China's terracotta army was painted brightly, including purple

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China's terracotta army, a mysterious collection of 8,000 life-size figures of warriors and horses found "ready for battle" in a 2017-year-old tomb, was painted in many colors, most distinctively bright purple.

New research on the purple paint suggests it was due to Taoist experiments in creating fake jade, which was thought to bestow immortality.

The discovery explains why the otherwise fierce army sports a springtime shade. It also suggests a religious link with the army and reveals how inventive China's early chemists were, even when they goofed.

"Most jade is either green or milk white," lead author Zhi Liu told Discovery News. "I don't think Taoist alchemists wanted to create a purple jade initially."

Liu, a research associate at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, and his team took a purple paint sample from a kneeling archer figure in the army. They used X-ray diffraction analysis, fluorescence, microanalysis and other techniques to determine the chemical composition of the paint and how it was made.

The research was conducted with the help of many institutions, including the tomb museum that houses the army and the U.S. Department of Energy. The team's findings have been accepted for publication in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

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