Technology Reveals Chinese Terracotta Warriors Were Likely Replicas of Real Soldiers
When Chinese farmers uncovered an ancient site while digging a well in 1974, they had no idea they were to encounter a giant army of warriors. The Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang had lain in wait for 2,000 years, guarding the emperor’s tomb – the largest in Chinese history - at the base of Lishan Mountain in Shaanxi Province. Now research suggests the ears of these famous clay warriors provide a clue into how the army was made.
Archaeologists and historians have marveled over the find since its rediscovery, wondering how ancient artisans in 246 BC created the ranks of life-sized clay soldiers, each seemingly unique in detail. Using advanced imaging technology, researchers from the University College London (UCL) and Emperor Qin Shi Huang's Mausoleum Site Museum in China have now surmised that each warrior was made to represent a real man of the time. Although some researchers had long suspected this to be the case, there was no real evidence to prove it.
Could the ears of the terracotta warriors hold a clue to their creation? Credit: Richard Fisher / flickr
Until now, the conventional view was that in order to create the army of terracotta figures, approximately 7,000 strong, as well as the 130 chariots and nearly 700 horse sculptures buried with them, the whole process had been done ‘assembly-line’ fashion, with workers tasked with creating just mouths, or just noses, and the pieces would then be added to the whole. However, the new study may reveal a different technique.
The team took detailed scans of the facial features of the warriors, in particular the ears, which forensic research shows can be used to identify individuals as effectively as a fingerprint, UCL archaeologist Andrew Bevan told National Geographic. The scans revealed that no two ears of the sculptures were identical. This variance in shape mimics real human populations, and gives support to the theory that realism was the intent.
Individual clay ear shapes and styles represented (Creative Commons, Journal of Archaeological Science)
Marcos Martinón-Torres of UCL said, “Based on this initial sample, the terracotta army looks like a series of portraits of real warriors.” Reportedly this study echoes conclusions from a 2003 paper published in the journal Antiquity that studied the heights of the clay warriors, suggesting they matched probable statures of Chinese infantry at the time.
Detail of facial features and clothing of clay warrior. Credit: Ana Paula Hirama / flickr
Further research into the weapons and armor of the warriors revealed distinct pieces sporting makers’ marks. This would have made each artisan personally responsible for his work. According to National Geographic, “Qin Shi Huang's armorers worked in a ‘cellular production’ system similar in some respects to that pioneered by Toyota to produce cars. Instead of monotonously making the same part for an assembly line, the imperial weapon makers were probably versatile artisans who worked in small, dispersed workshops making weapons from start to finish.”
Much of the site remains to be excavated, and thousands of statues still need to be unearthed. As they are painstakingly returned to their original splendor, a clearer portrait of the emperor’s army and ancient Chinese history will be revealed.
Featured Image: An ancient terracotta warrior. Source: BigStockPhoto
By Liz Leafloor