Many ancient cultures had traditions of placing things in the grave of someone who died. This could be as simple as placing containers of food in with the deceased or as extreme as killing slaves and family members. Whether it was furniture, food or servants, the entire principal was to provide the deceased with tools and items that they could use when they reached the afterlife. These were often personal items although they may also have been heavily ornamented and, in the case of some ancient rulers, were often extremely valuable.
Funerary art and grave goods were also placed in graves as a way to honor the deceased and to celebrate the accomplishments that they achieved in life. This meant that some ancient leaders would have large quantities of grave goods and funerary art pieces placed in their tombs when they were being buried.
This practice of adding items to the grave was often done on a fairly small scale in terms of size even if there were large numbers of individual items. Miniatures of furnishings, homes and other items were lovingly crafted and placed in the graves or tombs. Some cultures placed many items in tombs especially if the person who died was extremely important or powerful.
Perhaps the most elaborate example of placing items in a tomb would have to be the Terracotta Warriors of China. Found in 1974, this collection of beautifully crafted figurines dates from 210 BCE and is made up of more than 8,000 individual pieces. These figurines were located near Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi province in China.
The figures are much larger than other funerary statues that are normally found in tombs. Instead of being miniature, they are life sized and, in some cases, are actually larger than life. The smallest figurines are approximately 6 feet tall but some measure up to 6.4 feet tall. They are very detailed and show a variety of different professions. In addition to the 8,000 soldiers figurines of acrobats, cavalry horses and horse and chariot combinations were also found. Each of the figures is unique. This uniqueness is due to a direct order from the Emperor who did not want the figures to be duplicated at all. It is because of this attention to detail that the collection took many years to complete.
The figurines were part of a larger necropolis, a city for the dead that was built to honor the Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China. The creation of the mausoleum and the necropolis was a massive project that involved as many as 700,000 workers. The necropolis and the army were meant to serve two different purposes in the afterlife. The necropolis had been designed to act as a palace or imperial compound.
There are several theories about the purpose of the army. The first is that the army had been designed to act as protection for the emperor in the afterlife. The second theory was that the army was provided for the use of the emperor so that he could continue to attack and conquer others even in the afterlife.
The terracotta warriors have become an international sensation and portions of the collection have been taken on a tour that has stopped in many countries around the world.