They were built for the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, and date back to 210 B.C. They were discovered by local farmers in 1974, near the mausouleum of the first Qin emperor. They were built as an army to protect him in his tomb. The figures included generals, horses, chariots and other figures. It is estimated that there are over 8000 soldiers, plus chariots, horses etc. buried in pits. The site is an earthen pyramid and the soldiers were placed there to perhaps guard the emperor from dangers in the next life. It is said that no two soldiers' features are exactly alike. The entire complex is a necropolis with many buildings, palaces and wonderful objects.
The Terra Cotta soldiers were part of the adornment of the Mausoleum of Qin Shihuangdhi, the first proclaimed Emperor of China in 221 B.C.E. He was a powerful ruler who unified Chinese government under his own rule, and began construction of a defensive fortification which would become the Great Wall. He did not tolerate dissent, and many Confucian scholars were executed merely for being critical. Books on philosophy and ethics were burned. Others who criticized him were sent to distant outposts where they were sure to be killed in battle. He constructed a magnificent tomb for himself which required the labor of over 700,000 workers. A number of concubines, slaves, and workers were executed and murdered with him. Booby traps and cross bows guarded the tomb against grave robbers. The terra cotta soldiers, all life sized, were added to the tomb as testimony to his greatness.