Friday, December 20, 2013

A Few of Our Favourite Things: #8 Helen Wang

As part of IDP's 20th anniversary celebrations we have asked twenty of our friends and supporters to select their favourite item from the IDP collections. The full selection will form an online catalogue and will be featured in the spring and autumn 2014 editions of IDP News

Helen Wang is Curator of East Asian Money at the British Museum. In addition to researching Money on the Silk Road (2004) and Textiles as Money on the Silk Road (2013), she’s worked collaboratively with lots of IDP friends to produce important reference works on the collections of Sir Aurel Stein. These include the Handbook to the Collections of Sir Aurel Stein in the UK (1999, revised 2008); Sir Aurel Stein in The Times (2002); Catalogue to the Collections of Sir Aurel Stein in the Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (2002) and its Supplement (2007); and Sir Aurel Stein, Colleagues and Collections (2012). Her chosen item is a photograph of Stein’s assistant Miss Lorimer Photo 1280/1(1).

Photograph of Miss Lorimer Photo 1280/1(1). Courtesy of Christina Lorimer.

Helen Wang writes:

I’ve chosen Miss Lorimer (Stein’s Recording Angel, or R.A.) in recognition of her outstanding commitment and contribution to Sir Aurel Stein’s projects and undertakings. Miss Lorimer worked with Stein for thirteen years, spending nine years at the British Museum, and four years in India. Although Stein was an exceptionally competent keeper of records and accounts (if in doubt, take a look at his papers in the Bodleian Library), it’s quite clear that he preferred the open air to the office. After all, how many ‘Education Officers’ are able to spend months on expeditions away from their desks? And how many archaeologists of no fixed abode are able to keep such close tabs on their recording team?

When the shipments arrived in London, it was the small team of Mr Andrews and Miss Lorimer who set to work on the collection. Stein joined them when he could. At the British Museum, the Stein Collection had its own space, with its own lock and key, and it was here that Andrews and Lorimer unpacked the finds, stored them safely, and created the slips. These were long strips of paper, once used like index cards in the museum, and now superseded by spreadsheets and databases. Each object had its own slip, which typically recorded the object’s ‘Stein number’ (his unique system, combining upper and lower case letters, and Roman and Arabic numerals to indicate the precise context of a site find, purchase or gift), its measurements and a description. The slips served as the basis for the thousands of object descriptions published in Stein’s publications, and they were essential for managing the collection. Some parts of the collection travelled, and Miss Lorimer, in particular, had to keep track of everything. For example, in 1911 over 400 Chinese manuscripts were sent to Paul Pelliot in Paris for cataloguing, and remained there throughout the First World War.

The Stein Collections are phenomenally important – for the wonderful objects and manuscripts, of course, but also for the meticulous recording of the contexts in which they were found. This does not happen by itself. Without the painstaking efforts of people like Miss Lorimer, who mostly work behind the scenes and are seldom acknowledged, our understanding of the Silk Road would be so much the poorer.

Friday, December 13, 2013

A Few of Our Favourite Things #7: Hans van Roon

As part of IDP's 20th anniversary celebrations we have asked twenty of our friends and supporters to select their favourite item from the IDP collections. The full selection will form an online catalogue and will be featured in the spring and autumn 2014 editions of IDP News

Hans van Roon is a Dutch chartered accountant and financial specialist who in 1987 read Peter Hopkirk’s Foreign Devils on the Silk Road and never stopped reading again. This was the beginning of his own personal Silk Road journey. He publishes on a regularly basis the latest news about the Silk Road and anything related to IDP on his blog Mongols China and the Silk Road.

His favourite object is the third of five nearly complete Sogdian letters from the beginning of the fourth century, discovered in 1907 by Aurel Stein some 90km west of Dunhuang.

Detail from Or.8212/98

Hans van Roon writes:

Many readers will be familiar with this letter but this one is special to me as:
  • This was found by Aurel Stein;
  • These letters are the most ancient monuments of the Sogdian language;
  • This one is almost complete and full of drama with an abandoned wife in the middle of nowhere while, we as readers know her cry for help never arrived at its destination;
  • It is written by a woman and the length of the letter suggests that it is not her first and only letter. It ends with the famous bitter words of anger to her husband: ‘I would rather be a dog’s or a pig’s wife than yours!’
  • It makes you feel that you are in direct contact with someone from the fourth century, which is something magical!

Friday, December 6, 2013

A Few of Our Favourite Things #6: Maria Menshikova

As part of IDP's 20th anniversary celebrations we have asked twenty of our friends and supporters to select their favourite item from the IDP collections. The full selection will form an online catalogue and will be featured in the spring and autumn 2014 editions of IDP News

Maria Menshikova is Curator of the Dunhuang collection in the State Hermitage Museum. She started work at the Hermitage over forty years ago and while there studied art history. Her interest in Dunhuang dates back to childhood as her father, Professor Lev Menshikov, was a renowned Chinese scholar and curator and cataloguer of the Dunhuang Chinese manuscripts at the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts. She has recently curated an exhibition of Sergei Oldenburg’s expedition to Dunhuang at the Hermitage (pictured above at the opening). Her chosen item is a pair of seated guardians DH-1 and DH-2.

Pair of Sitting Fantastic Beasts, DH-2 and DH-1. © The State Hermitage

Maria Menshikova writes:

It so happened that through my visual memory I always remember the images from Dunhuang. In my childhood my father, Lev Nikolaevitch Menshikov, showed me the pictures of the ceiling ornaments, books with the reproductions and photographs of the Mogao Thousand Buddhas caves. And on Sundays papa took me to the museums and of course to the Hermitage and the rooms with the Dunhuang collection. Maybe it was my childish impression but in the exhibition the most attractive for me were the fantastic beasts, the dogs that sat in the middle of the room in the glass cages. I was not afraid of them but thought they were looking at me breathing and smiling as the real pets can.

Two sculptures of the fantastic animals were brought from Dunhuang to St. Petersburg in 1915 by the second Russian Turkestan Expedition, led by academician Sergei Feodorovitch Oldenburg. No other such beasts from Dunhuang are known or have survived. They must be the pair of seated guardians at the entrance to the Buddhist cave. One of them is shown with the open mouth like roaring, the second with the closed mouth but tentative. They are vigorous and listen to the sounds of the world. Any moment they are ready to protect the Buddhist faith from any evil.

