Video: Holograms save ancient Buddhist caves

One of the great treasures along China’s Silk Road is the Mogao cave complex in Dunhuang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The 700 caves, decorated with elaborate Buddhist paintings from as far back as 430 AD, can hold about 3,000 people a day, but on some days, up to 8,000 visitors arrive. That’s putting the caves at risk, the Daily Beast reports.

The paintings can be damaged by humidity and carbon dioxide from visitors’ breath. Using a billion-pixel camera, researchers from the nearby Dunhuang Academy are photographing the frescoes to create a three-dimensional recreation of the caves in the site’s visitor center, which is slated to open next year. When the caves are digitized, they can be closed to the public and preserved. (Click through to watch a video of the exhibit.)

Visitors to the Smithsonian recently got a glimpse of Cave 220, filled with Tang dynasty paintings. The exhibit is due to return to Washington in the spring of 2013; click here for more information about the exhibit.