Phase I relic excavations at Liaowa
The vast treasure house of ancient cultural relics buried under
the Danjiangkou Reservoir, the source of the central route of the
south to north water diversion project, might be flooded and lost
forever due to slow rescue efforts, Xinhua reported today.
According to the General Protection Plan of the Cultural Relics
in the Central Route of the South to North Water Diversion Project
formulated in 2004, rescuing cultural relics in the central route
of the south to north water diversion project involves 247 cultural
relic sites. There are only three years left before the initial
water storage begins operations in 2010. The countdown to rescue of
cultural relics has started.
"Yunxian County of Danjiangkou alone has thousands of ancient
tombs, mostly dating to the Spring-Autumn and Warring States period
(770-221 BC), the Western and Eastern Han Dynasties (206 BC-222)
and the Six Dynasties (222-589). It is hard to imagine how tough
and urgent the relic rescue task really is," said Li Taoyuan, vice
director of Hubei Archeology Institute.
After a comprehensive investigation into the central route of
the south to north water diversion project in early November Xinhua
found that although the cultural relic excavation job began in
2004, more than half of the rescue time has already lapsed with
merely less than one third of the rescue task completed. The slow
process is extremely worrying.
The Beitai Mountain Temple, located in Yunxian County in
Danjingkou, boasts the largest and most influential tomb
groups dating to the Chu Kingdom Period during the Warring States
period in this area. Large pits containing buried carts and horses
were unearthed earlier in 1999. This discovery shocked the entire
The Beitai Mountain Temple tomb groups consist of more than 1,000
ancient tombs in total. Only 300 of them have been rescued; several
thousand bronzes, jades and porcelain articles have been unearthed.
The Danjiangkou Reservoir area has many ancient tomb groups, such
as the Beitai Mountain Temple located near the water. As the water
storage date approaches -- if no timely excavation efforts are
made, these tombs will be inundated and buried under water
Yin Jin, director of the Danjiangkou Cultural Heritage Bureau, told
Xinhua that Danjiankou City alone has 47 cultural relic sites, thus
accounting for nearly 30 percent of the total excavation area.
Currently only 14 cultural relic sites, accounting for less than
one third of the total relic sites, have been initially excavated.
More than 20,000 bronzes, jades and porcelain articles have been
unearthed over the past three years. Experts predict that a
stunning 100,000 cultural relics might be retrieved from the
Danjiangkou Reservoir area alone.
The Liaowa site of Yunxian, Hubei, located along the Hanjiang
River, has a 16,000 square meter excavation perimeter. This site
records all of Chinese history -- from the Xia (2100-1600 BC) and
Shang (1600-1100 BC) dynasties all the way to modern times. Yet the
excavation work there has stopped and no further excavation plans
have been made. China's long and magnificent history might be
buried eternally under water.
Zhou Xingming, director of the Yunxian Cultural Heritage Bureau,
said that Yunxian has a total of 105 cultural relic sites,
encompassing up to 40 percent of the total excavation area.
Twenty-two sites have begun rescue efforts; 14 sites have finished
their rescue endeavors; 78 sites haven't yet started any
underground excavations; 5 sites have not yet moved excavated
cultural relics to safe places. Thus, only 20 percent of the total
retrieval tasks have been fulfilled to date. Many tough jobs still
"If the cultural relic excavation cannot be accomplished before
water storage it would be to the great regret of the south to north
water diversion project, as well as a loss for the evolutionary
history of human civilization," said Li Taoyuan.
To Xinhua's surprise, despite the pressing time limit,
previously busy excavation work to rescue cultural relics has
stopped before the next flood season: all related cultural relic
rescue projects have ended their rescuing efforts and archeologist
teams have withdrawn.
Yin Jin said that the period before and after the flood season
of the Hanjiang River is the best time to rescue cultural relics.
But due to a shortage of funds, many archeological institutions
have been forced to give up their excavation efforts before the
flood season started; hence, they lost a good chance to retrieve
cultural relics. After the flood season, since adequate funds are
still not yet in place, another opportunity to rescue cultural
relics is likely to be wasted.
In order to seize an excavation opportunity and reduce any
possible conflict between the excavations and the water transfer
project, the Hubei Archeology Institute and the Beijing Cultural
Relic Institute, along with more than 20 other cultural heritage
protection institutions, recently left to excavate cultural relics
in the Danjiangkou Reservoir area. Many of these institutions have
to raise funds or borrow money to finance their excavation efforts.
Currently most of them are strapped financially and unable to
continue their rescue work.
"The cultural heritage protection plan that was submitted long
ago has not yet been approved and the funds are not in place. We
cannot carry on our excavation efforts." "The time to transfer
water has been decided, we cannot afford to delay the excavation
work any longer before the water storage transfer begins." Various
archeological institutions complained at the excavation sites.
Zhou Xingming, director of the Yunxian Cultural Heritage Bureau,
said that the lack of funds is the major obstacle toward excavating
cultural relics. The Hubei Cultural Heritage Bureau, archeological
institutions and local governments have invested tens of million of
yuan to rescue these cultural relics but the state has only
allocated a little over 6 million yuan (US$812,788) toward rescue
efforts. Most archeological institutions are now running short of
money. Among them is the Hubei Archeology Institute; it alone has
invested more than 10 million yuan (US$ 1.35 billion) in rescue
According to an investigation, the water diversion project was
funded by the state, local governments and enterprises. Cultural
heritage protection expenses are actually categorized and included
in the total project cost. But because cultural heritage protection
expenses are listed as public welfare expenses, with regard to the
quantity of cultural relics to be retrieved and the funds allocated
toward the excavations, some divergences exist among different
In the meantime, this delayed rescue has offered thieves a
golden opportunity. Many cultural relics have been excavated
illegally. Moreover, the cultural relic protection has experienced
"Even worse, now we have time to excavate the cultural relics
but we don't have enough money; in the future we will not have
enough time to finish the excavation even if we have enough money,"
Yang Xiaorui, curator of the Danjiangkou Museum said.
Experts assert that, according to the present speed, the
excavation work cannot catch up the water storage schedule for the
Danjiang Dam. This huge treasure house is in danger of being
(China.org.cn by Zhang Ming'ai, November 30, 2007)