Early Exhibitions of the Collections of Aurel Stein, Part 3: 1914, King Edward VII Galleries

View of the 1914 exhibition, west wall, showing the embroidery of Buddha (MAS,0.1129) flanked by paintings of Mañjuśrī (to our right, 1919,0101,0.34) and Samantabhardra (1919,0101,0.33), 121-3 in the catalogue.
Stein Photo 28/7(3), Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences

On 7 May 1914, the British Museum opened the new north wing of the Museum, the King Edward VII Galleries.1 The opening exhibition in the ground floor galleries showed paintings, manuscripts and other artefacts acquired by Aurel Stein (1862–1943) on his Second Central Asian Expedition (1906–1908).2 As noted in a previous blog post, Thomas Humphrey Ward (1845–1926), Leader Writer for The Times, considered that these were  ‘the most exciting part of the display’.3 Here I look at the background to the exhibition.

In January 1909, 90 crates of artefacts from Stein’s second Central Asian expedition (1906–1908), including many paintings and manuscripts from Dunhuang, arrived in London from Bombay. Fred Andrews (1866–1957), friend and part-time assistant to Stein, was employed by the India Office Library to unpack, sort and list these. He was assisted by Mr Evelyn-White and Miss Macdonald, succeeded later by Mr Droop and Miss Florence Lorimer (1883–1967). The Museum’s share of the artefacts from Stein’s First Central Asian Expedition (1900–1901), 252 items, had been acquisitioned into the Museum’s collections in November 1911, given the prefix 1907,11. to indicate the date and some were on show.4 Andrews was thus free to work on this new material. The India Office also paid for a ‘repairer’, Mr W. J. Goodchild, to work on the paintings, supervised by Stanley Littlejohn (1876–1916), the ‘repairer and restorer’ in the Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum.5

In early August 1909, after fierce lobbying by Stein, the team moved from the Natural History Museum to a basement in the British Museum while Stein was on leave. As the finds were unpacked, several scholarly visitors came on private visits, including Stein’s close friend, the French scholar M Sylvain Lévi (1863–1935) in April 1910. In June that year, Andrews and Lorimer mounted a small private exhibit for other scholars. Stein noted:

‘The “private view” of the B.M. exhibition brought me into touch with some interesting & interested people, & my ancient paintings seemed to make a strong impression. A party from the Louvre invaded “nos caves” & grew quite ecstatic over certain items like the embroider picture for which M. Mignon, the “conservateur” thought we might well ask any price within the total cost of my exhibition…. Of course, I try to limit such visits as much as I can, to save our time.’6

In June 1910, 25 of the paintings from Dunhuang were included in a exhibit in the Prints and Drawing Gallery, as I have discussed previously.  By July 1910 Stein notes that 70-80 banners had been flattened and by this time he had a team of 18 specialists working on various parts of the collection. This work continued throughout the following year and some of the flattened banners were displayed in the Festival of Empire in from May 1911. Stein retreated to Oxford to continue writing his account of his second expedition, Ruins of Desert Cathay. With this finished, he returned to India in November 1912 and started preparing for his Third Expedition (1913–16). Before he left he appointed the French scholar, Raphael Petrucci (1872–1917) to prepare a catalogue of the paintings.7

Stein’s second expedition (like his first) had been funded jointly by the India Office and the British Museum, with the agreement that the finds would be divided: three-fifths to go to India and two-fifths to the British Museum. Some of the divisions were fairly straightforward: for example, in 1910 it was suggested and agreed that the majority of the Tibetan manuscripts should go to the India Office Library, which already had collections and expertise in this area, whereas the majority of the Chinese manuscripts should remain in the British Museum. But others proved more problematic, especially the division of the paintings from Dunhuang.

In June 1913, the Director the British Museum, Frederic Kenyon (1863–1952) wrote to Stein raising the issue of the division and suggesting an exhibition of his work in the new galleries. Stein responded to this in July from his summer camp in Kashmir with letters to Kenyon and to the India Office. In the latter, he requested that no action be taken until his detailed report was published.8 The reply to Kenyon also discusses the division and his concerns about the lack of facilities in India to preserve the fragile material. He suggests various solutions: temporary deposit in another institution until the situation improved (and the British Museum, he adds, would be the ideal place to keep the collection together); the India Office gifting the material to this same institution; or ceding the share for monetary compensation.9 He also mentions that he is  ‘happy to learn that the proposed exhibition of our collection can now be definitely hoped for by next spring’ and provides some general guidelines for the exhibition. For example, he proposes it is organised by archaeological site, with Dunhuang using the largest space. and that Petrucci is consulted about the arrangement of the paintings. Stein further suggests that the murals are positioned as close as possible to their original position on the temple wall. Andrews is left to decide the colour of the walls etc.

Fred Andrews moved back to British India in September 1913 to become Principal of the Technical Institute in Srinigar, a month after Stein had started out on his Third Expedition. Florence Lorimer was left in charge of the unpacking and listing as well as organising material for the exhibition. Stein requested a rise in her salary and for her employment to be continued until the end of 1915.10

The correspondence about the division of the collection continued, with the Government of India raising strong objections to Stein’s proposals and to his assertion that there were no museums with adequate facilities in India. They pointed out that new gallery was being built at the Museum in Lahore for temporary holding of their share, and then the finds would move into a new purpose-built museum in Delhi.11  The exhibition was proposed by the Standing Committee as a means of facilitating the division.12 It was to be held in the ground floor galleries of the new wing.

Edward VII Galleries under construction
  Edward VII Galleries under construction, 1910. Watercolour by Frank Lishman (1869–1938).  The British Museum CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Extensions to the British Museum had been envisaged as early as 1895 when the trustees had purchased 69 houses surrounding the Museum intending to demolish them and build to the north, west and east. Work to the north finally started in 1906, the building designed by John James Burnet (1857–1938), to be knighted in 1914 for this work (Fred Andrews was, however, not impressed, describing the gallery as of ‘absurd construction’).13  King Edward VII laid the Foundation Stone (designed by Eric Gill) on 27 June 1907.  However, he died in 1910 and the Edward VII Galleries were opened by King George V and Queen Mary on 7th May 1914. The other two wings were not built.

Opening of the Edward VII Galleries.

As discussed in a previous blog post, Lorimer wrote to Stein describing the opening:

‘The ceremony was very short, and the Mighty stayed in the building only for a short half-hour after, in the course of which they walked through the Gallery & Mr Binyon’s top floor Exhibition, and personally inspected Mr Dodgson, Mr Binyon, and the architect, so that you will see how much time they had to look at the exhibitions themselves. The Private View in the afternoon was most unfortunately affected by the weather; for there was a succession of heavy thunder-showers and it became extremely dark. After a time they put on the lights in the gallery but the lights at the top of the cases themselves were not yet finished, so that one could not see anything at all well; some of the India Office were at the ceremony in the morning, and also Dr van Lecoq who has just been out here for two days, and Prof. Rapson.’14

Lorimer enclosed two copies of the catalogue with her letter. Stein only received the catalogue when he was at Turfan in November 1914 and remarks to Andrews, ‘At last I got the Exhibition Catalogue, a well meant production but significantly topsy-turvy. How devoted all must be who do such work for others’ sake and anonymously!’15

Stein returned to England in May 1916 where he had chance to see the galleries. But he immediately retreated to Oxford and then, after four months there, to Devon to finish work on Serindia. He heard there of Petrucci’s early death of diptheria in February 1917 and despaired the loss of a friend but also the slow nature of research on the Second Expedition finds. He did not find England during wartime a comfortable place and decided to return to India, leaving London (via Paris) in September 1917. Before he left, he confirmed a post at Rs 500 per month for Lorimer to work with Andrews in Lahore on the Third Expedition material (although she was not to go to India until 1919).

