When Yuan Zhongyi completed his ancient Chinese history studies in Shanghai in 1963, he was determined to work in Shaanxi because it was home to some of the most powerful dynasties in Chinese history, from the Zhou to the Qin, Han and Tang. He thought Shaanxi, known for its loess plateau, would be plagued with sandstorms, whipping winds and demanding winters, so he was glad when he arrived in Xian to find a city of moderate weather and prosperity. 'When I first arrived, there were basically only mud roads,' he said. 'The place did not immediately strike me as an ancient capital. But the more I dug, the more I found and the more I could feel the glorious past of the city.' Hailed as the father of the terracotta warriors, Mr Yuan was one of the first archaeologists to uncover the treasures buried alongside the Emperor Qin Shi Huang in the second century BC. In 1988, he also became the first archaeologist to direct the terracotta warriors museum, holding the post for a decade and establishing the museum's exhibition principle - one-third excavated and restored, one-third excavated but not restored and one-third kept buried. 'I didn't want to be director of the museum. What I really wanted was to work in the field,' he said. 'More peasant than a peasant' is the way Mr Yuan likes to describe himself. He said that all he needed when working in the field was a wooden stool, a worn shirt, a straw hat and a mat. He lived with peasants and lay on the ground for a nap when he was tired. Mr Yuan still remembers clearly July 15, 1974, the day he was called to Lintong to inspect some terracotta figurines dug up by six farmers 1.5km from the egg-shaped dome of the tomb of Qin Shi Huang. At that time, some of the farmers thought they had dug up gods and began worshipping them; some thought they were the devil and smashed their discoveries to pieces. Mr Yuan thought he was beginning a one-week investigation at most; but it turned out to be the excavation of his life that lasted 30 years. Once at the site, team members were perplexed because they could not find the sides of the pit, the first thing archaeologists try to determine when relics are unearthed. 'Then one night, a peasant told us that when he was a boy he once dug up a monster from the ground. Thinking that this monster was drinking all the village's underground water, the villagers broke its arms and hung it on a tree,' Mr Yuan said. The team immediately headed out to where this monster was hung 150 metres west of the first location and from there they eventually discovered the outline of the 14,210-square-metre first pit with 60,000 pieces of weaponry and terracotta soldiers and horses. 'These soldiers all looked different. For three months, I looked at them one by one every day, recording their characteristics and who were the craftsmen who made them,' the archaeologist said. 'When I walked down there, I felt like I was inspecting my own troops. 'I knew exactly where the regimental commander stood, where the company leader stood. 'If you just show me a face today I can still tell you exactly where he is.' The subsequent discovery of the second pit with the chariots and a third one with archers continued to astonish the world and in 1987 the entire complex was added to the World Heritage list. Mr Yuan retired at the age of 70, but he still gets occasional calls to help the museum and is always happy to return like a 'fish given water'. A strong advocate of not excavating all the warrior pits and of leaving the tomb of the emperor intact, Mr Yuan believes in preserving the outlook of these sites as well as their contents, especially when there is still room for improvement in excavation techniques. 'We should not [excavate] just to satisfy the curiosity of this generation or destroy this heritage which belongs to many generations to come,' the archaeologist said.