Terracotta Warrior Head Replication

The re-creation of a missing head for a collection of three Terracotta Warriors using 3D scanning, 3D printing and traditional conservation finishing techniques.

  • Scanning Warrioir heads

    Scanning Warrioir heads

  • 3D printing new head

    3D printing new head

  • Testing finishes to match the originals

    Testing finishes to match the originals

  • Two original heads and one 3D printed with finishes applied by our conservation team

    Two original heads and one 3D printed with finishes applied by our conservation team

The team at Lincoln were engaged to restore a trio of full-size, museum-grade Terracotta Warrior replicas, one of which had suffered the loss of its head. “Of course replicating the head through a traditional process of casting, moulding and surface finishing would have been possible. But the owner was very keen to investigate with us whether an amalgamation of old and new techniques would work,” revealed Phillipa McDonnell who worked on the Warriors. Phillipa went on to explain that this approach was very much sympathetic to the production of the original Terracotta Warriors – scientific research by Universities worldwide has found that the army was manufactured through an impressive combination of cutting-edge technologies and ancient skills.

The greatest challenge of the Terracotta Warrior replication was also rooted in the extraordinary attention to detail of the original undertaking – every Warrior’s face is unique. To overcome this, the heads of the two other examples from the set were scanned using handheld scanners, before experts from the University remodelled the digital files using CAD applications, merging elements from the two heads, and creating a unique face for the third Warrior. The new digital render was then 3D printed on-site at the University and finished by Conservators, who were able to achieve a surface finish to match the other figures using traditional pigments and their artistic retouching skills. The results were displayed at a Symposium exhibition at the University of Lincoln in September 2015.

Though the Terracotta Warriors were owned by a private client, and not displayed in a museum setting, they were cared for in the same ethical manner as any historic object. The team at Lincoln believe in minimal intervention and the 3D scanning process means minimal handling. Taking a cast of an original object would involve applying a moulding medium to the surface of the object, the technique the Lincoln team used on the Warriors meant that this wasn’t necessary.