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0264 Serindia : vol.1
Serindia : vol.1 / Page 264 (Color Image)

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doi: 10.20676/00000183
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Find of Chinese records on wood.

Character of Chinese records.


grains, etc., a reference to the descriptive list below must suffice here. Of the small structures which must have once stood amidst the accumulations of refuse, only the plastered floors could be traced, with here and there a mud-built sitting platform, of the type common in modern houses under the Turki designation of süka. Near one of these a wooden trough, one foot eight inches wide, and the lower portion of a big pottery jar, one foot ten inches across, were found fixed in the ground.

It was not far from this point, and by the west edge of the mound, that the day's reward came to light in the evening. One of the diggers then hit upon a confused heap of narrow wooden

tablets, or rather sticks, bearing on their flattened faces Chinese writing in single line. They lay within a space of about two feet square, covered only by a foot or so of sand, and owing to prolonged

exposure to atmospheric influences many had become more or less rotten. All were thickly encrusted with decayed matter and salts drawn from the layers of refuse in which they had been buried. Their wood had become so friable that many got broken during removal in spite of all the care used. However, with the help of Chiang Szti-yeh, who, of course, was greatly interested in these finds, I managed to piece together again most of these fragments.

In the end some fifty wooden documents of this kind were recovered. Their size and shape varied greatly, but in all the rough treatment of the material and the obviously rather careless

cursive style of writing pointed to records of a transitory nature. Some were over sixteen inches

in length with a width of about an inch and a half. Most of those complete show a string-hole at one end. Some are flat, with two smooth surfaces covered with writing ; a few are stick-like, having

four inscribed sides. Others are written on what is nothing more than the split half of a branch,

usually of tamarisk, with one surface roughly smoothed to receive the writing, and the other left in the original round and sometimes retaining the bark. Specimens of different kinds of these wooden

records are reproduced in Plate xxxvii of M. Chavannes' volume. The varying notches found on

many of them suggested from the first tallies and the like, and such rapid examination as Chiang was able to make on the spot pointed to miscellaneous petty ` papers ' connected with village

administration, irrigation, and supply matters. M. Chavannes' close study of the pieces still

decipherable seems to have confirmed this conclusion, but the impression of his volume has not yet proceeded sufficiently far for me to quote details. A few of the pieces are bilingual, bearing,

besides Chinese, inscriptions in cursive Brahmi writing, and what obviously is the Iranian language of old Khotan. In this respect, too, the resemblance of these records to those brought from Balawaste is of the closest.

It is certain that the records here recovered are waste paper ' remains of some little local office. Their poor state of preservation was accounted for by what Haidul Khwaja told us of how

the rubbish deposit had been dug into by villagers who searched here for saltpetre some forty years

earlier. Disappointed in their quest they abandoned the site after a day, leaving the parcel of wooden documents incidentally brought to light to rot on the surface. Curiously enough, local

tradition seems to have preserved an inkling of, or made a shrewd guess at,-the official character of

the ruined structure ; for Mullah Khwaja and other greybeards of Domoko knew the spot by the designation of Köne-ötang, the ` old postal station '. However this may be, the different levels on

which the plastered floors and platforms above referred to were found suggest the prolonged occupation of the spot. In this connexion it is curious to note that a copper coin, found on the eroded slope near the place where the heap of wooden documents had been thrown down, is taken by Mr. J. Allan to be probably a late Pan Liang cash, of the latter half of the second century B.C.'

The dates found on several of the Chinese records are in months and days only. But even in the absence of any fully dated document it seems safe to assume that the relics of Mazar-toghrak belong to the closing period of the Tang dynasty's rule in the Tarim Basin. This is indicated on

Original discovery of ancient rubbish.

Approximate dating of remains.