International Dunhuang Project


page mounted: 1/12/05 page last updated: 30/7/07

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1: What is 'the IDP Database'?
A: The IDP Database is an ordered, related and indexed store of information about over 50,000 manuscripts, paintings, artefacts and photographs from archaeological sites dating from 100 BC to AD 1200 in Eastern Central Asia/Silk Road (primarily present-day Chinese Xinjiang and Gansu). It also contains images of these items.
Q2: What is 'MY IDP'?
A: MY IDP is a space on the IDP web site for educational projects and resources which can be adapted by users to contain their own projects, with links, information, and notes.
Q3: What is a 'pressmark'?
A: A pressmark is the name given to a unique string (which might include letters and numbers) which an institution such as a library or museum gives to each object in its collection. It is therefore a unique identifier of this object. Most catalogues of library and museum collections and exhibition catalogues will contain the pressmark.
Q4: I want to find manuscripts containing the Lotus Sutra.
A: To search for specific texts, click on 'Advanced Search', go to the 'Free Text Search' option and then enter the title of the text (in English, Chinese, Sanskrit, or another language) and you will be taken to any catalogued manuscripts containing that text.
Q5: I am looking for a transcription/transliteration of a text.
A: These are sometimes included in the catalogues.
Q6: I am looking for translations of texts.
A: Go to Show Catalogues page and the middle box on the window lists available translations. Chose one of these (click it) and press the submit button at the bottom of the page and you will see the translations. You can see the original manuscript(s) by clicking the pressmark. We will also adding be links to translations from the educational projects and resources on MY IDP.
Q7: I would like to add my own translation/research/catalogue.
A: We welcome your help in increasing the information available online. Download the catalogue template and notes, add your research and send to us. We will then put on the database and your translation/research/catalogue will appear online. Your name will appear as author and you retain copyright. You can update and resend it to us. We will only make grammatical/style edits.
Q8: I want to give you some information, but I don't want to create a whole catalogue entry.
A: In that case, just email your information to us.
Q9a: Text appears with lots of strange/meaningless characters.
Q9b: Diacritics do not show display correctly.
Q9c: Chinese/Japanese characters do not display correctly.
A: All our pages use UTF-8 Unicode encoding and this is set by the web pages and should overwrite any encoding set up on your browser. This displays correctly on IE, Mozilla, Firefox and other browsers except Safari where there is a bug which means the browser encoding resets the page encoding, this bug has been addressed in the upcoming browser version.
Q10: The text is too small to read/I cannot read the test.
A: All our pages are resizable. Use '+' to enlarge to a size that you can read. If the text is on an image, click 'Large Image'. If you are still having trouble reading the text then please let us know and we will see if it is necessary to produce a larger image.
Q11: I do not get any results in Advanced Search.
A: First check that the 'with images' box is not clicked since the database contains over 50,000 items and to date only about 15,000 of these have associated images.
If you are searching for a specific manuscript, such as Or.8210/S.465, select 'contains' or use a wildcard (@) as some manuscripts might have an additional suffix or prefix.
If you are searching for a combination of index values, such as a text in Tibetan on Zoroastrianism, there might simply be no such text. Widen your search.
Q12: My search times out.
A: The database contains information on over 50,000 items. Free-text searches of non-indexed fields are slow and your browser might time out before you get a result. If in 'Advanced Search'–'Free Text Search', try restricting by catalogue. In other searches, click 'only records with images' to reduce the search set.
Q13: I get too many results.
A: If you are searching from the window on the left-hand of the page then the search is a 'contains' search (although it only searches on records with images). If you are searching for a pressmark then go to advanced search and use pressmark search, selecting 'is equal to' rather than 'contains' or using a wildcard (@) if you are uncertain of the complete number. If you are searching for a common index value, such as Buddhism, Chinese or Tibetan, there may be too many results to display. Chose another index value to narrow your search.
Q14: I know the pressmark/number of the item but cannot find it.
A: The quick search in the left-hand of the page only searches for records with images. Go to Advanced Search: Search under pressmark.