Friday, November 29, 2013

A Few of Our Favourite Things: #5 Vivienne Lo

As part of IDP's 20th anniversary celebrations we have asked twenty of our friends and supporters to select their favourite item from the IDP collections. The full selection will form an online catalogue and will be featured in the spring and autumn 2014 editions of IDP News

Vivienne Lo is the director of the UCL China Centre for Health and Humanity. She has also been a restaurateur and professional acupuncturist for many decades and combines her historical and contemporary interests in the history of food, qi exercises and Chinese medicine. She has been teaching the History of Asian Medicine and Classical Chinese medicine at BSc and MA level at University College London (UCL) since 2002. Her research concerns the social and cultural origins of acupuncture and therapeutic exercise. She translates and analyses manuscript material from Early and Medieval China and the transmission of scientific knowledge along the so-called Silk Roads through to the modern Chinese medical diaspora. Her chosen item is medical manuscript Or.8210/S.6168.

Vivienne Lo writes:

Or.8210/S.6168 is the earliest illustration of moxibustion practice, the therapeutic treatment that uses artemesia punk and other cautery techniques to treat illnesses. It pre-dates the earliest Chinese bronze acupuncture models used for teaching in the Song period by at least a century and represents a pervasive medical culture in evidence at both the centre and periphery of Chinese administration. I have called this culture 'quick and easy Chinese medicine', because the charts provide everything you need to know: the locations of the points, symptoms of the illnesses, numbers of cautery to place and burn on the points with little reference to the kind of theory that requires a classical education. It is therefore a 'householder' treatment for everyday symptoms. It can be compared and contrasted to Tibetan manuscripts in the Pelliot collection which reveal the cross-cultural transmission of medicine in the Dunhuang area.

I love this mansuscript and sponsored it in the name of my late father, Kenneth Lo. When I first began researching medicine in early and medieval manuscript cultures I had no idea there was such a treasure just down the road from my office. Both in my work as an acupuncturist and as an historian I have been intrigued by what makes an acceptable home treatment and what is properly in the domain of the professional. In the history of Chinese therapy moxibustion has been much more prevalent than acupuncture. Artemesia grows everywhere and is easy to prepare into moxa. Even though in the Chinese context historically, and in some places still today, the moxa is applied until the skin blisters so there is a danger of infection, in most parts of the world it has become a much gentler practice and, in my view, is safe to use at home with very little instruction.

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Few of Our Favourite Things: #4 Desmond Durkin-Meisterernst

As part of IDP's 20th anniversary celebrations we have asked twenty of our friends and supporters to select their favourite item from the IDP collections. The full selection will form an online catalogue and will be featured in the spring and autumn 2014 editions of IDP News

Desmond Durkin-Meisterernst works in Berlin on the edition of Iranian fragments in the Berlin Turfan Collection at the Berlin Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities. The project is called ‘Turfanforschung’ (Turfan Studies) and is an IDP partner. His chosen item is M 4a.

The Parthian mwqrʾnyg bʾšʾẖ (Turfan Collection, Berlin, M 4a I V 3-16). In: ARAM 16 (2004), 95-107.

Desmond Durkin-Meisterernst writes:

One of my favourite items in the Berlin Turfan Collection is the bifolio M 4a and in particular the right-hand side on which a small hymn is preserved entirely. The bifolio is an exquisite example of Manichaean book art. The scribe used an elaborate headline and initial letter extending into the upper right margin to create a very pleasing design. The short text is framed within rubrics in red that identify its beginning and end. It is in Parthian, a language from the north of Iran which probably died out in the seventh century but which has survived because it was still used by Manichaeans in far-away Turfan on the Silk Road in the tenth century.

Friday, November 15, 2013

IDP Quarterly Report: August — October 2013

Download this report PDF 193KB.


IDP is celebrating twenty years of successful endeavours at the British Library with a series of activities and events. Details can be found on the IDP website and blog. We hope many of you will join us in our celebrations.

Manuscript Audit and Move

IDP has been particularly busy over the past quarter helping colleagues throughout the Library with auditing, packing and moving the manuscripts to another secure location in the Library. This was to enable routine maintenance work to be carried out in the strongroom where they are normally held. The work on the fire damper systems included an element to enable access to the systems from outside, so that the manuscripts will not need to be moved again. However, this was an ideal opportunity to carry out a complete audit of the collections and to assess the storage. As a result, more storage space has been created in the strongroom, in anticipation of future growth of the collections following conservation and rehousing of some of the material. The work was completed on time and the manuscripts are now available again for readers (as of 17 November).


The Dunhuang Foundation, a US-based organisation founded to support the work of the Dunhuang Academy and related activities, generously gave $12,100 to IDP and the Needham Research Institute to digitise and catalogue photographs and archives relating to Joseph Needham’s two visits to Dunhuang in 1943 and 1958. Once online, The Dunhuang Academy will help with further identifications of the subjects of the photographs.


  • Susan Whitfield (SW) was interviewed by Tianjin TV (China) and China Central TV for their forthcoming programmes on Dunhuang, looking especially at Stein and Needham’s visit. She also helped the BBC for their Culture Show programme on the Chinese painting exhibition currently on display at the V&A Museum, London.
  • SW was interviewed by Jacob Mikanowski for a New Yorker blog, which appeared on 9 October.
  • The Italian publication, Archeo ran a special issue on the Silk Road including an interview with SW.


We welcomed Lizzie Vickery and Sarah Wall to IDP in August. They will be working in the studio as Digital Imaging Assistants.

Conferences and Lectures

  • 19-21 September: SW, Vic Swift (VS) and John Falconer (JF, Lead Curator, Photographs), attended the final workshop in the AHRC-funded Silk Road Network, organised by Nottingham University. JF presented a paper.
  • 24 - 27 September: SW and Sam van Schaik (SvS) both gave papers at a conference in St Petersburg on the life and legacy of Sergei Oldenburg. They also met with curators from the State Hermitage Museum and IDP Berlin partners for ongoing discussions of potential collaboration.
  • 21 October: SvS lectured to students on a SOAS Diploma course on Indian art.
  • 24 October: SW lectured to students on a Christies’ Diploma course on Chinese art.
  • 30 October: SW lectured to students on the SOAS MA in Art and Archaeology of the Silk Road.

Visitors and Meetings

  • 7 August: SW met with Niyati Mehta, Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, to discuss IDP and view the Diamond Sutra.
  • 10 August: SW and JF met with Declan Hayden to discuss the Desmond Parsons’ archive and Parson’s visit to Dunhuang in 1935.
  • 19 August: Emma Goodliffe (EG) and Josef Konczak (JK) met with Haitham Sayed Osman, Head of Imaging for the TIFDAK Project in Cairo, to discuss imaging techniques and introduce the work of the IDP Studio.
  • 27 August: EG met with the scholar Dr Liu Zhengcheng and his daughter Cynthia Liu to discuss Dr Liu’s publication on Chinese calligraphy based on the Dunhuang manuscripts.
  • 10 September: a group of scholars visited the BL to view a selection of Manichaean manuscripts, and SW helped Ursula Sims-Williams with the Show and Tell.
  • 23 September: EG and JK provide a studio tour to visitors from the National Archives of Japan.
  • 26 September: EG acted as interpreter for the Chinese State Archives Show and Tell at the British Library.

