Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Celebrating Knowledge Conference - Day 2: The International Dunhuang Project (IDP)

"In 1900 a hidden cave was discovered at a Buddhist site near the ancient Silk Road town of Dunhuang. Sealed in about 1000 AD, it contained tens of thousands of manuscripts, paintings and printed documents on paper and silk dating from 400-1000 AD."

Learnt about the International Dunhuang Project (IDP) today, from Dr. Imre Galambos, Overseas Project Manager, British Library. More about Dunhuang and IDP at idp.bl.uk/chapters/about_IDP/idpintro.html

Some quick notes that I recorded (words in square paranthesis [ ] are mine. Any inaccuracies in the recording or interpretation are my own):
  • They found that the manuscripts were written in Chinese, Tibetan, Khatoshti, Urghur,
  • Khotanese, Tangut, Tocharian, Turkic, Sanskrit, even Hebrew. Some are already extinct languages. Truly a multilingual library back then [evidence of collaboration and resource-sharing back then?]
  • Some were already 600 years old by the time they were sealed in the cave in AD 1000.
  • Subsequently, since it was discovered in 1900, the manuscripts have been transported and stored at various libraries in Britain, China, France, Germany,Japan, Russia -- which later became an issue for China whose stand was for these national treasures to be returned.
  • Problem with such a geographically scattered collection is that scholars don't necessarily have funds to travel to study to the respective countries to study the manuscripts. The same manuscripts could be split across different libraries.

[I can understand China's position, but personally, I think from a global perspective, such a "distributed storage network" has its advantages over storing the manuscripts in just one country. E.g. insurance against manmade or natural disasters at one storage location].

  • IDP was founded in 1994 to try to alleviate this problem through its digitisation efforts of the manuscripts.
  • IDP's core activities are: Conservation (cited as biggest priority. Some manuscripts have
  • yet to be opened from their cases), Cataloguing (still no complete catalogue or union catalogue), Digitisation, Education, and Promoting research.
  • Each scanned image is 200 MB and sold upon request. Lower resolution pictures are posted on the website.

[Try searching via this page in their website for manuscripts - idp.bl.uk/ManuscriptSearch
Just scrolling down the Titles field already boggles my mind. I also wonder if 100 or 1000 years from now, something I might have doodled or scribbled might be discovered and made into a scholarly artifact.]


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