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8 June 2003
Race against time at Three Gorges

Archaeologists from two thirds of China’s archaeological institutions have been racing against the clock to rescue cultural relics facing submersion under the Three Gorges Reservoir (South West China). A taskforce of more than 7,000 archaeological experts, academics and technicians have turned the reservoir area, some 1,000 kilometers from Beijing, into the world’s largest archaeological site. The sluice gate of the Three Gorges dam was set to close on June 1st following which the water level was set to rise rapidly over 15 days to a depth of 135 metres.
     Excavations began in 1992 in line with a protection and rescue programme budgeted at one billion yuan (120 million US dollars). “It is unprecedented in China’s history of cultural relics salvage,” said Qiao Liang, one of the policymakers who defined the rescue programme. By April 2003 some nine million square metres of the reservoir area had been prospected. More than 6,000 valuable artifacts and 600,000 other cultural items have been recovered. Finds include prehistoric relics dating back more than two million years to the Old Stone Age and ancient cultural sites ranging from the Xia Dynasty (C21 BCE to C16 BCE) to the Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1911 CE).
     Advanced modern techniques, including remote sensing, ground-penetrating radar and global positioning technology, have been used to ensure that the rescue of relics from below the 135 metre level was completed on schedule. Plans are now in place to continue salvage after the initial raising of the water level. The Three Gorges Reservoir is due for completion in 2009, when 632 square kilometers of land will be submerged.

Source: People’s Daily (1 June 2003)

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