Published On: Fri, Oct 6th, 2017

Arming China’s Terracotta Warriors — With Your Phone

Ms. Poulton said the adoption of technology recognizes that many museumgoers, especially millennials and their children, want to be able to use their phones to enhance the museum experience.

“It’s not that they think it’s a distraction,” she said. “They expect to be able to experience this exhibit through their phone. And that’s only going to grow as millennials have kids. How do we meet the visitors where they are technologically instead of trying to bring them to where we want them to be?”

The process of discovery using technology mirrors the recreation of the warriors themselves, all of which were in pieces when they were found, broken by the deterioration of their underground home over two millenniums.

The exhibition, which also includes hundreds of associated artifacts from museums around China, aims to tell the story not only of how the emperor created his enormous retinue for the afterlife but how the figures were rebuilt despite the absence of any guide or template.

“They needed to sort the pieces of the armored officer from the pieces of the archer that might have been standing beside him, and they were all mixed together,” said Karen Elinich, the exhibition’s co-curator. “This is a monumental feat of archaeology and conservation.”

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Scholars have been able to infer what the figures would have been carrying by drawing conclusions based on rank and function, and by examining the position of the figures’ hands.

Credit
The Franklin Institute

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The curators say the embrace of this digital technology recognizes that museumgoers today, especially millennials and their children, want to use their phones to enhance the museum experience.

Credit
The Franklin Institute

Even though objects such as spears and swords had disappeared from the warriors’ grasp long before they were unearthed, scholars have been able to infer what the figures would have been carrying by drawing conclusions based on rank and function, and by examining the position of the figures’ hands, Ms. Elinich said.

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Archers, for example, would have held crossbows, while cavalrymen would have been made with one hand holding a horse’s reins, leaving the other free to hold a spear. In each case, scholarship has been used to inform the creation of the digital images.

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It’s the first time the museum has used augmented reality, to engage more visitors. The technology is part of a process that will eventually include Artificial Intelligence (AI), said Larry Dubinski, the institute’s president.

“Our goal is not only to show what this technology can do, but also what visitors can learn from it,” he said.

The exhibit, “Terracotta Warriors of the First Emperor,” opens Saturday and runs until March 4, 2018.

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