Imperial Logistics: The Making of the Terracotta Army


Blog posts

Terracotta Army collaboration renewed!

We are very pleased to report that the collaboration between UCL and Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum keeps getting stronger.

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3d models and 3d prints

Xiuzhen, Marcos and I, together with colleagues at the Terracotta Army museum, have been busy working on a range of fun topics over the last few months. Some of this work relates to the geochemistry of the terracotta warriors and their weapons, other bits relate to warrior postures and formation in the pits, and we’ve just finished a paper on the spatial pattens of weapons and warriors that were marked with Chinese characters or numbers by the Qin artisans who made them. At first glance, these things don’t all immediately fit nicely together as research questions, but actually we think they do offer some really useful mutual insights. Hopefully, more news in the spring and summer!

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Terracota army in forthcoming talks

We keep making efforts to reach a wide and diverse range of audiences. First, because that’s the least we should do in return for the privilege of working on such an extraordinary site. And second, because in these fora we get feedback, questions and suggestions that keep inspiring further work.

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The terracotta warriors and the 'portrait' debate

In the last few days, we have noticed fresh interest in our work in both conventional and social media. We are very pleased that our research keeps engaging the broader public – and also sorry if the lines that follow sound slightly killjoy!

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3d models and the faces of Qin?

We're excited to have just had another paper come out (you can find it in the Journal of Archaeological Science here) that describes how we have been building 3d models of the terracotta warriors and using them not simply for nice documentation and presentation, but also to try to address some thorny analytical questions too. The 3d modelling technique itself is an extremely promising one (derived from the fascinating filed of 'computer vision') which is fast becoming popular in archaeology since it was first introduced a couple of years ago (our project can claim to be an early adopter, but the first archaeological application is probably this one). I'll come back to the technique itself below, but the background rationale for why we might find such models useful for the Imperial Logistics project is also interesting.

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What’s so special… and spatial… about the Terracotta Army?

We’ve been getting some nice publicity recently due to a Channel 4 documentary that has featured our collaborative work on the terracotta warriors and their weapons. We’ve also got some papers out or on the way, that discuss in a bit more detail our project methods and results. In fact, a lot of what we have had to say has had a strong ‘spatial’ component. By this I mean, that we are rarely interested only in Qin warriors and weapons as if they had been unearthed at random (i.e. as if they were just one enormous bag of finds from an unknown find-spot), but instead, thanks to the excellent recording methods of the excavators at locations such as the vast “Pit 1”, we can explore what additional information the spatial distribution of warriors or their weapons can offer. Janice Li first began looking at the warriors and weapons in this way on behalf of our project, and we have been following that lead ever since (in Pit 1 especially).

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On a day like this 39 years ago… serendipity and the Terracotta Army

On 29 March 1974, a group of farmers digging a water well in Lintong, to the east of Xi’an, struck upon one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time. The Terracotta Army would become the icon of the 2,200 year-old city-like mausoleum of China’s First Emperor. A further four decades since its discovery, have we learned anything about serendipity?

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The terracotta warriors under the microscope

I arrived back from my first trip to Xi'an to initiate the ceramics phase of the project. Was great to see the Terracotta Army, to see the Mausoleum, and to experience China. Inspirational!

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The British Academy in Xi'an

I have just returned from a spell of a few months in Xi’an, where I have been continuing the data acquisition while working on ongoing publications. A highlight of my time there was the visit by a distinguished delegation led by Professor Dame Helen Wallace, Foreign Secretary of the British Academy, to the Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum. That was an official visit to mark the adoption of our “Imperial Logistics” as a British Academy project.

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Toyota and the Terracotta Army: mass production and mass media

Last year ended with a substantial amount of media and blog coverage triggered by our publication in the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory. What was all the fuss about? And how accurate was the news coverage?

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Long live adoption!

Our first blog entry has to be devoted to the very news behind the origins of this blog: we have been adopted! The British Academy has recently announced that Imperial Logistics is one of the five projects they have decided to adopt as “Academy Research Projects”.

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