Manuscripts available from Monday 18 November 2013

The essential maintenance work in the storage areas of the British Library, the Stein Dunhuang and other Central Asia manuscripts is now complete and manuscripts will be available for viewing from Monday 18 November 2013. We thank you for your patience.

If you would like to make arrangements to access the collections please see our Collections page and complete the Access to Collections form.

IDP UK: Twitter Digitisation Feed

Digitisation staff at IDP UK will be posting updates to our Twitter feed as new material from the British Library collections is made available online. The latest posts will also appear here (right) and on the IDP Web archive page of the IDP website. Please follow @idp_uk for all our updates.

A Few of Our Favourite Things: #3 Tsuguhito Takeuchi

As part of IDP's 20th anniversary celebrations we have asked twenty of our friends and supporters to select their favourite item from the IDP collections. The full selection will form an online catalogue and will be featured in the spring and autumn 2014 editions of IDP News

Tsuguhito Takeuchi is Professor of Linguistics at Kobe City University of Foreign Studies. His research field is the linguistic analysis of Old Tibetan documents from Central Asia. He is the author of Old Tibetan Manuscripts from East Turkestan in the Stein Collection of the British Library and he is currently cataloguing the Tibetan woodslips in the Stein Collection.

His chosen item is IOL Tib N 1103 (M.Tagh.002) in the Stein Collection of the British Library, a Tibetan woodslip unearthed from Mazār Tāgh by Aurel Stein.

Tsuguhito Takeuchi writes:

This is a particular type of tally stick. One side is painted red with several short and long notches cut into it. A wedge is cut away at the bottom right. On the left side is written a place name, ending with rtse ‘mountain peak.’ This is a place for ri-zug or hill-stationing of watchmen, a unit of four men, consisting of Tibetan soldiers and Khotanese cooks. They were sent from the Mazār Tāgh fort to hill stations in the desert. When they set out, they brought the cut-out wedge as a tally to receive provisions (barley) later from a courier who carried this master woodslip bearing the name of the hill-station. At the time of receiving provisions, both short and long notched served for identification: the short notches represented the amount of grain, while the long ones served for matching-up.

Although each ri-zug slip appears to contain scarce information, closer examinations reveal how they actually functioned. They attest the sophisticated logistic system of the Tibetan military administration, a key for understanding how a small number of Tibetans controlled the vast colonial empire.

These slips together with paper documents also vividly indicate the harshness of the lives of local peoples. How were they recruited and sent to stations? They tell of the escape and execution of Khotanese, etc. Seemingly humble finds yield much information!

Friday, November 8, 2013

A Few of Our Favourite Things: #2 Agnes Kelecsényi and Kinga Dévényi

As part of IDP's 20th anniversary celebrations we have asked twenty of our friends and supporters to select their favourite item from the IDP collections. The full selection will form an online catalogue and will be featured in the spring and autumn 2014 editions of IDP News

Agnes Kelecsényi (left) and Kinga Dévényi (right) are curators in the Oriental Collection of the Library and Information Centre of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest, where Stein’s bequest is preserved. They have been strongly involved in disseminating knowledge about this collection including various digitisation and cataloguing projects with IDP. Their chosen item is Aurel Stein's manuscript of the Sand-buried Ruins of Khotan.

Detail from Stein's Ms of the Sand-buried Ruins of Khotan, 653/1-2.

Agnes Kelecsényi and Kinga Dévényi write:

The two volume manuscript, bound in brown leather, consists of two parts: The text of the Preliminary Note in Stein’s pagination Vol.1.:434 ff. and Vol. 2.: 435-812 ff. completed in London, 6 February 1903. At the end of the manuscript two parts are inserted from his diary written during his return journey to Europe: Osh, 8 June 1901 (13 ff.); and Samarkand, 15 June 1901 (6 ff.).

This manuscript was donated to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences by Stein as a part of his first donation of books to the Academy of his native land.

It is our favourite item because his neat handwriting and scarce amendments reflect his scholarly way of composing and his well disciplined character. While the dried flowers put among the leaves of the manuscript, and which are from the Mohand Marg, his mountain retreat in Kashmir, are a sign of his tender heart, love of nature, and spirituality.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

IDP News Issue 42, Autumn 2013

IDP News 42 is now available to view online or download (PDF 930KB). This issue features photographs taken by the mid-twentieth century travellers to Dunhuang, Desmond Parsons, Joseph Needham, Raghu Vira and Irene and John Vincent. Other articles include a tribute to Frances Wood who retired earlier this year and a conservation and science piece on early rag papers.

Friday, November 1, 2013

A Few of Our Favourite Things #1: Victor H. Mair

As part of IDP's 20th anniversary celebrations we have asked twenty of our friends and supporters to select their favourite item from the IDP collections. The full selection will form an online catalogue and will be featured in the spring and autumn 2014 editions of IDP News

Professor Mair teaching at the European summer school for graduate students organized by Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary, 2013. Photograph by Arina Mikhalevskaya.

Victor H. Mair is Professor of Chinese Language and Literature at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, USA. He has been teaching there since 1979, before which he taught at Harvard University. Professor Mair's interest in Central Asia stems mainly from his studies of Dunhuang popular narratives, about which he has written three books and dozens of articles. Developing out of his research on Dunhuang biànwén 變文 (transformation texts), he gradually moved into archaeological investigations on the Bronze Age and Early Iron Age mummies of Eastern Central Asia. In conjunction with the latter extended project, he has travelled to Xinjiang many times, hosted a major exhibition entitled Secrets of the Silk Road in 2011 at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, and has published numerous books and articles about the mummies and their associated artefacts.

A detail of Pelliot chinois 4524 from the Bibliothèque nationale de France collections.

Victor H. Mair writes:

The picture scroll depicting the contest of magical conjurations between Śāriputra and the Six Heretics is my favourite of all objects from Dunhuang for many reasons. The most immediate reason is simply its innate charm, the pictures vividly capturing the excitement of the competition and the details of the individual scenes.

Above all, however, is the fact that this unique scroll holds the key to unlocking the relationship between pictorial and textual narrative that became a hallmark of popular fiction and drama in succeeding centuries. What we find is that the verses on the verso of Pelliot chinois 4524 match the verse portions of the prosimetric transformation text about Mulian (Maudgalyāyana) saving his mother from the suffering of the underworld.

