Institute of Archaeology

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First for Archaeology in UK 2015

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British Academy recognition for Institute research in China

19 September 2012

View of Pit 1 of the Terracotta Warriors (Photo: Xia Juxian)

Research by Marcos Martinón-Torres, Andrew Bevan and Janice Li on the terracotta army has recently been awarded British Academy Research Project status

The research, undertaken with international colleagues, on 'Imperial Logistics: The Making of the Terracotta Army' which has received the British Academy award has two main research aims:

  • investigating the crafting methods and logistical organisation behind the construction of the Terracotta Army and the broader mausoleum of the First Emperor of China.
  • developing novel hypotheses and methods, via artefact-scale metric analysis, materials science and spatial modelling, that may be used as a comparative platform for studying craft specialisation, logistical organisation, cross-craft interactions and strategies of enforced social cohesion in emerging imperial systems.
A small handful of the 40,000 bronze arrowheads recovered with the terracotta warriors

Given the research initiative's wider context as an international collaboration centred on a World Heritage site, two important further aims are an improved transfer of specialist knowledge among Western and Chinese scholars, and active engagement and dissemination beyond academic circles.

Research began in 2006 as a collaboration between the UCL Institute of Archaeology and the Museum of Emperor Qin Shihuang's Mausoleum, under the auspices of the International Centre for Chinese Heritage and Archaeology and the Chinese Ministry of Culture.

It brings together multidisciplinary expertise to investigate the crafting methods and logistical organisation behind the vast Terracotta Army that was constructed to guard the mausoleum of China’s first emperor, Qin Shihuang (259-210 BC). These globally-famous archaeological remains offer an excellent opportunity to combine typological and metric approaches, materials science and spatial analysis to address the central role played by craft organisation under an emerging empire.

The first stage of the research (2006-2010) focused on the impressive set of bronze weapons buried with the terracotta warriors and illuminated the way these weapons and their placement with the terracotta army followed a very specific production model, with interesting parallels in modern manufacturing.

The deliberately ambitious second stage (2011-2016) will apply similar methods to the warriors themselves, look for cross-cutting organisational patterns between them and their weapons and engage more heavily with the broader mausoleum and imperial landscape. It is hoped the results of this research will be of relevance to Chinese archaeology as much as to archaeological science, the study of past technologies and research on the emergence of imperial systems.

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The British Academy Research Project scheme grants academic recognition to outstanding collaborative projects working to produce fundamental research. The Academy sees its association with such projects as part of its Excellence and Engagement role, and benefits from being publicly associated with work of outstanding research significance.