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Terracotta soldiers march on

Where in the world would you expect to find a museum displaying exact replicas of ancient Chinese warriors? Try Dorchester, says Jill Craven

When you walk into the Terracotta Warriors Museum, it's the size that hits you. Not of the Georgian museum, but that of the nine terracotta warriors exhibited within.

Here are life-size replicas of clay soldiers from the 2,000-year-old army that guards the tomb of China's first emperor - Qin Shi Huangdi - and most of them stand an imposing six feet tall (1.8m). The figures of a longbowman, a calvaryman, a charioteer, four crossbowmen, an unarmoured warrior and an officer are authentic in size and detail, says curator, Tim Batty.

The attention to detail is fascinating: the faces of the individuals, the rivets on the armour, the different top-knots, the kerchiefs, even the tread pattern on the shoes of the kneeling warriors. No wonder it took 700,000 labourers 36 years to make the original 8,000 figures.

The huge army was discovered in Xian in 1974 when farmers digging a well broke into the pit containing the figures guarding Qin Shi Huangdi's tomb.

This find - considered to be the eighth wonder of the world - has been followed by the discovery of two more pits.

The Dorchester museum opened last July to house this, the only permanent display of replicas outside China. They were made by Chinese technicians who had worked on the original excavation, using similar clay, and the same casts and firing process. Like the originals, the figures, which have solid legs but are hollow above the waist, weigh about 300kg. They have been painted in original colours too, now authentically fading.

So how did these figures end up in Dorchester? They arrived in Britain about eight years ago as part of a temporary exhibition, and, after being split up for appearances in Hampton Court and Edinburgh, were reunited by World Heritage in Dorchester.

The exhibition is best suited to pupils at key stages 2 and 3; teachers should allow about 90 minutes for a visit. As well as the warriors, there are reconstructions of costumes and armour, and a diplay of the Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi in all his gaudy finery. A 40-minute video explains his life and his quest for eternal life.

The museum is open daily from 10am-5.30pm, except in November to March, when it opens from 10am-4.30pm. School groups are limited to 40 pupils at a time. Prices: pound;2.25 for 15 or more. One adult is admitted free for every 10 pupils. Extra adults: pound;2.50. Worksheets are available in advance. The Terracotta Warriors Museum, High East Street, Dorchester, Dorset DT1 1JU. Tel: 01305 266040; School bookings: 01305 269741; email: info@terracottawarriors.co.uk; www.terracottawarriors.co.uk. School groups wishing to visit the Tutankhamun Exhibition or the Dinosaur Museum, also located in Dorchester, can buy joint tickets for pound;4 per pupil

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