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  • Bronze Weapons of the Qin Terracotta Warriors: Standardisation, Craft Specialisation and Labour Organization by Xiuzhen Li
  • Donald B. Wagner
Bronze Weapons of the Qin Terracotta Warriors: Standardisation, Craft Specialisation and Labour Organization. Xiuzhen Li. Oxford: BAR Publishing, 2020. BAR International Series, 2992, Archaeology of East Asia, vol. 3. 221 pp., 36 tables, 137 figures (color and black and white). Paperback £57, ISBN 9781407316901; e-book free, ISBN 9781407356020.

Among the wealth of amazing finds at the tomb of the First Emperor of China in Xi'an, Shaanxi, some 40,000 bronze weapons have been found, including crossbow triggers, arrows, shafted weapons, and swords. This book is a massively detailed study of this [End Page 179] material with the specific goal of learning how weapons production was organized and the extent to which products were standardized. Thousands of artifacts were measured very precisely with digital callipers, and statistical studies of the measurements, together with studies of the inscriptions on many of the artifacts, give important insights into both questions. The same author has also participated in studies of the specific bronze alloys used (Martinón-Torres et al. 2014), but this aspect is barely touched on here (pp. 94–97).

An introductory chapter gives a broad account of the history of the state and empire of Qin and the archaeology of the First Emperor's tomb complex. Chapter 2 and chapter 3 lay out the theoretical and practical bases for the study of standardization and labor organization from artifacts alone, without the aid of any archaeology of the workshops themselves.

Chapter 4 considers the inscriptions found on many of the artifacts. These can include dates, names of offices, names of persons, and some marks of unclear function. Information from the inscriptions, studied comprehensively, allows the construction of organizational diagrams of the hierarchies in some production units. These fit well with the conclusion of the statistical studies that production was organized "in semi-autonomous units – or a cellular production system – rather than as a flow-line production" (p. 137).

Each of chapters 5 through 7, on crossbow triggers, arrowheads, and ferrules and long weapons, begins with an extensive review of the literature on the artifact types under consideration. Though this study has the particular aim of investigating aspects of production organization, it incidentally provides much more information on the individual artifacts than we are accustomed to seeing in Chinese archaeological reports.

In chapter 5, 229 crossbow triggers (out of 262 excavated) are classified, measured, and subjected to statistical analysis. Each is composed of five parts: three moving parts and two bolts. Each part is classified into three or four types; the differences between the types appear to be stylistic rather than functional. The parts were cast to exacting dimensional tolerances, generally less than a mm, so that they could be assembled without much adjustment. Microscopic scratches indicate that some small amount of filing was necessary to make the fit.

Dealing with 37,348 arrowheads necessitated developing a robust sampling strategy (chapter 6). After a preliminary pilot study, the strategy chosen was to concentrate on those arrows that were found in groups of 90 or more, clearly corresponding to the "bundles" of arrowheads in crossbowmen's quivers. Six arrowheads were randomly selected from each of 262 bundles. This permitted measuring variability within bundles and between bundles.

The arrowheads consist of a tip and a tang. The tang was cast first and the tip was then cast onto it. Traces were found in a few cases of a bamboo shaft into which the tang was inserted. The tips showed an "extraordinary degree of standardization" in their dimensions across the entire sample (p. 94). This suggests immediately that the proper functioning of the crossbow demanded precise standardization, though extensive experimentation would be needed to explore this aspect.

Alloy analysis of the tips shows very little variation within bundles, but a somewhat larger variation between bundles. The tangs provided weight and a firm attachment to the shaft, but standardization was clearly less important here: they show much greater dimensional variation, although again smaller variation within bundles. All this suggests again cellular production, though the author declares herself less certain of this particular conclusion (p...


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