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Fragments - The Stein Collection

The Stein Collection

  • Object:

    Fragments

  • Place of origin:

    The Limes Watchtowers (excavated)

  • Date:

    200BC-400AD (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Plain woven silk and unidentified plant fibre and grass string

  • 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.43

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

These miscellaneous fragments include a bundle of string made of twisted grass, a piece of plain woven buff plant fibre and fragments of plain weave brown silk. Their original purpose is unclear although they are likely to have had a utilitarian function. They were recovered from 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 including bundle of string made of twisted grass, one piece of monochrome plain woven buff unidentified plant fibre and fragments of monochrome plain weave brown silk, rotted.

Place of Origin

The Limes Watchtowers (excavated)

Date

200BC-400AD (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Plain woven silk and unidentified plant fibre and grass string

Dimensions

Length: 10.5 cm bundle of grass string, Width: 5 cm bundle of grass string

Object history note

Fragments have previously been housed in a piece of paper labelled with Stein number.

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

Plain woven silk and plant fibre fragments and a bundle of grass string.

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. 790.

Materials

Silk; Grass; String; Plant fibre

Techniques

Plain weave; Twisting

Categories

Archaeology; Textiles

Collection

East Asia Collection

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