Pair of fragments of silk

From Cave 17, Mogao, near Dunhuang, Gansu province, China
3rd-5th century AD

These two fragments might once have formed part of a headpiece for a banner. When discovered, they were stitched together to form a larger triangle backed with plain buff silk and bordered with deep red tape. The fabric is a tightly woven double cloth where threads run the same way front and back. Purple and white silk was used in the warp (the threads that run lengthwise) and only white was used for the weft (the threads woven across the warp).

These fragments are the earliest textiles to be recovered from Cave 17. The distinctive motif of paired dragons and winged birds among interlacing and stepped borders is unlike any other textile found there. However, similar fragments later discovered in Astana and dated to the Northern Liang period (AD 502-557) have confirmed its early dating.

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More information


M. Aurel Stein, Serindia: detailed report of e, 5 vols. (Oxford, 1921)

R. Whitfield, Art of Central Asia: The Stein, vol. 3 (Tokyo, Kodansha International Ltd., 1982-85)

R. Whitfield and A. Farrer, Caves of the thousand Buddhas: (London, The British Museum Press, 1990)


Height: 15.800 cm (max.)
Height: 15.800 cm (max.)

Museum number

Asia OA MAS 926a, b


Gift of Sir Marc Aurel Stein


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