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Is the terracotta army in danger?

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Dust to dust...

Domestic papers reported yesterday on a study that found that the terracotta soldiers in Xi'an may be in danger of succumbing to pollution. Sources were the BBC, the AP, and the South China Morning Post (China Daily merely ran the SMCP article in its entirety). According to Cao Junji of the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Earth Environment, gradual erosion may reduce the vast army to a coal pit in a mere hundred years. Fungus could erode prominent features long before then.

The main reason, says Cao, is the museum's lack of technical expertise: "From a museum's point of view, it is doing a good job as long as the antiquities are not lost." This comes at the same time that it was decided to leave the excavation of the tombs of Qin Shi Huang and Wu Zetian to later generations who would have better technology.

Today the curators of the museum blast back. In an article in Xi'an's China Business View (which cites the bogeyman of "international media" without naming Cao as their source), a museum representative is quoted saying, "This position is unsupported by logic or data. What kind of scientist did this study?" The museum has international-level climate controls, they claim, and while fungus was present when the figures were unearthed, and there is slight erosion due to occasional damp ground, the army is remarkably well-preserved for having seen tens of millions of tourists.

And according to reports, the museum has already launched a 2 million RMB assessment of air pollution inside the hall housing the soldiers, to be completed in 2007. Perhaps at that time we will find out if there is a genuine problem, or if this is all a non-issue hyped up by the international media.

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