The National Key Technology Research and Development Program's "Research and Development of Mobile Laboratories for the Preservation of Excavated Artifacts" Project Given the Green Light
Experts from the State Administration of Cultural Heritage recently held an acceptance ceremony in Xi'an for a project entitled "The Research and Development of Mobile Laboratories for the Preservation of Excavated Artifacts". The project, which has been listed as part of the National Key Technology Research and Development Program's "Eleventh Five-Year Plan", involves the successful development of China's first fully functional vehicle-mounted mobile laboratory, which will be used for the study and preservation of excavated artifacts on fieldwork. Department heads from the Ministry of Science and Technology, the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology and other participating institutions were all in attendance.
The project "The Research and Development of Mobile Laboratories for the Preservation of Excavated Artifacts" was established in October 2006 as a joint project between several academic institutions, including the Dunhuang Academy, the National Museum of China, the Institute of Archaeology (CASS), Tsinghua University and the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology.
The project addresses the present status of on-site surveys of excavated artifacts and aims to tackle the current lack of detection techniques, outdated equipment and the gaps in the knowledge of emergency on-site conservation techniques. The research and development of emergency conservation techniques and the mobile laboratory's on-site facilities , which include data processing systems, intelligent detectors, environmental monitoring and rapid analysis systems, will help researchers establish guidelines and technical standards for on-site conservation. According to Su Bomin, the project leader and a researcher at the Dunhuang Academy, the mobile laboratory has been equipped with intelligent controls, sensors, computers, transmitters, and data processing and spatial information systems, and researchers can make use of video footage, temperature and humidity monitoring systems, and wireless data transmission systems in order to accurately record the environmental context of a buried artifact as well as allow them to conduct analyses and tests on site.
A specialist group consisting of archaeologists and experts involved in the conservation of cultural heritage were briefed by the project task group before going on to conduct investigations at two archaeological sites.
The mobile laboratory was stationed near an excavation site uncovered during the construction for the second phase of Xi'an Xianyang International Airport's expansion. The inside of the vehicle has been equipped with data collection systems, storage for excavated artifacts and analytical instruments, while the outside has been outfitted with more than 10 different tool-kits and other tools which can be used for studying a wide range of cultural relics. In addition, researchers can make use of a small remote controlled model airplane equipped with GPS guidance systems to quickly locate the spot directly above a site. The data gathered is then sent back to the computers on site via its real-time data transfer systems.
An exploratory robot was lowered into the ditches of the Tang Dynasty burial site, where it was guided remotely by researchers aboard the mobile laboratory. The robot was guided more than 10 metres into the burial chamber in order to conduct a reconnaissance survey of the site and transmit data back to the surface. This technique would allow researchers to run analyses on relics and excavation sites and draw up excavation plans based on the scientific data acquired.
The specialists working on the project were very positive about the achievements made and believe that the mobile laboratory is an innovative endeavour which has the potential to be a suitable on-site alternative to traditional laboratories and conservation workshops thanks to its capacity for collecting data, its intelligent detection systems, its capability to run analyses and its on-board facilities for preserving excavated artifacts. The mobile laboratory will ensure that comprehensive data on an archaeological site can be gathered and will help equip researchers with the tools and knowledge needed for a more scientific approach towards the emergency conservation of excavated artifacts. The results achieved by this project signal a technological revolution in the field of the protection and conservation of cultural relics. This is a key step in the modernisation of this field of study and will help develop a richer theoretical framework for those involved in the preservation of China's cultural heritage.
(Translated by Kelly McGuire)