To show how the picture scroll relates to the transformation text, I have devoted one entire book Painting and Performance: Chinese Picture Recitation and Its Indian Genesis, parts of two other books Tun-huang Popular Narratives and T'ang Transformation Texts, and several major articles e.g. ‘Śāriputra Defeats the Six Heterodox Masters: Oral-Visual Aspects of an Illustrated Transformation Scroll (P4524),’ Asia Major; 3rd series, 8.2 (1995 [actually published in September, 1997]), 1-52, plus three plates.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Post-doctoral Fellowship in Silk Road Studies — Silk Road Studies at Georgetown University

Applications are invited for a one-year, non-teaching postdoctoral fellowship at Georgetown University beginning Fall 2014. The postdoctoral fellow will play an active role in the year-long John E. Sawyer Seminar titled "Critical Silk Road Studies," funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and organized by Georgetown faculty members James Millward (Department of History, School of Foreign Service) and Michelle C. Wang (Department of Art and Art History). Applicants whose scholarly work addresses any of the geographical regions covered by the Silk Road, from ancient to contemporary, and represents any discipline in the humanities or social sciences are encouraged to apply. The fellow will be expected to attend all sessions of the Sawyer Seminar and to be an active participant in the Sawyer Seminar and University community. Additionally, the fellow is expected to pursue an active research agenda by making use of the resources of Georgetown University and the greater Washington, DC area. Read more here…

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

IDP’s 20th Anniversary: Programme of Events

To celebrate IDP’s 20th anniversary we will be organising a series of events and activities over the next year. Details will be added and updated below and on our programme page. From November 1 the IDP blog will also feature ‘A Few of Our Favourite Things’, a weekly post showcasing IDP collection items selected by twenty of IDP’s partners, supporters and users. Please contact for more information.

Download a PDF of the programme of events


In recent years a team of experts have conducted research into the Silk Road’s sites and routes as part of the Silk Roads World Heritage Serial and Transnational Nomination in Central Asia project. Tim Williams, archaeologist at University College London (UCL) and leader of the UCL Ancient Merv Project, has been working on this project for several years. In this lecture he will discuss the considerable challenges of mapping the the Silk Roads and their sites.

Conference Centre
The British Library
96 Euston Road
London, NW1 2DB


Between 1900 and 1916 the archaeologist and scholar, Aurel Stein, led three expeditions to the Taklamakan and Lop Deserts of western China in search of the sand-buried settlements of the Silk Road. He excavated scores of sites and took over 5000 photographs. These photographs of ancient Silk Road settlements, stupas and forts in the Taklamakan Desert are shown alongside modern images and video taken on recent British Library expeditions to record the changes of the past century.

Royal Geographical Society
1 Kensington Gore
London, SW7 2AR

12 MARCH 2014

Archaeologist and scholar, Aurel Stein excavated scores of sites and discovered numerous artefacts including over 40,000 manuscripts and early printed documents in over twenty languages and scripts. The amount and variety of this material poses serious challenges for both conservation and digitisation that curators and conservators at the British Library have been addressing for two decades through international collaboration and under the auspices of IDP. This open day offers a chance to meet the conservation and digitisation teams and to learn about their work on the Stein Silk Road manuscripts.

Foyle Centre and IDP Studio
The British Library
96 Euston Road
London, NW1 2DB


The Dunhuang Diamond Sutra, the world’s earliest, dated, complete printed book, will be on display at the British Library for the first time since a programme of long-term conservation was completed. It will be shown alongside other examples of early printing in Asia.

Sir John Ritblat Gallery
The British Library
96 Euston Road
London, NW1 2DB

11 APRIL 2014
14.00 – 20.00

Over a century of archaeology on the eastern Silk Road has resulted in thousands of textile finds, preserved by the dry desert air. In their variety — of material, dyes, designs and weaves — they demonstrate the richness of cultural and technical exchanges among the peoples of the Silk Road. This afternoon of lectures by scholars, curators and conservators is intended for a general audience, and will introduce the Silk Road and the textiles collections held in London and worldwide. The lecture will be followed by a drinks reception.

Conference Centre
The British Library
96 Euston Road
London, NW1 2DB

Monday, October 14, 2013

A Secret Library, Digitally Excavated

From the New Yorker by Jacob Mikanowski.

Just over a thousand years ago, someone sealed up a chamber in a cave outside the oasis town of Dunhuang, on the edge of the Gobi Desert in western China. The chamber was filled with more than five hundred cubic feet of bundled manuscripts. They sat there, hidden, for the next nine hundred years. When the room, which came to be known as the Dunhuang Library, was finally opened in 1900, it was hailed as one of the great archaeological discoveries of the twentieth century, on par with Tutankhamun’s tomb and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Read more…

Monday, September 30, 2013

Free Public Lecture: Mapping the Silk Road

Friday 1 November, 18.30–20.00
The British Library Conference Centre
Free entry

Just over forty years ago, the World Heritage Convention was conceived to protect sites of 'outstanding universal value' to humanity. Today, almost a thousand sites are World Heritage listed and millions of people travel each year to experience these unique cultural and natural assets. In recent years a team of experts at UNESCO, ICOMOS, the State Parties, and University College London (UCL) have conducted research into the Silk Road's sites and routes as part of the Silk Roads World Heritage Serial and Transnational Nomination in Central Asia project. Their thematic study explored the problems of mapping the diverse routes and sites of the Silk Road, with their wide geographic and chronological expanse and considered the development of a 'corridor' based approach to identifying areas and sites to be included in the nomination strategy.

Tim Williams, archaeologist at University College London (UCL) and leader of the UCL Ancient Merv Project, has been working on this project for several years. In this illustrated lecture, he will discuss the considerable challenges of mapping the the Silk Roads and their sites.

This lecture marks the start of IDP's 20th anniversary celebrations. Further events will be announced here and and on the IDP home page.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Sergey Oldenburg and the Russian Academy

Kira Samosyuk presenting a paper in the Reading Room of the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts, St Petersburg, September 2013.

From St Petersburg, where the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) and the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts (IOM) are honouring the great scholar and explorer, S. F. Oldenburg (1863-1934), with an international conference. Noon here and the daily canon fire from the Peter and Paul Fortress has just punctuated proceedings in the wonderful reading room of the IOM — although given the situation with the proposed reform of the Academy, it is not clear where the IOM and its extensive Central Asian manuscript collection will be next time we come.

Oldenburg was part of a generation of pan-European scholars of Central Asia, the treaties between Russian and Britain enabling exploration and archaeology. The results were shared at the regular International of Congress of Orientalists, which had its inaugural meeting in Paris in 1873. The 1899 Congress in Rome was instrumental in bringing Central Asian explorations and scholarship to the centre of the agenda and Oldenburg was confirmed as a member of the International Preparatory Committee on Central Asian exploration. M. Aurel Stein (1862-1943) was also at this Congress, although it is probable that he and Oldenburg had met previously when they were both in Britain in 1885-6: Oldenburg's name appears in the address book Stein started using in 1884.