Select 'contains' or use a wildcard (@) as some manuscripts might have an additional suffix or prefix.
If you know the item through a catalogue then the catalogue might have used its own numbering system. Check whether the catalogue is available (Show Catalogues). If so, select the catalogue and you will be able to link to the item from here. If the catalogue you are looking for is not there then please look at the home page for updates: we are converting catalogues to XML and putting them online as quickly as possible.
Q15: I know the catalogue number of an item but cannot find it using this number.
A: Go to Show Catalogues: all the catalogue numbers are listed here, with the pressmarks. If the catalogue you are looking for is not there then please look at the home page for updates: we are converting catalogues to XML and putting online as quickly as possible.
Q16: I do not agree with the catalogue entry.
A: Add your own. Download the XML catalogue template and notes, add your research and send to us. We will then put on the database and your research will appear online. Your name will appear as author and you retain copyright. You can update and resend it to us. We will only make grammatical/style edits.
Q17: The image is upside down.
A: Please tell us and we will correct the image. Our photographers/imaging professionals are preparing 20,000 images a year in over 20 languages and scripts and, even though they are very talented people, they do not know all the languages. Mistakes happen. As a temporary solution you can use the 'Rotate Image' button to align the image correctly.
Q18: I would like to read about the Silk Road. Can you suggest some good books?
A: IDP's catalogue entries are linked to an extensive scholarly bibliography. Go to Bibliography Search on the home page to search through the bibliography. For a general introductory reading list, go to .....
Q19: The book I want is not listed in the bibliography.
A: We are converting our bibliography to XML and adding more entries but we can do with your help as we only have a few thousand entries online. If you have an electronic bibliography then please send it to us. Even better, download the bibliography template and use this to code it before sending it to us. We will then import onto the database. The bibliography of the Research Libraries Group contains over 120 million entries and allows you to create your own bibliography and to search for books in the catalogues of research libraries worldwide.
Q20: I would like to order an image of an item.
A: Find the item you want and click the linked 'Institute and Copyright' This brings up a pop-up box with full details of the copyright holder of the image and how to contact the reprographics department.
Q21: I would like to see some Silk Road manuscripts 'in the flesh'.
A: Since the manuscripts from the Silk Road are ancient and very fragile, access to them is generally restricted to scholars and researchers. Specific requirements for access to collections can be found in the individual institutions listed under 'Collections' on the home page.
Q22: The image does not show.
A: The database contains over 50,000 items and only about 15,000 of these have associated images. Once digitisation has started the message 'Currently being digitised' appears. The image will usually then be online within one month. 'Item not yet digitised' means it is one of the 40,000. IDP is producing 20,000 images a year so keep on looking.
Q23: What resources do you provide for non-specialists?
A: IDP provides an expanding range of introductory and educational resources. See the 'Education' links from the home page. In addition, several educational projects will be developed within MY IDP over the next few years.
Q24: I would like to visit Dunhuang / the Silk Road.
A: Sorry — we are not a travel agency. There are excellent guidebooks and many of the places covered on this site (including Dunhuang) are set up as tourist destinations. We suggest you contact your local travel agency or look online for advice.
Q25: I cannot find images/pictures of the murals/frescos on the caves.
A: IDP is currently not digitising these although it hopes to include them later.
Q26: I would like to give you a donation to help your excellent work.
A: Yes please. We rely on your support. Sponsor a Sutra, go to the direct donation page or contact us. Read more about our funding here.
Q27: There is an item in my local museum which is not on your database.
A: Please tell us. We are building up our resources, including small and private collections worldwide and we appreciate learning about any items we might not know about. We will write to the museum and ask for an image and their permission to include it on IDP.
Q28: I cannot find an answer to my question.
A: Ask us using this form.
Q29: I would like a cup of coffee/glass of vodka.
A: Sorry, not available on IDP. Find a local café/bar with wireless internet and carry on browsing. Lots more to look at.

