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Exhibit Unravels Mysteries of Ancient Chinese Temples Through History, Science

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight, bringing together art, history and science.

Jeffrey Brown takes us through a unique museum exhibition.

JEFFREY BROWN: Sculptures from sixth century China, the head of a Buddha, a seated bodhisattva, a kneeling winged monster, works of art from museums around the world. They tell a tale that goes back some 1,500 years.

This is a story of ancient history and the latest technology. It's got religion and lots of art, and for you mystery and CSI fans, yes, great treasures have been lost and an investigation is ongoing.

It begins in Northeast China in what is today a rural coal mining area at the Xiangtangshan caves. The name means Mountain of Echoing Halls. In the middle of the sixth century, during the Northern Qi Dynasty, one of the shortest-lived, but most creative in Chinese history, artisans turned the caves into Buddhist temples, carving the limestone into beautiful sculptures and shrines.

Today, worshipers still come to the caves, but they pray to largely empty spaces. That's because, in the early 20th century, looters forcibly removed many of the cave's sculptures in order to sell them on the international art market.

KEITH WILSON, Arthur M. Sackler and Freer Gallery of Art: All of a sudden, these objects that were created as religious icons and really seen by many Westerners in the 19th century as idols or icons of religious worship, all of a sudden, these were considered fine art.
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