In 1917 the division of the finds was finally agreed in London and most of the artefacts were acquisitioned into the Museum’s collections in the same year, with the prefix MAS (for Marc Aurel Stein). In 1918 Stein completed the text of Serindia at Stein’s summer retreat in Kashmir. The finds for India were packed into 67 crates and sent to the India Office in London for safekeeping during the war. The ones for the British Museum were also packed for safe keeping and in January 1919 the Dunhuang paintings were finally acquisitioned into the British Museum collections with the prefix 1919,01. The others were shipped to India. By this time, finds from Stein’s Third Expedition had arrived for sorting and the work — and discussions —began again.


1 Their visit was captured by Pathe News and also reported in The Times. See Helen Wang 2002. Sir Aurel Stein the Times. London: Saffron Books: 41.

2 The exhibition was accompanied by a catalogue, Guide to an Exhibition of Paintings, Manuscripts and other Archaeological Objects collected by Sir Aurel Stein, K.C.I.E., in Chinese Turkestan. (London: The Trustees of the British Museum 1914). The introduction was reproduced in a former blog post.

3 The Times, 7th May 1914, 5c; in Wang 2002: 65. He was not alone in his praise. The art historian Sir Claude Phillips (1846–1924) writing for The Daily Telegraph (7 May 1914) states that ‘they are of great novelty and importance…. ‘.

4 The finds from the First Expedition were divided between The British Museum, the India Office Library (IOL) and institutions in India. Discussion about division of the manuscripts continued up to 1917 and the India portion was only sent along with the Second Expedition finds in 1918. It was agreed that those manuscript remaining at the IOL in London were to be sent to India after their publication. After independence in 1947, the India Office  was disbanded but the Library remained in London. In collections became part of the British Library in 1983. They are identified by the prefix to their Library MS. no., namely IOL or IO. 

The introduction to the 1914 catalogue states: ‘‘A previous journey made by Sir Aurel Stein in 1900-1901, of which the most important proceeds are exhibited elsewhere in the museum… ’ ‘Introduction’, Guide to an Exhibition of Paintings, Manuscripts and other Archaeological Objects collected by Sir Aurel Stein, K.C.I.E., in Chinese Turkestan. (London: The Trustees of the British Museum 1914).

5 For further details of their work, and the issues arising, see my previous post,

6 Stein to Percy Allen, 19/6/10, Bodleian Library,  MSS. Stein 7/64. The ’embroider picture’ is almost certainly that of ‘Sakyamuni preaching on Vulture Peak’ (MAS,0.1129) shown on display in the opening picture of this article, cat. 122 in the 1914 exhibition catalogue. Its museum reg. no, MAS,0.1129, suggests that it was acquisitioned into the collections in 1917 along with other artefacts, but before the paintings, which were acquisitioned in 1919. However, the Museum acquisition register only lists items up to MAS,0.1128.

7 Petrucci had finished two sections of this before his early death, these were published as Appendix E to Stein’s expedition report, Serindia. Laurence Binyon (1869–1943), Assistant-Keeper in charge of the Sub-Department of Oriental Prints and Manuscripts at the British Museum, and his assistant, Arthur Waley (1889–1966), took over this work. A list of all the identified paintings was prepared for the end of the chapter on Dunhuang.

8 Letter to D. D. Drake, Sec. Revenue Dept. IO, 12 July, 1913. Bodleian Library MSS. Stein 10/129–31. Serindia, the report, was not to be published until 1921. 

9 Stein to Kenyon, 1 July 1913, British Museum CE32/23/49. Fred Andrews reports to Stein in a letter dated 3 July 1913 (MSS. Stein 42/27-8) that Kenyon has agreed that the entire collections shoud be moved to the new wing fromt heir current home in the basements and thst Miss Lorimer will work on them there in preparation for the exhibition. He insists this opens in March 1914 or ‘not at all’.

10 To £20 per month. Letter to D. D. Drake, Sec. Revenue Dept. IO, 12 July, 1913. Bodleian Library MSS. Stein 10/129–31.

11 This correspondence is mainly found in the British Museum CE/23/32/50 to CE/23/32/108.

12 ‘In order to facilitate the eventual division of the collection between the Trustees and the India Office, the Director proposed that an exhibition be held in the Ground Floor Gallery of the New Wing in 1914.’
[Standing Committee 11 Oct. 1913/3137]

13 Andrews to Stein, 15 August 1914, Bodleian Library MSS. Stein 11/139-41. Andrews had presumably seen the galleries before his departure for Lahore. He was not alone in his opinion: Sir Claude Phillips in an article the The Daily Telegraph on the opening wrote at some length on the gallery describing it ‘a chilling environment’, most depressing’ and ‘the greatest fiasco of modern times’. See here for for a more recent assessment.

14 Miss Lorimer to Stein, this section dated 8 May 1914. Bodleian Library, MSS. Stein 94/157.

15 Stein to Andrews, 10 Nov. 1914. Bodleian Library, MSS. Stein 42/118


The next post in this series will be on the 1918 Stein photographic exhibition held at the Royal Geographical Society in London.

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New Book: Silk Roads: Peoples, Cultures, Landscapes


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There was no ‘Silk Road’. It is a modern label in widespread use only since the late 20th century and used since then to refer to trade and interaction across Afro-Eurasia from roughly 200 BE to AD 1400. In reality, there were many trading networks over this period. Some of these dealt in silk, yarn and woven fabrics. Others did not. Some started in China or Rome, but some in central Asia, northern Europe, India or Africa — and many other places. Journeys were by sea, by rivers and by land–and some by all three. Despite these ambiguities, the term has acquired a familiarity and brought regions and peoples often less well covered by modern historical writings to greater prominence and accessibility. It could also be argued that the growing popularity of the term has encouraged a more global historical viewpoint. For this reason I have referred to the ‘Silk Road’ – or perhaps slightly less misleadingly, the ‘Silk Roads’– unashamedly in my writings and exhibitions. If I were to provide a general definition of what I mean by the term – and how it is used in this book – it would be something like:
“A system of substantial and persistent overlapping and evolving interregional
trade networks across Afro-Eurasia by land and sea from the end of the 1st
millennium BC through to the middle of the 2nd millennium AD, trading in silk
and many other raw materials and manufactured items – including, but not limited
to, slaves, horses, semi-precious stones, metals, pots, musk, medicines, glass, furs and fruits – resulting in movements and exchanges of peoples, ideas, technologies, faiths, languages, scripts, iconographies, stories, music, dance and so on.”

Each section of this book starts with brief introductions to the landscapes of
Afro-Eurasia, to some of the many peoples and cultures inhabiting these landscapes over the Silk Road period, and to the uncovering of their archaeological legacy.
The book is structured by the types of landscape through which the Silk Road
networks passed – steppe, mountains and highlands, rivers and plains, deserts and oases, and seas. The skies are common to all, but included with seas because of their role in maritime navigation. These are no more than broad and permeable divisions: rivers rise in mountains, emerge into plains and disperse into seas or desert sands. Nor are they intended to be comprehensive: this is not a book on the complex ecosystems of Afro-Eurasia. But the landscape is an essential character in any Silk Road story, and too often given only a minor role.
The landscape, however, can also bias or limit our viewpoint. It preserves and
destroys without discrimination. For example, the desert sites of eastern central Asia and north Africa have yielded numerous silks, local and imported. But the monsoons have long destroyed south Asia’s textile legacy and we can only reconstruct it from clues in historical texts, from paintings and other artifacts and, very importantly, from textiles exported to distant lands, such as the desert settlements of Cadota and Antinopolis. In recent times, the legacy of the sea has started to be uncovered with the growth of maritime archaeology. The hulls of long-sunk ships have preserved their cargoes of ceramics and glass, but direct evidence of the human cargoes of slaves – very much part of Silk Road trade – has long disappeared. Wherever it is possible, or known, such absence is noted.

