Chinese Science Bulletin

, Volume 59, Issue 21, pp 2574–2581 | Cite as

Identification of proteinaceous binding media for the polychrome terracotta army of Emperor Qin Shihuang by MALDI-TOF-MS

  • Hongtao YanEmail author
  • Jingjing An
  • Tie Zhou
  • Yin Xia
  • Bo Rong
Article Analytical Chemistry


A proteinaceous binding media for the polychrome terracotta army of Emperor Qin Shihuang has been identified using matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOF-MS). Methods for the preparation of the model samples and the elimination of interferences have been evaluated, as well as ageing processes. A method involving the complexation of EDTA in combination with dialysis was used to eliminate any interference in the polychrome layers taken from the historical samples. The model samples were aged by being buried in loess to replicate the ageing process of the historical samples as closely as possible. The optimum conditions for the extraction and subsequent enzymatic hydrolysis of the extracted protein were investigated. Under the optimized conditions, the “peptide mass fingerprints” of the proteinaceous binding media from the historical and model samples were determined by MALDI-TOF-MS. The results revealed that animal glue was used as the binding media for the polychrome layers of Emperor Qin Shihuang’s terracotta army. It also shows that animal glue used as binding media has a long history in China.


Polychrome terracotta army Qin Shihuang Proteinaceous binding media Animal glue MALDI-TOF-MS 



This work was supported by the National Key Technology R&D Program of China (2010BAK67B12). The authors are very grateful to Prof. Zhijun Zhang for providing the photograph of the polychrome warrior of Qin Shihuang’s terracotta army.

Supplementary material

11434_2014_372_MOESM1_ESM.doc (46 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 46 kb)


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Copyright information

© Science China Press and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hongtao Yan
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jingjing An
    • 1
  • Tie Zhou
    • 2
  • Yin Xia
    • 2
  • Bo Rong
    • 2
  1. 1.College of Chemistry and Materials ScienceNorthwest UniversityXi’anChina
  2. 2.Key Scientific Research Base of Ancient Polychrome Pottery ConservationState Administration for Cultural Heritage; Museum of Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Terracotta ArmyXi’anChina

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