British Museum ponders 24-hour opening for terracotta warriors

Massive daily queues of people seeking a peek at China's famed terracotta warriors have prompted the British Museum to considering throwing open its doors for 24 hours a day.

Massive daily queues of people seeking a peek at China's famed terracotta warriors have prompted the British Museum to considering throwing open its doors for 24 hours a day.

Officials at the London museum already had high attendance expectations for its First Emperorexhibition, which opened in September, because of the record-setting 400,000 advance tickets it had sold.

Nearly all of the museum's allotted advance tickets for the show — billed as the largest exhibition of the Terracotta Army to be seen outside China — have now sold out.

More than two months after opening, staffers have noted that patrons have been queuing upfrom as early as 5:20 a.m. local time for a chance at the 500 time-sensitive tickets made available each day.

On average, the tickets are selling out by 11 a.m., the museum said in a statement.

"We were confident that the exhibition would excite the interest of the public, but the First Emperor has exceeded our expectations in every way," said museum director Neil MacGregor, according to the Daily Telegraph.

Officials said that if the high demand continues, the museum anticipates extending opening hours until midnight beginning after the Christmas holiday.

If demand to see the warrior statues continues to rise even then, the museum is looking at remaining open 24 hours a day prior to the exhibit's closing date of April 6.

The museum estimates the total visitor numbers for the show will eventually exceed 800,000 — more than twice its original estimate.

The First Emperor exhibit features dozens of artifacts and about 20 of the thousands of clay statues discovered in 1974 in the tomb of Chinese emperor Qin Shinhuang Di near Xi'an in China's Shaanxi province.

The British Museum's patrons have been enamoured with the display of the more than 2,000-year-old figures, which are positioned so visitors can stand nearly face-to-face with them.

Environmentalist masked 2 statues

This proximity allowed an environmentalist in mid-October to stage a protest by stepping over a museum barrier and tying surgical masks onto two of the warrior statues.

The masks bore the slogan "CO2 emission polluter" and were part of a protest against China's rising carbon dioxide emissions, according to protester Martin Wyness — who did not damage the statues but was ejected from the venue.

The First Emperor exhibition is now among the British Museum's most popular shows ever.

Currently, the top spot is held by the venue's 1972Tutankhamen exhibition, the first time the remains of the famed Egyptian pharaoh were shown in the U.K. It drew 1.7 million visitors.

A new Tutankhamen exhibition recently opened at London's O2 Centre, with organizers of that show anticipating attendance figures of about one million.