EARTHQUAKES THREATEN AN­CIENT ROCK ART

Re­cent tremors act­ing as ‘a wake-up call’ for greater pro­tec­tion, sci­en­tists warn

China Daily (Canada) - - XINJIANG - By XU WEI xuwei@chi­nadaily.com.cn

When a mag­ni­tude 6.2 earthquake hit Hu­tubi county in the Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion ear­lier this month, con­cerns were raised that it might have dam­aged an im­por­tant ar­chae­o­log­i­cal site just 5 kilo­me­ters away from the epi­cen­ter.

For­tu­nately, the Kangji­ashimenji pet­ro­glyphs ap­pear to have sur­vived the quake, though it dam­aged 14,000 homes — 40 of which col­lapsed — and forced the re­lo­ca­tion of more than 2,400 peo­ple af­ter it struck at about 1:15 pm on Dec 8.

Gao Li, head of the bureau of cul­tural her­itage in Hu­tubi, said no vis­i­ble dam­age to the cul­tur­ally sig­nif­i­cant pet­ro­glyphs had been identified.

“But it was a wake-up call. If we do not take more mea­sures to pro­tect the pet­ro­glyphs now, they could be sus­cep­ti­ble to dam­age from earthquakes in fu­ture,” she said, adding that fences on the site had been dam­aged by the tremors and a 20-meter-long crack had ap­peared in a nearby park­ing lot.

The pet­ro­glyphs are a set of en­grav­ings that date back more than 3,000 years, de­pict­ing hundreds of men and women tak­ing part in some kind of mass fer­til­ity rit­ual.

They were carved into the side of a hill that can only be reached by a three-hour drive from the county seat of Hu­tubi. A few me­ters be­low the carv­ings is a nat­u­ral plat­form, where the fer­til­ity rit­u­als are be­lieved to have taken place.

Gao said the au­thor­ity was cur­rently work­ing with imag­ing ex­perts so that a scan of the carv­ings can be car­ried out to as­cer­tain if any mi­cro­scopic dam­age has oc­curred.

“There may be some dam­age that is im­per­cep­ti­ble to the hu­man eye. We need to com­pare pic­tures from these three-di­men­sional scans to de­ter­mine what needs to be done,” she said.

Ac­cord­ing to Gao, the China Earthquake Ad­min­is­tra­tion have warned that Xin­jiang could be ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a pe­riod of in­creased seis­mic ac­tiv­ity, as the re­gion was hit by two earthquakes in as many weeks.

Liu Cheng, a pro­fes­sor of ar­chae­ol­ogy at North­west­ern Univer­sity in Xi’an, Shaanxi prov­ince, has also con­ducted an on-site check of the pet­ro­glyphs.

“Af­ter an ini­tial look, the earthquake does not seem to have af­fected the body of the moun­tain where the pet­ro­glyphs are lo­cated. But other parts of the moun­tain were sig­nif­i­cantly af­fected, and they could pose a dan­ger to tourists in the fu­ture,” he said.

Liu urged the au­thor­i­ties to erect signs warn­ing of fall­ing rocks and to take all nec­es­sary preven­tive mea­sures.

“We might also have to con­trol the num­ber of tourists al­lowed into the scenic area,” he said.

Once a de­tailed anal­y­sis of the dam­age has been car­ried out, Liu be­lieves more will need to be done to pro­tect the pet­ro­glyphs.

While it is not pos­si­ble to re­move or com­pletely shield the carv­ings from fu­ture earthquakes, “we do need to come up with more pro­tec­tion mea­sures, and be pre­pared for the worst”, he said.

The site’s re­mote lo­ca­tion, where tem­per­a­tures fall as low as -15 C in win­ter, is fur­ther ham­per­ing ef­forts to as­sess the dam­age us­ing highly sen­si­tive equip­ment.

PHOTOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Top: A re­searcher checks the dam­age a re­cent earthquake made in Hu­tubi county. Above: Pro­fes­sor Liu Cheng from North­west­ern Univer­sity in Xi’an, Shaanxi prov­ince, checks a weath­er­mon­i­tor­ing fa­cil­ity dur­ing an in­spec­tion tour of the Kangji­ashimenji pet­ro­glyphs af­ter the Dec 8 earthquake hit Hububi county.

Pro­fes­sor Liu dis­cusses the pet­ro­glyphs with his col­leagues dur­ing the in­spec­tion tour.

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