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.