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Rare Ancient Stele Removed from Three Gorges Dam Area
A 1,900-year-old stone stele has been rescued from being submerged in the huge reservoir of the Three Gorges dam project in Zhongxian county, southwest China's Chongqing municipality.

Archeologists completed securing the stele in a safe temple Thursday. Beside it are two other priceless ancient steles also removed from the designated reservoir area for China's gigantic water conservation project.

The 5.65-meter-high stele, dating from the East Han Dynasty (25-220 AD), is a unique kind of ancient invaluable monument named "Que" that was usually made in pairs. They stood, one to the left and one to the right, in front of Buddhist temples, palaces and tombs of nobles and senior officials.

This stele is believed to be a right-hand one, and is named "Wuming" in Chinese which means having no inscription on it.

There are five "Que" steles altogether in the county. Four comprise two pairs, one of which was moved to the same temple on Feb. 12 this year and the other will go on show in a new museum in the city of Chongqing as it is the most complete "Que" ever found in the country.

The "Que" steles represent one of the oldest and most imposing forms of stone monuments discovered in the country and many have valuable sculptures on them, said Wang Chuanping, deputy director of Culture Bureau of the Chongqing municipal government.

"We took a lot of trouble to move it to the new site, it was much harder than we had ever expected," said Zhang Caiyou, a leading archeologist in charge of the transfer.

The team had to build a simple access road to get a truck to the stele's original site to move the huge stone out.

Archeologists numbered the nine parts of the stele and wrapped each in foam sponge and blankets and then 2-cm-thick pieces of wood.

To avoid damaging the stele while transporting it, they cushioned a layer of sand 30 cm thick in the truck.

Another big headache problem occurred when the stele reached the temple, Zhang said. People could hardly move it up the 100 steps in front of the gate as the major body of the stele weighs four metric tons.

Specialists laid pieces of wood on the steps with logs under the stele parts and eventually "rolled" the nine heavy stones up the long stairway.

It took the archeologists full nine days from Jan. 6 to 14 to move all the stele pieces into the temple and then another month to re-assemble them.

"We have to work very hard so all the ancient cultural relics will be moved to safe havens before the reservoir is filled with water," Zhang said.

He and his colleagues will start to remove another piece of antiquity, the home of an ancient general who lived some 1,800 years ago, in Yunyang county at Chongqing. They have to finish the work by June 1 when filling the reservoir is due to begin.

(Xinhua News Agency February 21, 2003)

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