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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 August 2007, 19:51 GMT 20:51 UK
China's Terracotta Army on the move
By Quentin Sommerville
BBC News, Xian

The terracotta warriors
Each statue was individually crafted more than 2,000 years ago
Emperor Qin Shihuang's army is on the move. Some of China's terracotta warriors are being loaned for a major exhibition at the British Museum in London.

Hiromi Kinoshita, the curator of the exhibition, said visitors were likely to be surprised by the exhibition, which will include a dozen statues and other artefacts

"What many people may not realise is that excavations have continued, and there are new, recent discoveries of fabulous life-size terracotta acrobats, civil officials, bronze birds, and of stone arms. It's these new discoveries that we would like to concentrate on," she said.

She was overseeing the packing of the last of the artefacts in Xian.

Part of the terracotta army - life-sized sculptures of warriors and horses
There are new, recent discoveries of fabulous life-size terracotta acrobats, civil officials, bronze birds, and of stone arms
Hiromi Kinoshita
Exhibition curator
The museum has refitted its famous reading room for the exhibition and has already sold 30,000 tickets.

Museum staff hope it may even rival the success of the Tutankhamen show of the 1970s. They are considering opening the exhibit 24 hours-a-day to meet demand.

The Terracotta Army is 8,000 strong. Each statue is unique and was individually crafted in 221BC.

The army was meant to protect the emperor in the afterlife. The figures are larger than life - and would originally have been painted in bright colours. But 2,000 years underground mean the paint has disappeared.

The detailing on the warriors is so fine, it is possible to identify which part of China the soldiers came from.

Emperor Qin Shihuang was the first emperor to unify China. The exhibition will feature the weights and measures and coins he introduced across the country.

Chance discovery

The warriors were forgotten by history, and only rediscovered in 1974.

Yang Peiyan and some other farmers were working in the fields.

"Back at that time we villagers were digging a well because of the drought, after three metres down we hit something, the fragments turned out to be a terracotta warrior," he said.

Realising the fragments were important - and valuable - he contacted local officials.

China has a rating system for its Xian artefacts. Unprecedented numbers of first class objects - which come from within the emperor's tomb - are being loaned for the exhibition.

"They are packed in special crates," said Ms Kinoshita.

"The horses especially are very fragile - they're suspended in the crates. We're having to ship everything over in four consignments."

The exhibition at the British museum will run for six months, beginning on 13 September.

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