Collection Care blog

02 July 2018

Unravelling an archaeological silk bundle

MPhil student Clara Low is studying Textile Conservation at the University of Glasgow. As part of her course she is completing a placement for six weeks between her first and second year, here at the British Library.

The following images were taken by Clara whilst she worked on the unfolding of a silk bundle. The Tangut silk fragment was excavated in Kharakhoto (western Gobi desert) in 1914 by Aurel Stein. Clara used controlled humidification to enable this process. She worked with Vania Assis, paper conservator for the International Dunhuang Project and Liz Rose, textile conservator. See the amazing results below.

Silk bundle

Or 12380/3665 before conservation. 

Silk bundle unravelled

Or 12380/3665 during conservation – revealing a printed design.


Or 12380/3665 - Clara working on the fragment.

Silk bundle after conservation

Or 12380/3665 after conservation – reverse showing characters, (bottom left), seams and stitching.

Silk bundle after conservation obverse

Or 12380/3665 after conservation – obverse showing characters and printed stars (bottom right).

Silk character detail

Or 12380/3665 after conservation – detail of characters.

Can anyone tell us what it says?


Update: many thanks to Andrew West for a speedy solution:


Bird design