As well as the objects considered in the thematic essays, each section showcases
around twenty artefacts (see list below), from complex architectural or archaeological structures, such as cities or shipwrecks, down to small objects, such as glass beads. As well as illustrating the various topics discussed, the showcased items also exemplify interaction, having been influenced from elsewhere in their materials, form or motifs, and/or having themselves travelled along some of the Silk Road networks. Some of the artefacts are oft-reproduced, but I have also tried to include some lesser-known and newly excavated objects. These are not always the most spectacular or best preserved, but have an important part in the story. The story of the Silk Roads is not only one
of luxury goods.
In part because of its long timescale but, more crucially, because it covers areas of the world that are not part of the cultural and historical landscape of most readers – whether from Africa, Asia, Europe or America – the study of the Silk Roads can be daunting. A plethora of unfamiliar names and places can confuse and befuddle. I beg the reader’s patience to try not to be distracted by these. This work is intended, like one of the complex weaves discussed in the looms and textile essays to reveal a design through an interweaving of layers of numerous coloured threads. Reading one essay or caption may show little, but looking at more will, I hope, start to reveal something of the complex pattern of the Silk Roads.
I am delighted that so many of the leading scholars from institutions worldwide
have contributed to this book, some with thematic essays and others describing
objects they have excavated or studied. Understanding anything about the Silk Roads demands collaboration across cultures and languages. The diversity of styles and the different opinions expressed by the contributors is also key to this volume: it, too, is part of the weave.

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The book is published on 3 October 2019 in the UK by Thames&Hudson and is also available in French (Flammarion), German (WBG), Spanish (BLUME), Finnish (Tammi), Italian (Einaudi) and Korean (Cum Libro) language editions as well as in a US edition by University of California Press.

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The Rectification of Names: Caves, Grottos or Rock-Cut Temples?

“If the names are not correct, language is without an object.”

Confucius, Translated by Simon Leys. The Analects of Confucius: London and New York: W. W. Norton 1997: 13, 3.

In her 2013 essay, Phyllis Granoff argued that the term ‘cave temple’ conflates two separate types of structures, temples and caves, leading to confusion over our understanding of the function of these:
‘temples are carefully constructed structures… with all the varied architectural elements that beautified secular palaces… dwelling places for the gods or the Buddha or the Jina. Caves, on the other hand, are uncanny natural structures, that may be fantastic by their very nature, leading to other worlds, or frightening in their lack of refinement and their distance from any civilising influence.'(27)

Ajanta, Rock-cut temple 26. Dey Sandip.

Yet the term ‘cave’ continues to be used to describe temples across the scholarly, cultural and tourism fields, with, for example, UNESCO using the labels ‘Mogao Caves’ and ‘Ajanta Caves’ for two of the largest and most important temple sites. Granoff suggests ‘rock-cut’ to describe the form – this is the term generally used for some other sites, for example the churches at Lalibela which appear on the UNESCO listing as ‘Rock-hewn’. However, ‘Buddhist temple’ would generally suffice unless we need to bring attention to the form of these religious structures. We use ‘church’ to describe a building used for Christian worship whether this is rock-cut or built of stone, wood or other materials.

I would take this argument further, and suggest that the widespread use of the term ‘grotto’ — certainly in English — is even more misleading as to the use and function of temples. Grotto, according to the OED, is “A small picturesque cave, especially an artificial one in a park or garden. This was a loan,” so the OED continues, “in the 17th century from the Italian grotta, via Latin from Greek kruptē (see crypt). Such grottos are relatively common features of large gardens of this period, usually placed in or near water and fashioned to look ‘natural’.”

There are therefore at least three structures to be considered:

1. Minimally changed natural cave used for shelter, retreat etc.
2. Artifically enhanced (both in terms of size/shape and in forms of decoration) cave — which might or might not exist before — made to look ‘natural’.
3. Artifically enhanced (both in terms of size/shape and in forms of decoration) cave — which might or might not exist before — made to appear as a free-standing piece of architecture.

Buddhist rock-cut temples, as Granoff points out, clearly belong to 3), that is they were created to resemble free-standing architecture, ie man-made structures, and their naturalness was disguised. This is seen in their carved or painted architectural features, such as arches at the entrance to Ajanta temples or the carved and painted roof beams and lanterndecke ceilings in many of the Dunhuang Mogao temples. In some early caves, wooden architectural elements are added inside the temple, such as Cave 4 at Bamiyan with its wooden lanterndecke.

We can trace this confusion back to the early archaeologists of this sites. Stein, for example, used both grotto and cave. Grotte and grotten as well as caverne and Höhlentempel were used by French and German explorers. While the characters/kanji 窟 and 洞 are found in Chinese and Japanese accounts. However, perhaps it is now time to address the inevitable ambiguities in the use of these terms and agree a more precise vocabulary for use in scholarship to avoid confusion.

Thanks to Imre Galambos, Miki Morita and Simone Raschmann for discussions on the non-English use of these terms.

Phyllis Granoff. 2013. “What’s in a Name? Rethinking ‘Caves’.” In Pia Brancaccio (ed). Living Rock: Buddhist, Hindu and Jain Cave Temples in the Western Deccan. 19–29. Marg 64.4. Mumbai.

This post is the first of a projected series on the importance of agreeing our terminology in scholarship – the ‘rectification of names’. The next post will consider pagodas/stupas.

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Lost in the Desert: Stein at Dura-Europos

Aurel Stein at Dura-Europos, 1929. The British Library, Photo 392/42*

Over the winter of 1928-9, the city of Dura-Europos on the Euphrates was being excavated by a team led by Maurice Pillet (1881-1964), which included a Yale academic, Clark Hopkins (1895-1976) and his wife, Susan M. Hopkins (1900-?), the last responsible for registering the finds. They camped at the local village, Salihyeh, while a house was built to house the archaeological mission.

Susan Hopkins sent regular letters to her family in the US giving valuable insight into life in the camp.[1] Writing to her family on 26 January 1929 she reported that: ‘We have in camp a very distinguished guest, an Englishman Sir Orel [sic] Stein who has traveled and dug all over the East in Turkestan, Afghanistan, Persia and forty years in India. He is a funny little fellow and terribly slow but nice, and he does know heaps. He’s got his own tent, but he eats with us. He leaves tomorrow by camel for Palmyra.’

Stein was by this time, at the age of 67, on his retirement tour of the west Asian parts of the Silk Roads.[2] He had set out in November the previous year, heading to Karachi, Basra and to Baghdad. This he made his base for visiting Samarra and Ctesiphon, before travelling by car along the Euphrates to track the limes — Roman-period defensive walls. He moved from one archaeological site to another — Ur, Lagash, Wraka, Samarra — before taking to an RAF plane at Mosul to see other, more distant, sites. He arrived at Dura-Europos in January. His intention was to join camel troops to go to Palmyra on further surveys of the limes. However, as Susan Hopkin’s subsequent letter to her sister on 31 January shows, he remained longer than expected at Dura-Europos.

‘We still have our distinguished visitor, Sir Aurel Stein, with us and shall have for some time. He is a little, ordinary-looking Englishman, who has been archeologizing in this part of the world most of this life — for more than 40 years. Apparently he is a person of great consequence because the Syrian government was warned in advance of his coming, and everyone was prepared to be hospitable.

‘We, however, weren’t quite prepared for his pitching his tent in our backyard and staying. He is waiting now for a platoon of Méhariste, the camel troops, who are to go with him to Palmrya at which place he hopes to find an important ancient route. He is an old friend of Clark’s father [3] and the author of several books, one of which — Clark says its a beautiful book — is called Innermost Asia. I think you might like to look at it.’

