822 THE ANCIENT SITE BEYOND THE NIYA RIVER [Chap. XI
have served as a kind of ante-chamber. A platform, 4 ft. broad, built of plaster to a height of some 3 ft. above the floor, looked as if intended to accommodate attendants, an exactly similar arrangement being often observed in modern Turkestan houses belonging to people of means. What purpose the wall served, the remains of which were found dividing the small space between the western end of this platform and the wall towards room N. ii., I was unable to ascertain. It was here, in the recess marked b, that I found the fairly well-preserved tablet N. iii. I, the sole object yielded by this room, and the first record written on a wooden board closely resembling in shape an Indian ` Takhti' 5. The piece also attracted my special interest by exhibiting on either side four narrow vertical columns of Kharosthi, which suggested either a metrical text arranged after the fashion of the Dhammapada in the Dutreuil de Rhins fragments, or else lists.
As soon as the clearing of the large apartment (N. iv.) adjoining immediately on the south had been started, inscribed tablets of all shapes and sizes began to crop up in rapid succession from the shallow sand covering it. It was a room 27 feet square, with a plaster platform 13 inches high and 4 feet broad running round three of its sides (see Plate XXVIII). The remains of eight posts arranged in a rectangle, io by 82 ft., indicated a central area, which in all probability had a raised roof, with a clerestory opening below to admit light and air, after the fashion still observed in the halls or Aiwâns of all Turkestan houses of any pretension 6. As the protective layer of sand rose only about 2 feet high above the floor, little more was left of the walls than rows of much-decayed posts, which the plaster of the platforms had helped to keep upright (see Fig. 37). In consequence of this inadequate covering the first inscribed tablets which turned up in the sand above the south platform and close to the surface (N. iv. I-6) had suffered far more than any excavated in N. i. The perished and cracked surface of their wood and their often warped and split appearance showed plainly the effects of the climatic influences, and in particular of the terrible summer heat to which they must have been exposed since the winds had carried away most of the sand that originally protected them. The fantastically-twisted fragment, N. iv. II, reproduced in Plate CIV, which still retains a small portion of its text arranged in five lines near the square end, illustrates the destructive effects of such exposure. Another characteristic specimen of this class of badly damaged records is N. ii. j, found in exactly similar conditions in the passage of the north row and reproduced in the same plate. Here the under-tablet of a rectangular document has been contorted almost into the shape of a half-open roll, part of the inside surface still retaining some legible lines of bleached writing. The badly-split and warped covering-tablet of a similar document (N. iv. 28) is seen in Plate CV, still recognizable by its seal-socket and string-grooves, but retaining only faint traces of writing.
After the discouraging appearance of the first finds, I had reason to feel all the more gratified when I found that even the light remaining cover of sand had sufficed to preserve in a more or less legible condition the majority of the numerous inscribed tablets that were found scattered over the platform along the southern side of the room. Those marked with numbers N. iv. 4-36 turned up either separately or in small batches lying close above the plaster flooring, and the damp once rising through the latter, no doubt, accounted for the
5 For a similar board found at Dandân-Uiliq, see above, 269.
M. Grenard's sketch of such an Aiwân in a well-to-do
which, like a skylight, serves for the admission of light and air (lungluk). The plan given (ibid., p. 99) of a modern Khotan mansion will help to explain other corresponding features in the ancient houses of the Niya Site, the distribution of the rooms and passages, &c.