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 resting on paper. The silk is a mottled brown in colour, and while the item is bundled, small printed designs in dark ink can be seen, and in the middle left of the bundle a glimpse of some stars in dark ink.
Or 12380/3665 before conservation. 

 

The Silk bundle partially unravelled. The brownish colour has taken a lighter hue, and also reveals some small holes and tattered edges.
Or 12380/3665 during conservation – revealing a printed design.

 

Clara is working on the silk bundle, contained in a white tray on a bench. She is using tweezers to gently unravel the bundle.
Or 12380/3665 - Clara working on the fragment.

 

The reverse side of the Silk bundle, now completely unravelled and lying flat, after conservation work. The bundle is longer at the bottom, with most of the left hand side of the fragment missing. There can now be seen some characters superimposed on a series of stars on the bottom left hand side. There are also various holes in the silk.
Or 12380/3665 after conservation – reverse showing characters, (bottom left), seams and stitching.

 

The obverse of the Silk bundle after conservation. The repeated printed pattern can be seen more clearly on this side.
Or 12380/3665 after conservation – obverse showing characters and printed stars (bottom right).

 

a close-up of the Silk fragment, showing the five-pointed stars while a fragment of text in Chinese Characters  written in black ink, is superimposed on top.
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:

A screenshot of the Twitter account of Andrew West, who has provided information on the pictured Silk fragment, identifying the as being from the Song Dynasty around 1214 A.D.

Another Twitter Screenshot from Andrew West's account, with another picture of the Silk fragment identifying the birds depicted amongst the stars, and stating this matches the description of another piece.

Image from The Life of the Buddha

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