The Dunhuang Academy has worked since its founding in 1944 to mitigate the natural deterioration of Dunhuang’s most vulnerable relics. Partnerships initiated with overseas conservation institutes in the late 1980s have accelerated these efforts, but the ancient materials and structures that comprise Dunhuang’s grottoes require continuous investment. Some caves are in danger of collapse due to instabilities in the cliff face, and many murals are separating from their clay foundations across large sections. Humidity fluctuations caused by increased human presence have induced discoloration and mold. Conservation and preservation, along with research into best practices, remain foremost objectives today.

top: Cave 61 (Five Dynasties, 907–960 AD) Procession of beauties commemorating the powerful Cao family, whose donations made possible this grotto’s construction. Water damage is visible at the bottom.

bottom: Conservation workers painstakingly stabilize murals in Cave 85.