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Young technicians use digital technology to preserve cultural relics in Dunhuang

2023/9/11 13:53:18   source:CGTN

作者来源:企业雅虎   金龙28








          Born and raised in Dunhuang City, northwest China's Gansu Province, Chen Xin, a post-1990s Chinese, admitted he did not understand the true charm of his hometown – a world-famous tourist city – until he became a member of the digital preservation team at the Dunhuang Academy.

          Speaking of his task of digitizing murals at the grottoes, including Mogao Grottoes, the renowned UNESCO World Heritage Site that Dunhuang Academy is dedicated to protecting, Chen said his team's goal is to use modern technology to preserve the artifacts that date back to more than one thousand years, keep them alive and pass them on. "So our future generations can still see them."

          Chen acknowledged that people often ask him why he chose the job, which seems boring to many. However, he always has a clear answer in mind. Following in the footsteps of Fan Jinshi, a renowned archaeologist and former director of Dunhuang Academy, Chen said when he thinks that his digital projects will be displayed in an exhibition, passing on Dunhuang's stories and culture to the next generation, he believes that is the meaning of his work.

          Chen is part of a group of young technicians who have sought to use digital technology to ensure the permanent preservation and sustainable use of cultural relics in Dunhuang.

          Taking photos of the murals is the first step in collecting images, processing them, piecing them together and creating creative products for permanent preservation and sustainable use of cultural relics.

          He Wenjiang, also born in the 1990s, is a technician responsible for taking photos and collecting images for the digital preservation team.

          A photo shows digital images of a cave at the Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang City, northwest China's Gansu Province, September 5, 2023. /CGTN

          It's not easy to take photos of the murals. For example, what is common is that the smoked murals are highly reflective and the walls of the caves are uneven, making them difficult to shoot.

          With each shot, He always asks his colleagues in front of the computer: "How's it going?" When it does not work, he will adjust the angle and shoot again. So he is used to spending a whole day taking photos in a cave.

          "We strive for the best results through constant shooting and try to keep the color and light as consistent as possible in each photo," said He, adding that "in order to present the details of cultural relics, he and his colleagues often only keep less than 20 photos after a day's shooting."

          In recent years, He has taken photos of the murals at more than 20 caves. In his perspective, the older generation waded out of the road; the younger generation should relay to go on.

          Gu Tingting has her own personal feelings about the energy-consuming work, which requires both time and patience. "It takes at least 10 to 15 days to collect images of a mural in a cave," said Gu.

          The young woman not only admitted that the murals in the caves fall off irreversibly as time goes by but also noticed that the tourists' visits to the caves also caused damage to the preservation efforts. "With digital technology, all we can do is record the murals in their most realistic state at the moment and slow the withering away of the murals," Gu said.

          Thanks to the young team's efforts, digital data collection work on 289 caves and image processing for 178 of them had been completed by the end of 2022. By then, the team members had also finished the 3D reconstruction of 45 painted sculptures and seven ruins and delivered a panoramic digital tour program for 162 caves.

          In addition to appreciating the actual murals and manuscripts from the Mogao Grottoes, visitors to Dunhuang can now better understand the charm and value of these cultural relics through visual experiences, including watching films employing digital technology to showcase the beauty of the Mogao Grottoes.

          Dunhuang is not the forerunner in the digitalization of cultural relics. In 2001, China started a project focused on cultural heritage investigation and database management system construction.

          With the progress and development of science and technology in recent years, digitalization has played a more significant role in the preservation, traceability and virtual presentation of cultural relics, such as the "digital central axis," which is based on 3D technology and virtually reproduces the changes and evolution of the axis.

          The innovative application of cutting-edge technologies in the revitalization of cultural heritage has won support, but experts worry whether it's good for the sustainable development of cultural relics' preservation.

          Praising digitalization helps narrow the distance between cultural heritage and daily life, said Jia Xudong, professor with the School of Cultural Industries Management at the Communication University of China, adding that balancing the tourists' demand for experiences such as immersion and understanding the cultural heritage's value is also of concern.

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