As the editors of Susan Hopkin’s letters go on to explain, during his time there Clark Hopkins and Maurice Pillet took Stein in their car to make a desert reconnaissance in search of ancient routes. Clark later writes to his father about the journey back:

‘Stein got lost. He kept giving the chauffeur the wrong directions as he led us back to Dura in the afternoon. He sat in the back seat with his compass and would shout to the driver “a little right” and “a little left” and this way and that every few yards.’ Looking through his field glasses he then identified Salihyeh but, when they got closer it turned out to be a flock of sheep. Next he drove them to a cliff face, also wrongly identified as the village. Finally they made their way back by asking directions of some shepherds. Clark is amused to note that Susan had remarked before the trip that it ‘would be most useful to observe his methods.'[4] But perhaps the speed of travelling by car rather than on horseback upset Stein’s normally reliable natural gyroscope. Pillet inscribed the photograph of Stein in front of his tent [above] as a remembrance of his stay.

Stein left in early February. He was to return to the Euphrates in 1938 where, on his way to Palmyra, he discovered a ‘well-preserved castellum with a massive barrage, a fine specimen of Roman engineering'[5] a discovery reported in an article in The Times on 1 June 1939.[6] He then took again to the air, thanks to the RAF and the Iraq Petroleum Company, finding more signs of the Roman routes.

* This is one of two loose prints with covering letter from Maurice Pillet, dated Paris 27 June 1929. In this letter Pillet asks Stein to accept the photographs as a souvenir of his time at Dura-Europos and thanks him for sharing his knowledge of the history and archaeology of Asia during his short visit: ‘It goes without saying that I would be very happy to welcome you again to Salhiyah for as long as you wished. Our house is completed and is comfortable, but our tents remain, if you prefer.’
Thanks to John Falconer for this information.

[1] Susan M. Hopkins, Bernard Goldman, Norma Goldman. My Dura-Europos: The Letters of Susan M. Hopkins, 1927-1935. Wayne State University Press 2011. Her husand writes about Stein’s visit in his account of the excavations, Clark Hopkins (ed. Bernard Goldman), The Discovery of Dura-Europos. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1979: pp. 59-60.
[2] Jeanette Mirsky. Sir Aurel Stein: Archaeological Explorer. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press 1977: 459.
[3] Edward Washburn Hopkins (1857–1932).
[4] Susan M. Hopkins, Bernard Goldman, Norma Goldman. My Dura-Europos: The Letters of Susan M. Hopkins, 1927-1935. Wayne State University Press 2011: 149.
[5] Jeanette Mirsky. Sir Aurel Stein: Archaeological Explorer. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press 1977: 515.
[6] Helen Wang. Sir Aurel Stein in The Times. London: Saffron Books, 2002: 127.

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Silk Road Summer School

A Royal Asiatic Society Summer School

Monday July 8 – Thursday July 11, 2019

A four-day course in central London offering an introduction to the Silk Road, its arts, history and exploration. Participants will have the chance to see original manuscripts and books at the British Library and the Royal Asiatic Society, introduced by their curators.

This is a course intended for a general audience. No prior knowledge is required, although a short bibliography will be supplied for those wishing to do some reading in advance. The group will be limited to 12-15 people and therefore there will be ample opportunity for questions and group discussion.

For further information: ao@royalasiaticsociety.org OR download leaflet.

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Early Exhibitions of the Collections of Aurel Stein: Part 2: 1911: The Festival of Empire


Contemporary postcard showing the Indian Pavilion.
(See this blog post for more postcards)


Map of the Festival of Empire site.
The Indian Pavilion is to the right of the bandstand in the centre.

The Festival of Empire opened at the Crystal Palace in north London on 12 May 1911 to celebrate the coronation of George V (r. 1910–1936). The Indian pavilion was one among the many exhibition spaces built to celebrate British imperial interests around the world. 68 paintings, textiles, manuscripts and block prints from the Stein collections were exhibited, including one ‘crumpled up packet in its original state’ of unconserved materials. They were listed in the catalogue (pp. 14–26) under the title, ‘Specimens from a Collection of Ancient Buddhist Pictures and Embroideries Discovered by Dr M. A. Stein at Tun-huang’.[1]


The catalogue produced for the Indian pavilion.
Copy held in the British Library (ORW.1986.a.2170).

Stein was in the list of private lenders to the exhibition but the material was described in the catalogue as ‘Lent by the Secretary of State for India with the concurrence of the Trustees of the British Museum.'(p. 14) In his introduction, Stein, after placing the material in context, discussed its treatment prior to exhibit:

The opening up and cleaning of the crumpled up silk paintings is a task requiring great care and the application of a special chemical treatment. It has been proceeding in the Department of Prints and Drawings under the kind supervision of Sir Sidney Colvin [the Keeper], for over a year past, and about two-thirds of the total numbers, which is likely to rise to three hundred, have so far been dealt with. The smaller paintings are strengthened by the backing of open gauze, while the large compositions are provisionally mounted on Japanese paper until time becomes available for their final treatment. (Catalogue: 16)

However, pasted as a footnote on the same page is a slip of printed paper reading:

With the concurrence of Dr Stein, the exhibits in the wall cases have been remounted by Mr Littlejohn, of the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum, since their arrival at Sydenham.

The monthly reports of the Prints and Drawings Department, the British Museum, give more of the story. They show that the conservation of the material prior to exhibit had been paid for by the India Office who, during 1910, engaged Mr W. J. Goodchild ‘a repairer’. He was supervised by Stanley Littlejohn (1876–1916), the ‘repairer and restorer’ in the Department of Prints and Drawing (P&D) [Annual report of P&D of the British Museum to the Trustees, dated 20/1/11]. Stein notes in July 1910 that 70-80 banners had been flattened.[The Bodleain, MS Stein 7/ff.81-2. Aurel Stein to Percy Allen].

However, as another report makes clear, within a few months several paintings had to be removed from exhibit ‘having been mounted … in a manner inadequate to secure their due protection from dampness in the walls of the gallery.’ [Monthly Report by the Keeper to the trustees 4/7/1911: Sidney Colvin was Keeper at this time but part of the original report has been erased and these comments written in a different hand. Probably the report was written in his absence (possibly summer vacation?) by his deputy, and then corrected on Colvin’s return.] Conservation was taken over by the dept. itself, carried out in the Crystal Palace exhibition building ‘in such manner as to ensure their proper protection & preservation’ [report dated 3/8/1911]. The work was completed and the paintings rehung in the same month, as the next monthly report, dated 2/9/1911 and written by Laurence Binyon, confirms. However, the annual report of the dept. for 1911 (dated 25/1/1912) states that Mr Littlejohn had to ‘devote his entire time for more than two months to the arduous work of mounting and framing in a secure & finished way a selection of Dr. Stein’s silk paintings for a show at the Festival.’

Despite the seeming blame put on Mr Goodchild for the inadequate mounting, a letter of 10 October of the same year concerning a vacant post for a conservator/repairs at the Museum states:

The Keeper recommends that W. J. Goodchild be chosen for this service …. employed for the last two years in flattening and mounting the silk paintings discovered by A Stein — a task calling for exceptional care and skill. During that time the keeper has had him constantly under observation, and is convinced of his fitness to take Clay’s place in the workshop.

Having been returned to their cases, the paintings remained on display until October and were then taken down and returned to the Museum. [P&D dept. Monthly Report, 6/11/11].

Below is a selection of the material on display with the contemporary catalogue entries. A full list, with Stein’s complete introduction, will follow in a later blog post.


