A Sogdian Fragment from Niya

Sims-Williams, Nicholas & Bi Bo. 2018. A Sogdian fragment from Niya. In Huaiyu Chen & Xinjiang Rong (eds.), Great journeys across the Pamir mountains (Brill’s Inner Asian Library 37), 83–104. Leiden: Brill.

In 1994, the Sino-Japanese Niya Expedition Team excavated an artifact (93A27F1:3) at Niya. It is a small brown package or pouch made from a piece of paper (originally mistaken for parchment) fastened by a woolen string. Traces of writing were visible, so the artifact was provisionally referred to as “A Kharoṣṭhī text written on parchment” in the preliminary report of its discovery. In 2007, when the Xinjiang Institute of Archaeology’s research group on Niya was editing the third volume of the Report on the Sino-Japanese Joint Expedition in Niya, they carefully examined this “parchment text.” After the string was untied, it was found that the paper had been used to wrap up a powder of vegetable origin, perhaps spices or medicine. When the powder was removed, a text written in black ink in a clear script was visible. Noting that the writing appeared to be the same as that of the Sogdian “Ancient Letters” found near Dunhuang, which were written in the early fourth century, and other Sogdian fragments of similar date found at Loulan, the local archaeologists were able to determine that this new fragment was also written in early Sogdian script.