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Critical Moment for Saving Cultural Relics at Three Gorges

CHONGQING, June 19 -- The excavation of relics at the Three Gorges of the Yangtze River, the largest-scale rescue of cultural heritage in Chinese history, has entered a critical moment at present.

In order to save the most important cultural relics before the first-stage water storage of the Three Gorges Dam in June 2003, over 1,000 archaeologists gathered in the reservoir area, working day and night.

The archaeologists include those from over two-thirds of China' s cultural relics institutes, research organs, universities and departments which are qualified to conduct excavation, as well as retired gray-haired scholars and foreign experts.

The excavation area at the Three Gorges in 2000 exceeded 200, 000 square meters.

"This is not only the construction site of world's largest water conservation project, but also site of world's largest archaeological project," said Chinese archaeologist Qiao Liang, " Certainly, all the important heritage will be saved in time."

Qiao earlier took part in the making of cultural relics rescue plan at the Three Gorges. In regards to the urgency of the project, the Chinese government earmarked over 100 million yuan (12 million U.S. dollars) every year to save relics in the region, equivalent to the total annual funds used in protecting all other important cultural relics across China. All together, the investment in saving and protecting cultural relics at the Three Gorges will total over 1 billion yuan. With the money, more than 1,000 sites will be saved.

"Both the labor and capital investment top any other cultural relics protection effort during water conservancy project construction around the globe," said Qiao, adding that the argument that most of the cultural relics will be submerged into water is groundless.

"The excavation work at the Three Gorges each year is tantamount to 10 years of work at the usual time," said Huang Wei, an archaeological professor with the Sichuan University in southwest China, who is in charge of the excavation of the Lijiaba relic site, an ancient battlefield in the Warring States Period ( 475-221 B.C.).

"At this speed, the excavation of the important sections of the site can be completed before the water storage," said Huang, wiping sweat from his head.

In Yunyang County, Chinese and Japanese scientists adopted physical geographical exploration technology to probe an ancient king's tomb nearly 3,000 years ago.

The exploration technology combining CT, radar, magnetic and geographic chemical techniques had seldom been used in Chinese archaeology before.

In Fengjie, a city with over 2,300 years of history, an inspection team consisting of eight members protect the archaeological sites against relics robbers at night. Over the past few years, nearly 100 people trying to steal cultural relics have been caught by the team.

"A multilevel cultural relics protection network has been set up at the Three Gorges area. The stealing of cultural relics which was rampant five years ago has been basically checked in the region," said Shao Weidong, deputy director of the cultural heritage protection division under Chongqing's cultural bureau.

In Chongqing, a museum is being constructed to house and show the cultural relics saved from the Three Gorges area.

However, some argue that the time limit restricts most of the archaeological work on excavation and leaves no time for research.

Qiao explained that to save the relics is of all importance at present. Experts will arrange the relics in order and conduct in- depth studies in the future.

Archaeology at Three Gorges is a long process, much longer than the construction period of the Dam, Qiao added.

-- source: Xinhua News Agency

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