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We should hold our horses
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We shouldn't rush to finish the third excavation of the warriors and horses in Xi'an. Technically, it is a difficult operation that should be left to future generations, says an article in Oriental Morning Post. Excerpts:

The Terracotta Warriors and Horses Museum in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, recently started its third, large-scale excavation. Unlike the last two, the current exploration, which is expected to go on for five years, will be carried out right before the eyes of visitors and media.

Many are worried that this excavation may negatively impact the archeological treasures in the absence of proper unearthing and preservation skills and techniques. Some people say that we should probably postpone the excavation to a time when we are better equipped with more mature techniques.

Archeological excavation is an art full of pitfalls. Not all relics unearthed can be kept intact because there could be unexpected twists and turns during the process. During the second excavation, archeologists unearthed plenty of colorful warriors and horses. But they didn't expect that the colors would disappear on coming into contact with air, as had happened. They also found that they couldn't preserve well some relics made of cotton, bamboo and wood.

We don't know whether we are any better prepared now to excavate the relics. But, we find that the environment in which the museum is located falls far below world-class standards for preservation of cultural relics. According to reports, emissions from the surrounding factories are threatening the safety of the terracotta warriors and horses. Although the government has helped build a green belt of about 200 hectares around the museum to improve the ambient air quality, there is much that remains to be done.

The current excavation under full public glare has a worldwide audience. Although the excavation has the nod of top cultural relics regulators, it is doubtful if we have the patience and wisdom for the process. In the event of coming across any technical problems or man-made damage to the relics, we should stop the excavation and wait for competent solutions.

Our Western counterparts have showed us that there is no urgency to complete the excavation of the relics and rush to tell the whole story of the relics as what has been unearthed so far discloses only a small part of a much bigger story. They believe that one day in the future people may have better ways to tell the story.

(China Daily June 17, 2009)

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