Imperial Logistics: The Making of the Terracotta Army


Current work

Xiuzhen Li applying dental silicone rubber to the surface of a bronze lance in order to obtain accurate impressions to be examined under the scanning electron microscope.

Our deliberately ambitious current project stage (2011-2016) will extend similar methods to consider the terracotta warriors themselves and look for cross-cutting organisational patterns between them and the weapons they were supposed to carry into battle. Typological analysis (e.g. based on the presence/absence of certain facial features, torso types, inscriptions etc.) and multivariate statistics (e.g. based on the measurement of standard features on the warriors) will be combined with chemical and microstructural analysis. The frequent inscriptions found on both the weapons and the warriors will be considered as a coherent body of evidence for the first time. Moreover, a balanced approach to the warriors and their weapons will also now allow us to model their spatial patterns both individually and jointly, with a view to their implications with respect to two crucial aspects of early Chinese imperialism: military tactics and craft organisation.

Reaching beyond the mausoleum, we will use trace elements and lead isotopes to investigate whether the supply of clays and metals was centralised or also distributed in various units and different resource landscapes. Research will expand progressively to incorporate other structures within the mausoleum and a broader imperial resource landscape, retaining throughout the close coupling of artefact-based, spatial analysis and materials science perspectives that has so far proved so enlightening.