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Fragments - The Stein Collection

The Stein Collection

  • Object:

    Fragments

  • Place of origin:

    The Limes Watchtowers (excavated)

  • Date:

    200 BC-400 AD (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Plain woven plant fibre, string and paper

  • 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:

    LOAN:STEIN.220

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This bundle of fragments consists of plant fibre textiles and paper. Their original use is unclear although they are likely to have had a utilitarian function. The fragments were recovered from the sites called the site known as The Limes Watchtowers, a line of fortified encampments designed to ensure the safe transit of goods across the area and dating from 200BC to AD400.
The site is part of an area now referred to as 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 their goods from oasis to oasis. The Silk Road was also important for the exchange of ideas – while silk textiles travelled west from China, Buddhism entered China from India in this way.
These fragments were brought back from Central Asia by the explorer and archaeologist Sir Marc Aurel Stein (1862–1943). The Victoria and Albert Museum has around 700 ancient and medieval textiles recovered by Stein at the beginning of the twentieth century. The textiles range in date from the second century BC to the twelfth century AD. Some are silk while others are made from the wool of a variety of different animals.

Physical description

Several fragments tied together with Stein number label, including monochrome plain weave yellow unidentified plant fibre, a length of brown plant fibre string, and a piece of paper.

Place of Origin

The Limes Watchtowers (excavated)

Date

200 BC-400 AD (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Plain woven plant fibre, string and paper

Dimensions

Length: 8.5 cm bundle, approx., Width: 6.4 cm bundle, approx.

Object history note

Attached to fragments is a rectangular paper label showing Stein number possibly in Stein's handwriting or that of his assistant, Miss F M G Lorimer.

Historical context note

The Limes are a line of defensive walls and beacon towers north of Dunhuang. They extend the wall completed by Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi (259-210 BC) in 214 BC as a barrier against the Xiongnu. Under the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) the walls were carried 1,000 miles to the west, to the easternmost edge of the Tarim Basin. The Limes protected China's trade and military colonies and served as a base for expansion into Central Asia. They were made of stamped clay and gravel, alternating with layers with wood, to protect against corrosion by wind-blown sand. They were completed in less than a century with water carried over huge distances. Behind the walls lay a series of watchtowers. These housed small numbers of soldiers who watched the desert and signalled to armies stationed at nearby Dunhuang through a system of couriers and fire signals. Within the towers Stein found an astounding range of artefacts, which provide a glimpse of garrison life and military operations under the Han empire, including bronze mirrors, coarse pottery, tools, leather armour, weapons, shoes, and clothing. Ancient documents included personal letters on silk and wood; military directives and supply lists; and treatises on a range of subjects, including medicine and astrology. The V&A holds, on loan, several utilitarian textile fragments, parts of shoes and several pottery shards from the sites, dating from the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD).

Descriptive line

Fragments of buff plant fibre and paper

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. II, p. 778.

Materials

Paper; Plant fibre; String

Techniques

Plain weave; Paper-making

Categories

Archaeology; Textiles

Collection

East Asia Collection

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