Silk Road Treasures at Risk: Climate Change Threatens Ancient Murals in China’s Caves

Silk Road Treasures at Risk

Silk Road Treasures at Risk: Climate Change Threatens Ancient Murals in China’s Caves

Recent research suggests that climate change poses a “direct threat” to China’s Silk Road caves’ Buddhist murals and statues.

The 4th-century Dunhuang cave temples have survived wars, earthquakes, sandstorms, and vandalism for over a millennium. However, changing weather patterns are threatening the delicate wall paintings and sculptures, especially at the UNESCO World Heritage Site Mogao Grotto. A Greenpeace report warns of the dangers.

Gansu’s caves have preserved incredible art for centuries, according to Greenpeace East Asia’s Beijing senior researcher Li Zhao. According to the report, increasing desert rainfall causes humidity, flash floods, and cave-ins.

Gansu has had more rain over the past two decades, but fewer rainy days. This has intensified downpours. According to the report, temperatures in the province have risen faster than the global average.

Silk Road Treasures at Risk

The report warns that some cave artworks, including those at the Mogao Grotto, are deteriorating and may disappear within a few years. Rising humidity has accelerated salt crystallization and buildup on the murals, flaking and peeling them. Rainwater leaks have also eroded these valuable paintings. Flash floods and mudslides have collapsed caves, worsening the situation.

China’s fourth cultural heritage survey is assessing historical artifacts. Li Zhao warns that Gansu’s valuable artifacts may be lost by the survey’s end.

Climate change is destroying these priceless treasures, despite efforts to document, understand, and conserve them.


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