A Secret Library, Digitally Excavated
2013-10-16 0:00

By Jacob Mikanowski | The New Yorker



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.

The library was discovered by accident. In the early Middle Ages, Dunhuang had been a flourishing city-state. It had also long been famous as a center of Buddhist worship; pilgrims travelled great distances to visit its cave shrines, comprised of hundreds of lavishly decorated caverns carved into a cliff on the city’s outskirts. But by the early twentieth century, the town was a backwater, and its caves had fallen into disrepair. Wang Yuanlu, an itinerant Taoist monk, appointed himself their caretaker. One day, he noticed his cigarette smoke wafting toward the back wall of a large cave shrine. Curious, he knocked down the wall, and found a mountain of documents, piled almost ten feet high.

Although he couldn’t read the ancient scripts, Wang knew he had found something of incredible significance. He contacted local officials and offered to send the materials to the provincial capital; strapped for cash and preoccupied with the Boxer Rebellion, they refused. Soon, however, rumors of the discovery began to spread along the caravan routes of Xinjiang. One of the first to hear about it was the Hungarian-born Indologist and explorer Aurel Stein, who was then in the middle of his second archaeological expedition to Central Asia.

Stein rushed to Dunhuang, and, after waiting for two months, he finally met with Wang. Negotiations were delicate. Wang didn’t want to let any of the documents out of his sight, and was uneasy about selling them. Stein prevailed, eventually persuading the monk by invoking his patron saint, Xuanzang, a Chinese pilgrim who made an arduous journey to India in search of religious texts in the seventh century A.D. Claiming to be following in Xuanzang’s footsteps, Stein convinced Wang to sell him some ten thousand documents and painted scrolls for a hundred and thirty pounds.

News of the Dunhuang Library set off a manuscript race among the European powers.

[...]

Read the full article at: newyorker.com



Related Articles
Over 113 Years, This Home Library Has Grown to 35,000 Books
Oldest known complete Torah scroll found in university library by chance
The library where robots pick the books
The Mysterious Crespi Collection & The Metal Library
Egypt’s richest Library set on Fire
A million library books to be sent down the mines
The Vatican Archive: the Pope’s private library


Latest News from our Front Page

4 beheaded in Saudi Arabia less than a week into King Salman's rule
2015-01-30 3:13
Comment: So when will the the "Human rights" promoting liberal west elite decide invade Saudi Arabia like they did Libya? Members of Magic Movement stage a mock execution scene in protest of Saudi Arabia beheading of eight Bangladeshi workers in October 2011. Four people have been executed in Saudi Arabia less than a week after 79-year-old King Salman assumed power following the ...
Swedish Office Block Pushes Microchips on its Staff
2015-01-30 2:12
Sweden is heading over the cliff in multiple areas, all at once. They are pushing the abolition of cash, run amok state feminism, gender war, pacification of the police and perhaps even more frightening: open borders. A policy that have given the country a "gold medal" in asylum seeker acceptance. Run away
Charlie Hebdo: Where Neocons, Zionists, Masons and Communists Converge
2015-01-30 1:20
Charlie Hebdo, raising the banner of revolt, has always regurgitated precisely what the “system” required. Charlie Hebdo (CH) came out of the New Left milieu of the 1960s and is a product of the 1968 revolt against President Charles de Gaulle. It happens that the most famous of the New Left revolts came at a time when (1) the CIA was ...
The Liberation of Auschwitz
2015-01-30 0:12
This article is perhaps a day late, but it will be some time before talk of the Holocaust subsides in the mainstream press, especially now that we are to have a vast new Holocaust Memorial Centre built with £50 million of taxpayers money in central London, to replace the rather unimpressive one that already exists in Hyde Park. In the various ...
Facebook’s New ‘Chinese-style’ Political Censorship System Goes Global
2015-01-29 4:35
Last week 21WIRE reported on Facebook’s new communitarian policy whereby readers can ‘flag’ content as “fake news” if they believe it’s not real, or if they do not like it. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo False Flag event, the social media giant is now allowing governments to determine what is ‘good free speech’, and what is not. “An article ...
More News »