New Secrets of the Terracotta Warriors

New Secrets of the Terracotta Warriors

A new documentary to be broadcast on Channel 4 this weekend is largely based on research carried out by a team from the UCL Institute of Archaeology, in collaboration with colleagues at the Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum in China.

New Secrets of the Terracotta Warriors is the first public presentation of some of the work led by Dr Xiuzhen Janice Li, Dr Andrew Bevan, Professor Marcos Martinón-Torres and their team, which involves a number of innovative scientific methods and unexpected results.

Amongst the many new findings, the film reveals the true extent of the site and number of warriors and that the weapons carried by the warriors were full military grade, rather than replicas: they were designed to kill as efficiently in the afterlife as in this one.

New insights into how the figures were made, including revolutionary 3D computer modelling of the warriors’ heads, challenge traditional explanations and change our understanding of how a worforce of thousands was organised to build a mausoleum for China’s First Emperor some 2,200 years ago.

The discovery of China’s Terracotta Army in 1974 captured the imagination of the world. But that first dig only revealed a fraction of this enormous and extraordinary treasure.  Since then, scientists have resumed work on the site, and their research has turned up a series of new discoveries about the warriors and the people who made them. The figures were part of the greatest necropolis ever built: the grave of the legendary First Emperor, who conquered all his rivals, unified China and left it with one language, currency and set of laws.

Professor Marcos Martinón-Torres (UCL Institute of Archaeology and Director of the Imperial Logistics Project) said: "Our project brings together specialists from several different fields in order to open up entirely new areas of insight into both the warriors and their world, by combining close typological study, materials science and spatial analysis. Our methods can be applied across the whole mausoleum complex, and used for studying craft specialisation, logistical organisation, cross-craft linkages and the rise of imperial authorities elsewhere in the world. Given the project’s wider context as an international collaboration centred on a World Heritage site, two important further dimensions are specialist knowledge exchange among Chinese and Western scholars, and wide public engagement."

In 2012, the project was adopted by the British Academy as an Academy Research Project, in recognition of "the excellence of its scholarship, and the promise and excitement of its programmes".

New Secrets of the Terracotta Warriors will be broadcast on Sunday 8 December 2013 at 8pm on Channel 4. It is part of Channel 4’s Secret History strand, which showcases the best historical journalism. (Image credit: Channel 4)

View a UCL film about the research project below:


UCL Institute of Archaeology
Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum in China
Imperial Logistics Project
Dr Xiuzhen Janice Li
Dr Andrew Bevan
Professor Marcos Martinón-Torres
New Secrets of the Terracotta Warriors - Channel 4