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Mogao Grottoes to Go Online in 2011

Archaeologists as well as ordinary people will be able to visit the world heritage Mogao Grottoes site in northwest China by simply clicking the computer mouse in 2011.


China will digitize images of 170 of the finest Dunhuang grottoes over a period of five years starting 2007. One hundred and forty-seven will be from the Mogao Grottoes and the rest from the Yulin Grottoes and Western Thousand Buddhas Caves.


Wang Xudong, deputy director of Dunhuang Academy, said the academy will take high definition pictures of the grottoes and the frescoes and colored sculptures inside and load three dimensional images onto an Internet database accessible to every one.


Dunhuang Academy is the sole institute authorized to protect, research and manage the Dunhuang grotto treasures.


Wang said the move is designed to protect and popularize the 1,600-year-old grotto treasures in Dunhuang, particularly the Mogao Grottoes.


Dunhuang became a major market on the Silk Road in the Tang Dynasty (618-907) period and is home to more than 800 grottoes. The Mogao Grottoes were added to the World Heritage List in 1987.


The number of travelers from China and abroad who visit the Dunhuang Grottoes is on the rise and will reach half a million this year once a new train service goes into operation and more flights are scheduled to the city.


"The small grottoes are often packed with visitors, which poses a severe threat to the preservation of the frescoes and sculptures inside," said Wang. "That's why we initiated the 'Dunhuang Digital Program'."


Dunhuang Academy proposed the program in the early 1980s, and subsequently reached a cooperation agreement with the U.S.-based Andrew Mellon Foundation. The program now covers 20 grottoes.


"Decay of the artwork is almost inevitable, but digital technology can provide a permanent library which can be used by both archaeologists and ordinary citizens."


"The 170 caves are like pearls on a crown, and many of them are not open to visitors," said Wang.


"In 2011, with a simple click of the mouse, visitors will not only be able to appreciate the three dimensional artworks in the grottoes, but learn about their age, about preservation measures and inspect details that cannot be seen clearly in the dim light on the spot."


Wang added that the academy's database will include cultural relics looted by foreign archaeologists in the early twentieth century.


"With the help of over ten collectors and museums at home and abroad, we will survey all the relics available on Dunhuang culture and turn them into digital documents."


Zheng Binglin, director of the Dunhuang Studies Institute at northwestern Lanzhou University, said the program will boost Dunhuang Studies throughout the world.


"It will prompt more researchers to share their research materials and thus transform traditional research methods," Zheng said.


(Xinhua News Agency September 20, 2006)


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