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History and Modern Technology Unite in China
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All those with an interest will be able to visit the world heritage Mogao Grottoes site in northwest China by simply clicking a computer mouse.

Over a period of five years starting in 2007 China will digitalize images of 170 of the finest Dunhuang grottoes. Of the images 147 are from the Mogao Grottoes and the rest from the Yulin Grottoes and Western Thousand Buddhas Caves.

Wang Xudong, deputy director of Dunhuang Academy, said high definition pictures of the grottoes, frescoes and colored sculptures would be taken. The three dimensional images would then be loaded onto an Internet database accessible to anyone.

Dunhuang Academy is the sole institute authorized to protect, research and manage the grotto treasures. Wang said the project was designed to protect and popularize the 1,600-year-old treasures and in particular the Mogao Grottoes.

Dunhuang became a major market on the Silk Road in the Tang Dynasty (618-907) period and is home to more than 800 grottoes. The Mogao Grottoes were added to the World Heritage List in 1987.

The number of people from China and abroad who visit the Dunhuang Grottoes is rising and will reach half a million this year when a new train service goes into operation and additional flights are scheduled to the city.

"The small grottoes are often packed with visitors and this poses a severe threat to the preservation of the frescoes and sculptures inside," said Wang. "That's why the 'Dunhuang Digital Program' was initiated."

Dunhuang Academy proposed the scheme in the early 1980s and subsequently reached a cooperation agreement with the US-based Andrew Mellon Foundation. The program now covers 20 grottoes.

"Decay of the artwork is almost inevitable but digital technology can provide a permanent library which can be used by both archaeologists and ordinary citizens," said Wang. "The 170 caves are like pearls on a crown and many of them are not open to visitors.

"In 2011 with a simple click of the mouse visitors will not only be able to appreciate the three dimensional artworks in the grottoes but learn about their age, preservation measures and inspect details that cannot be seen clearly in the dim light on the spot," added Wang.

The Academy's database would include cultural relics looted by foreign archaeologists in the early twentieth century. "With the help of over 10 collectors and museums at home and abroad we'll survey all the relics available on Dunhuang culture and turn them into digital documents," said Wang.

Zheng Binglin, director of the Dunhuang Studies Institute at northwestern Lanzhou University, felt the program would boost Dunhuang studies throughout the world. "It'll prompt more researchers to share their material and thus transform traditional research methods," Zheng said.


(Xinhua News Agency September 20, 2006)

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