17.—DIVINE PROCESSION. Rectangular silk painting, complete in border, with Chinese inscriptions, dated A.D. 864. Lower portion shows the Bodhisattva Smantabhadra (the God of Happiness) on elephant and Manjusri (the God of Wisdom) on lion, advancing with attendants, who carry parasols. Animals led by black attendants. Along bottom are represented donor, [sic] etc. in religious guise. Above are four forms of Kouanyin (the Chinese Avalokitesvara) carrying the pink lotus and flask.

This is painting 1919,0101,0.5 in the British Museum.

50.—PAINTED PAPER ROLL. Paper roll, representing in sections scenes of punishments in Hell. Sinners wearing “cangue” are being brought before the heavenly edge. Two figures in attendance on him, one (male) carrying roll of sacred texts, one (female), a statuette, emblematic of the mean of salvation—sacred study and worship.

This is the scroll, reg. no. 1919,0101,0.80 now in the British Museum. Another illustrated copy with text is in the British Library, Or.8210/S.3961.


54.—MANUSCRIPT WRAPPER. Roughly made of silk fragments stiffened with paper, lined with silk, and with coarse woollen tapes for tying. Outer edges and triangular flap make of fragments of rich silk brocade of Sassanian design. On pink ground large elliptical cartouches, bordered with double row of overlapping petals, contain two winged bulls with abundant manes, facing each other on salmon-covered field. Elliptical lotuses fill spaces between large cartouches. Two roughly cut strips of extremely fine silk tapestry are attached to centre panel. Style of weaving is identical with that of the Copts of the third century A.D., and of the ancient Peruvians, and closely resembles that of the Gobelin factory.

This is most probably the sutra wrapper, MAS.858., now in the British Museum. However, many of the sutra wrappers found at Dunhuang were taken apart in the 20th century in order to reveal the manuscript pieces used for lining. Only a few survived in their original form. In the same exhibition, Stein displays another sutra wrapper (cat. 60) and an object he describes as “Embroidered Matting” (cat. 64). The latter could also be a sutra wrapper as some were made from bamboo slips, including LOAN:STEIN.100 from the Stein collection held in the V&A.

62.—ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT BOOK, with Chinese text dated 890 A.D. Pages exposed represent two Lokpalas with accompanying demons—to left, Dhritarashta, King of the East, with bow; to right, Virudhaka, King of the South, with club.

Copy of the Prajnaparamitahydrayasutra now in the National Museum, New Delhi. [NB: the four pages have been listed separately online: search for “Ch.xviii.002” to show them all.]

65, 66, 67.—BLOCK PRINTS. 65 is an impression from a woodcut representing Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. 66 explains the production of coloured illustrated. On right is an uncoloured impression from the block, shown to left with colours added by hand. 67 represents Manjusri with attendants.

Many such printed prayer sheets were found at Dunhuang and it is unclear which of them were displayed, certainly in the cases of 65 and 67. Prints of Avalokitesvara, for example, are now in the National Museum, New Delhi, the British Museum and the British Library (pictured above) (Or.8210/P.20).



1. Festival of Empire Imperial Exhibition: Indian Section: Guide and Catalogue. Derby & London: Bemrose & Sons Ltd. 1911.


The next post in this series will discuss the 1914 exhibition of Stein material held in the newly opened north wing of the British Museum.

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Slaves on the Silk Road

Slaves, like silks, were Silk Road goods, to be bought, used and sold for profit, and often transported long distances by land and sea to trade in foreign markets. While no slaves from this time survive to tell their story they have left traces in art, archaeology and texts.[1] From these we can see that slavery was found throughout the Silk Road, not particular to any culture, place, or period. Its importance to the Silk Road economy probably rivalled that of the silk, horses or other goods. Yet slaves rarely have a central if any role in the Silk Road histories that are told today.

?Slave girl resting on a camel
8th century, Hanshenzhai, Xian.
Terracotta, 73 cm x 60 cm.
Shaanxi Archaeological Institute, Xian, G大41.

In my book, Silk, Slaves and Stupas: Material Culture of the Silk Road, I use these traces to tell something of the stories of slaves across the Silk Road. Like the other chapters it addresses the issues of how and why — although the when and where are hardly relevant since, as the Macmillan Encyclopedia of World Slavery has noted: ‘With the exception of marriage, the family and religion, slavery is perhaps the most ubiquitous social institution in human history.’ (Finkelman and Miller 1998: viii)

Slave markets were found across the whole of the Silk Road, from Dublin on the shores of the Atlantic to Shandong on the Pacific. And while much of the trade was by private merchants, governments also profited by imposing taxes both on the movement and on the sale of slaves. As with many other ‘things’ traded along the Silk Road, there was both local and regional trade, as well as trade over longer distances.

Dublin, for example, probably the largest slave market in western Europe, was convenient for the Irish, Vikings, and others who had seized captives in raids and battles. Shandong, in eastern China, was specifically for selling on slaves captured from the Korean peninsula. But one of the most extensive trading networks, certainly by the ninth and tenth centuries, was that in Slavs, captured by the Rus in northern Europe and sold at the capital of the Bulgars, Bulgar, and the capital of the Khazars, Khamlij (Atil). Ibn Faḍlān visited Khamlij in 922 and wrote:
‘I saw the Rusiya, when they came hither on their trading voyages and had encamped by the river Itil. . . . With them, there are fair maidens who are destined for sale to the merchant, and they may have intercourse with their girl while their comrades look on.. . . . When their boats arrive come to this anchorage, each one of them goes ashore. . . and prostrates himself before [the great image], Then he says: “Oh my lord, I have come from a far country and have with me so many slave girls for such a price, and so many sable skins. . . .
I wish that thou shouldst provide me with a merchants who has many dinars and dirhams and who would buy from me at the price I desire.’ (Ibn Faḍlan 2005: 63–65)

Marek Jankowiak argues that by the ninth and tenth centuries there was another distinct system also dealing in Slav slaves. Jewish merchants bought slaves at the market in Prague for sale to the Spanish, making payment, he argues, in small pieces of cloth that had an exchange rate for silver. He cites the travelogue of Ibrahim ibn Ya’qub, a merchant from Tortosa, who noted the trade when he traveled to Prague in the 960s. He also cites Ibn Ḥawqal, who writes on Saqaliba—the land of the Slavs.

‘The country [of the Saqaliba] is long and wide. . . . Half of their country . . . is raided by the Khurasanis [Khorezm] who take prisoners from it, while its northern half is raided by the Andalusians who buy them in Galicia, in France, in Lombardy and in Calabria so as to make them eunuchs, and thereafter they ferry them over to Egypt and Africa. All the Saqaliba eunuchs in the world come from Andalusia. . . . They are castrated near this country. The operation is performed by Jewish merchants.'(Jankowiak 2012: n.1)

Ibn Khurradādhbih (ca. 820–912) records a wider network, extending from western Europe through to Africa, Arabia, India, and China, run by Jewish merchants whom he refers to as Radhanites.[2] It is worth quoting in full as one of the few detailed and extant itineraries:

