Gold, colored glass found on Buddhist statues in the Longmen Grottoes

Undated file photo showing an archaeologist examining the face of a Buddha statue in Fengxiansi Cave of Longmen Grottoes in central China’s Henan Province. (Longmen Grottoes Research Institute/Handout via Xinhua)

Archaeologists have found gold and silver elements and colored glass on Buddhist statues in Longmen Grottoes, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in central China’s Henan Province.

The findings, among other scientific and archaeological achievements, have been made since a project to strengthen and protect the Fengxiansi Cave of the Longmen Grottoes was launched in December 2021, said the research institute of the caves of Longmen.

Based on advanced technologies, archaeologists have found gold and silver elements on the face of Vairocana Buddha, a giant statue that was built in the Tang Dynasty (618-907).

“This suggests that skills such as gilding were probably used in the construction of the Vairocana Buddha,” said Shi Jiazhen, president of the institute.

On the surface of the giant Buddha’s body, archaeologists also found remnants of green, red, black and other color pigments, indicating that the statue “probably wore colorful clothes” at that time.

Additionally, colored glass eyeballs made of silica and lead were discovered on a Bodhisattva statue on the right side of Vairocana Buddha. The eyeballs are arc-shaped and about 0.5 cm thick.

“The glass was dark green after cleaning, which was rare in the Tang Dynasty,” said Ma Chaolong, an institute official.

“The new findings are of great significance for the study of decorative features, craftsmanship and preservation of statues in Fengxiansi Cave,” Shi added.