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Long-awaited Exhibit Comes to Houston

China’s first emperor rode with vast armies and conquered large territories surrounding the country. More than two thousand years later, the emperor’s grave site was found. Along with it, an underground vault containing an entire army of clay warriors meant to guard their leader into the afterlife. A sampling of that discovery is on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Pat Hernandez has more on the exhibit.



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The exhibit is called “Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China’s First Emperor”.  Many consider it the greatest archaeological find. Dirk Van Tuerenhaut is curator of anthropology at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

“We have nine warriors and additional pieces, like acrobats, full figures. We have 15 total. We also have a ceramic force. As you know, just about all them were broken, so we have a number of half reconstructed warriors, that’s just to show in what condition they are today. Also in terms of faces, what great variety there is that can be seen. We also have a very large display of two bronze carriages, or chariots. Those are replicas because the original ones are still in China — they’re too fragile. But, you still get an idea of what that looks like.”

In 1974, farmers digging a well stumbled onto the vast grave site of Emperor Qin She Hong, the warrior-king who united China. Archaeologists then unearthed a cavernous vault containing an entire army. Van Tuerenhaut thinks the exhibit will impress museum goers as it has him.

“The first impression I have when I saw the warriors is their size. That’s detail right away, but sometimes we say they’re life-size and life-like, and they are bigger than life. (alarm sounds). That’s the alarm going off. We have very high security protecting these. So, almost all of them are six feet to six and a half feet tall.”

He says their size was for the emperor’s protection.

“They’re all meant to accompany the emperor. The soldiers, to guard him against enemies in real life possibly, but also demons in the after life, but then we also have evidence that people were buried with him, like real-life human beings.”

Hernandez: “I guess this is testament to how great a man the first emperor of China was?”

Van Tuerenhaut: “As they say…it’s good to be the king, no?”

Van Tuerenhaut says the exhibit will give visitors a sense of how China became the country that it is today. The exhibit officially opens Friday, May 22nd. More information can be found at

Pat Hernandez, KUHF Houston Public Radio News.

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