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Inscriptions, filing, grinding and polishing marks on the bronze weapons from the Qin Terracotta Army in China

by Xiuzhen Janice Li, Marcos Martinón-Torres, Nigel D. Meeks, Yin Xia, Kun Zhao
Journal of Archaeological Science ()

Abstract

This paper is concerned with the inscriptions and finishing marks present on the surfaces of the thousands of bronze weapons recovered together with the Terracotta Army at the mausoleum complex of Qin Shihuang, the First Emperor of China (259-210BC). After utilising the textual information from the inscriptions to reconstruct aspects of labour organisation and political control during the production of the weapons, the work concentrates on documenting and explaining the techniques employed to produce the inscriptions, to file casting imperfections, and to obtain the smooth, shiny and sharp finish still noticeable on many of the weapons. Silicone rubber impressions of surface features of swords, lances, crossbow triggers and arrows were examined under the scanning electron microscope (SEM), and these observations were supplemented with examination of the artefacts under the stereomicroscope and the SEM. The evidence indicates the use of a variety of chisels for making the inscriptions, and of files for removing excess metal from surfaces. In addition, the grinding and polishing marks demonstrate the large-scale, systematic use of rotary wheels to achieve an ideal final polish. These findings are contextualised in the broader history of Chinese metallurgy, with special attention to the emergence of iron tools and of rotary mechanical devices. © 2010 Elsevier Ltd.

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