Terracotta Army detail, Xi'an, China
Terracotta Army detail, Xi’an, China

7,000 warriors standing ready for battle fully armed with swords, axes, lances, spears, and crossbows. But these warriors never put their weapons to use. The terra cotta army discovered in the mausoleum of the first Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang (246-210 BC) is known the world over. The warriors are made of clay but the weapons are real.

Archeologists have always wondered how this vast amount of weapons, to the tune of tens of thousands, could have been manufactured with such quality and uniformity. For some time, it has been believed that the weapons were mass produced and assembled in a line (Fordism), meaning less skilled workers doing repetitive tasks. But new evidence proves otherwise.

40,000 bronze arrowheads found in the tomb were tested and revealed unique chemical signatures based on location, indicating different batches were made at each site. The conclusion is multiple autonomous workshops operated at the same time to produce finished products, such as quivers filled with 100 bamboo-shafted arrows adorned with feathers.

Standardization of weapons and this cellular production method (Toyotism) means repairs and replacements could take place quickly on the battlefield or far from home, which may be why the Qin army was so successful in ending centuries of war and uniting China under single rule.

Interested in learning more about how Qin Shi Huang built his terracotta army?

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