China's 1,600-Year-Old Dunhuang Frescoes Enter the Digital Age
By Eugene Tang
May 30 (Bloomberg) -- The frescoes of China's Dunhuang caves
on the ancient Silk Road have survived 1,600 years of sandstorms,
wars and Mao Zedong's red guards. Now, caretakers are turning to
computers to save them from half a million tourists a year.
Dunhuang was a trade hub on the Silk Road during the Sui
Dynasty (581-618) and Tang Dynasty (618-907), when caravans
bearing Chinese tea and silk for Persia and Europe stopped at its
oases. The area was also a religious center, where the aesthetics
of Buddhism, Islam, Tibetan sects, Sogdian and Tangut cultures
were displayed in clay sculptures and cave murals.
The Dunhuang digital archive will include images from the
caves as well as frescoes and scriptures from the area that now
reside in the world's museums, including the British Library.
To contact the reporter on this story:
Eugene Tang in Mogao, China on
Tourists are not the only threat to the relics. Caretakers have been working since 1989 with Los Angeles-based Getty Research Institute to preserve 16 large sutras in cave 85, a chamber commissioned in 867 depicting the life stories of King Divi before he reached enlightenment to become the Buddha.
The murals, painted in mineral and plant dye over plaster, have been peeling away from their bedrock because of increasing moisture and mineral salts that crystallize from seeping rain water, Fan said in the April 30 interview.
There are a total of 812 caves along a 1.7 kilometer (1 mile) of cliff face, hewn into the sandstone of the Mingsha Mountains in the Gobi desert. The Mogao caves were designated in 1991 as a World Cultural Heritage Site by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Tourists to Mogao reached 550,000 last year, from about 200,000 in 1998.
``I'm sure we'll easily top the 2006 numbers this year,'' said Fan, 68. ``The numbe