Remote spectral imaging at the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Dunhuang

Remote Spectral Imaging at the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Dunhuang



The Mogao Caves, near Dunhuang, form many Buddhist temples along the ancient Silk Road. They have a history that extends over 1,000 years and are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The 45,000 square metres of wall paintings in nearly 500 caves are an immense resource for the study of the history of art, architecture, religion, technology, politics and cultural exchange.

However, the wall paintings of this historical site are vulnerable, and therefore any inspection needs to be non-invasive and non-contact. In addition, some of the caves have high ceilings that are not easily accessible, making it difficult to conduct scientific investigation.

Addressing the Challenge

Nottingham Trent University’s Imaging & Sensing for Archaeology, Art history & Conservation Lab is at the forefront of research in the development of advanced optical instruments for heritage applications. A project funded by the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC) led to the development of a portable remote multispectral and hyperspectral imaging system (PRISMS). This lightweight and flexible device allows the high-resolution colour and spectral imaging of wall paintings, in both visible and near infrared light to be conducted from ground level.

Making a Difference

The PRISMS device has enabled the systematic survey of large portions of different caves, assessing their condition and studying the pigments used. This study has also contributed to our knowledge of one of the special caves where the dates of construction were in question.


Academic Investigator: Professor Haida Liang

Research Fellows:

Dr Chi Shing (Sammy) Cheung, NTU

Research Students:

Sotiria Kogou, NTU

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