International Dunhuang Project


page mounted: 1/12/05 page last updated: 4/1/08


Professors Fan Jinshi and Shi Pingting from the Dunhuang Academy in the BL conservation studio

Conservation has been a core part of IDP's work since the start. Its founding aims include:

IDP works with conservators and conservation scientists from institutions worldwide to achieve these aims. It organises regular conservation conferences and conservation panels at other conferences. These are to enable conservators and scientists to meet, discuss their recent work and find out about new techniques. IDP also publishes books and papers as well as taking an active role in conservation research with conservators and scientists worldwide. See the Conservation pages for more details.

The conservation section of the IDP web site describes conservation work, and includes video clips and descriptions of conservation, along with recent research papers, reports on various conservation materials, a glossary of terms and links to other sites.

Cataloguing and Research

Sam van Schaik and Jake Dalton, cataloguers of Dunhuang Tibetan tantric Mss.

Without basic catalogue records accessibility to the manuscripts, paintings, textiles and artefacts is severely hampered. Coordinating cataloguing has thus been a core activity of IDP from the start. Database software was chosen and a database designed and implemented to hold this information. By the time the database went online in October 1998 it contained basic records for over 20,000 manuscripts. By 2005 it contained basic records for over 50,000 items, including paintings, textiles, artefacts and historical photographs. A more detailed description of the database and a view of its structure is available here. Live statistics on the number of entries in the database can be viewed here.

IDP is also currently entering all previously published catalogues with concordances of the various catalogue numbers and the institutional pressmarks, so that users can readily find the manuscript they wish to view. The catalogues are entered in XML and are fully searchable online. They can be accessed on the Show Catalogue page. Scholars preparing new catalogues are asked to permit their work to be entered directly onto the database so that their research becomes immediately accessible, and they can also use the online template.

Frances Wood with Ksenia Kepping  during her last visit to the British Library.

IDP sees its primary role as a facilitator for scholars and only secondarily as an interpreter of the material. Scholars can submit their research and it will be added directly to the database and be accessible on the web (the scholar retains copyright and is fully accredited). Scholars or catalogues may disagree in their interpretation of a certain text. IDP will not judge between them but will show all the conflicting research and let other scholars and users of the database judge for themselves. Precedence will continue to be given to entering basic information and digitisation, but transcriptions and translations of the manuscripts are now also being added to the database in a fully searchable form. To submit your research download and enter into the cataloguing template or simply send us an email with attachment.

Cataloguing is just the first step. IDP aims to contextualise the finds and present further resources alongside the catalogue records. A bibliography of relevant articles, papers and books is linked to the manuscripts and is fully searchable. Information about the sites where the manuscripts, paintings, textiles and artefacts were found is also given, with site plans, descriptions from the archaeological reports and both historical and contemporary photographs.

IDP assists scholars further by answering queries, supplying CD/DVDs of images for personal research use and organising lectures, symposia, and conferences. In 1998 it held a ground-breaking conference on the subject of Dunhuang manuscript forgeries, the first ever public debate on this topic. The papers were published and IDP is collecting information on forgeries which will be made freely available on the web. A workshop on the kingdom of Khotan was organised in 2004 to coincide with the British Library exhibition, The Silk Road: Trade, Travel, War and Faith.

IDP staff are themselves active in research and publish regularly (see their research profiles. A three-year palaeographical project on the Tibetan and Chinese manuscripts funded by the Leverhulme Trust is being directed from London and the results, methodology and tools will be added to the online database and web site. One of the results of this will be a searchable online Dunhuang Character Database containing millions of Tibetan syllables and Chinese characters from which it will be possible to identify individual scribes working at Dunhuang and trace orthographical changes. IDP Beijing is carrying out several other research projects and also working together with London on the palaeographical project. See the research pages for more.


Photography in the IDP digitisation studio.

Once IDP had designed the database and built up a body of cataloguing data, work started on digitisation of the material. In 2001 IDP was able to establish its own digitisation studio with Phase One digital scanning backs on 5 x 4 cameras, employing professional photographers and Photoshop operators. The equipment is updated regularly and similar set-ups are now used in IDP Centres worldwide along with the latest single-shot backs on high and medium format cameras. For details see the technical pages.

A set of standards for the photography and manipulation of the images was developed by IDP Studio staff and is regularly reviewed and updated. It is also used as a training manual for IDP Centres worldwide. Top-quality colour images are produced, archived and used to create JPEGs for web service. The images match the original manuscripts as closely as possible and are always as legible as the originals. In cases where the originals are very unclear, owing to fading of the ink or accumulation of dirt on the manuscript, then infra-red photography might also be used.

Education & Outreach

Liao Xingwen, a five-year old prodigy at Weiqi.

IDP aims to bring these wonderful resources to the attention of people outside the scholarly world by talks, publications, educational events and exhibitions.

IDP staff regularly give lectures to a wide variety of audiences worldwide, both at academic conferences and in more informal and public settings, including schools, bookshops and local societies. Apart from writing and editing the IDP Newsletter, published twice a year (available on request), IDP staff regularly contribute articles to various journals and magazines. These include reports on IDP, general articles at all levels on conservation, Buddhism, Silk Road history and other topics related to the manuscript finds, as well as the results of their research based on the manuscripts themselves.

The web site carries educational sites and projects on My IDP. These are authored by individual IDP staff and are intended to be accessible to a wide audience, from school-children and students to travellers and others.

Over the next few years, IDP is developing a greatly enhanced education and outreach programme to bring these unique resources to schoolchildren and scholars worldwide. It will be building collaborations with universities and projects involved in education worldwide. Details are given on the education pages.

IDP External Services

IDP UK offers a charged services for the museum, library and HE heritage sector in consultancy, digitisation, database/image management system design and implementation, web page design and implementation, and training. Details are available here. All profits are used to help fund IDP's core work.