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

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7
Fig. 8
Fig. 9
Fig. 10
Fig. 11
Fig. 12

References

  1. Arnold, D. E. (2000). Does the standardization of ceramic pastes really mean specialization? Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, 7(4), 333–375.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Arnold, D. E., Neff, H., & Glascock, M. D. (2000). Testing assumptions of neutron activation analysis: communities, workshops, and paste preparation in Yucatan, Mexico. Archaeometry, 42(2), 301–316.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Arnold, P. J. (1991). Dimensional standardization and production scale in Mesoamerican ceramics. Latin American Antiquity, 2(4), 363–370.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Barbieri-Low, A. J. (2007). Artisans in Early Imperial China. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Bevan, A., Crema, E., Li, X. J., & Palmisano, A. (in press). Intensities, interactions and uncertainties: some new approaches to archaeological distributions. In A. Bevan & M. Lake (Eds.), Computational approaches to archaeological spaces. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.

  6. Bezúr, A. (2003). Variability in Sicán Copper Alloy Artifacts: Its Relation to Material Flow Patterns During the Middle Sicán Period in Peru, AD 900–1200. Unpublished PhD thesis. Department of Materials Science and Engineering, The University of Arizona.

  7. Blackman, M. J., Stein, G. J., & Vandiver, P. B. (1993). The standardization hypothesis and ceramic mass production: technological, compositional, and metric indexes of craft specialization at Tell Leilan, Syria. American Antiquity, 58(1), 60–80.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Blänsdorf, C., Emmerling, E., & Petzet, M. (Eds.). (1999). The Terracotta Army of the first Chinese Emperor Qin Shihuang. Paris: ICOMOS.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Brumfield, E. M., & Earle, T. K. (Eds.). (1987). Specialisation, exchange and complex societies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Childe, V. G. (1930). The Bronze Age. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Childe, V. G. (1936). Man makes himself. London: Watts & Co.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Childe, V. G. (1958). The prehistory of European society. London: Harmondsworth.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Clark, J. E. (1995). Craft specialization as an archaeological category. Research in Economic Anthropology, 16, 267–294.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Clark, J. E., & Parry, W. J. (1990). Craft specialisation and cultural complexity. Research in Economic Anthropology, 12, 289–346.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Costin, C. L. (1991). Craft specialization: Issues in defining, documenting, and explaining the organization of production. In M. B. Schiffer (Ed.), Archaeological method and theory (volume 1, pp. 1–56). Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

  16. Costin, C. L. (2001). Craft production systems. In G. Feinman & T. Price (Eds.), Archaeology at the millennium: a sourcebook (pp. 273–327). New York: Kluwer Academic.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Costin, C. L., & Hagstrum, M. B. (1995). Standardization, labor investment, skill, and the organization of ceramic production in Late Prehispanic Highland Peru. American Antiquity, 60(4), 619–639.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Dioguardi, G. (2009). Network enterprises: the evolution of organizational models from guilds to assembly lines to innovation clusters. New York: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Dohse, K., Jürgens, U., & Nialsch, T. (1985). From ‘Fordism’ to ‘Toyotism’? The social organization of the labor process in the Japanese automobile industry. Politics and Society, 14(2), 115–146.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Eerkens, J. W. (2000). Practice makes within 5 % of perfect: the role of visual perception, motor skills, and human memory in artifact variation and standardization. Current Anthropology, 41(4), 663–668.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Eerkens, J. W., & Bettinger, R. (2001). Techniques for assessing standardization in artifact assemblages: can we scale material variability? American Antiquity, 66(3), 493–504.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Eerkens, J. W., & Lipo, C. P. (2005). Cultural transmission, copying errors, and the generation of variation in material culture and the archaeological record. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 24, 316–334.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Franklin, U. (1983a). The beginnings of metallurgy in China: a comparative approach. In G. Kuwayama (Ed.), The Great Bronze Age of China: a symposium (pp. 94–99). Seattle: University of Washington Press.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Franklin, U. (1983b). On bronze and other metals in early China. In D. Keightley (Ed.), The origins of Chinese civilization (pp. 279–296). Berkeley: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Franklin, U. (1992). The real world of technology. CBC Massey Lecture Series. Concord, ON: House of Anasi.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Freestone, I., Kunicki-Goldfinger, J., Gilderale-Scott, H., & Ayers, T. (2010). Multi-disciplinary investigation of the windows of John Thornton, focusing on the Great East Window of York Minster. In M. B. Shepard, L. Pilosi, & S. Strobl (Eds.), The art of collaboration: stained glass conservation in the twenty-first century (pp. 151–158). Turnhout: Harvey Millar.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Freestone, I., Price, J., & Cartwright, C. (2009a). The batch: its recognition and significance, Annales du 17eme Congrès de l’Association Internationale pour l’Histoire du Verre, pp. 130–135.

