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  • Place of origin:

    Loulan (possibly, excavated)

  • Date:

    200-400 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Silk damask

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

These fragments are of silk damask showing a checkerboard pattern. It is unclear what the textiles would have been used for although it is likely to have been part of a burial shroud. They were recovered from the site of Loulan cemetery, which dates from the 3rd to the 4th century AD. The site of Loulan is remarkable for the carved wooden capitals, beams and balustrades that show clear affinities with western Classical decoration that filtered through Iran and Northwest India.

The site is part of an area of Central Asia we now call the Silk Road, a series of overland trade routes that crossed Asia, from China to Europe. The most notable item traded was silk. Camels and horses were used as pack animals and merchants passed the goods from oasis to oasis. The Silk Road was also important for the exchange of ideas. Whilst silk textiles travelled west from China, Buddhism entered China from India in this way.

Physical description

Several fragments of monochrome damask weave in brown silk showing a checkerboard pattern.

Place of Origin

Loulan (possibly, excavated)


200-400 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Silk damask


Length: 41.4 cm, Width: 29.5 cm

Object history note

A similar piece in the National Museum of India, L.C.ii.05.b, seems to confirm that this example indeed is from Loulan (see fig 38 in T. Yamanobe. Fabrics from the Silk Road; The Stein Collection. National Museum, New Delhi, Kyoto, Japan, 1979).

Historical context note

Loulan was once an important garrison town which lay between the Pei shan and Taklamakan deserts on the Silk Road. The city was also a centre of Buddhist worship. When Sven Hedin explored the site in 1900, he discovered remains of a stupa, reliefs depicting Buddhas among lotuses, and statues of deities. This strategically important city is mentioned in Chinese records for the first time in 176 BC with the conquest by the Xiongnu, but the area fell under Chinese control around 100 BC. Located in the middle of the Silk Road, Loulan had contacts with many cultures, represented by hundreds of documents in Chinese, Indian Kharosthi, and Sogdian scripts which were unearthed by Hedin and Stein. A woollen cloth, which Stein found in a tomb, depicted the head of Hermes and his caduceus, or staff, in the classical style of western Asia. He also unearthed a number of mummies with feathered felt caps and arrow shafts by their sides; which indicated that a community of herdsmen and hunters had inhabited the region long before various imperial conquests. Loulan flourished until the fourth century AD, when it was abandoned, due to the desiccation of a nearby lake, Lop Nor. The V&A holds, on loan, a large number of textiles from Loulan, including cotton, wool and figured silks, carpet and tapestry fragments.

Descriptive line

Fragments of silk damask, possibly from Loulan, 200-400

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Stein, Aurel. Serindia: Detailed Report of Exploration in Central Asia and Westernmost China Carried Out and Described Under the Orders of H.M Indian Government. 5 vols (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1921), vol. I.

Production Note

The Stein Collection: Has incomplete Stein number attributed to site of Loulan cemetery.


Silk (textile)




Textiles; Archaeology


East Asia Collection

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