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Wellington gets the chance to dig dug-up warriors

Eight full-sized 2300-year-old Chinese terracotta warriors will come to Wellington in a major exhibition at Te Papa this summer.

Standing archer (detail), Qin dynasty (221–206 BC), Pottery, height 184cm. Excavated from Pit 2, Qin Shihuang tomb complex, 1978. Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum, 002816. Photo: © Mr. Ziyu Qiu

The exhibition, Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality: 秦始皇兵马俑:永恒的守卫, is the largest of its kind to visit New Zealand since 1986, and will open from 15 December in Toi Art at Te Papa on Level 4, to 22 April 2019.

Tickets to the exhibition went on sale on Sunday.

Geraint Martin, Te Papa’s Chief Executive, is delighted that New Zealanders will get this rare opportunity to see these unique imperial icons at the national museum.

“We’ve created this exhibition to bring the internationally acclaimed terracotta warriors to New Zealand, treasures that many wouldn’t otherwise get a chance to see,” he said.

For more than 2000 years, an underground army secretly guarded the tomb of Qin Shihuang, China’s First Emperor. They were discovered by chance in 1974 by a farmer digging a well and have come to be regarded as one of the greatest archaeological finds of the twentieth century. It is estimated that there are 8000 soldiers in total, with approximately 3000 having been excavated to date.

Terracotta soldiers of this kind have not been seen in New Zealand since the Two Emperors: China’s Ancient Origins exhibition at the Auckland Art Gallery in 2003, which included artefacts and treasures from China’s Shaanxi archaeological treasure house.

A larger exhibition in 1986, The Buried Army of Qin Shihuang, was shown at Auckland Art Gallery and Christchurch Art Gallery, and included nine terracotta warriors, two horses, and 22 associated pieces.

Te Papa’s exhibition will feature two full-sized horses and eight full-size warriors from the famous terracotta army: an armoured general, an unarmoured general, two armoured military officers, a kneeling archer, a standing archer, an unarmoured infantryman and a civil official. There will also be two half-size replica bronze chariots, each drawn by four horses.

The life-size, life-like terracotta figures will be presented in context alongside treasures from imperial tombs in and around China’s ancient capital, Xi’an. Terracotta Warriors includes more than 160 works of ancient Chinese art crafted from gold, jade and bronze, which date from the Western Zhou through to the Han dynasties (1046 BC to 220AD).

Dr Rebecca Rice, curator of the exhibition, visited the First Emperor’s mausoleum in Xi’an and was astounded by the power the site has over its vast numbers of visitors each year.

“At Te Papa, we’re offering visitors an immersive and intimate experience, a chance to see the terracotta warriors up close in breath-taking detail. You can really appreciate the individuality of each warrior and the incredible creativity and sophistication it would have taken to build this remarkable army.”

“The exhibition will also provide visitors with a deeper understanding of the First Emperor’s vision and his unification of China, shaping the nation as we know it today,” said Dr Rice.

Terracotta Warriors will be supported by an extensive programme of free cultural events, including Chinese New Year Celebrations in collaboration with Wellington City Council.

The exhibition will be central to the 2019 China-New Zealand Year of Tourism activity.

Te Papa has developed the $2.6 million landmark exhibition with support of up to $500,000 from the Major Events Development Fund, administered by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment.

“Based on our latest audience research we estimate that 100,000 people will take this special opportunity to see the authentic terracotta warriors in person, generating an estimated $33 million economic benefit to Wellington,” says Geraint Martin.

Tickets to Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality are on sale now, with eight hourly start times every day from 15 December to 22 April (excluding Christmas Day and 9 April). Adult tickets are $19:50, children 3-15 years are $9:00, with concession tickets and family passes available.

For more information please see