  28. Freestone, I., Yegingil, Z., & Arik, R. (2009b). Scientific analysis of glazed tile from the Seljuq palace of Kubad-Abad, Lake Beysehir, Turkey. In B. McCarthy, E. S. Chase and L. Allis (Eds.), Scientific research on historic Asian artefacts: proceedings of the Fourth Forbes Symposium at the Freer Gallery of Art (pp. 3–8). London and Washington, DC: Archetype in association with the Freer Gallery of Art.

  29. Gordus, A. A., & Shimada, I. (1995). Neutron activation analysis of microgram samples from 364 gold objects from a Sicán burial site in Peru. In P. B. Vandiver, J. R. Druzik, & J. L. Galvan (Eds.), Materials issues in art and archaeology IV (pp. 127–142). Pittsburgh: Materials Research Society Proceedings, 352.

  30. Groover, M. P. (2010). Fundamentals of modern manufacturing: materials, processes, and systems (4th ed.). New York: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Hagstrum, M. B. (1985). Measuring prehistoric ceramic craft specialization: a test case in the American Southwest. Journal of Field Archaeology, 12, 65–75.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Humphris, J., Martinón-Torres, M., Rehren, T., & Reid, A. (2009). Variability in single smelting episodes—a pilot study using slag from Uganda. Journal of Archaeological Science, 36(2), 359–369.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Kvamme, K., Stark, M., & Longacre, W. (1996). Alternative procedures for assessing standardization in ceramic assemblages. American Antiquity, 61(1), 116–126.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Ledderose, L. (2000). Ten thousand things. Module and mass production in chinese art. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

  35. Lewis, M. E. (2007). The early Chinese empires: Qin and Han. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

  36. Li Y.-T. (2007). Co-craft and multicraft: section-mold casting and the organization of craft production at the Shang capital of Anyang. In I. Shimada (Ed.), Craft production in complex societies: multicraft and producer perspectives (pp. 184–223). Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.

  37. Li, X. J. (2012). Standardisation, labour organisation and the bronze weapons of the Qin Terracotta Warriors. PhD dissertation, University College London, London.

  38. Li, X. J., Martinón-Torres, M., Meeks, N. D., Xia, Y., & Zhao, K. (2011). Inscriptions, filing, grinding and polishing marks on the bronze weapons from the Qin Terracotta Army in China. Journal of Archaeological Science, 38, 492–501.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Longacre, W. A. (1999). Standardization and specialization: what’s the link? In J. M. Skibo & G. M. Feinman (Eds.), Pottery and people: a dynamic interaction (pp. 44–58). Salt Lake City: The University of Utah Press.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Morris, C. (1993). Hands up for the individual! The role of attribution studies in Aegean prehistory. Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 3, 41–46.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Muller, J. (1984). Mississippian specialization and salt. American Antiquity, 49(3), 489–507.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Museum of Qin Shihuang’s Terracotta Army and Shaanxi Institute of Archaeology. (1988). Qinshihuang bingmayong keng yihaokeng fajue baogao [Excavation report on Pit 1 of the Qin terra-cotta warriors and horses 1874–1984]. Beijing: Cultural Relics Press.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Museum of Qin Shihuang’s Terracotta Army and Shaanxi Institute of Archaeology. (1998). Qinshihuang ling tong chema fajue baogao [Excavation report on the two sets of Qin bronze chariots]. Beijing: Cultural Relics Press.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Nickel, L. (2007). The Terracotta Army. In J. Portal (Ed.), The First Emperor: China’s Terracotta Army (pp. 159–179). London: British Museum.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Ohno, T. (1988). Toyota production system: beyond large-scale production. New York: Productivity Press.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Pryce, T. O., Pigott, V. C., Martinón-Torres, M., & Rehren, T. (2010). Prehistoric copper production and technological reproduction in the Khao Wong Prachan Valley of Central Thailand. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, 2, 237–264.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Productivity Development Team. (1999). Cellular manufacturing: one-piece flow for workteams (Shopfloor Series). Portland: Productivity Books.

