Terracotta Army craftsmen may have inspired car maker
THE CRAFTSMEN who armed the thousands of terracotta warriors and their chariots and steeds in Xi’an in northern China more than 2,200 years ago may also have developed the much admired and pioneering production system used by the world’s biggest car maker, Toyota.
The Terracotta Army is an astonishing collection of hundreds of sculpted warriors, complete with chariots and horses, which archaeologists believe were built to guard Emperor Qin Shihuang in the afterlife.
So high was the level of accuracy in the production of their weapons that a team from University College London believes their method was a forerunner of the production process known as “Toyotism”, which involves using small workshops of skilled engineers who can build any model required, rather than the standard mass production line usually associated with Henry Ford’s “Fordism”.
Dr Marcos Martinón-Torres, who led the team from UCL’s institute of archaeology and the museum of Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum in Xi’an, said the emperor was obsessed with standardisation and introduced standard units of measurement, currency and script.
“We now believe that the craftsmen who made them also constructed the swords and other equipment the soldiers carry, and that a cellular production system was also employed for the warriors themselves.
“These craftsmen must have been very skilled and versatile to be able to make such a wide variety of items, yet complete each one to such precise standards,” Dr Martinón-Torres added.
The warriors were discovered by chance by farmers in Lintong district in 1974.
They are displayed in lines inside the aircraft hangar-like museum in Xi’an, hundreds of armour-clad, pale-coloured troops, each with individual features, in different positions, their hair tied up in specific ways to mark out their rank.
They also vary in height according to their roles, with the tallest being the generals.
All of the weapons held by the soldiers are real, ready for battle, rather than replicas, prompting some scientists to speculate that the site was actually a military school rather than a mausoleum.
It is an eerie testament to the hubris of Qin Shihuang, who was himself something of an innovator in that he was China’s self-styled first emperor, who founded the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) and began more than 2,000 years of imperial rule.
The team discovered the innovative craftsmanship when they were inspecting more than 1,600 arrowheads.
These were identical to the naked eye and the researchers assumed they had come from a single, large-scale production line.
However, when they analysed the chemical make-up of the bronze used to make the arrowheads, they found that each quiver was filled individually with arrows made from a single batch of bronze melted in a crucible, without any mixing of batches, from the bronze head through the bamboo shaft and up to the feathers.
The reason the “Toyotism” approach works better than mass production is because the craftsmen were unlikely to have known how many of each item they would need to equip what was, after all, the world’s first Terracotta Army.
They also used state-of-the-art manufacturing techniques.
The team discovered that the blades of the 40,000 weapons the soldiers carried had been sharpened on a wheel, rather than using a hand-held tool, the first known example of blades being sharpened with a wheel.