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Cultural relics may be inundated for lack of funds
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Phase I relic excavations at Liaowa site  

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 archeological field.
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 forever.   
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 remain undone.

"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 endeavors.   

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 investors. 

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 unprecedented troubles.

"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 flooded. 

( by Zhang Ming'ai, November 30, 2007)

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