Field survey for conservation of Buddhist cave murals located in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, China

Landscape of Simsim Grottoes and a group of conserved grottoes
Red organic coloring material found in Grotto 224 at Kizil (Courtesy of Cultural Heritage Bureau of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region)

 As a part of a series of research projects undertaken by the Japan Center for International Cooperation in Conservation, a number of important Buddhist sites with murals (i.e. Mogao Grottoes of Dunhuang and Ajanta Caves of India) were surveyed from conservation and technical points of view. Xinjiang region is the east end of Central Asia and plays an important role in ancient trades between the East and West. At the Buddhist grottoes with earthen mural paintings at Bezeklik in Turfan, Kizil, Simsim, Kumtura and Kizil-Qargha in Kucha, field surveys were carried out on painting materials and techniques as well as the state of conservation in a cooperative project with NHK Enterprise Co. between 5 and 12 January, 2008. This mission was composed of 4 members from the Institute, 1 from the Conservation Institute of Dunhuang Academy and 1 from the Cultural Heritage Bureau of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. These Buddhist cave sites are primarily made of unstable soft conglomerate or sand/silt stones, and murals are constructed on earthen plasters with various colourants using a secco techniques. Some organic red colourants, most of which had not remained due to their chemical instabilities, were fortunately observed in some murals. Further scientific diagnoses will provide invaluable information regarding the painting techniques in the context of ancient artisans along the Silk Roads.

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