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Imperial Logistics: The Making of the Terracotta Army

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Project Introduction

Imperial Logistics Project

Imperial Logistics: The Making of the Terracotta Army is a collaboration between the UCL Institute of Archaeology and the Museum of Emperor Qin Shihuang's Mausoleum in Xi'an, central China, that is investigating the crafting methods and logistical organisation behind the making of the vast Terracotta Army which guarded the mausoleum of China's first emperor, Qin Shihuang (259-210 BC). Qin Shihuang’s mausoleum is a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site, famous worldwide for its Terracotta Army of thousands of lifelike clay soldiers, but it is also a much vaster complex stretching across some 56 sq.km and as many as 500 accessory pits or tombs. Bronze, clay, wood and other resources were all deployed on a massive scale: for human and animal sculptures, for weapons and other equipment, and for the architecture of the mausoleum itself. Their monumental use at this funerary site also provides important clues about more everyday marshalling of resources by the Qin empire. It can also be compared and contrasted with other systematic new industrial crafting methods  that were emerging in other near-contemporary, large-scale empires across Asia and Europe during the 1st millennium BCE. The mausoleum of Qin Shihuang is thus both a compelling research problem in its own right, and an evidence-rich vantage point on much wider social, economic, ecological and political change. 

Our cooperative efforts began in 2006, and have so far focused on the material remains of both the terracotta warrior statues and their bronze weapons, with two main research aims: (a) to investigate the crafting methods, workshops and administration behind the construction of the Terracotta Army and the broader mausoleum of the First Emperor of China; and (b) to develop novel hypotheses and methods, via artefact-scale metric analysis, materials science, environmental science and spatial modelling, that may be used to study craft specialisation and logistical organisation across a range of early empires elsewhere in the world. Two further important aims are to improve th sharing of specialist knowledge among Western and Chinese scholars and actively to engage with interested audiences beyond traditional academic circles. Since 2012, the project has been one of only a very few to be given national-scale recognition as a British Academy Research Project. This website provides background to the project, as well as news of our progress. 

Museum of Emperor Qin Shihuang's Mausoleum, UCL and British Academy Logos