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Fragment - The Stein Collection

The Stein Collection

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Miran Fort (excavated)

  • Date:

    8th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Tablet woven wool

  • Credit Line:

    Stein Textile Loan Collection. On loan from the Government of India and the Archaeological Survey of India. Copyright: Government of India

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

These two textile fragments are of polychrome tablet weave, made of blue, yellow, red and dark brown wool and showing a version of the key pattern. It is unclear what these textiles would have been used for, althoughthey are likely to have had a decorative purpose as well as a utilitarian function. They were recovered from the site of Miran Fort on the eastern verge of the Taklamakan desert. At this site material was discovered in the remains of a fort held by the Tibetans during their domination of the southern Taklamakan in the 8th century AD.

The sites are 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.

This textile was brought back from Central Asia by the explorer and archaeologist Sir Marc Aurel Stein (1862-1943). The V&A has around 650 ancient and medieval textiles recovered by Stein at the beginning of the 20th century. Some are silk while others are made from the wool of a variety of different animals.

Physical description

Two fragments of polychrome tablet weave made of blue, yellow, red and dark brown wool showing a version of the key pattern. Wool used for warp is yak underwool and the dyed pale blue weft from hairy-medium sheep.
The larger fragment is mainly made in double faced 3/1 broken twill combined with a Snartemo like technique in three colours. A little corner of the fragment shows dark and blue threads, presumably the remains of a pattern like LOAN:STEIN.436 combining a two coloured pattern of mainly blue colours with a geometrical patterns of mainly reddish colour. All the threads of the red part of the weave seems to be threaded with two red, one white and one blue colour. The reddish part is app. 9 cm across and the blue / dark part is app. 1 cm. There are no edges preserved. There is app. 8 tablets per cm in warp and the weft count is app. 7 per cm. The warp is z-twisted 2-threaded yarn and the weft is dark brown z-spun single thread. The weft consists of two, and in at least one time three single threads. This might indicade, that the weft was fringes of a fabruc and thus, that the border was woven integrated with a fabric (Lise Raeder Knudsen, August 2008).

Place of Origin

Miran Fort (excavated)


8th century (made)



Materials and Techniques

Tablet woven wool


Length: 17.7 cm largest fragment, Width: 10.8 cm largest fragment

Object history note

Michael Ryder has identified the wool used for warp as yak underwool and the dyed pale blue weft from hairy-medium sheep.
Lise Raeder Knudsen (Konserveringscentret i Vejle, Dk) studied the tablet woven pieces in August 2008, and she says: "the litte fragments seems to be the starting point of the border and it might be possible to trace the original working method in putting up the warp of the tablet border and starting the weaving. This can be done in many different ways and to Lise's knowledge it has not been possible to analyse details like this from any other historic find. A solid analysis will need more time to make."

Historical context note

The Miran fort lies midway along southern Silk Road, at the foot of the Kunlun Mountains. When Tibetan troops occupied the area in the late eight century AD, they built the fort to guard one of many routes through which they moved into Central Asia. In 1907, Stein excavated rubbish heaps at the fort and found wood slips, dating from the eight to the ninth century AD, which provided early examples of Tibetan writing. He also found fragments of wool rugs in bright colours and pieces of silk. The V&A holds a large number of textiles from the Miran Fort on loan, including spun wool, pattern and plain woven silk and wool, woven and spun hemp, woven horsehair, cords and painted silk.

Descriptive line

Fragments of pattern woven blue, red, yellow and dark brown wool showing the key pattern

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

Ryder, Michael. 'Ancient fibres from the Silk Route in Central Asia', Textiles Magazine. Manchester: Textile Institute, no 3, 1999.
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: Clarendon Press, 1921), vol. I, p.482.




Tablet weaving


Archaeology; Textiles


East Asia Collection

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