Stein Textile Loan Collection. On loan from the Government of India and the Archaeological Survey of India. Copyright: Government of India.
150 BC - 0060 AD (made)
Hand-knotted woollen pile showing linear design on wool warp and weft.
Length: 18 cm, Width: 15.8 cm
Loulan was once an important garrison town which lay between the Pei shan and Taklamakan deserts on the Silk Road. The city was also a centre of Buddhist worship. When Sven Hedin explored the site in 1900, he discovered remains of a stupa, reliefs depicting Buddhas among lotuses, and statues of deities. This strategically important city is mentioned in Chinese records for the first time in 176 BC with the conquest by the Xiongnu, but the area fell under Chinese control around 100 BC. Located in the middle of the Silk Road, Loulan had contacts with many cultures, represented by hundreds of documents in Chinese, Indian Kharosthi, and Sogdian scripts which were unearthed by Hedin and Stein. A woollen cloth, which Stein found in a tomb, depicted the head of Hermes and his caduceus, or staff, in the classical style of western Asia. He also unearthed a number of mummies with feathered felt caps and arrow shafts by their sides; which indicated that a community of herdsmen and hunters had inhabited the region long before various imperial conquests. Loulan flourished until the fourth century AD, when it was abandoned, due to the desiccation of a nearby lake, Lop Nor. The V&A holds, on loan, a large number of textiles from Loulan, including cotton, wool and figured silks, carpet and tapestry fragments.
One fragment of polychrome woollen pile carpet made of plain woven wool yarn warp with pink wool weft and rows of knots in pink, red, pale green and green, pale blue and blue, yellow and cream wool showing a section of linear design.
Pigments detected: blend of three dyes: indigotin (major component), madder-type dye and a yellow/brown dye. [Analysis by Penelope Walton Rogers, December 3, 2007]
Dye analysis 1:
Green specimen #15 (L.C.iii.0014) contains a yellow flavonoid similar to (possibly the same as) yellow 1 and blue indigotin, from indigo. (report by Xian Zhang 09/02/2008)
Dye analysis 2:
Color detected: green
Compounds detected: luteolin glycosides + indigotin.
Possible dye source: yellow 3? + indigo
Color detected: yellow
Compounds detected: flavonoids glycosides
Possible dye source: yellow 2?
Excavated from, or found near, the grave-pits of Loulan cemetery.
This fragment of woollen pile carpet with rows of knots in pink, red, pale green and green, pale blue and blue, yellow and cream wool shows a section of a linear design. It is unclear what this textile would have been used for, although it is likely to have had a decorative purpose as well as a utilitarian function. It was recovered from the cemetery of Loulan. The site of Loulan is remarkable for the carved wooden capitals, beams and balustrades that show clear affinities with western Classical decoration that filtered through Iran and Northwest India.
The sites are part of an area of Central Asia we now call 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 the goods from oasis to oasis. The Silk Road was also important for the exchange of ideas. Whilst silk textiles travelled west from China, Buddhism entered China from India in this way.
This textile was brought back from Central Asia by the explorer and archaeologist Sir Marc Aurel Stein (1862-1943). The V&A has around 650 ancient and medieval textiles recovered by Stein at the beginning of the 20th century. Some are silk while others are made from the wool of a variety of different animals.