Institute of Archaeology


Geochemical profiling of the Terracotta Army

7 July 2019

Patrick Quinn continues his research on the Terracotta Warriors as part of the collaborative project between the UCL Institute of Archaeology and Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum, Xi'an, China.

Research on geochemical profiling of the Terracotta Army

Patrick Quinn has just returned from a research trip to China where he continued his work on non-destructive geochemical profiling of the terracotta warrior sculptures.

Patrick and colleagues in China are investigating geochemical heterogeneity within and between statues that might inform the method of manufacture and the organisation of production and specifically whether two possible factories could have been involved in the production of the Terracotta Army.

This latest research follows on from earlier work, published in Antiquity in 2017, which applied thin section petrography to reveal that distinct recipes were used for different types of ceramic objects in the mausoleum. Due to its destructive nature, thin section petrography had to be applied to small fragments, which can lead to a lack of contextual background. By using non-destructive portable X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy in the current phase of the project, Patrick and colleagues are able to analyse complete, reconstructed, statues for the first time. Some statues feature stamps and inscriptions that may link them to different workshops and this theory is being tested with an investigation of the chemical composition.

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