Manuscript Numbers in the Stein Collection


The Hungarian/British explorer Aurel Stein made four expeditions to Central Asia in the early 20th century, returning with hundreds of objects from each trip except the last. In addition to manuscripts from the Dunhuang library cave, Stein found Tibetan manuscripts at various sites across Central Asia. The most significant of these sites were Endere, Miran and Mazar Tagh, Etsingol and Kharakhoto, mostly representing material from the Tanguts and Mongols (11th to 17th centuries). A catalogue of the Tibetan manuscripts from Stein’s second expedition, mostly from Miran and Mazar Tagh, was prepared by Tsuguhito Takeuchi and published in 1998. Takeuchi is currently working on further catalogues of the Tibetan woodslips from Stein’s second expedition (again mostly from Miran and Mazar Tagh) and the Tibetan manuscripts from Stein’s third expedition (mostly the 11th to 17th century manuscripts from Khara-khoto and Etsin-gol).

The objects that Aurel Stein acquired from Central Asia were initially split between several different institutions. The manuscript material was given to the British Museum, the India Office Library and the British Government of India. By 1982 most of the manuscript material from the British Musem and India Office Library had been transferred to the British Library. The British Museum collection now comprises mainly the illustrated and three-dimensional items brought back by Stein. The material given to the Indian goverment is now housed at the National Museum of India; this is also mostly illustated and three-dimensional material. Stein’s textiles are on a long term loan from the National Museum of India at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Manuscript Numbers

In short, almost all the Tibetan manuscripts discovered by Stein are now kept at the British Library. Those which came from the India Office Library are numbered with the prefix IOL Tib, while those from the British Museum’s Oriental collections are numbered with the prefix Or. The IOL Tib numbers are further classified as follows:

  • IOL Tib J Tibetan manuscripts from the library cave at Dunhuang.
  • IOL Tib N Tibetan woodslips from various sites, esp. Miran and Mazar Tagh.
  • IOL Tib M Tibetan manuscripts various sites, esp. Etsin-gol and Khara-khoto (Stein’s third expedition).

The Or. numbers containing Tibetan material from Stein are:

  • Or.15000 Tibetan manuscripts from various sites esp. Miran and Mazar Tagh.
  • Or.8210/S. Chinese scrolls and fragments from Dunhuang, including some Tibetan texts.
  • Or.8211 Manuscripts in Chinese and other languages, not from Dunhuang.
  • Or.8212 Manuscripts in various languages, some of which are from Dunhuang.

A catalogue of the 79 Tibetan texts in the Or.8210/S. sequence by Kazushi Iwao, Tsuguhito Takeuchi and Sam van Schaik is in preparation and will be published soon.

The vast majority of Tibetan manuscripts from Dunhuang fall into the IOL Tib J sequence. This sequence originally comprised all of the numbers from de la Vallée Poussin’s catalogue, that is IOL Tib J 1–765. But since de la Vallée Poussin’s catalogue was incomplete, many items remained unnumbered. The manuscripts not numbered by de la Vallée Poussin (most of which are fragments) were given the IOL Tib J numbers 766 to 1774 by Sam van Schaik in 2001. Thus the original India Office collection of Stein’s Tibetan manuscripts from Dunhuang are now numbered IOL Tib J 1–1774. The numbers from de la Vallée Poussin’s catalogue which covered multiple manuscripts have been further distinguished by a number after a decimal point. Thus de la Vallée Poussin’s number 310, which covered over 1,200 copies of the Aparimitāyur-jñāna-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra is subdivided into IOL Tib J 310.1 to IOL Tib J 310.1207.

The rather unwieldy sequence IOL Tib J is often abbreviated by scholars in their publications to the likes of:

  • V.P. (for de le Vallée Poussin)
  • I.O. (for India Office)
  • IOL
  • IOL Stein
  • Tib J
  • ITJ (this last has become rather popular recently)

To avoid confusion and for the sake of future scholars, I would encourage people to use to full and official sequence IOL Tib J.

Another way of referring to these manuscripts is Aurel Stein’s site numbers. These are the codes assigned by Stein to all of his finds, which indicate the specific site at which the item was found. The numbers are written directly on the items. The items from Dunhuang were all given a code beginning with the letters Ch., which is an abbreviation of Ch’ien-fo-tung (Qianfodong, “the caves of the thousand buddhas”), another name for the Mogao caves. This code is followed by a combination of numbers, letters and Roman numerals. The manuscripts in the library cave were originally found in bundles, and these codes refer to the bundles. Though Stein did write a brief note on the site numbers in his expedition report (Serindia, p.814, n.2), he never made their significance quite clear, and they are still not fully understood.

