tDAR Logo tDAR digital antiquity

Chemical analyses and copy-errors: technological control and artistic behaviour in the making of China’s Terracotta Army

Author(s): Marcos Martinon-Torres ; Xiuzhen Janice Li ; Andrew Bevan ; Kun Zhao ; Yin Xia

Year: 2015

» Downloads & Basic Metadata


Built in the 3rd century BC, the Terracotta Army constitutes an unprecedented investment of technological resources as well as a huge work of art. An icon of a much larger mausoleum, the army of thousands of heavily armed warriors materialised in just a few decades under the command of the man who would become China’s first emperor. This paper presents some aspects of an ongoing project that investigates this logistical feat, paying particular attention to craft organisation, quality control and artisanal practice. Using metric, microscopic and chemical analyses of the weapons, together with geometric morphometric comparisons of digital 3D models of the warriors, we identify different patterns of artefact variability at micro and macro scales of analyses. These patterns are explained as resulting from various factors at play, including the organisation of the labour force, structures for knowledge transmission and quality control, the use of standards and moulds, copy-errors and the intrinsic limitations of workers and materials. Using similar methods we attempt to explain both the materials engineering and the aesthetic or artistic constraints at play. We outline the problems and potentials of applying our methods elsewhere for comparative studies.

SAA 2015 abstracts made available in tDAR courtesy of the Society for American Archaeology and Center for Digital Antiquity Collaborative Program to improve digital data in archaeology. If you are the author of this presentation you may upload your paper, poster, presentation, or associated data (up to 3 files/30MB) for free. Please visit for instructions and more information.

This Resource is Part of the Following Collections

Cite this Record

Chemical analyses and copy-errors: technological control and artistic behaviour in the making of China’s Terracotta Army. Marcos Martinon-Torres, Andrew Bevan, Xiuzhen Janice Li, Yin Xia, Kun Zhao. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 396497)


Spatial Coverage

min long: 66.885; min lat: -8.928 ; max long: 147.568; max lat: 54.059 ;

Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America