National Geographic : 2010 Jun
• manuscripts, it turned out, were Xuanzang's translations of the Buddhist sutras that he had brought from India. After days of wheedling Wang and nights of removing scrolls from the cave, Stein left Dunhuang with 24 cases of manuscripts and five more filled with paintings and relics. It was one of the richest hauls in the history of archaeology---all acquired for a donation of just 130 pounds sterling. For his efforts, Stein would be knighted in England, and for- ever vili ed in China. Stein's cache revealed a multicultural world more vibrant than anyone had imagined. Nearly a dozen languages appeared in the texts, includ- ing Sanskrit, Turkic, Tibetan, and even Judeo-Persian, along with Chinese. e used paper on which many sutras had been copied offered startling glimpses into daily life along the Silk Road: a contract for trading slaves, a report on child kidnapping, even a Miss Man- ners-style apology for drunken behavior. One of the most pre- cious objects was the Diamond Sutra, a 16-foot-long scroll that had been printed from woodblocks in 868, nearly six centuries before Gutenberg's Bible. Others---French, Russian, Japanese, and Chi- nese---quickly followed in Stein's path. en in 1924 came American art historian Langdon Warner, an adventurer who might have served as inspiration for the ctional Indiana Jones. Enthralled by the beauty of the caves---" ere was nothing to do but to gasp," he later wrote--- Warner nevertheless contributed to their de- struction, hacking out a dozen mural fragments and removing an exquisite Tang-era sculpture of a kneeling bodhisattva from Cave 328. e art is still in the careful custody of the Harvard Art Museum. But the defaced murals---and the empty space where the sculpture once knelt---are heartrending all the same.