NANCHANG, Jan. 15 (Xinhua) -- An underwater archaeological mission concluded on Sunday in east China's Jiangxi Province, revealing more about a Buddha statue that has emerged from the water of a reservoir.
Archaeologists said the Buddha statue, originally spotted by local villagers, is 3.8 meters tall and carved onto a cliff face. The base of a hall was also found under the water, indicating that a temple existed there.
The head of the Buddha was spotted at Hongmen Reservoir in Nancheng County in the city of Fuzhou late last year when a hydropower gate renovation project lowered water levels in the reservoir by more than 10 meters.
Judging from the head's design, the statue was carved during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), said Xu Changqing, head of the provincial research institute of archaeology.
The mission began earlier this month, carried out by the underwater cultural relic protection center under the State Administration of Cultural Heritage and Jiangxi Provincial Research Institute of Archaeology.
A path was found to the north of the statue, and an inscription with 30 characters was found to the south, according to Li Bin, researcher with the State Administration of Cultural Heritage. In front of the statue is the foundation of the hall, covering some 165 square meters, said Li.
Guan Zhiyong, head of Hongmen Township government, said the Buddha statue was built at the intersection of two rivers where boats easily overturned due to the rapid flow.
"According to folk tale, the ancient people built the statue to pray for safety," said Guan.
According to county records, the reservoir is located on the ruins of the ancient Xiaoshi Township, an important trade center and hub for water transportation between Jiangxi and Fujian provinces.
"The ruins of Xiaoshi town were not exposed by the lowered water levels, but the underwater team also explored the town," said Jin Huilin, curator of the museum of Nancheng County.
Hongmen Reservoir, also known as Zuixian Lake, was built in 1958. Many local villagers were relocated for the project. Hearing the news of the newly visible Buddha, some villagers went back to pay a visit.
Blacksmith Huang Keping, 82, used to live near the site.
"I went to the temple in 1952 and saw the Buddha statue for the first time. I remember the statue was gilded at that time," said Huang.
He recalled that there was a small temple at the foot of the Buddha statue and many of the villagers held Buddhist beliefs.
Jin Huilin said there was not yet a cultural relic protection department in the county when the reservoir was built, as the county museum was not established until 1983.
"There was also a lack of mature technology to protect cultural relics, and the statue could not be removed," he said.
Experts said the statue was well-preserved as the water prevented it from weathering and destruction by humans. Some historical heritage sites were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution between 1966 and 1976.
Archaeologists said they will conduct research to prepare for the protection of the reservoir's underwater relics.
"The water levels of the reservoir will rise when the spring flood arrives around March, and the head of the Buddha statue will be submerged again," said Shan Keke, official with the water authority of Nancheng.