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Documents from the Northern Area
Author:by Lou Jie, Liang Xushu, and Huang Yuanwei Published:2014.3.26 Views:

From 1988 to 1995,a team dispatched by the Dunhuang Research Academy conducted an archaeological survey and excavations of the previously ignored northern section of the Mogao Grottoes. The largely undecorated caves in this area had been reserved for the use of monks as private accommodations, meditation cells, or funerary chambers. A great number of fragments of sutras and other documents were found, written in such languages as Chinese, Tibetan, Sanskrit, Uighur, Tangut (Xixia), Mongol, and Syriac.

1.Tangut-Chinese Bilingual Dictionary

Western Xia dynasty (1038-1227), Ink on paper; 15 x 21.8 cm

Collection of the Dunhuang Research Academy, Bl84:9

This document, excavated from Cave B184 in the Northern Area of the Mogao Grottoes, is slightly damaged, with only one side intact. It was written on soft white jute paper, which has turned slightly yellow and reveals an uneven interlacing of fibers in a horizontal curtain pattern. This woodcut-printed document has a double-line border on the upper, lower, and left sides. It is the verso of page 14 in the Tangut-Chinese Bilingual Dictionary. The text belongs mainly to the category “Land Use” (the third and last chapter of the section on Earth). This is the only complete page of this dictionary extant in China, so it is valuable even though fragmentary.

2.Fragment of a document on mathematics written in Tibetan


Yuan dynasty (1271-1368), Ink on paper; 8.0 x 13.8 cm

Collection of the Dunhuang Research Academy, B59:10

This document on mathematics, written in a cursive Tibetan script, was excavated from Cave B59 in the Northern Area of the Mogao Grottoes. The text on the front side of this fragment contains the pithy multiplication formula characterized by multiplying two different numbers and then multiplying them again after changing their position. For example, “three times one, one times three equals three” and “two times four, four times two equals eight.” It is equivalent to the pithy Chinese formula “one times three equals three, two times four equals eight.” The modification in this document is regarded as a kind of innovation and improvement in multiplication formulas. On the document’s reverse are some words in the Tibetan language expressing numbers, as well as Tibetan-style numbers which are similar to Arabic numerals. In addition there are abbreviated numbers. It is rare to find this type of document among the Tibetan manuscripts discovered in the Library Cave at Dunhuang.