They really are extraordinary. For anyone who hasn't heard of them, the Terracotta Army is a literal army of life-sized terracotta statues of soldiers, horses, musicians, servants, clerks and god only knows what else, which was buried with the Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi -China's first Emperor - in about 210 BC. They were discovered in the mid-1970s by farmers digging a well and now, as I said, in the region of 7,000 statues have been dug up. I remember seeing a story about them on the news when they were discovered, but the chances of ever seeing them in the flesh seemed kind of remote, but the Chinese government has allowed a small selection of them out of the country, for the first time, I think, and the British Museum is running an exhibition of them until early next year.
In anticipation of public interest, entry is by timed ticket - you buy one to go in during a certain time-slot - and tonight at ten to eight was about the only convenient one we could get this year.
And I'm glad we did. They've got maybe a dozen soldier statues, a couple of musicians, some horses, and they're startlingly detailed. All the statues have different faces. Even the horses have individual expressions.
But what really blew my mind wasn't in the exhibition at all. The Terracotta Army was found buried near Qin's tomb, which is under a whacking great artificial hill. Apparently, there is a mausoleum structure inside this hill, and according to one historian of the time the mausoleum attempted to recreate China - I'm presuming this means a map of the country at the time of Qin's death - with rivers and other bodies of water represented by mercury and with a `sky' studded with pearls for stars.
I say `apparently' because this hill has never been excavated, and may never be, out of deference to Qin, who presumably is in there somewhere. It's been examined by passive means, and intriguingly the mercury level in the soil is fairly colossal.
Imagine that. The Terracotta Army is a work to bend the mind, and it was just put there to guard Qin in his eternal realm. The things actually inside the tomb must be beyond belief. A world of wonders buried beneath a hill in China. And nobody wants to dig it up.