The grouping of Buddhist cave shrines known as Xiangtangshan was created during sixth century China. These shrines have remarkable carvings that, at one time, physically depicted religious texts characteristic of Buddhism and even the Buddha himself; however, throughout the 20th century, looting destroyed many of the beautiful sculptures and reliefs that adorned them. Until advanced imaging techniques from the University of Chicago’s Center for the Art of East Asia were utilized, modern audiences within China could not enjoy the beauty of these cave shrines, nonetheless American audiences. Now, thanks to the combined efforts of researchers, art historians, and archaeologists, those who attend a special exhibit entitled “Echoes of the Past” can experience these shrines in their full glory. This exhibit is set to appear in Chicago, New York, Washington D.C., and San Francisco.
In reading Popular Archeology’s article on the Cave Temples of Xiangtangshan, I was struck by the potential this technology has in the world of restoration. Advanced imaging technology, utilized in combination with information from historians and art historians, has the ability to allow us to not only see places in their current state, but experience them as they once were. What we thought to have been lost to looters forever not only in Xiangtangshan, but in archeological sites all across the world, can be rediscovered, all thanks to this digital technology.