Digital technology makes centuries-old Chinese caves vibrant

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Technicians study and collect digital images in a cave in the Yungang Grottoes. (Photo from Yungang Grottoes official website)

By Liu Xinyan

In a cave at Yungang Grottoes, an ancient Chinese Buddhist site in Datong City, northern China’s Shanxi Province, several technicians were performing close-up photogrammetry and collecting image data with instruments such as HD cameras, station scanners and 3D laser scanners.
“We are collecting digital information about Yungang Grottoes, which will provide important data support for the long-term preservation of the historic site,” said Zhang Zhuo, secretary of the Party Committee of Yungang Grotto Academy.
Excavated in the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534), the Yungang Grottoes have a history of over 1,500 years. The relics in the cave are subject to weathering as the historic site is located in an open environment.
“The ongoing digital program is a baseline project for the site to obtain accurate data for permanent preservation and perpetual use,” Zhang said.
When collecting information, subtle damages and potential risks could be discovered and then repaired and disposed of in a timely manner, Zhang said, adding that the collected high-precision data and information would be digitized to restore the caves into a database. of data, providing data and image support for the protection, repair and even reconstruction of caves.
A number of projects have been initiated at Yungang Caves in recent years, including cave maintenance and investigation, construction of monitoring systems, sealing projects, digital collections of cultural relics, and the 3D printing. The application of digital technology has made protection work more accurate, which can realize the coordinated development of relic reservation and cultural research.
Digital technology is also bringing more people closer to the splendid Yungang Grottoes.
Cave No. 12 of the Caves, known as the “Musical Cave”, contains dozens of sculptures of ancient musicians and musical instruments
In collaboration with Zhejiang University, the academy collected high-fidelity digital information through 3D laser scanning technology and made a 1:1 replica of the “music cave” by 3D printing. All parts of the clone are assembled like building blocks, in order to facilitate transportation.
Other projects have been implemented based on the digitization of the caves, including digital modeling, construction of the 3D information system and digital sampling. The academy has also reproduced the No. 3, No. 12 and No. 18 caves of the same size in cooperation with institutes such as Zhejiang University and Wuhan University.
The replicas of Cave No. 3 and Cave No. 18 are now placed respectively in Qingdao, Shandong Province (eastern China), and Beijing University of Civil Engineering and Architecture, in as promotional cave landmarks. The replica of Cave No. 12, which can be taken apart, has been exhibited at Zhejiang University and Shanghai Powerlong Museum, and will begin its tour in Shenzhen, South China’s Guangdong Province, for be exhibited there this year.
Ning Bo, director of the digital protection center of Yungang Caves Academy, announced that the caves were the first in the world to manufacture 1:1 replicas for very large cultural relics using 3D printing and technologies. block-type assembly.
Remarkable progress has been made in enabling mobile exhibition of immobile cultural relics, which marks a solid step in the globalization of Yungang Grottoes, Ning noted.
In addition, Yungang Grottoes has also released the cultural relics online using virtual reality and other cutting-edge technologies, which helps introduce the centuries-old Chinese cave art to more people. around the world and makes cultural relics vibrant in the digital age.

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