A third way of referring to the Stein Tibetan manuscripts was used by F.W. Thomas and others. This is a reference to the volume and folio number. These ‘volumes’ were created when the India Office Library originally conserved the manuscripts, binding them into large Western-style books numbered 1 to 73. Within each volume, every page of the manuscript was stamped with a folio number. Later, the manuscripts were unbound and placed in boxes which retained the old volume numbers, and the volume series was extended to include new boxes so that the volumes now number from 1 to 156.

Catalogues of the Stein Tibetan Manuscripts

In 1951 F.W. Thomas published the second part of his Tibetan literary texts and documents concerning Chinese Turkestan series, in which he catalogued much of the secular material from the Dunhuang manuscripts in the India Office Library collection. Recently, Tsuguhito Takeuchi has returned to some of this material in his work Old Tibetan Contracts from Central Asia.

Then in 1962 a catalogue of the Tibetan Buddhist manuscripts from Dunhuang held in the India Office Library collection was published. The catalogue was the work of Louis de la Vallée Poussin, a Belgian scholar who had taken refuge in London during the First World War. Apart from some editing, the published catalogue contained de la Vallée Poussin’s work as he left it when he returned to the continent after the war. Though many of the Tibetan Buddhist manuscripts were covered, much was left out. Nevertheless it was an impressive effort, with thematic organization, indexes and concordances displaying de la Vallée Poussin’s sophisticated understanding of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism.

In the next decade, under the guidance of Zuiho Yamaguchi, the Toyo Bunko prepared a catalogue of the Tibetan Dunhuang manuscripts in the Stein collection. The catalogue was published in twelve volumes between 1977 and 1988. The cataloguing team proceeded systematically, recording titles, incipits and explicits for each item, and cataloguing all of the material. They assigned new numbers to those manuscripts that had not been catalogued by de la Vallée Poussin. Unfortunately, these numbers are different from the IOL Tib J numbers assigned by the British Library and therefore are only relevant within the context of the Toyo Bunko catalogue. This and the fact that the cataloguers relied on microfilm copies of the manuscripts rather than originals has limited the usefulness of the Toyo Bunko catalogue.

Most recently, a fully descriptive catalogue of the tantric manuscripts in the Tibetan part of the Stein collection was prepared by Jacob Dalton and Sam van Schaik. The catalogue was the result of a 3-year project funded by the AHRC, in recognition of the importance of this material for understanding the early development of Tibetan vajrayāna and the insufficiency of de la Vallée Poussin’s treatment of this material (a lack he readily accepted). It was published online by the International Dunhuang Project (click here) in 2005, and in an expanded printed form in printed form by Brill in 2006.

1. de la Vallée Poussin, Louis. 1962. Catalogue of the Tibetan Manuscripts From Tun-Huang in the India Office Library. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
2. Lalou, Marcelle. 1939–1961. Inventaire des Manuscrits tibétains de Touen-houang conservés à la Bibliothèque Nationale (Fonds Pelliot tibétain) [3 vols]. Paris: Bibliothèque Nationale.
3. Stein, M. Aurel. 1921. Serindia: Detailed Report of Explorations in Central Asia and Westernmost China [5 vols]. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
4. Takeuchi, Tsuguhito. 1995. Old Tibetan Contracts from Central Asia. Tokyo: Daizo Shuppan.
5. Takeuchi, Tsuguhito. 1997–8. Old Tibetan Manuscripts from East Turkestan [3 vols.]. Tokyo: The Toyo Bunko / The British Library.
6. Thomas, F.W. 1951. Tibetan literary texts and documents concerning Chinese Turkestan, Part II: Documents. London: Royal Asiatic Society.
7. Yamaguchi, Z., R. Kimura, S. Harada, S. Nishioka, R. Uesugi (eds). 1977–1988. Sutain Shushu Chibetto-go Bunken Kaidai Mokuroku (A Catalogue of the Tibetan Manuscripts Collected by Sir Aurel Stein) [12 vols]. Tokyo: The Toyo Bunko.

This blog post was first published on July 24, 2007.