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Preservation & Technology!

September 2014

Throughout China with the massive increases in tourist traffic both international and domestic, there are artifacts and sacred sites that are being damaged, often irreparably so by the sheer numbers of visitors.

There is always a balancing act between access and preservation, because if access is too limited then sites lose their draw card, but if it is too open, then there will be a finite lifespan to these sites. The Terra Cotta Warriors in Xian, was an example of how this problem was approached decades ago when China was just opening up. When the excavated warriors were exposed to the environment, the paints rapidly deteriorated leaving them ?plain earth? as we see them today. The response was to re-bury the majority of the warriors, preserving them for future generations.

In Dunhuang China at the Magao Grottoes we are now experiencing the future in terms of getting the best out of our technology and combining this with the incredible historical sites that China has to offer.

The Magao Grottoes are a system of rock cut caves that contain some of the finest examples of Buddhist art in the world. Where once over 1000 existed, 492 remain today with the oldest dating back to the Northern Wei Dynasty (385-557). This UNESCO heritage listed site has received over 5 million visitors in the past decade and the mixture of moisture and carbon dioxide from these visitors has seen significant impact on this historical resource.

In order to preserve the Caves as best as possible, but also to maintain the interest in the site, the Digital Display Centre of the Magao Grottoes opened on August 1st 2014. Using the latest digital mapping and imaging technology these caves have been re-created in a 3D digital format. Visitors to the center are not only inspired with recreations of the desert journeys on the silk road but with 3D digital imagery of the caves that shows them as they would have been when they were made between 385 and about 1600 AD.

This is combined with visits to a very limited number of caves. The visits to these caves are based on a rotation system that allows for the careful maintenance and preservation of these caves. Visitors now get the best of both worlds. A view of this ancient wonder in its desert landscape as it once was as well as the ethereal emotions that you have when you visit the actual sites

The Chinese are not stopping at the Magao Grottoes with similar sites planned all over China. These will include sites such as the Potala Palace in Tibet and may also be considered for parts of the Forbidden City that have been closed to the public for the purpose of preservation.

So the marriage of technology and history can be a very positive one in respect to preserving and enhancing our historical monuments and sites.


For more information, please contact Brian Yin at

Statue of Buddha - As it would have been

Terracotta Clay Warriors, Xian

Yungang Grottoes

The Digital Centre - Keeping with the Desert Landscape

A Journey into the Caves

Statue of Buddha

Silk Road Journeys