Lend me your ears

The Chinese Terracotta army is a familiar sight the world over. Nearly all of us have marvelled at the amazingly life-like poses and expressions of the 7000 odd clay statues that stand guard over Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s tomb. But the terracotta soldiers are more realistic than you would have ever imagined.

The notion that each statue has been assembled from mass-produced arms or mouths has been turned on its head. It has been found that each statue is unique and may have been modelled after real, individual soldiers.

Recently, in a project known as Imperial Logistics: The Making of the Terracotta Army, a team of archaeologists from University College London (UCL) in Britain and from Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s Mausoleum Site Museum in Lintong, China, have been using the latest imaging technology and other advanced methods to deduce the design process behind the warriors.


Researchers digitally studied the left ears of 30 terracotta figurines and found “considerable variation”.  This reflects real life where each one of us have a unique “earprint” and no two ears are the same.

“Based on this initial sample, the terra-cotta army looks like a series of portraits of real warriors,” says UCL archaeologist Marcos Martinón-Torres.

Reference: Journal of Archaeological Science Volume 49 and National Geographic

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