Much as the scholars of this earlier time might have tried to transcend its concerns, politics was never out of the picture in the story of the exploration and study of Chinese Central Asia. Some, such as Stein and Oldenburg, managed to avoid letting political competition taint their scholarly collaboration. Theirs was a relationship of respect. This respect is clearly shown in their correspondence, held at the Bodleian Library, Oxford and the Archives of the Russian Academy of Sciences, here in St Petersburg. Professor Wang Jiqing of Lanzhou University has researched the Oxford correspondence and we are currently preparing a joint paper for publication.

There are twenty five letters extant, although this is not a complete record. The first is from 1903 but most date from 1923 onwards. In 1923 Oldenburg is staying with Sylvain Lévi in Paris and Stein writes from his Kashmiri mountain camp expressing the hope that Oldenburg will publish the results of his explorations in Dunhuang:

‘I am greatly pleased to learn of the abundant results which our visit to Tun-huang has bourne and shall look forward with keenest interest to their publication. I have long ago learned to appreciate fully the unfailing thoroughness of all your investigations and know how much room there was left for them at many a site.’

This is a hope was not realized at the time: one of the six volumes of typescript prepared by Oldenburg on Dunhuang is currently on display at an Oldenburg exhibition at the Hermitage, curated by Maria Menshikova. However, the volumes remained unpublished for a century: a Chinese translation appeared recently. We are now discussing publication of the original Russian edition and a English translation.

After this time Stein’s letters start show a subtle concern for Oldenburg’s professional position at the Academy. For example, in March 1925:

‘It is truly comforting & encouraging for all fellow students to know you still occupying that leading position in the Academy, which has enabled you in times past to do so much for the studies we have at heart. May it become easy for you to exercise the same beneficient influence also thereafter.’

Oldenburg’s position in the Academy was not secure: he lost his position there in 1929 but continued his work at the then Asiatic Museum, a division of the Academy. This was to become the Institute for Oriental Studies and Oldenburg appointed its Director in May 1930.

IOM has been a collaborating member of IDP for many years and we hope that its valuable work in conserving, curating and researching the Central Asian manuscripts will long continue.

Friday, September 13, 2013

IDP Researcher: Rebecca Fu

At Mori Tim Stupa near Kashgar.

I am a fourth year PhD student at the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in medieval Chinese literature and history, with a special interest in women’s social life and cultural activities in the Tang dynasty (618–907). Currently I am working on my dissertation exploring the literary practices of women in late medieval China (600–1000), a time when their social circumstances were increasingly connected to the written word.

During my visit to IDP in July and August 2013, I studied Dunhuang contracts, letters, wills and Buddhist sutras with colophons in which women were involved, as well as examining in detail the physical features of selected manuscripts. These documents reveal that, despite the fact that most of the women in the study were not literate, they successfully negotiated with written texts and responded dynamically to the challenges of a text-based society.

A detail from Or.8210/S.527.

For example, in both Or.8210/S.527 (a lay-association contract from 959) and Or.8210/S.5871 (a grain loan contract from 782), each woman involved made a unique mark under her name listed in the contract where her signature was supposed to be given. Or.8210/S.526 is a letter to a certain monk by Lady Yin of Wuwei prefecture, in which rich details of Yin’s private life are given. One may guess that an elite woman in that period should be educated and therefore literate. This is perhaps the case for Lady Yin, who was obviously the wife of a high-rank elite in the Dunhuang area. However, her literacy is by no means to be revealed by this letter. Like those female commoners in Or.8210/S.527 and Or.8210/S.5871, Lady Yin did not sign her name but gave a seal mark instead at the end of this letter. Also, like many other documents made by scribes in the Dunhuang collection, the date of this letter was left blank. These details show that it was written by a scribe rather than the sender.

A detail from Or.8210/S.526.

I also found that local residents in Dunhuang employed scribes in a wide range of occasions to compose texts for practical purposes, such as copying Buddhist sutras for prayer (Or.8210/S.736), composing elegiac essays for deceased relatives (Or.8210/S.381v) and making wills (Or.8210/S.2199) etc.

Rebecca Fu

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

International Dunhuang Project: 20th Anniversary

As part of its 20th anniversary celebrations, IDP will be arranging a series of events over autumn 2013 to spring 2014. These will include an exhibition of photographs, a conservation show and tell, an afternoon of lectures and a reception, a selection of twenty favourite items from IDP’s patrons, partners, supporters and users, and a special edition of the newsletter. Further details will be announced shortly and will also be publicised on the IDP home page.

Our launch event will be a lecture given by Tim Williams (UCL). ’Mapping the Silk Road’ will take place at the British Library Conference Centre (map) on November 1 2013 at 6.30pm. Entrance is free and all are welcome.

Online Booking

Monday, September 9, 2013

IDP France back online

IDP France is now back online. Thank you for your patience.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

IDP France server maintenance

The IDP France server will be down for a few days for scheduled maintenance. Images from the French collections will be unavailable for the duration. We apologise for any inconvenience.

Friday, August 23, 2013

A Question of Terminology: Codicology and Palaeography

Detail from Or.8210/S.1285

Following a recent paper at an international workshop at Ryukoku University, Kyoto, on ‘Codicology and Palaeography: IDP initiatives and collaborations’, Professor Toyoshima Masayuki (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies) questioned the appropriateness of the term ‘codicology’ when applied to non-codex material such as Dunhuang manuscript scrolls or Tibetan pothi: the term comes from Latin cōdex, genitive cōdicis, ‘notebook'. There is also the issue of whether codicology incorporates palaeography, strictly the study of writing (from Greek παλαιός palaiós, ‘old’ and γράφειν graphein, ‘to write’). Also, whether it includes the study of printed books.

This is a subject long debated among IDP colleagues. IDP decided, in the absence of anything better, to use the term in its widest sense: to include the study of the whole object, whether manuscript or woodblock printed, including its writing. This is not unprecedented. ‘Codicology’ was first applied to the study of the materiality and script of Dunhuang and Turfan manuscripts by the eminent Japanese scholar, Professor Fujieda Akira. His colleagues and students continue this tradition.

Professor Toyoshima also raised an interesting question about the scope of ‘palaeography’ — whether, for example, it covers the study of the script of the seals used on the Dunhuang and other manuscripts. If not, then what term could be used for this study?

These are not questions with any definitive answers. Scholars of European manuscript studies use the terms codicology and palaeography with varying scope. It is therefore important to define the scope in any publication. IDP plans a small paper on this subject, relating to its own use of both terms.

Professor Toyoshima suggested that it might be better to coin a new term. Suggestions and comments are welcome.

See also this useful blog on the subject.

Friday, August 16, 2013

IDP UK Server Problems

We are experiencing some technical issues with our UK server, we apologise for any inconvenience. Our other servers are working as usual, European users can use our German or French sites while we work to restore our UK service.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

IDP Quarterly Report April – July 2013

Download this Report PDF 149KB

Please note that owing to essential maintenance works on the storage areas, the Stein and other Central Asian manuscripts at the British Library will be inaccessible from 23 August to 17 November 2013. Please email or check our home page for further updates.


