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Terracotta Warriors

As the fragile Chinese soldiers return to Britain for the first time in a decade, Alice Barnes-Brown finds out what we can expect from the exciting exhibition at World Museum, Liverpool
SOLDIER OF FORTUNE One of the exhibition’s star attractions is this life-size armoured infantryman

Somewhere beneath the beautiful mountains of Shaanxi Province, in central China, stand thousands of imposing (albeit very fragile) warrior statues, made purely of terracotta. For more than 2,000 years, they have been keeping watch, silently guarding the tomb of their master. Some have picked up a few war wounds over time, but the army remains extraordinarily well preserved.

Constructed in their thousands, these clay figures were intended to protect the first emperor of unified China, Qin Shi Huang, in the eternal afterlife. When he died in 210 BC, he was buried in a massive subterranean complex, the largest burial site on Earth. When built, this forbidden palace and city was shrouded in secrecy, so that only legends of the Emperor’s tomb and his terracotta army survived the ages, as nature took its course and reclaimed the site.

That was until 1974. As a group of peasant farmers were digging a well, their shovels struck gold – or rather, terracotta. They discovered the head of a battle-ready warrior and some arrowheads. The farmers immediately reported their crucial find to the authorities. Archaeologists were dispatched to the site and set to work rebuilding these unique figurines.

In the years since the discovery, some of the warriors have travelled the world and delighted crowds. In 2018, ten figures, each totally unlike the other, go on display in Liverpool. The blockbuster exhibition China’s First Emperor and the Terracotta Warriors at the World Museum will be the first time in a decade that the warriors have been to Britain. Visitors can walk through this period in ancient Chinese history, guided by the artefacts and a series of atmospheric audio-visual displays.

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About BBC History Revealed Magazine

In this month’s issue… Alexander the Great Find out how the Greek warrior’s insatiable appetite for conquest built an empire that stretched over three continents. Plus: the Terracotta Warriors; the tragic tale of the man behind the Beatles; Top 10 secret societies and the most historically accurate film.