‘These merchants speak Arabic, Persian, Greek, Latin, Frankish, Andalusian and Slavic. They journey from west to east, from east to west, traveling by land and by sea. From the west they export eunuchs, young girls and boys, brocade, beaver pelts, marten and other furs and also swords.
They set sail from Firanj [France] on the western sea and then head for Farama [Pelusium] in Egypt. There they transfer their merchandise to the backs of camels and travel to Qulzum [Clysma, Suez] on the Red Sea, a distance of 25 farsakhs. They sail down the Red Sea to al-Jar, the port of Medina, and to Jeddah, the port of Mecca. Then they continue on to Sindh, India and China.
They return from China with musk, aloe wood, camphor, cinnamon and other eastern products, docking again at Qulzum, then proceed to Farama, from where they again set sail on the western sea. . . .
These different journeys can also be made by land. The merchants that start from Spain or France go to Sus al-Aksa [near Tangier] and then to Tangier, whence they walk to Kairouan and the capital of Egypt. Thence they go to ar-Ramiah, visit Damascus, al-Kufa, Baghdad, and al-Basra, cross Ahvez, Fars, Kerman, Sindh, Hind, and arrive in China.
Sometimes, also, they take the route behind Rome and, passing through the country of the Slavs, arrive at Khamlij, the capital of the Khazars. They embark on the Jorjan Sea [Caspian], arrive at Balkh, betake themselves from there across the Oxus, and continue their journey toward Yurt, Toghuzghuz [Turkic lands in Central Asia], and from there to China.’ (Adler 1987: 2–3)

Sogdian Contract for a
639, Tomb 135, Astana, Turfan.
Ink on paper, 46.5 cm x 28.4 cm.
Xinjiang Provincial Museum, Urumqi, XB9219

It was not only the merchants who profited from the slaves: the governments of the lands they passed through or ports of embarkation and the markets they sold at often imposed taxes or monopolies. For example, although there was a slave market at Constantinople—in the Valley of the Lamentations—several contemporary sources note that merchants often avoided it because of the high taxes and that ships docked instead at Antioch (Rotman and Todd 2009: 68–80). In eighth-century Khanfu (present-day Guangzhou in southern China), all goods coming into the port were controlled by the government office of ‘the commissioner for commercial argosies’, which purchased all imports desired by the government (Schafer 1963: 23).

Turkic male slaves for the caliphate’s army were taken from the borders of the steppe in Central Asia to Nishapur, which sent thousand of slaves westward to Baghdad each year (Starr 2013: 197). Male slaves could be transported across the Amu Darya only with a government-issued license, costing from seventy to one hundred dirhams (Barthold 1968: 239).

1. And in the gene pool, as Catherine Cameron points out (2011: 169).

2. Also quoted in La Puente (2017: 127–28), who expresses skepticism about the accuracy of this report.


This is an edited extract from my book, Silk, Slaves and Stupas: Material Culture of the Silk Road (University of California Press, 2018). Chapter 10 tells the story of the unknown slave.

Adler, Elkan. 1987. Jewish Travellers in the Middle Ages. New York: Dover Publications.
Barthold, V. V. 1968. Turkestan Down to the Mongol Invasion. 3rd ed. London: Luzac.
Cameron, Catherine M. 2011. ‘Captives and Cultural Change: Implications for
Archaeology.’ Current Anthropology 52 (2): 169–209.
Finkelman, Paul, and Joseph Calder Miller. 1998. Macmillan Encyclopedia of World
Vol. 2. New York: Macmillan Reference USA.
Ibn Faḍlān. 2005. Ibn Fadlan’s Journey to Russia: A Tenth-Century Traveller from Baghdad to the Volga River. Edited and translated by Richard Frye. Princeton, NJ: Markus Weiner.
Jankowiak, Marek. 2012. ‘Dirhams for Slaves: Investigating the Slavic Slave Trade in the Tenth Century.’ Paper presented at the Medieval Seminar, All Souls, Oxford, February. https://www.academia.edu/1764468/Dirhams_for_slaves._Investigating _the_Slavic_slave_trade_in_the_tenth_century.
La Puente, Cristina de. 2012. ‘The Ethnic Origins of Female Slaves in al-Andalus.’ In Gordon, Matthew S. and Kathryn A. Hain, eds. 2017. Concubines and Courtesans: Women and Slavery in Islamic History. Oxford: Oxford University Press: 124–42.
Rotman, Youval, and Jane Marie Todd. 2009. Byzantine Slavery and the Mediterranean World. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Schafer, Edward H. 1963. The Golden Peaches of Samarkand. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Starr, S. Frederick. 2013. Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia’s Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

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The Mozac Hunter Silk

Although several scholars have tried to displace silk from its key role in trade assumed by the term Silk Road and have argued for the equal if not greater influence of other goods, the importance of silk is not so easily dismissed. The reason for this might have less to do with the actual rank of silk in terms of the economics or volume of trade goods—this has yet to be quantified—than with the stories that became attached to this fabric and the hunger to learn its secrets. Although China was the only culture with the knowledge of cultivating silk at the start of the Silk Road period, within a few centuries the technology had dispersed to other cultures along the trade routes.

Lyon, Musée des Tissus MT 27386. Lyon MTMAD. Photograph by Pierre Verrier.

The piece shown above—which has been called the Mozac hunter silk—was made in Byzantium. The empire probably had its own silk production centers from the fourth century using imported thread, cultivation of its own silkworms from possibly as early as the fifth century, and sophisticated looms producing complex patterns as seen here by the eighth century. This piece therefore has many stories to tell, not only of the diffusion of silk production, but of the cultural dialogues and influences seen in the design—here a medallion containing a hunting image, a motif found across the Silk Road. Both the technique and the motif have been subject to different interpretations by scholars, showing how our dialogue with objects from the past is often renewed and we can rarely assume that it has reached a conclusion. There is also the story of the changing functions and value of this silk as it traveled westwards, passing through the hands of emperors, taking on religious significance in a Christian setting and currently a museum artefact.

The story of this silk takes us from Asia into Europe, then on the fringes of the great trading network known as the Silk Road. Though Europe still had no silk production centers of its own, silk was nevertheless highly valued there, especially among the courts and clergy. It was therefore a perfect diplomatic gift, being light and portable. And it was even more so if the design reflected the power of the giver. We do not known if this piece was intended for such purposes or whether, indeed, the purpose was decided in advance of its commission, but at the very least it was probably woven with the possibility that it would become a diplomatic gift.

Our first record of this piece is a source referring to the translation—rehousing—of the relics of Saint Austremoine from the church at Volvic, in the modern Puy de Domes in France, to the Abbey of Mozac, some four miles to its east. The translation happened under the patronage of King Pepin, who, it is recorded, provided a piece of silk to wrap them, had the bundle marked with his royal seal, and traveled with them to their new home.

The name Pepin in this record was originally believed to refer to the Carolingian king, Pepin the Short (r. 751–68), father of Charlemagne, and the date was interpreted as February 1, 764. However, as Maximilien Durand points out, the Pepin referred to in the document about the rehousing of Saint Austremoine’s relics was more probably Pepin II of Aquitaine (838–64), and the date should be read as February 1, 847, or probably 848. Other textual evidence discussed by Durand supports this later date, as does the recent technical analysis of the silk by Sophie Desrosiers.

For now, therefore, the weight of evidence suggests an early or mid-ninth-century origin for the silk. This leaves uncertain how Pepin II acquired the silk, although Durand suggests it was perhaps a gift from Emperor Theophilos (r. 829–42) to Louis the Pious (r. 814–40) in recognition of his help in the campaign against the Arabs. It would then have passed down to Louis’s heir, Pepin I of Aquitaine (r. 797–838) and thence to his son, Pepin II. The piece has been cut and stitched, suggesting it might have been made into a piece of clothing, but we do not know whether this was before or after Pepin’s acquisition.

The abbey at Mozac was a much grander affair than Austremoine’s original burial place in Issoire and the church at Volvic. It had been founded in the sixth or seventh century by Calmin and his wife Namadie, both who also became sanctified. The abbey was endowed, it is recorded, with relics of Saint Peter (Saint Pierre), to whom the church was dedicated: those of Calmin and his wife later joined them.

Detail of the 12th century lintel in the Abbey showing Saint Austremoine. Photograph John Falconer.