  • IDP is delighted to welcome James C. Y. Watt as a new IDP patron. James Watt retired from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York in 2011, but continues there as curator emeritus.


  • Interviews have been held for new imaging assistants. The two successful applicants will begin working at the British Library in mid-August.


  • May: UCL MA interns Wang Kexin and May Ho were with IDP for five weeks learning about IDP and helping to catalogue the collections.
  • 11–18 July: IDP hosted a week long visit to London for the five recipients of the Afghan Women’s Scholarship Internship at Durham University.

Conferences and Lectures

  • 15–17 April: Sam van Schaik (SvS) attended the conference ‘Empires of Faith in South Asia’ at KHK Ruhr Universität, Bochum and gave a talk on Sanskrit manuscripts from Central Asia.
  • 25 April: Emma Goodliffe (EG) and SvS attended the ‘Day of Tangut Studies’ symposium held at SOAS.
  • 9–10 May: Susan Whitfield (SW) attended the conference ‘Trade and Civilization in the Pre-Modern World’ at Gothenburg University and gave a talk on ‘Buddhism and Trade in Central Asia’.
  • 15–17 May: SvS attended a conference on Tibetan manuscripts and xylographs at Hamburg University and gave a talk on the social functions of manuscripts.
  • 27 June: SW gave a talk on IDP and interfaces at the Strand Symposium on Digital Scholarship and ePublishing, held at King’s College London.
  • 22–26 June: EG attended a conference on Dunhuang studies at Lanzhou University organised by Korea University and gave a talk on IDP. She then accompanied the group on to Dunhuang.

Visitors and Meetings

  • 25 April: SW, SvS and EG met with Imre Galambos to discuss Tangut cataloguing.
  • 3 May: Imre Galambos visited to view manuscripts in the IDP Studio.
  • 15 May: IDP Patrons Abraham Lue and Matthew Farrer were interviewed for the IDP website.
  • 21 May: China Central Television (CCTV) met with SW and Josef Konczak (JK) to film and interview for a short feature on IDP.
  • 26 June: The IDP team provided a studio tour to visitors from the Strand Symposium.
  • 27 June: SW and VS met with Iida Takehiko from the Shōsō-in, Nara.
  • 27 June: JK and EG attended the Sino-British Fellowship Trust annual reception and presentation of awards to visiting scholars.
  • 4 July: IDP visited the Qatar Project and gave a presentation on IDP.
  • 8 July: Rebecca Fu is visiting from the University of Pennsylvania for research in the Asian and African Studies reading room and to help IDP with Chinese-language data entry.
  • 12 July: Pamela Youde and her granddaughters Kathy and Jane met with SW, JK and EG to record an interview for the IDP website.
  • 17 July: Wang Jiqing is visiting from Lanzhou University to work on the Stein archives and to discuss possible collaboration.

Collaborations and Projects

  • 29 April: SW attended a Project Board meeting of the Taliban Sources Project at Oxford University.
  • 22 May: Vic Swift (VS), SW and SvS met with Stewart Brookes at the Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College to discuss their text recognition tool and possibilities for collaboration.
  • 14 June: SW attended the final meeting of the AHRC Research Network, ‘Routes, Networks and Communities in the Medieval Indian Ocean’, at De Montfort University, Leicester as a member of the Advisory Committee.
  • 10 July: SW, EG and VS met with Director Choe, RIKS. This meeting resulted in RIKS signing a new MoU with IDP.
  • 18 July: SW, VS and SvS met with Kaspar Hanus and Emilia Smagur from Jagiellonian University, Poland to discuss collaboration on the Miran site, specifically GIS and aerial remote sensing.
  • 21–31 July: EG held talks with IDP China partners at the Dunhuang Academy and the National Library of China, and also met with Peking University Library to discuss potential collaboration on their Dunhuang manuscript collection.
  • 23 July: SW and SvS met with Zhao Feng, Director of the China National Silk Museum (NSM), and Julia Zhou, Head of the NSM Conservation Science Department, to discuss collaboration under the MoU. NSM will start to add details of the Central Asian textiles to the IDP database.


  • SvS: ‘Dating Early Tibetan Manuscripts: A Paleographical Method.’ in Dotson, Iwao and Takeuchi (eds), Scribes, Texts and Rituals in Early Tibet and Dunhuang. Weisbaden: Reichert Verlag, 2013. 119-135.
  • SvS: ‘Ruler of the East, or Eastern Capital: What lies behind the name Tong kun?’ in Galambos (ed.), Studies in Chinese Manuscripts: From the Warring States to the Twentieth Century. Budapest: Eötvös Loránd University, 2013. 223–235.


  • EG, VS and SW have attended access and reuse training with a view to making IDP UK material available using Public Domain and Creative Commons licenses.
  • 25–27 June Sarah Mullan (SM) undertook first aid training.
  • During June JK attended a number of video and digital scholarship training sessions.


  • 15 May: IDP held an event entitled ‘Documenting the Silk Road’ for IDP patrons and supporters. This event showcased the work IDP have been doing on field trips to Xinjiang and included a show-and-tell and presentation. Part of this event was filmed for the CCTV feature.

Forthcoming Events — IDP20

  • 1 November: To launch the celebrations of IDP’s 20th Anniversary Year, a lecture given by Tim Williams (UCL) ‘Mapping the Silk Road’ will take place at the British Library Conference Centre (6:30pm). All welcome. Free entrance.
  • As part of its 20th anniversary celebrations, IDP will be arranging other events, subject to funding, including an exhibition of photographs, a conservation show and tell, an afternoon of lectures and a reception, a selection of twenty favourite items from IDP’s patrons, partners and supporters, and special editions of the newsletter. Further details will be emailed shortly and will also be publicised on the IDP home page.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Silk Road Mousetrap?

In 2004 during the British Library Silk Road exhibition, I showed this wooden implement from Niya (Cadota) on the Southern Silk Road and described it as a mousetrap following M. Aurel Stein's description. In Ancient Khotan (376) he says that it 'was recognized by the men from Niya as a mouse-trap, similar to those still in use.' However, I have long been puzzled as to how it functioned, but Janken Myrdal, Professor at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, has sent me a plausible explanation. He writes:

‘The narrow end has a small hole, probably for the peg which held the bowstring, the peg that was connected to the bait and thus was released when the prey tried to take the bait. The bow was probably attached to the four small holes just before the round opening. The arrow was arranged under the bow, and run in the channel (as suggested by Stein).

The bait must have been placed over the opening, so the mouse (or probably a rat, as diameter of opening is c. 5 cm) had to stick its head into the opening. The small holes on the other side of the opening were probably for the stand holding the bait, with a connection to the peg that held the bow-string.

