prompted Chinese archaeologists to investigate, revealing the largest pottery figurine group ever found in China.
A museum complex has since been constructed over the area, with the largest pit enclosed within with a large structure.
Pit four is empty, perhaps left unfinished by its builders.
Some of the figures in pit one and two show fire damage, while remains of burnt ceiling rafters have also been found.
The figures, dating from approximately the late third century BCE, were discovered in 1974 by local farmers in Lintong District, Xi'an, Shaanxi province.
The figures vary in height according to their roles, with the tallest being the generals. Estimates from 2007 were that the three pits containing the Terracotta Army held more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which remained buried in the pits nearby Qin Shi Huang's mausoleum.
Some scholars have speculated a possible Hellenistic link to these sculptures, due to the lack of life-sized and realistic sculptures prior to the Qin dynasty.
The terracotta army figures were manufactured in workshops by government laborers and local craftsmen using local materials.
Geographer Li Daoyuan, writing six centuries after the First Emperor's death, recorded in Shui Jing Zhu that Mount Li was a favoured location due to its auspicious geology, "famed for its jade mines, its northern side was rich in gold, and its southern side rich in beautiful jade; the First Emperor, covetous of its fine reputation, therefore chose to be buried there".