There is no evidence to suggest that the relics were moved over the next few centuries. In 1197 there was a new “recognition” of Saint Austremoine, and the relics were checked in their shrine by Bishop Robert of Clermont. He reported seeing the silk with Pepin’s seal intact and, on cutting the tie (to avoid breaking the seal), also found the relics intact. He re-placed them inside the silk. In the sixteenth century a wooden reliquary was made to house them, decorated by an Italian artist with paintings of the twelve apostles (shown below).

StAustremoine_casketCasket holding relics of St Austremoine. Photograph John Falconer.

In 1790 during the French Revolution the abbey was dissolved and became the parish Church of Saint Peter. It is possible the relics were disturbed. When the reliquary was opened on October 24, 1839, it was found to contain several objects. These included four teeth in a glass vial contained in a porcelain vase, as well as several parcels of bones wrapped in linen with a parchment tie on which was written “Relics of Saint Austremoine.” There was also a letter of Jean-Pierre Massillon (1663–1742), bishop of Clermont from 1717, concerning the disposition of relics. On January 29, 1852, the bones were listed by a vicar-general and a doctor as a right femur; a left femur; part of a right tibia and a left tibia; a large part of a pelvis; three vertebrae; a kneecap; the base of a skull; almost an entire head; two rib fragments; part of a heel bone; and several small pieces impossible to identify, but also including finger and toe joints.

We now reach the latest chapter in the story of this hunter silk, its removal from a sacred back to a secular setting and a return to the concentration on the silk itself. With the French secularization of the church initiated by the French Revolution, church property, such as St. Calmin’s reliquary—mentioned above—started to be sold. The piece was described by Hippolyte Gomot in his 1872 history of the church as having four hunters and four lions. It seems that, possibly because of Gomot’s publication, interest in the textile grew and the church was able to sell fragments, providing much-needed funds to help with its restoration. Two other pieces are known in the Borgelli Collection in Florence and in the Abegg-Stiftung in Riggisberg.

Lyon was a center of silk and other textile production, and a museum to celebrate this industry was first proposed in 1797. A textile collection started to be amassed by the chamber of commerce over the next decades. This was supplemented with material collected by the first French trade mission to China (1843–46). Many of the Lyon manufacturers attended the London Exhibition in 1850, and calls were renewed for a museum on their return. The chamber voted in favor in 1856. The resulting Museum of Art and Industry was opened on March 6, 1864. It was replaced with the Historical Museum of Textiles on August 6, 1891.

The museum had an active acquisition policy. Émile Guimet (1836–1918), founder in 1879 of the museum of his name in his birthplace of Lyon (it was handed over to the state and transferred to Paris in 1885), persuaded the Lyon Chamber of Commerce to sponsor excavations in Antinoopolis in Egypt. The resulting finds went to the museum. But the museum curators also sought acquisitions from local churches. In 1904 under the directorship of Raymond Jean-Marie Cox (1856–1921), the museum acquired the remains of the hunter silk from Mozac. But, by this time, the remaining piece showed only two hunters: the rest of the silk had presumably been dispersed to others. How the price for this piece was arrived at is not recorded, although a story has been handed down that it was agreed that the museum should pay the price of coins—the French louis—that could fit onto the silk. The acquisition register of the museum clearly records the purchase of this piece for eight thousand francs. This was an enormous amount; the other entries on the page are for tens or, at most, a couple of hundred francs. The franc was linked to the gold standard, and this equated to 2,320 grams of gold, about US$100,000 today.

The hunter silk was classed as a historical artefact on January 20, 1909. It traveled to Paris for exhibitions in 1958 and 1992. It seemed that its future was assured. But as history shows, there is no place of safekeeping. Like many museums worldwide, the Lyon Museum has been under threat from lack of funds. It continued to be supported by the Chamber of Commerce of Lyons, but in 2015 they announced that they could no longer support it and that the museum would close in 2016. By the time of this blog post, closure appeared to have been averted—although not without casualities. Sadly, Maximilien Durand, the Director, resigned his post in June 2017. The news serves as a reminder that a later generation might have another chapter to write in the story of this wonderful textile.


This is an edited extract from my forthcoming book, Silk, Slaves and Stupas: Material Culture of the Silk Road (University of California Press, March 2018). Chapter 8 tells the story of the Mozac Hunter Silk.

I am greatly indebted to the scholarship of Anna Muthesius for the original inspiration for this chapter. Many of the details about this textile come from her many books. I am also indebted to Maximilien Durand, former director of the Textile Museum, Lyon, holder of the textile, and must thank him for offering his own insights; alerting me to recent scholarship, notably that of Sophie Desrosiers on the weave; showing me the textile and the original ledger book; and providing more information about the textile’s acquisition.

References and Further Reading
Desrosiers, Sophie. 1994. “La soierie méditerannéenne.” Revue du Musée des Arts et Métiers 7:51–58.
———. 2004. Soieries et autres textiles de l’antiquité au XVIe siècle. Paris: Reunion des Musées Nationaux.
Durand, Maximilien. 2014. “Suaire de saint Austremoine, dit aussi ‘Suaire de
Mozac.’” Description for online catalog, Musée des Tissus / Musée des Arts
Decoratifs de Lyon (MTMAD). http://www.mtmad.fr.
Gomot, M. Hippolyte. 1872. Histoire de l’Abbaye Royale de Mozat. Paris: Libraire de la Société des Bibliophiles Français.
Muthesius, Anna. 1997. Byzantine Silk Weaving, AD 400 to AD 1200. Vienna: Fassbaender.
———. 2002. “Essential Processes, Looms, and Technical Aspects of the Produc-
tion of Silk Textiles.” In The Economic History of Byzantium: From the Seventh through the Fifteenth Century, edited by Angeliki E. Laiou, 147–68. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.
———. 2008. Studies in Byzantine, Islamic and Near East Silk Weaving. London: Pindar.

Posted in Silk, Slaves and Stupas, Textiles, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Amluk Dara Stupa

Amluk Data Stupa

ACT/Italian Archaeological Mission in Pakistan.

Once rising almost as high as the Pantheon in Rome, the large stupa of Amluk Dara in the Swat valley, Pakistan, is still an imposing building. Yet it is was only one among many such Buddhist structures built in Udyāna, a garden kingdom of the Silk Road.

Owing to its position connecting North India through mountainous Central Asia with the kingdoms and empires beyond, this was a strategic area. It often formed the borders of larger empires, with rulers based in India failing to expand north from here over the mountains and rulers from north of the mountains failing to expand further south from here into the Indian plains. However, one of the early invaders came from much further afield. Alexander the Great (r. 336–323 BC) fought famous battles here during his central Asian campaigns. His army marched east from Alexander on the Caucasus (Bagram)—the city he had founded in the kingdom of Kapisa—and fought many battles to gain control of the region. Some of these were in the Swat valley and culminated with Alexander’s successful siege of Aornos, a seemingly impregnable steep-sided mountain with a flat top watered by a spring where locals had taken refuge. Identifying the site of this ancient battle has occupied scholars for well over a century, but two places stand out as the most probable candidates. Pir Sar, a mountain rising west of the Indus valley, was selected by the archaeologist Aurel Stein (1862–1943) after his survey of the region in 1926. However, although this is not rejected by all, the consensus now veers toward Mount Ilam, the summit of which is a day’s walk from the Amluk Dara Stupa (Stein 1929; Rienjang 2012; Olivieri 2015).

Amluk Data Stupa in 1926.

Photographed in 1926 by Aurel Stein. The British Library Photo 392/30(129).

