Weather threatening China's famed Buddhist grottoes

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Arid conditions in China's northern desert regions are threatening the world heritage-listed Mogao Grottoes where painted Buddhist rock carvings are peeling and cracking.

Paintings in the UN World Heritage-listed grottoes are "crisping and peeling" due to local water shortages made worse by increased tourism and agricultural use, the China Daily reported.

The grottoes, located near the oasis town of Dunhuang, were once a starting point for pilgrims and travelers to set off across Central Asian deserts as they made their way westward on the ancient Silk Road.

More than half the murals and painted sculptures in 492 of the caves are suffering from color changes as well as other damage also linked to an increase in sandstorms, Wang Wanfu, a relics preservation official at the Dunhuang Academy, told the paper.

Over a thousand years, beginning in the fourth century, Chinese Buddhists carved an extensive series of grottoes along Mogao's 1.6 kilometers (1 mile) of cliff face, creating the largest single collection of Buddhist mural art in China.

Since 1989, China's State Administration of Cultural Heritage and the Getty Conservation Institute have jointly been working with the Dunhuang Academy on conservation at the Mogao Grottoes.

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