The Mass Production of Bronzes in 500-300 BC China

Project: Research project

Project Details


The proposed project aims at reconstructing the history of mass production of bronzes in China between 500 and 300 BC. Barbara Keyser and Robert Bagley have reconstructed the pattern-block method of bronze casting in approximately 500 BC, which lays the foundation of this study. However, there are various other methods of mass production unknown to scholars, including the component-model and multiple-transfer methods, altogether proposed as a new hypothesis established by the principal investigator’s (PI). Bronze casters in this period had adopted these methods in producing bronze mirrors, vessels, and sculptures. To prepare the clay models and molds for mass-producing these bronzes, casters had to manipulate multiple transfers between the models and molds formed by clay components, which were eventually shown as delicate componential surface decorations on the bronzes. Within these technological contexts, bronzes whose shapes and decorations are completely identical were cast, and the components of their surface decorations would be identical to those on other bronzes. The operation of their foundries also desired a higher efficiency of production, intelligent division of labor, and an assembly-line method. Active economic activities, a booming population, a convenient transportation system, and high social mobility are some of the reasons explaining the mass production and consumption of bronzes. Future scholars of this field cannot ignore the facts that mass production of bronzes had significantly shaped socio-economic activities during this period.

However, it is very difficult to locate evidence of mass-produced bronzes since they had been scattered throughout the world after over 2,000 years. The PI has already identified thirteen groups of mass-produced mirrors but more evidence is needed to validate the hypothesis. The PI and two co-investigators (Co-I) propose to develop and improve four tools to efficiently collect more datasets of 3D models of bronzes to constitute the evidence. This study consequently requires an interdisciplinary approach by incorporating assistance from computer scientists. A portable 3D scanner, computer programs that automatically generate, superimpose, and match 3D models, and an online database are needed to enable experimentations to identify mass-produced bronzes and their identical components. We will make extensive research trips to museums and archaeological institutes to digitally record the bronzes of interest. Any 3D models of bronzes that superimpose perfectly during the experiments will prove that they were mass-produced in these foundries. The application of 3D technology to the field of mass production will inspire new methodologies in art historical and archaeological studies.
Effective start/end date1/10/1630/09/19

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure


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