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Exquisitely Painted Figurines from Qin Figurine Pit #2

He Junhong
Ph.D. Candidate
China Central Institute of Fine Arts

Recently there was another surprising discovery from the Qin Dynasty figurine pits at Lintong, Shaanxi province. As of now, the excavation and clearing of painted figurines from Qin Figurine Pit #2 is centered primarily on the cavalry area of the northeast section. According to the results of test excavations, the 18th pit in the center of the cavalry area contains a total of 40 figurines in kneeling-fire position, arranged in two rows of twenty. The six kneeling figurines that have already been excavated and cleared were concentrated in the pit's west side. Except for the figurine designated #004, the other five figurines were only partially exposed. Judging from the current stage of excavation, the preservation of the surface coloration is relatively good. But because they faced long-term damaging effects from being underground, a few components of the color coating have already met with decomposition or have oxidized and fallen off. In particular, the inner layer of raw lacquer has a severely aged appearance and is very easily crimped or warped, so the color coatings are terribly fragile. During excavation, the Qin Figurine Archaeology Team, in accordance with the basic condition of the surface layer of the painted figurines, uses various types of instruments to carry out detailed cleaning. Once cleared and exposed, certain chemical agents are promptly sprayed on the painted colors, such as chemicals to prevent crumpling and for reinforcement. By clearing a small portion and then preserving it, archaeological excavation and relic conservation are combined organically.

Using various modern scientific instruments, paint pigments were found to derive primarily from minerals, such as cinnabar, azurite blue, malachite green, orpiment, and minium. Among these hues, however, was a kind of pure purple pigment not found in nature, a compound of silicic acid, copper, and barium. What is surprising is that this compound is an accidental by-product created when synthesizing super-conductive materials, which scientists only discovered in the 1980s. This discovery proves that China already possessed the technology to amalgamate chemical compounds more than 2000 years ago. Experts point out that this is an extraordinary accomplishment in the history of science.

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Yin Jinan
Central Academy of Fine Arts

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