Hands off ancient tombs: experts
www.chinaview.cn 2006-07-18 13:29:54

    BEIJING, July 18 -- Many experts have confirmed that the Qianling Mausoleum is truly one of China's most outstanding examples of an imperial tomb.

    It is so special because it was carved out of a mountainside, and is estimated to contain about 500 tons of cultural relics including jewels, calligraphy, paintings, silk and ceramics. And it is virtually unique because it has never been robbed.

    Given its virtually incomparable nature, any proposal to excavate the site is bound to spark controversy.

    With their plan to investigate the site, archaeologists from Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, where the mausoleum is located, have kick-started the latest debate on this thorny issue.

    Those in favour of the excavation have repeatedly stated that technologies are advanced enough to preserve any cultural relics unearthed from the mausoleum, adding that these cultural relics will give a clearer picture of life 1,300 years ago during the Tang Dynasty.

    However, financial gain is another important reason behind their call for the site to be excavated. A local archaeologist predicted that if the mausoleum is excavated and opened as a museum exhibiting the unearthed cultural relics, it would attract at least 5 million tourists annually and would give local economic development a great fillip.

    The contents of this mausoleum, where the legendary Tang Empress Wu Zetian and her husband Emperor Gaozong were buried together, may shed more light on these mysterious figures. It is also believed that a famous work by well-known calligrapher Wang Xizhi may also be buried in the tomb. It is quite probable that the excavation may create a sensation, which will undoubtedly attract tourists in their droves.

    Some local archaeologists have warned that the entombed cultural relics may decay or be damaged by the moisture or geological changes, and claim that they could be better protected if they are unearthed.

    However, local archaeologists may not be that objective in this regard. Let's not forget what they could stand to gain as a result of the tomb's excavation.

    The fate of some relics excavated from other ancient tombs or sites proves that we have yet to develop technology capable of preventing silk or paper items from turning to dust the moment they are exposed to fresh air.

    Many archaeologists insist that the conditions within the tombs are usually much more stable, pointing out that the relics will be better preserved if they stay in the tomb.

    That is why the State always advocates protection instead of excavation, unless tomb robberies or deteriorating conditions have made excavation necessary.

    This is truly a dilemma. We will not know what is contained in the tomb unless it is excavated, but we would regret such action if the excavation irreparably damages these relics.

    Surely it's better for us to leave such ancient tombs to be excavated by future generations equipped with technology capable of protecting these irreplaceable treasures.

    (Source: China Daily)

Editor: Nie Peng
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