Search Tips

1: Search the IDP Database (see FAQ 1: What is the IDP Database?)
This is intended as a simple and quick option to take you straight into the IDP database. You can search for anything here, a pressmark, title of a text, language, keyword or any text string. The search is a 'contains' search, and is restricted to a search of the pressmarks and indexed fields (type and form of artefact, archaeological site where artefact found/photograph taken, language/script of manuscript, short title, keyword). It does not search the catalogue entries or translations. You can search these on Advanced Search.
If you do not find the object you are looking for or get too many results, go to Advanced Search.
2: Advanced Search
Advanced search gives you three options: All default to searching ONLY those items which have already been digitized – The 'Show Only Records with Images' box is checked. Uncheck this box if you are interested in all items.
2.1: Search pressmark (see FAQ 3: What is a 'pressmark'?)
Use this option if you know the pressmark of the item(s) you wish to view. If you are uncertain of the exact strong, use 'contains'. Otherwise use 'is equal to' option.
TIP: if you search on a pressmark such as Or.8210/S.767 and it is not found, then try using a wildcard at the end, i.e. search for Or.8210/S.767@
2.2: Search using predefined/indexed values
The IDP database contains several indexed fields with a restricted list of values. Because these are indexed the search is quick. However, because the list of values that can be added is restricted, so the search is restricted. In addition, indexing using these values for all 50,000 entries on the database is only complete for type of artefact and holding institution.
2.2.1: Type of Artefact
Artefacts/Items on the IDP Database are indexed as one or more of the following:
  • Archaeological Site — as well as cataloguing the objects from a site, the IDP Database also catalogues the sites themselves, as in situ objects. by searching here you will find details of the sites and their excavation, along with photographs and site plans.
  • Artefact — 3D object, e.g., statue, stucco, implement.
  • Manuscript — anything containing writing. This includes printed material, paintings with inscriptions, tomb inscriptions etc.
  • Painting — anything with an image, whether a portable painting on silk, a fragment of a mural, an illuminated manuscript etc.
  • Photograph — historical and modern photographs.
  • Textile — includes silk, hemp, cotton objects.
You can search for one of more of these. If you search for more than one then the search will be an 'or' search. i.e. click manuscripts and artefacts and the search will look for both objects which are EITHER manuscripts OR artefacts (it will not look for manuscripts which are also artefacts).
2.2.2: Holding Institute
All entries on the database have a value indicating their holding institution, i.e. whether they are held in the British Library, the Freer Gallery, Dunhuang Academy etc. If you wish to search for all items in a collection then use this option. Click holding institution to expand the box. All institutions are selected. Clicking any one will deselect the rest. Click submit and you will get a list of all items on the IDP database (which have been digitized) from the institution you chose.
To look at all items on the database, regardless of whether or not they have images, deselect 'Show Only Records with Images' box.
TIP: Some of the collections are very large. For example, the British Library holds over 40,000 items. Only the first 300 items will be shown on the results page. You might want to restrict your search by choosing a value from another of the boxes.
TIP: To look at a certain type of item within a collection, e.g.. photographs in the Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, the chose the Library in 'Holding Institution' and also chose 'Photograph' in 'Type of Artefact'.
2.2.3: Subject or Keyword
In order to enable a quick way into the database for those with little knowledge of the collections we are adding very general keywords. These are intended as 'rough guides' only. Not all items have keywords associated with them. However, this is a quick way into the database.
2.2.4: Short Title
Most of the artefacts on the database have been assigned a short title. This might be a precise title — such as the name of a sutra — or might be descriptive, for example, 'contract'. This is intended as a 'rough guide'. More precise titles can be found in catalogue search.
2.2.5: Form
This allows you to search for the form of an item, i.e. whether it is a paper fragment, a domestic implement, a grave marker, scroll etc. Not all items have been indexed and the categories are rough guides only.
2.2.6: Archaeological Site
The vast majority of the items on the IDP Database were excavated directly from archaeological sites in Chinese Central Asia and therefore have a clear provenance. The archaeologists kept records of this provenance and this is noted here. So, for example, if you wanted to find all items on the database excavated from the Astana cemetery near Turfan you can simply select 'Astana' (choosing whether or not you wish to restrict your search by whether the item has been digitised or not).
Archaeological sites themselves and photographs of the sites can also be found here.
TIP: spelling of the sites varies tremendously and some sites have names in several languages, e.g., Chinese, Uighur and Tibetan. For well-known sites in Chinese Central Asia.
2.2.7: Languages and Scripts
Documents on the database are written in over 20 languages and scripts, Some are bilingual or even trilingual. Multiple selections can be made, combining languages or scripts. These operate as "OR" boolean selections, so selecting "Tibetan" and "Chinese" will search for any manuscripts containg Tibetan or Chinese texts (or both).
2.3: Free Text Search
The free text search searches the entire contents of all of the catalogues on the IDP database. Therefore it is possible to search here for titles of texts, names of people, or any other information that may be contained in the catalogues. To restrict the search to one or more specific catalogues, select the 'Restrict by Catalogues' option. To make sure that the whole of the catalogues are searched, uncheck the 'Show Only Records with Images' box.
3: Bibliography Search
The IDP database contains an extensive bibliography of publications relating to Central Asian sites, manuscripts and artefacts. The Bibliography search can be used to find titles, authors or publication information.
4: Google Search
Using Google's search engine, this option searches throughout the IDP web site, excluding the database, which is searched using the other options above.

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