Discovery and digitization of ancient Chinese library
November 8, 2018 1:08 PM   Subscribe

Tutankhamun’s tomb, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Dunhuang Library, the 20th centuries greatest (re)discoveries. The first two are commonly known, and the third was opened in 1900 by Wang Yuanlu, an itinerant Taoist monk, appointed himself their caretaker of the Dunhuang or Mogao caves. Once found, news of the Dunhuang Library set off a manuscript race among the European powers. In the century since the Dunhuang Library was discovered, a whole academic discipline has sprung up around the materials it contained, with much of it undergoing digitization by libraries around the world. A Secret Library, Digitally Excavated (Jacob Mikanowski, New Yorker, 2013)

The Mogao Caves are one of the three most impressive collection of Chinese art, particularly Buddhist statuary and carvings, along with Longmen Grottoes and Yungang Grottoes. The "library cave" was just one part of the history of the region, but it's the variety and scale of its contents are impressive. More from the New Yorker:
It’s an extraordinarily demanding branch of study: the Library included documents in at least seventeen languages and twenty-four scripts, many of which have been extinct for centuries or known only from a few examples. The collection mirrors the remarkable diversity of Dunhuang itself, where Buddhists rubbed shoulders with Manicheans, Christians, Zoroastrians, and Jews, and Chinese scribes copied Tibetan prayers that had been translated from Sanskrit by Indian monks working for Turkish khans. Given how international the materials from Dunhuang are, scholars have agreed that the methods for their study should be, too. For decades, however, they have faced real problems, both in conducting research and in sharing their findings; Stein and the explorers who followed him scattered the library’s holdings among more than a dozen libraries and museums around the world.
posted by filthy light thief (10 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
Also previously, the apology for drunken behavior form letter:

Sorry about that. I'll pay to clean the carpet.
posted by hyperbolic at 2:37 PM on November 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

What a fantastic place!
I think there should be a Go Fund Me so I can check it out for MeFi.
posted by BlueHorse at 5:29 PM on November 8, 2018

Um...I clicked around a bit but didn’t see where one might find the actual digital files to access/download. Did I miss it? Or is that not yet possible?

Asking for the Darkstarchive.
posted by darkstar at 6:09 PM on November 8, 2018

A good place to start is
posted by homerica at 8:55 PM on November 8, 2018

Yeah, I’ve clicked through all of those links. Lots of web pages talking about the project, who’s involved, links to various museum web sites, description of the collections, archives of announcements, discussions of how to access physical manuscripts in person, proceedings of relevant conferences, etc. But as yet, none of the links have led me to actual digital files for downloading.

(I suspect this means that the digital files are not yet available. If anyone happens to find a specific link leading to the digital content, I’d be grateful if you reported back where to find it. The content sounds fascinating!)
posted by darkstar at 9:15 PM on November 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Great post, filthy light thief. Thanks!
posted by homunculus at 9:33 PM on November 8, 2018

Being an oasis on the Silk Road is a good way to pile up an international collection.
posted by msalt at 12:35 AM on November 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

darkstar.... this is what I did to see images: in the search box on the right, i entered 'prajnaparamita' or 'star' and then lots of results came up, for example

it's definitely needs work on making things more easily findable (the irony!)
posted by kokaku at 3:50 AM on November 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

Journeys on the Silk Road is a great book about Aurel Stein, the Dunhuang library, adventurers, and plunderers in the waning days of the colonial era.
posted by PlusDistance at 3:56 AM on November 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

Ye - thank you kokaku! I was initially stymied by the search because I didn’t already know what the name of any particular file was that I might want to see. But when you go into the Advanced Search and select for artifact type, and leave everything blank, it will come up with a thumbnail catalog of all of the files.

Most still say “Not Digitised Yet” but occasionally one will pop up with an image that you can click on for the file. Cool!

Looking forward to seeing more from this collection.
posted by darkstar at 4:07 AM on November 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

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