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. III.
Excavation at site of Mingoi.
Stein Textile Loan Collection. On loan from the Government of India and the Archaeological Survey of India. Copyright: Government of India.
Rectangular fragment made of cream-coloured unidentified plant fibre.
Length: 9.8 cm, Width: 4.4 cm
Mingoi is located in the foothills of the Tianshan mountain range, on the northern Silk Road. Over a hundred Buddhist cave temples lend the site its name Mingoi, "The Thousand Dwellings". Stein explored a number of shrines here and found remains of colossal statues, fantastic carvings in wood, paintings and stucco reliefs. Depicted on the walls of the caves were Buddha legends, garlands of flowers, swags and tassels, fantastic canopies and mythological beasts. Stein found much evidence that the site had been occupied during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) and Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD). Many Chinese coins, dating later than the eight century, had been left as votive offerings. Uygur manuscripts and graffiti indicated that the site had been occupied while the Uygurs controlled the region in the ninth to tenth century. A large amount of fallen brickwork appeared to have been hardened by burning; evidence that the site had been consumed in a large blaze in the second half of the tenth century. The caves also yielded much information about textiles of the period. Many statues were clothed in patterned and embroidered garments of Chinese silk. At their bases, Stein found votive rags of silk and linen. The V&A holds, on loan, several textiles from Mingoi, including plant fibres; plain and pattern woven silk, and also a number of terracotta heads of bodhisattva.
Similar to other fragments found at the Mingoi site, although bear no identifying Stein number itself.
This textile of plain woven plant fibre was recovered from the site of Mingoi, a Buddhist shrine which dates from the 4th to the 8th century AD. The site is also 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. He made several expeditions to the chain of abandoned oasis settlements in the Silk Road region and each time brought back a wide variety of material. The textiles range in date from the 2nd century BC to the 12th century AD. Some are silk while others are made from the wool of a variety of different animals. Most of the pieces are fragmentary and it is not easy to see what they would originally have been used for. Occasionally, whole items survive such as shoes, purses and religious banners.