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Archeologists Race Against Time at Three Gorges
Archeological task forces armed with little scoops and brushes are sweating away in southwest China, racing against the clock to rescue cultural relics facing submersion under the Three Gorges Reservoir.

These special forces, consisting of archeologists from two thirds of China's archeological institutions, have turned the reservoir area into the world's biggest archeological worksite.

"It is unprecedented in China's history of cultural relics salvation," said Qiao Liang, who is one of the policymakers defining the cultural relics rescue program.

"The investment and people engaged in cultural relics salvation by the Central Government have surpassed any other hydro-electric project in the world," said Qiao, who was summoned more than 1,000 kilometers from Beijing to the Three Gorges area.

The archeologists have been busy excavating cultural relics in recent weeks. The sluice gate of the Three Gorges dam is set to close on June 1 when the water level will start to rise rapidly to a planned altitude of 135 meters in 15 days.

By the end of last year, China had allocated more than 300 million yuan (US$36 million) in special funds to excavate and protect cultural relics in Three Gorges Reservoir area.

More than 7,000 archeological experts, academics and technicians from across the country are racing against time to protect the centuries-old legacy of their ancestors.

The artifacts include prehistoric cultural relics dating back to the Old Stone Age more than two million years ago, cultural sites of ancient dynasties from the Xia Dynasty (21st Century BC to 16th Century BC) to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Some nine million square meters of the reservoir area had been prospected by April, and more than 6,000 precious cultural items and 600,000 other cultural heritage items recovered.

"Our excavation work in the Three Gorges Reservoir area is about 10 times the amount of that during ordinary times," said Huang Wei, an archeological professor at Chengdu-based Sichuan University.

China began its cultural relic salvation work in the reservoir area in 1992 when a protection and rescue program were framed, with a total investment reaching one billion yuan (US$120 million).

The annual investment in the Three Gorges cultural relics by the central government was about the same allocated to the country 's other major cultural relics combined, according to Shao Weidong, an official in charge of Three Gorge cultural relics management, in Chongqing, where lies most of the reservoir's submerged area.

"That means the cultural relics rescue efforts in the reservoir area are enjoying the same treatment as top state treasures," Shao said.

With the clock still clicking, many advanced modern technologies have been introduced to the prospecting and excavation, including remote sensing, ground-penetrating radar and global positioning technologies.

The excavation of the cultural relics buried below the 135-meter water level has been completed on schedule. Plan is on the drawing board to salvage other cultural relics after the raising of the water level.

Construction on the Three Gorges Project began in 1993 and is expected to be completed in 2009, when 632 square kilometers of land will be submerged.

(Xinhua News Agency June 2, 2003)

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