Archaeologists have unearthed two 2,500-year-old terra cotta figurines that are possible predecessors to the statue the army buried with China's first emperor, state media reported.

The 4-inch-tall figurines were made by the nation of Qin before its ruler unified China in 221 B.C., the China Daily newspaper and the Xinhua News Agency said this week.

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The Emperor Qin Shihuangdi's tomb was surrounded by pits holding 8,000 life-size terra cotta soldiers to guard him in death.

The smaller figurines were found in the northwestern province of Shaanxi in the ruins of a workshop with more than 2,000 pieces of pottery dating back 2,500 years, the China Daily said.

The figurines "are believed to be the original forms" of the style used to make the terra cotta army, the China Daily said.

Xinhua said they might have been used to decorate homes.