Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory

, Volume 21, Issue 3, pp 534–562 | Cite as

Forty Thousand Arms for a Single Emperor: From Chemical Data to the Labor Organization Behind the Bronze Arrows of the Terracotta Army

  • Marcos Martinón-TorresEmail author
  • Xiuzhen Janice Li
  • Andrew Bevan
  • Yin Xia
  • Kun Zhao
  • Thilo Rehren


This paper explores the integration of chemical data with metric studies and spatial analyses of archaeological artifacts to investigate questions of specialization, standardization, and production organization behind large-scale technological enterprises. The main analytical focus is placed on the 40,000 bronze arrowheads recovered with the Terracotta Army in the First Emperor’s Mausoleum, Xi’an, China. Based on the identification by portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometry of chemical clusters that correspond to individual metal batches, and combined with a study of their context in the tomb complex, we argue that the manufacture of arrows was organized via a cellular production model with various multi-skilled units rather than as a single production line. This system favored more adaptable and efficient logistical organization that facilitated dynamic cross-craft interaction while maintaining remarkable degrees of standardization. We discuss the use of “the batch” as an analytical category and how our method might be applied to other studies of craft organization in complex societies and imperial systems.


Terracotta Army Craft specialization Standardization Chemical analysis pXRF 



This paper is based on collaborative research carried out thanks to the support and generosity of the UCL Institute of Archaeology and the Museum of Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum. We are indebted to the late Peter Ucko, who made this collaboration possible, as well as Wu Yongqi, past Museum Director, and Cao Wei, current Director, for support and valuable suggestions. We would also like to thank Chang Qiuyue, Yan Hongxia, and other colleagues in the Conservation Department of the Museum for their assistance, Kevin Reeves for precious technical support at the UCL Wolfson Archaeological Science Laboratories, and the many more friends and colleagues who contribute to this project. Financial support by the International Centre for Chinese Heritage and Archaeology, Sun Hung Kai Properties - Kwoks’ Foundation, and Rio Tinto (through the Institute for Archaeo-Metallurgical Studies) is gratefully acknowledged. This work is part of the British Academy Research Project “Imperial Logistics: the Making of the Terracotta Army.”


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marcos Martinón-Torres
    • 1
    Email author
  • Xiuzhen Janice Li
    • 1
    • 2
  • Andrew Bevan
    • 1
  • Yin Xia
    • 2
  • Kun Zhao
    • 2
  • Thilo Rehren
    • 3
  1. 1.UCL Institute of ArchaeologyLondonUK
  2. 2.Museum of Emperor Qin Shihuang’s MausoleumXi’anChina
  3. 3.UCL QatarDohaQatar

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