Fingerprints pose threat to UNESCO recognized steles in Vietnam

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A visitor touches the tortoise head of one of 82 steles that were recognized as the "Memory of the World" by UNESCO in Hanoi

Excessive human touching is one of the main causes of damage to Vietnam's UNESCO-recognized steles in Hanoi, according to a meeting held in the capital city on Tuesday.

Speaking at the meeting on the preservation of the historical site at Van Mieu Quoc Tu Giam (Temple of Literature Royal College), Dr. Dang Kim Ngoc called it "a cultural phenomena" that visitors to the site during Tet or visiting students who are about to take exams touch the 82 steles there for good luck.

The tortoise-mounted tablets are the records of royal examinations of the Le and Mac dynasties (1442-1779), like the dynasties' attitude towards the training and the employment of talented scholars.

However, continuous human touching and contact with perspiration and skin oils have worn out many of the steles, said Dr. Nguyen Minh Tuong from the Institute of History.

According to Ngoc, who used to serve as the director of the Center for Cultural and Scientific Activities of Van Mieu Quoc Tu Giam, the best solution would be to encase the stone tablets in glass to prevent visitors from touching them.

But, experts feared the cases would ruin the atmospshere of the place and possibly have unpredictable effects on the steles.

Architect Le Thanh Vinh, chief the Institute for Relic Sites Research, pointed out that excessive human touching was not the only threat to the steles.

He said currently the steles are protected by roofs that were not built until 1994, so they have been affected by weather.

There was some cracking and breaking in the stone, he added.

The architect also blamed previous repair works for distorting several stone tablets, showing a photo in which a stele was seen with five different "patches."


According to Vinh, it is necessary to create digital data of all records related to the steles like their texts and designs for the purpose of restoration.

Suitable and effective preservation plans need to be set up in accordance with each stele's conditions, he stressed.

All possible solutions need to be applied "immediately" because the steles face the threat of damage every day, he said.

The doctoral steles were officially named a "Memory of the World," a status granted to documentary heritage reflecting the diversity of languages, peoples and cultures around the world, by UNESCO at a ceremony in Hanoi on Monday.

Van Mieu temple was built in 1070 during the reign of King Ly Nhan Tong (1066-1127) and dedicated to Confucius, sages and scholars.

Six years later, in 1076, Quoc Tu Giam was build next to the temple as a place where royal children were trained. Later, it became Vietnam's first university.

Today, Van Mieu-Quoc Tu Giam attracts thousands of visitors every day.



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