Together with Nicholas Sims-Williams and Erica Hunter I recently attended the Turfan Forum on Old Languages of the Silk Road organised in Turfan, Xinjiang, by Academia Turfanica, the Turfan Museum and the Bureau of Cultural Heritage of the Turfan Region, 24-26 October 2010. This was a first visit to China and Central Asia for me, providing a wonderful opportunity to meet Chinese colleagues and visit the sites we have all been working on for so long (Bezeklik, Khocho, Toyuq and Bulayik), up to now familiar only from the works of Stein, Le Coq and Grünwedel.
The conference consisted of thirty papers. Nicholas spoke on medical texts from Turfan in Syriac and New Persian, while Erica surveyed the Syriac fragments of Shuipeng (Bulayik), noting the main genres with particular attention given to the prayer-amulets. I spoke on new developments in the International Dunhuang Database Project, a multi-lingual collaborative database hosted by the British Library giving access to over a quarter of a million images of Central Asian manuscripts, artefacts, maps and photographs.
Before the conference started, we were taken on an intensive tour of the region, visiting the 6th-13th century Buddhist caves at Bezeklik, Sangim, Toyuk, in addition to the the ancient city of Gaochang.
The highspot was visiting the Christian monastery Shuipeng, near the village of Bulayik, where almost all the Christian Turfan texts were discovered in 1905 by the second German Turfan expedition under A. von Le Coq. Due to Le Coq’s imprecise geographical description, this site remained unidentified until 2004.
We also went on a cross-country excursion, driving up a river valley to a site high up in the “Flaming mountains” in one of the passes which had formerly been an important route to Beiting. Freezing fog, snow and temperatures of -7°C did not deter intrepid Sogdologists Nick and Yutaka Yoshida from inspecting inscriptions carved in the rock by travellers of ancient times.
The wonderful hospitality provided by our generous hosts led to this being a truly memorable visit.