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Feature Stories

No passport required to see China's Terra Cotta Warriors

Cindy Richards, Editor

You can head to a remote region of China to see the unearthed Terra Cotta Warriors, a recently discovered archeological wonder that has been dubbed the Eighth Wonder of the World. But it can be a grueling trip.

There's an easier way to see the ancient statues in 2014: Head to Indianapolis.

Eight of the warriors and 118 other relics are on display at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis through Nov. 2, 2014. It's the only venue in the United States where you can see the Terra Cotta Warriors this year.

Why a Children's Museum?

This is the second installment of The Children's Museum's "Take Me There" series (the first was a virtual trip to Egypt and King Tut). Four years in the making, this exhibit has two main components: the warriors themselves and a hands-on section that lets kids explore Chinese culture.

The warrior army, believed to be at least 2,200 years old, was created to guard the tomb of China's first emperor, Qin (pronounced Chin) Shi Huangdi. He is credited with uniting seven kingdoms under a single empire that would become known as China.

It is believed that soon after he took control in 246 B.C., the emperor ordered the construction of a huge tomb complex that would serve as his home in the afterlife. That included the creation of 8,000 life-sized baked clay soldiers, each with a unique face and hands, to be stationed in vast underground pits to protect him in the afterlife.

Only about 2,000 have been unearthed to date and the tomb itself remains underground. Chinese texts tell a story of rivers flowing with mercury, palace replicas, and the recreation of Xianyang, the capital when Qin lived.

Discovering the Terra Cotta Warriors

The massive archeological site near Xi'an China was discovered in 1974 by farmers digging a well in search of water.

Archeologists believe the clay statues were originally painted in vibrant colors. As they were exposed to air for the first time in two millennia, the paint flaked off. An educational component of the exhibit helps visitors explore the science behind the paint and learn about new technology that will be used to preserve the paint on Terra Cotta Warrior statues unearthed in the future.

When I visited, the Terra Cotta Warriors exhibit was a bigger draw for adults than kids—although there are interactive features, including a life-sized terra cotta warrior model that can be taken apart and rebuilt, costumes and replicas for photo ops, the opportunity to mold and make your own mini terra cotta soldiers, and some very loud ancient music instruments. (If you prefer to explore without the raucous presence of children, the museum is offering adults-only showings from 6-8pm Central time on June 27, July 18, and Aug. 22.)

The kids were having more fun across the hall in the "Take Me There: China" section, which will remain open after the warriors are packed up and sent home to China in November. That section lets kids (and adults) explore Chinese culture through the arts, music, language, transportation, housing, food, tea, calligraphy, ancient medicine, and cuddly giant pandas. It can get crowded and loud as the kids bang on Chinese instruments, learn martial arts, and get excited about Chinese culture.

Take Me There: China is included in the regular museum admission of $14.50 (ages 2-17), $19.50 (ages 18-59) and $18.50 (ages 60+). The Terra Cotta Warriors exhibit requires an additional ticket--$5 for kids, $10 for adults, and $7.50 for seniors.

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