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China's ancient terracotta warriors touch down in Wellington for exhibition

A group of ancient warriors have landed in New Zealand after completing a 10,000-kilometre journey from their home in Xi'an, China.

It's believed these warriors have never been on New Zealand soil, although fellow members of their infantry have visited twice before, first in 1986.

For the next five months, their home will be at Wellington's Te Papa national museum, with the public able to visit from December 15.

Exhibition curator Rebecca Rice told 1 NEWS: "It's really a once-in-a-generation opportunity to see these ancient archaeological wonders. They're 2300 years old; they don't leave the country, they don't come to New Zealand very often".

Ms Rice said she wants the public to be "wowed" by the eight larger-than-life terracotta soldiers and two full-size horses.

"The warriors remained undiscovered for about 2000 years after the death of the first emperor [Qin Shi Huang], so in 1974, some peasants digging a well 1.5 kilometres from the emperor's tomb mound came across some shards of pottery and they didn't know quite what they'd found.

"But they notified the authorities and an archaeologist jumped on his bike and raced out there and realised it was a significant find."

Most of the soldiers are broken, with on-site conservators tasked with "putting this jigsaw puzzle back together" and binding them, Ms Rice said.

The terracotta warriors will call Wellington's Te Papa home for five months. Source: 1 NEWS

The soldiers' bright colours disintegrate quickly once they're excavated, with work ongoing to find a way to keep the paint preserved.

While the emperor's mausoleum has never been excavated, approximately 3000 of the terracotta soldiers tasked with guarding his tomb have been, with an estimated total of 8000.

Securing the artefacts' visit has been a long journey, with trips between the two countries by Te Papa staff and the Shaanxi History Museum staff part of the two-year negotiation process.

The exhibition has cost $2.6 million, with $500,000 being funded by the Government.

The items were transported to New Zealand by plane in large boxes with the soldiers' official guardian keeping a watchful eye.

Shaanxi History Museum's Zhang Zheng said, "I'm very worried about everything, because I'm project manager from part of China I really hope that not any damage happens but it's very difficult actually - it's very difficult".

Zhang Zheng has travelled to more than 20 countries with the warriors, with exhibitions being held in South Africa to Japan, Belgium to the United States.

"I'm very honoured to be a guard of the Terracotta army because the Terracotta army is very famous in the world and also it's a representative of the ancient China heritage."

With Wellington posing an earthquake hazard, Te Papa mountmakers have created mounts that go around the waist of each soldier that would transfer movement towards the ground during seismic activity.

Mountmaker Callum Strong said, "We have to consider the height, their size, their toppling point".

Working close to the ancient pieces, Mr Strong said he's been struck by the individuality of each warrior.

"You start to appreciate the finer details - the print on the bottom of the sandal, the comb lines through the hair, the individual expressions on their faces - and that's when you start to connect with the artistry of the people and perhaps even their personality a long, long time ago," he said.

"We can never attempt to replicate the spectacle of being in Xi'an - that's a very different experience, so with the parameters around the exhibition-making we have, we're really focusing on that intimate to close-up look," Ms Rice said.

The exhibition also includes replica bronze chariots drawn by horses and more than 160 items from various Chinese imperial tombs.

The oldest artefact in the collection is a 3000-year-old bronze tiger created during the Western Zhou dynasty.

"Every time I look at it, I just imagine the thinking that went into creating such a work of beauty such a long time ago," she said.

Te Papa expects 100,000 people to view the exhibition bringing in an estimated $33 million to the local economy.

Te Papa Museum will be hosting the famous figures for Kiwis to see. Source: 1 NEWS