    Google Scholar 

  48. Rawson, J. (2007). The First Emperor’s tomb: the afterlife universe. In J. Portal (Ed.), The First Emperor: China’s Terracotta Army (pp. 114–145). London: British Museum.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Rice, P. M. (1981). Evolution of specialized pottery production: a trial model [and comments and reply]. Current Anthropology, 22(3), 219–240.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Rice, P. M. (1989). Ceramic diversity, production and use. In R. D. Leonard & G. T. Jong (Eds.), Quantifying diversity in archaeology (pp. 109–117). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  51. Rice, P. M. (1991). Specialization, standardization, and diversity: a retrospective. In R. L. Bishop & F. W. Lange (Eds.), The ceramic legacy of Anna O. Shepard (pp. 257–279). Niwot: University of Colorado Press.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Roux, V. (2003). Ceramic standardization and intensity of production: quantifying degrees of specialization. American Antiquity, 68(4), 768–782.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Schiffer, M. B., & Skibo, M. (1987). Theory and experiment in the study of technological change. Current Anthropology, 28(5), 595–622.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Shimada, I. (Ed.). (2007). Craft production in complex societies: multicraft and producer perspectives. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.

    Google Scholar 

  55. Sun, Z. (2007). Reconstructing manufacturing technology and technological organisation at the Qijia jue earring workshop in Western Zhou (1046-771 BC) China. Bulletin of the Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association, 27, 28–36.

    Google Scholar 

  56. Stark, B. (1995). Problems in analysis of standardization and specialization in pottery. In B. J. Mills & P. L. Crown (Eds.), Ceramic production in the American Southwest (pp. 231–267). Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

    Google Scholar 

  57. Stark, M. T. (1991). Ceramic production and community specialization: a Kalinga ethnoarchaeological study. World Archaeology, 23(1), 64–78.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Trigger, B. G. (1986). The role of technology in V. Gordon Childe’s archaeology. Norwegian Archaeological Review, 19(1), 1–14.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  59. Underhill, A. P. (2003). Investigating variation in organization of ceramic production: an ethnoarchaeological study in Guizhou, China. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, 10(3), 203–275.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  60. Uribe, M. A., & Martinón-Torres, M. (2012). Composition, colour and context in Muisca metalwork (Colombia, 800–1800 AD). Antiquity, 86(333), 772–791.

    Google Scholar 

  61. Wailes, B. (Ed.). (1996). Craft specialization and social evolution: In memory of V. Gordon Childe. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

    Google Scholar 

  62. Wu, Y. (2007). A two-thousand-year-old underground empire. In J. Portal (Ed.), The First Emperor: China’s Terracotta Army (pp. 153–157). London: British Museum.

    Google Scholar 

  63. Wu, Y., Zhang, T., Petzet, M., Emmerling, E., & Blänsdorf, C. (Eds.). (2001). The polycromy of antique sculptures and the Terracotta Army of the First Chinese Emperor. Studies on materials, painting techniques and conservation. Paris: ICOMOS.

    Google Scholar 

  64. Yang, H., & Yang, G., Trans. (1979). Selections from Records of the Historian by Szuma Chien. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press.

  65. Yates, R. D. S. (2007). The rise of Qin and the military conquest of the Warring States. In J. Portal (Ed.), The First Emperor: China’s Terracotta Army (pp. 31–57). London: British Museum.

    Google Scholar 

  66. Yuan, W., Yuan, Z., Zhao, P., Zuo, Z., Wang, X., & Wei, Y. (1981). Qinyongkeng qingtong bingqi gongyi biaozunhua shixi [Research into the standardization of Qin bronze weapons found in the pits of the Terracotta Warriors]. Shaanxi Biaozhunhua, 1981(02), 5–9.

    Google Scholar 

  67. Yuan, Z. (1984). Qin Zhongyang Duzhao Bingqi Mingke Zhongshu [Comprehensive research on the Qin weapons’ inscriptions and governmental control]. Kaoguoyuwenwu, 1984(05), 101–112.

    Google Scholar 

  68. Yuan, Z. (1990). Qinshihuang ling bingmayong yanjiu [Research on the terracotta warriors and horses from the Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shihuang]. Beijing: Cultural Relics Press.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

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.”

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Marcos Martinón-Torres.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Martinón-Torres, M., Li, X.J., Bevan, A. et al. Forty Thousand Arms for a Single Emperor: From Chemical Data to the Labor Organization Behind the Bronze Arrows of the Terracotta Army. J Archaeol Method Theory 21, 534–562 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10816-012-9158-z

Download citation

Keywords

  • Terracotta Army
  • Craft specialization
  • Standardization
  • Chemical analysis
  • pXRF