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Terra Cotta Warriors Exhibit at Children’s Museum is Must-See History

With the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis practically in my backyard, sometimes I forget how lucky we are to have a world-class museum in our community. Then an exhibit like China’s Terra Cotta Warriors: The Emperor’s Painted Army takes up temporary residence at the museum and I remember. This is the kind of exhibit that gives me lots of information and leaves me wanting to learn more.

Terra Cotta Warriors exhibit

The Terra Cotta Army was built at the direction of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, in 210 BC who commissioned the figures to be built and buried to protect him in the afterlife. Amazingly, Qin Shi Huang was only 13 years old at the time. It took nearly 700,000 workers to build the clay army of 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots pulled by 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses. Each of the figures was brightly painted, though when the Emperor’s burial tomb was discovered by Chinese farmers in 1974, much of the paint was destroyed and the army was left shattered by a cave-in of the tomb’s ceiling.

Terra Cotta Warrior _ standing Terra Cotta Warrior painted as they might have been in 201 BCThe six Terra Cotta Warriors and one horse at the Children’s Museum are each displayed securely behind glass cases. Like all of the warriors constructed, the soldiers each have a different face, indicating the meticulous process that must have been used in the building of the army. In addition to the warriors, other burial artifacts, such as vases and ornamental birds, are on display.

The exhibit also includes a fascinating explanation of how archeologists work to preserve the paint that dries out just 15 seconds after the figures are dug up and how scientists were able to determine what the warriors looked like when they were first painted.

China’s Terra Cotta Warriors: The Emperor’s Painted Army is spread out over what amounts to about 7 rooms. Non-flash photography is allowed and encouraged. One of the things I appreciated most about the exhibit is the balanced mix of reading/viewing activities with hands-on learning opportunities. There is a large warrior to put together like a 3-D puzzle (similar to the ones in the “Treasures of the Earth” exhibit on the museum’s first level), a room that allows visitors to build a small clay army using molds, the use of iPads to explore the various faces of the warriors, and replicas of a bell and drum that kids (and grown-ups!) can make noise with.Clay molds at the Terra Cotta Warriors exhibit

The exhibit at the Children’s Museum is the only U.S. appearance of the warriors in 2014.  There is an additional fee for the tickets to the display, above the cost of museum admission (which is required). For museum members, the fee is only $2 for children and $4 for adults. Non-members pay $5 (ages 2-17), $10 (adult) or $7.50 (seniors). Because the entrance to the exhibit is timed, the number of people viewing the warriors is controlled, making for a better experience.

In my opinion, China’s Terra Cotta Warriors: The Emperor’s Painted Army is best for ages 6 and up. For those who prefer to have an adults-only experience, the Children’s Museum has scheduled two Terra Cotta Warriors After Dark events — July 18 and August 22 from 6:00-8:00pm.