Does your family have a garden? Or do you have friends or family members who like to put potted plants on their front porch or around the yard? If so, chances are you already know what terracotta is.

Terracotta is a clay-like earthenware ceramic that can be either glazed or unglazed. In addition to being used for flower pots, terracotta is also often used for water and sewage pipes, bricks and sculptures.

The word “terracotta” comes from the Italian words for “baked earth.” Since terracotta pottery is made by baking terracotta clay, that only makes sense! Terracotta is often used as a color word, too, to describe the natural brown-orange color of terracotta products.

Terracotta can be easily sculpted into all sorts of shapes. To harden terracotta, it must be heated to between 1,000-2,000° F. Once it hardens, it is still a bit porous, which means it can be penetrated by water. However, a simple coat of glaze can make terracotta water tight.

Terracotta has been around for a long, long time. In fact, it was the only clay product used until around the 14th century. Archeologists have found terracotta sculptures that are approximately 5,000 years old!

Perhaps one of the most spectacular terracotta creations ever is the famous Terracotta Army. Also known as the Terracotta Warriors and Horses, the Terracotta Army is a massive collection of terracotta sculptures that represent the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China.

The Terracotta Army was discovered in 1974 by local farmers in China. It consists of over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots, 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses buried in three large pits. This “army” was buried with the emperor around 210 B.C. The emperor believed his Terracotta Army would protect him in the afterlife and be a group of people he could continue to rule over.

It took skilled artists many years to make the Terracotta Army. Although many parts of the sculptures were mass-produced in workshops, each piece was finished with intricate facial features, weapons according to rank and bright paint.

The life-sized soldiers of the Terracotta Army vary in height, uniform and hairstyle according to their rank in the army. The members of the army were placed in pits in such a way as to defend the emperor’s tomb from the people to the east that he had previously conquered.

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    • Thanks for sharing your comment, Naomi! We are glad you can solve our Wonder; did you learn anything new about terracotta? :)

  1. Some of our friends thought the terracotta army was creepy. Others thought it was awesome!

    We think tomorrow’s wonder will be about birds flying south or people feeding birds.

    • Thanks for WONDERing with us today, Ms. Bayko’s Class! We’re proud of you for learning something new with us, even if some decided the terracotta army wasn’t their style! :)

      Thanks for sharing your cool guess with us, too! We can’t wait for tomorrow’s Wonder to take flight! :)

  2. We really enjoyed today’s wonder. Several people in our class have read about the terracotta army from a book in our non-fiction section.
    We think tomorrow’s wonder might be about seeds or an aviary.

    • WOW, how cool that today’s Wonder tied in with the book you’re reading! We are happy that our Wonder Friends in Holly Bloodworth’s Class are here today, and your guesses are STELLAR! Hope to Wonder with you soon! :)

    • Great question, Aniyah! Yes, terracotta is made by placing clay in the sun, and allowing it to bake and harden. We’re so excited that you’ve been WONDERing on your own– perhaps you can plant some flowers in a terracotta pot in the future! :)

    • That’s a great idea, Emerson! Thanks for sharing your thoughts about the Terracotta Army, too. We think it’s important to learn about cultures other than our own, so we’re proud of you for WONDERing! :)

  3. My sons and I wonder if there are there plans to excavate Qin Shi Huang’s mauseoleum? Or is it protected from scientists because it is a burial place?

  4. Wow, thanks for sharing that link to National Geographic, Wonderopolis! We learned another interesting fact: Qin Shi Huang became the emperor of China when he was 13 years old! And, he ordered the tomb to be built shortly after he took the throne! Looks like kids have had great ideas from long ago to today!

    • HOORAY! That’s great news, Christy! We’re thrilled that the article helped you and your son to Wonder even more! Thanks for sharing some more interesting facts with us, too! Kids are great at using their imaginations, we think it’s important to remember how creative we all can really be! :)

  5. I think that the terracotta army is really cool after I watched the video.I did not even know it existed until my teacher told us about it, before the video I was fascinated I want to learn more about the terracotta army.
    My teacher always tries to make time for Wonderopolis she wants us to learn more about the cool stuff you put on here every day I love watching the videos and reading the facts because the more you know as a kid the better life you will have as a grown up, it is some times the highlight of my day. When I grow up I want to share Wonderopolis with my friends and family. How long do you think it took the person to finsh every piece of terracotta ?

    • Hi there, Kailey! We are so happy that you enjoy spending time at Wonderopolis! You have one great teacher, please say hello for us, too! Thanks for sharing your awesome comment, you really made us smile! We LOVE WONDERing with great Friends like you.

      We bet it took lots of time to build the Terracotta Army, especially since there were so many people involved in the process. :)

  6. Today’s wodnder was cool! I like to do pottery with terracotta, but I have not done it for a few years at least. Right now I like to paint a lot. :) I really liked the video. That was interesting. Thank you for today’s wonder! ;)

    • Berkleigh, we’re so proud of your artistic interest! How cool that you have done pottery, and are not involved in painting! We know you have visited our art Wonders, but we are glad you shared your comment with us! Thanks! :)

  7. I actually am involved in painting. I really like it. And I am really good at it, too. You can be good at anything you put your mind to. :)
    I like to do all kinds of art, and I want to be an artist when I grow up. Thanks for today’s wonder! :) ;)

    • We couldn’t agree more, Berkleigh, you can do ANYTHING you put your mind to! We’re very proud of you for trying art of all kinds, it sounds like you’re on a roll! Thanks for WONDERing with us! :)

  8. Hello Wonderopolis, I am in Mrs. Caplin’s class, and I enjoyed reading this Wonder.
    My family used to grow a garden in our backyard. We planted pumpkins, corn, and green beans. I did not know that terracotta comes from the Italian words “baked earth”. Why do a lot of words come from Italian, Greek, and Latin languages? I also did not know that terracotta had to be heated between 1,000- 2,000 degrees to harden it.
    I predict tommorrow’s Wonder will be about flocks of birds or migration.

    • Thanks for WONDERing with us today, Simba! We’re glad you’re back! Your family’s garden sounds very cool… we Wonder if there are any terracotta pots in your garden? Italian, Greek, and Latin languages are the base for many other languages! Great observation! We are glad you’re WONDERing and guessing with us! :)

    • Great question, Capri! Terracotta is still made today, but those who make it must follow a very specific process to make it sturdy and durable. We Wonder if you will spot any terracotta plant holders in your neighborhood… spring is in the air! :)

    • Hello, Christopher! What did you think about the Terracotta Army? Cool, huh? Thanks for WONDERing with us today! :-)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What is terracotta?
  • What does terracotta mean?
  • What is the Terracotta Army?

Wonder Gallery

Terra CottaVimeo Video

Try It Out

Ready to have some terracotta fun? There are many fun art projects you can make with terracotta. Check out the links below and choose a project or two. Make sure you get help from an adult, as you may need to go to the store to purchase a few supplies.

When you’re finished, post a picture of your terracotta creation to Facebook. We can’t wait to see what you make!

Still Wondering

Smithsonian’s History Explorer features an “OurStory” module entitled “Pueblo Pots” that allows children to investigate the roles that pottery and water played in the lives of the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico.

Wonder What’s Next?

Tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day is really for the birds…lots and lots of birds!

Upload a Photo or Paste the URL of a YouTube or SchoolTube Video.