A guess is that the arrow had a tip with a straight end. Then this trap would function as a guillotine chopping off the head of the rat quickly and silently – there was no time for the mouse/rat to squeal. This would explain the opening where the rat has to place its head and the channel where the bow had to run an exact path.’

Diagram showing the original loaded mousetrap. Janken Myrdal.

‘I found mention of a similar trap (the arrow did not go under the bow though) used in Japan, and because the rat made no sound at all on its death the author had caught as many as seven rodents in an evening – but had to remove the bodies fast. If other rats realized that it was a trap they would not try to take the bait.’ (John Batchelor. Ainu Life and Lore. Tokyo: Kyobunkwan 1927).

Many thanks to Janken for this. He also suggests that testing could be carried out for traces of blood in the hole.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Manuscripts Temporarily Inaccessible

The British Library is carrying out some essential work on its storage facilities later this year which will mean the Dunhuang and other Chinese Central Asian manuscripts are not accessible from 23 August to 17 November, 2013. Apologies for any inconvenience and please can you pass on the information to any other scholars or students who might be intending to visit.

Please contact us if you have any questions or check here or the IDP home page for updates.

Please also note that all requests for viewing Dunhuang and other Chinese Central Asian manuscripts at the British Library should be sent through to and that everyone needs to complete the online form.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Relaunch of Sponsor a Sutra

Detail from Avalokitesvara as Saviour from Perils, 1919,0101,0.2
© The British Museum

Sponsor a Sutra, your opportunity to enable the copying of a Buddhist sutra just like the original patrons of the manuscripts, has been relaunched. We have a simpler pricing scheme, starting from just £35, and a new secure online payment system. You can add your own dedication or sponsor a sutra as a gift for a friend. All funds go directly to the digitisation work of IDP and enable us to make more material freely available online.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

IDP News 41 now available online

Issue 41 of IDP News is now available to read online and download. Articles include a report of the IDP Conference held in November 2012 on the archaeology of the southern Taklamakan and an analysis of the paper, pigments and dyes found in Turfan and Dunhuang Materials.

Photograph courtesy of Adrian Nordenborg.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Photographs from the Younghusband Expedition to Tibet

In the city bazaar, Lhasa, September 1904.
Neg 1083/14(428), (c) The British Library.

In 1904, the British government in India sent an army into Tibet to force the Dalai Lama to open trade relations with British India. This military incursion was also grew out of British fears of the influence of Russia in Central Asia. The army was headed by Francis Younghusband, and was euphemistically known as the 'Younghusband expedition'. One of several British officers on the expedition was Frederick Marshman Bailey, a young lieutenant. Bailey was also a keen photographer, and documented the progress of the expedition from Sikkim into Tibet, all the way to its final destination in Lhasa.

The nitrate negatives of Bailey's photographs are now held at the British Library, where they are currently being digitized by IDP. Several hundreds are already online, and can be found by searching on the IDP website for the pressmark Neg 1083. The subjects of the photographs include landscapes, buildings and people, including many portraits of Tibetans as well as Bailey himself. Bailey liked to photograph animals, including the elephants that were part of the expedition, Tibetan dogs, goats and antelopes -- the latter often after they had become hunting trophies. The photographs of Lhasa show the city as it was in 1904, ranging from panoramic views of the Potala Palace to busy street scenes like the photograph above.

After the Younghusband expedition, Bailey was appointed Trade Agent to Tibet, and was stationed at Gyantse. He also travelled extensively in Central Asia, China and India, and the photographs from these travels will be digitized along with those from Tibet.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Research and resources on Chinese astronomy

The Chinese Sky. Poster available from IDP (see below).
Illustrations by Nilesh Mistry.

The world's oldest existing manuscript star chart was discovered in a Buddhist cave complex in Dunhuang, China, and is now held at the British Library in London. The chart is important for our current understanding of the history of astronomy, thanks to the accuracy and detail it provides about the sky seen from China at this early period. Research by French scholars working with IDP has shown that the chart, sometimes referred to as the Dunhuang Star Chart, maps over 1300 stars and probably dates from about AD 650.

Astronomy was central to Chinese politics, to the extent that all the official dynastic historical records contain chapters on astronomy. Chinese astronomy differs from the ecliptic-based Chaldeo-Greek tradition in its equatorial character, due to the central role of the polar star. The celestial region close to the equator is divided in 28 asterisms (groups of stars), which can be considered as an equatorial Chinese zodiac. The grouping of the stars in China is also totally different from the Greek tradition of large constellations. The Chinese grouped the stars into numerous small asterisms (nearly three hundred), some associated with objects and others with people, both real and mythical. Many stories became associated with these characters.

IDP has a downloadable educational resource on Chinese astronomy and astrology. Comprising information pages, discussion topics and classroom activities, it uses the Dunhuang Star Chart as the basis for an exploration into the science, myth and history of Chinese astronomy. The resources includes an A4 version of the Chinese Sky wall chart (pictured above) which you can download as a PDF (7.9MB) and print yourself. Copies of the A1 wall chart are also available to teachers and students through IDP.

For your free copy of the A1 size chart, please email with an address for postage. Contributions towards postage and packing will be gratefully received. We welcome feedback, so if you have any comments or pictures relating to your experience of using these resources, please get in touch.

The research and resource were enabled by a grant from the Royal Astronomical Society.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Calligraphy of Wang Xizhi

Above: Or.8210/S.3753 — British Library manuscript featuring copies of no. 3 (Longbao tie 龍保帖) and no. 8 (Zhanjin tie 瞻近帖) from Wang Xizhi’s Shiqitie.

Below: Pelliot chinois 4642 — Bibliothèque nationale de France manuscript featuring a copy of no.23 (Zhanji hutao tie 旃罽胡桃帖) from Wang Xizhi’s Shiqitie.

The fourth-century calligrapher Wang Xizhi (王羲之, 303–361) became known in China as the 'Sage of Calligraphy' for his mastery of all calligraphic forms, in particular semi-cursive script (行书). His work was prized by calligraphers, collectors and emperors, both for its artistry and its rarity. As none of his original work is known to have survived, it was through rubbings, tracings and copies that his legacy was secured as generations of calligraphers tried to emulate his distinctive style.

Even in Dunhuang, on the opposite side of China from his native province of Shandong, we know of at least two manuscripts that have been identified as copies of Wang Xizhi’s work. One of these is now in the Stein Collection at the British Library and the other, first identified by Pelliot, is at the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Dating back to the Tang period (618–907), these manuscripts show three parts of the Shiqitie (十七帖), a model work in cursive script consisting of letters and other miscellaneous texts and named after the first two characters of the original piece.