Legend tells of a serpent king, the Apalala, who lived in a lake high in the peaks of the Hindu Kush. Every year he demanded an annual offering of grain from the people living in the valley of the Swat river, which flowed from the lake. The valley was fertile, hence its name — Udyāna, the garden. But one year the people refused to give the offering and Apalala flooded their lands in revenge. The people duly asked help of Buddha. He came to the valley, converted Apalala and left his footprint on a rock as a sign of his visit.

The footprint survives (now in the local museum), the Swat River still floods, and for many centuries the valley kingdom remained a centre of Buddhism. The location of Amluk Dara and its central stupa was dependent on the landscape. The fecundity of the Swat valley is well captured by the description of the Aurel Stein: “The deep-cut lane along which we travelled was lined with fine hedges showing primrose-like flowers in full bloom, and the trees hanging low with their branches, though still bare of leaves, helped someone to recall Devon lanes. Bluebell-like flowers and other messengers of spring, spread brightness over the little terraced fields.” (Stein 1919: 32-5) And the Italian archaeologists working there since 1956 have noted that “the entire complex blended in with the surrounding nature. From this it drew its charm, importance and beauty—all elements that are believed to have been taken into consideration both in the original plans and subsequent extension.” (Faccenna and Spagnesi 2014: 550)

Gregory Schopen has argued that monasteries were very closely linked to the Indian ideal of a garden containing an arbor or pleasure grove, evidenced by the shared lexicon in the first century AD. He writes that “Buddhist monks . . . attempted to assimilate their establishments to the garden, or actually saw them as belonging to that cultural category.” (Schopen 2006: 489). The framing of views from within the garden or monastery was an important element in its siting, a point noted by many later travelers. So Stein writes of another site in the Lower Swat that it “proved a pleasing example of the care in which these old Buddhist monks knew how to select sacred spots and place their monastic establishments by them. A glorious view down the fertile valley to Thāna, picturesque rocky spurs around, clumps of firs and cedars higher up, and the rare boon of a spring close by—all combined to give charm to the spot. Even those who do not seek future bliss in Nirvāṇa could fully enjoy it.” (Stein 1929: 17-18). Rock-cut or other seats were often placed at points giving a particular view.

During its heyday, monks and merchants carried news of Udyāna’s Buddhist sights and temples along the Silk Road to China and the mountain valley became part of the itinerary for pilgrim monks en route to India. The first to leave a record was Faxian, who arrived in about 403. He stayed for several months visiting the Buddha footprint along with the rock on which he dried his clothes, and the place where he converted ‘the wicked serpent.’ He noted that there were 400 Buddhist monasteries.

Other pilgrims followed, including Xuanzang in 630 and the Korean monk, Hyecho, around 727. By their time Buddhism was in decline in the plains below Swat, but the valley provided an enclave. Indeed, recent archaeological work by Dr Luca Olivieri and his colleagues of the Italian Archaeological Mission has shown that rebuilding of Buddhist shrines and temples continued into the tenth centuries, long after Buddhism had disappeared in its Indian homeland.

Amluk Dara stupa under recent excavation.

Recent excavations. ACT/Italian Archaeological Mission in Pakistan.

This is an edited extract from my forthcoming book, Silk, Slaves and Stupas: Material Culture of the Silk Road (University of California Press, March 2018). Chapter 4 tells the story of Amluk Dara stupa.
Thanks to Luca Olivieri for his generous responses to my many queries and ready supply of excellent photographs for the book.

References and Further Reading
Faccenna, Domenico, and Piero Spagnesi. 2014. Buddhist Architecture in the Swat Valley, Pakistan: Stupas, Viharas, a Dwelling Unit. Lahore: Sang-e-Meel Publications.
Olivieri, Luca M. 1996. “Notes on the Problematic Sequence of Alexander’s Itinerary in Swat. A Geo-Historical Approach.” East and West 46.1-2:45–78.
———. 2014. The Last Phases of the Urban Site of bir-Kot-Ghwandai (Barikot): The Buddhist Sites of Gumbat and Amluk-Dara (Barikot). Lahore: Sang-e-Meel Publications.
———. 2015. “‘Frontier Archaeology’: Sir Aurel Stein, Swat and the Indian Aornus.” South Asian Studies 31 (1): 58–70.
Olivieri, L. M. and Vidale, M. 2006. “Archaeology and Settlement History in a Test Area of the Swat Valley. Preliminary Report on the AMSV Project (1st Phase). East and West 54.1–3”73–150.
Rienjang, Wannaporn. 2012. “Aurel Stein’s Work in the North-West Frontier Province, Pakistan.” In H. Wang ed. Sir Aurel Stein: Colleagues and Collections. British Museum Research Publication 194. London: British Museum: 1–10. .
Schopen, Gregory. 2006. “The Buddhist ‘Monastery’ and the Indian Garden: Aesthetics, Assimilations, and the Siting of Monastic Establishments.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 126 (4): 487–505.
Stein, M. Aurel. 1929. On Alexander’s Track to the Indus: Personal Narrative of Explorations on the North-West Frontier of India. London: Macmillan. http://archive.org/stream/onalexanderstrac035425mbp/onalexanderstrac035425mbp_djvu.txt.

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Feeble Silkworms and Flightless Moths

Female moths of the Bombyx mori (left) and Bombyx mandarina (right).
Credit: Markus Knaden, Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology.

The Bombyx mori moth is well-known as producer of the silk cultivated in China for thousands of years whose technology — including the breeding of the caterpillars (silkworms) and the source of their preferred food, white mulberry trees — spread across Eurasia during the period of the Silk Road. Both moth and mulberry were native to China and the former was domesticated, so enabling silk to be efficiently produced in a cottage industry. But it was only when I came to be interviewed for a BBC Radio 4 programme on the moth that I understood fully what domestication means for the moth itself.

The wild cousin of the Bombyx mori, the Bombyx mandarina lives for several weeks. After breeding, the female lays hundreds of tiny eggs on the white mulberry (Morus alba). The moths die but their eggs soon hatch. The caterpillars/larva — silkworms — move around the tree to find new leaves to satisfy their voracious appetites. Inevitably many are eaten, die of disease or fail to find sufficient food. Those that survive shed their skins several times and develop new ones to accommodate their rapidly expanding bodies, each new stage called an instar.

The caterpillars of the Bombyx mandarina (left) and Bombyx mori (right) showing the lack of skin pigment in the domesticated breed.

Once fully grown, the silkworm finds a suitable place where it can spin a cocoon around itself and enter its pupa stage. Often it will remain there over the winter, transforming into a moth as the spring set in and the new buds formed on the mulberries. When ready, it breaks out of the cocoon, pumping fluid into its wrinkly wings to make then expand and, when able, fly off to eat and find a mate.

After so many years of being cultivated, the domesticated Bombyx mori — moth, silkworm and pupae — might be larger than its wild cousin, but it is rather feeble in comparison. It has lost its skin pigments — a state called leucistic — as it has no need of camouflage being protected from predators by its human rearers. Used to being brought food, the caterpillar/silkworm does not travel far and might die if it is not regularly brought new leaves. It digests more efficiently and grows more quickly but, like its wild cousin, after several instars it spins a cocoon — also larger and whiter.

Comparison of the cocoons from the domesticated and wild moths.

Most of the domesticated pupae do not develop into moths as they are killed before they can break the precious cocoons. The cocoons are usually boiled, as this enables the 300-900 metres of silk to be unwound. The moths that do hatch have a very short life. Unable to fly or eat, they are placed together for mating. The males might get the chance to mate two or three times but they have then used up their usefulness and die. The females live to lay their eggs, like their wild ancestors, but unable to eat or move from their confined space.

Further images and information:
On Bombyx mandarina in Spain.
On Bombyx mandarina in Japan.

On the bombyx mori lifecycle.
On its lack of smell compared to its wild cousin

And a blog post on modern domestic sericulture and its challenges today.

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