Have you ever tried to work out 3D puzzles? Fun, isn't it? But imagine doing it for real -- every day sorting thousands upon thousands of pieces. This would be tedious and frustrating work for even the most patient of people. But relic repairers AREN'T most people. Many of them do this every day at a museum in Xi'an. Ma Yu is one of them.
In 1974, the mausoleum of Qinshihuang was discovered and excavated. In the extraordinary find was an army of clay soldiers and horses buried with China's first emperor. Most of them were damaged to various extents. It is Ma Yu's job to put these two-thousand-year-old puzzles back together.
"The original environment was destabilized after the excavation. There are hundreds or even thousands of pieces for each damaged Terracotta Warrior. Almost none of them were intact," Ma said.
The damaged Terracotta warriors have been in restoration since then. In the hands of Ma and his colleagues, many of them are being given a second coming. More than two hundred world leaders have visited the site. But to allow even more people view one of China's most treasured relics, Ma has dedicated 20 years of his life to the task.
For more than two-thousand years, the clay soldiers had been buried deep underground. Some had already integrated with the surrounding environment. Fragile, and covered in dirt, this makes reparation work even more difficult.
In summer, temperatures can often go as high as 40 degrees Celsius, and there is no air conditioning to relieve the workers. Ma and his colleagues must focus on their work for hours despite the discomfort.
"Cultural relics are irreplaceable. You can't recover the relics if you damage them. That's why we must do it wholeheartedly. This is a must for every professional relic repairer," Ma said.
Even a single fragment could take days to repair. Ma uses scalpels and brushes to scrape away the dirt and mud. Every action needs surgical precision so his tools won't do any lasting damage. This takes a lot practice and experience -- but before Ma began to work on the real ones, he spent two years on clay imitations to perfect his touch.
"It's like being a surgeon. How hard and how deep you cut is all about feeling. If you handle it wrong, you may scratch the surface," Ma said.
After cleaning the fragments, Ma puts the pieces together. A tedious process which includes numerous trials and errors, and could last several weeks or even months. To recover a whole terracotta warrior often takes more than a year. Although many mysteries and work still remain unsolved and unfinished, Ma believes his successors will carry on the great cause of relic reparation and open another chapter for the historical warriors.