Cultural relics are disappearing around the world, thanks to climate change

Xiao Jun is very concerned about his hometown these days. Days of continued heavy rain in northern China’s Shanxi Province earlier this month damaged more than 1,700 ancient buildings and cultural relics.

In Ping Yao, known as one of the best-preserved examples of a traditional Han Chinese city, the flooding caused the partial collapse of its ancient walls, which date back to the 14th century.

“The damage to these precious buildings has shocked me,” said Jun, a Shanxi native who grew up in the provincial capital, Taiyuan.

Roof leaks appeared at Jinci Temple, one of the oldest Chinese altar gardens. The Tianlongshan Caves, which house several Buddhist sculptures, and the Mengshan Kaihua Temple, which represents the architectural style of the Song Dynasty (960-1127), have also been leaked.

Rescue and repair work on buildings damaged by rain continues in Shanxi, accustomed to drier weather. Heavy rains have started in northern China since July, including the heavy rainstorm in Zhengzhou that left more than 300 dead or missing. In early October, Shanxi’s average rainfall was three times the average monthly rainfall.

Construction workers repair a barrier outside Jin Temple, Shanxi province, China October 12, 2021. / Xinhua

Construction workers repair a barrier outside Jin Temple, Shanxi province, China October 12, 2021. / Xinhua

With its large amount of ancient architectural remains, Shanxi has been dubbed the “Museum of Ancient Chinese Architecture”. A total of 50,000 recorded immutable cultural relics, including 28,027 ancient buildings, are preserved in the province, according to the Shanxi Cultural Relics Bureau.

Most of the structures were built with exquisite architectural techniques, like the Hengshan Hanging Temple which clings to a cliff wall 250 feet above the ground. The architecture has survived thousands of years and was selected as one of the “10 most precarious buildings in the world” by Time magazine in 2010.

“I remember when I was about four or five years old, I had an acting role in a historic television series near Doctor Dou’s temple near my home,” Xiao said. “Growing up, I started to have an affinity for these historic architectures.”

Doctor Dou Temple was built to memorize Dou Chou, a government official of the Jin Dynasty during the Spring and Autumn Period (770 to 476 BC), best known for his heroic efforts in the struggle. against a devastating flood. Fortunately, as one of the key national cultural relics under state protection, the temple has not been affected much.

A view of the wooden roof structure of Doctor Dou Temple in Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, China. / VCG

A view of the wooden roof structure of Doctor Dou Temple in Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, China. / VCG

From 2016 to 2020, state and local governments invested more than one billion yuan ($ 155 million) for the emergency maintenance and protection of old buildings. High technology is applied to their preservation and includes such methods as the restoration of digital images of old plastic murals. But the lack of professionals, in part due to the difficult and long training process, remains a problem.

The situation for sites with government protection at the local level is worse than for sites with state level protection. Most of the older buildings that have suffered structural damage are those that go unrecorded and require two or three years of restoration work, experts say.

“Not only should we focus on key cultural relics, but also pay attention to unrecorded relics in remote areas,” said Li Guorong, researcher at China’s First Historical Archives (SHAC). “No single relic should be left.”

“The protection of cultural relics requires the establishment of contingency plans, especially those located below the county level,” Li said. “We must have emergency measures to prevent these relics from natural disasters such than floods, fires, cyclones and earthquakes “.

Aerial view of a section of road flooded following heavy rains in Zhengzhou, Henan province, China, July 21, 2021. / Reuters

Aerial view of a section of road flooded following heavy rains in Zhengzhou, Henan province, China, July 21, 2021. / Reuters

How is climate change affecting the world’s cultural heritage?

The storm that inundated Germany and Belgium, the forest fires in Siberia and the severe heat wave in Canada this year reflect a global trend of increasing frequency of extreme weather events.

In the United States, approximately 13,000 archaeological sites could be damaged by the end of this century due to thawing permafrost and rising sea levels. It includes the Trujillo Adobe, which was built in 1862 and now serves as a testimony to migration and settlement in southern California, and the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve on the west coast of Alaska, which houses archaeological artifacts that record the first human to inhabit America North.

Meanwhile, the northeastern region of the United States is likely to see an increase of at least 40 percent in heavy rain episodes by the turn of the century, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The region has already experienced a 55% increase in recent decades.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), coastal areas in other parts of the world will also experience continued sea level rise throughout the 21st century, leading to more coastal flooding. frequent. Extreme sea level events that have occurred once every 100 years are likely to occur every year by the end of this century.

Furness Abbey, one of the largest and wealthiest monasteries in the North West of England, has seen increased erosion. Meanwhile, coastal erosion in the south-east of England continues to affect the medieval town of Dunwich. Once one of the 10 largest cities in England, it has largely disappeared into the sea.

Edited by Zeng Ziyi

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