At the very beginning of the twentieth century a huge cache of ancient manuscripts was discovered in a Buddhist cave complex near the desert town of Dunhuang in China. Famously, the monk who guarded the caves, Wang Yuanlu, was persuaded by the archeological explorers Aurel Stein and Paul Pelliot to sell them a large portion of the manuscripts so they could be acquired by the British and French governments.
The manuscripts, which were in a variety of languages, the most common of which were Chinese and Tibetan, are now held at the Bibliothèque Nationale and the British Library. The antiquity of the Tibetan Dunhuang manuscripts, which are estimated to date from the eighth and ninth centuries AD, has made the Paris and London collections especially valuable to historians studying this significant period of Tibetan history when the Tibetan kings extended the borders of their country far into Central Asia, to scholars studying the origins of Tibetan Buddhism, and to linguists studying the early development of the Tibetan language..
- *Sam van Schaik, International Dunhuang Project, from his website earlyTibet.com