Skip to main content

Niya was one of the largest city oases on the Southern Silk Roads. The Niya archaeological site is approximately 115 km north of modern Niya (or Minfeng) on the southern arm of the old Silk Roads. It consists of more than 70 structures, including many dwellings and orchards, a stupa, two recently excavated Buddhist temples and a cemetery. These are scattered along the ancient Niya river, extending about 25 km north to south and 7 km east to west.

In pre-historical times the Lop Nor region, of which Niya is a part, was occupied by a people of possibly Indo-European origin. By the end of the first millenium BCE, it was part of the Shanshan empire. During much of the Han Dynasty, the whole region was under Chinese control. During the second century CE it came under the influence of the Kushan Empire, which may have accelerated the spread of Buddhist art and literature in the area. By the third century, there were Buddhist monasteries throughout the Shanshan empire. The paintings and sculptures found in Niya date to the third and fourth centuries and show the strong influence of the Gandharan art of the Kushans prior to the abandonment of the site by the fifth century.

Archaeological finds at the site include hundreds of wooden tablets inscribed in the rare Kharoshthi script and several official Kharoshthi documents on leather, a large carved wooden chair or altar, a dozen wooden tablets with Chinese characters, several carved wooden beams, ceramics, lacquerwork pieces, coloured silk cloths and coins.

Highlights from the collection