Copies of Wang Xizhi's work continue to be identified and to make headlines. As recently as January 2013, a fragment of a letter held in a private Japanese collection was identified by specialists at the Tokyo National Museum as an expert copy of a Wang Xizhi original. It was promptly displayed in the museum's exhibition Wang Xizhi: Master Calligrapher, which ran from 22 January to 3 March 2013.

These manuscripts will feature in The Calligraphy of Wang Xizhi and Wang Xianzhi (王羲之王獻之書法全集), to be published in June 2013 by the Forbidden City Publishing House.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

IDP Jobs: Digital Imaging Assistants

IDP is looking for part time Imaging Assistants with Photoshop experience. For full details see the British Library careers pages.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

IDP Report January–March 2013

Download this report PDF 324KB


  • We were very sorry to say goodbye to Abby Baker and Rachel Roberts, both of whom had been with IDP for over ten years. We wish them well in their new roles. We welcomed Josef Konczak (JK) to replace Rachel as IDP Studio Manager.
  • Interns from University College London were interviewed for a placement with IDP in May. Two interns will be joining us then.

Cataloguing, Digitisation and Data Consolidation

  • The number of digital images available through IDP exceeded 400,000. Recent additions included Chinese manuscript scrolls from Dunhuang in the National Library of China (search for BD), photographs from the Sven Hedin collections in Sweden (search for 1034.00), and Tibetan pothi from the Stein collection at the British Library (search for IOL Tib J).
  • Work started on digitising nitrate negatives showing Tibet from the Bailey Collection at the British Library. These can be seen by searching for Neg 1083.
  • Emma Goodliffe has completed data checking and consolidation on several sequences of Uighur, Khotanese, Sanskrit and other manuscript fragments and these are now scheduled for digitisation. The consolidated data are being imported into the new data structure.

Conferences and Lectures

  • 19–20 January: Susan Whitfield (SW) took part in a workshop at Birmingham University of the AHRC network ‘Defining the Global Middle Ages’.
  • 21–28 January: SW visited Chicago, Minneapolis and New York. She held meetings with partners and potential funders, as well as teaching at the ‘Early Globalities’ graduate seminar at the University of Minnesota. In New York she gave a talk on the Silk Road explorations and IDP for the Dunhuang Foundation at the Asia Society.
  • 6–7 Feb: John Falconer (JF), Vic Swift (VS) and SW attended the Royal Geographical Society AHRC workshop Re-enacting the Silk Road: Geographies and Geographers of Central Asia and the Silk Road. SW gave a talk about Aurel Stein.
  • 8 March: Sam van Schaik (SvS) and SW helped organise an IDP Wikipedia Editathon in Nottingham University, along with Professors Mike Heffernan and Julian Henderson, as part of the AHRC-funded IDP project Contextualizing Texts.
  • 9–16 March: VS and SW visited Korea and Japan for partner meetings. They attended an international workshop on palaeography held by IDP’s partners at Ryukoku University, Kyoto and met with existing and potential collaborating institutions in Tokyo, Kyoto and Seoul to discuss present and future plans. In addition, they met the IDP Academic Advisory Committee at the Research Institute of Korean Studies at the Korea University.
  • 14–15 March: SvS went to Berlin to attend a seminar organised by Desmond Durkin-Meisterernst (Head of Turfan Research Group, BBAW and IDP Germany) to discuss tripartite cooperation between IDP Germany, the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts (IOM) and the Hermitage, St Petersburg. There were two days of presentations finishing with a roundtable discussion.

Collaborations and Projects

  • Franck Lebourgeois and Yann Leydier met with VS, SW and SvS to discuss their newly funded project between the University of Lyon and Tsinghua University, Beijing, with the cooperation of the IDP Beijing and IDP France. This is a CNRS project under the NSFC program and provides funds for three years to develop image processing tools and pattern recognition systems for a robust Optical Character Recognition suited for old Chinese manuscripts. Langruia Peng from Tsinghua University, Beijing joined the meeting by Skype.
  • Professor Daniel C. Waugh, University of Washington visited IDP to discuss the two websites under his management, namely the Silk Road Seattle site and the Silk Road Foundation site.
  • Dr Takeuchi Tsuguhito visited SvS and SW to discuss the completion of cataloguing of Tibetan woodslips with Iwao Kazushi, and the preparation of a catalogue of Tibetan texts from Kharakhoto and Etsin-gol for publication in 2015.
  • Dr Wang Shumin’s volume of transcriptions, notes and images of the medical manuscripts from Dunhuang in the British Library was published and a copy received by IDP, following several years of collaboration.


  • The AHRC-funded project Contextualizing Texts was completed and a full report and budget are currently being prepared.
  • IDP is exploring potential grants for the continuation of its core work — conservation, cataloguing, digitisation, research and outreach. We will be submitting applications over the next few months.
  • A fundraising drive for individuals through the IDP Supporters and Sponsor a Sutra schemes is also planned. A new publicity leaflet is shortly going to press and work will shortly be completed on an online payment system for donations.
  • IDP is seeking funding for an annual named lecture series on the Silk Road.


  • 23 January: The IDP team attended Collection Care Training at the British Library on handling manuscripts.
  • During January and February Emma Goodliffe (EG) attended a series of Digital Scholarship training days, organized by the British Library, which covered a series of topics such as social media, information integration, geo-referencing and metadata.
  • 14 February: VS and EG attended a training day on the Text Encoding Initiative held at the British Library.
  • 26 February: SW and Sarah Mullan (SM) met with Colleen Harrison to discuss Record Management.
  • 27 February: JK attended an Access and Reuse policy workshop organized by the British Library.
  • 19-20 March: JK undertook Phase One Camera & Software training.

Forthcoming Events

  • 15 May: There will be an event for IDP patrons and supporters in the British Library. This will showcase the work that IDP have been doing on field trips to Xinjiang and encourage support for a forthcoming exhibition of old and new photographs at the Royal Geographical Society (Jan–March 2014) as well as other future work.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Manuscripts under the microscope

A few years ago Sam van Schaik (IDP) and Agnieszka Helman-Wazny (Hamburg University) started a small project on the Tibetan manuscripts from Dunhuang. They developed a plan to combine the results of Agnieszka's scientific analysis of the paper used in the Tibetan manuscripts with Sam's work on the textual and palaeographical aspects of the manuscripts. Selecting a group of fifty manuscripts, put everything they could find out about them into a table, and studied at the patterns that emerged. One of the most interesting results was the suggestion that manuscripts that had been brought to Dunhuang from Tibet itself were made in a different way to those made locally at Dunhuang. Though more work needs to be done, this opens up the possibility of ‘fingerprinting’ a manuscript to find out where it was made.

Read more about the project here.

The image above shows a microscopic image of Paper Mulberry fibres, more examples of Agnieszka Helman-Wazny's images of paper fibres from a Dunhuang manuscript can be found on the IDP website.