Friday, 20 September 2019

Friday Retrospect: The Good Collector - The Schøyen Collection "Bamiyan Manuscripts"

Several times we have mentioned the Schøyen Collection on this blog. As the website boasts, until along came the Green Collection, Mr Schøyen's has been "bigger than anyone else's":
Note to Editors:
The Schøyen Collection crosses borders and unites cultures, religions and unique materials found nowhere else. The Collection, based in London and Oslo, contains over 20,000 significant manuscripts of major cultural importance and is an important part of the world’s heritage.
There is no public collection that has the Schøyen Collection’s unique array of manuscripts from all the greatest manuscript hoards, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, The Cairo Genizah of Hebrew MSS, The Oxyrhynchus hoard of classical papyri, The Dishna Biblical papyri, The Nag Hammadi Gnostic papyri, the Dunhuang hoard of Buddhist MSS, and many others. Nor is there one with such a variety, geographically, linguistically and textually, and of scripts and writing materials, covering so a great span of time — 5,000 years of history.
So here we find him showing off a bit of it, and pandering to royalty in the process:
Saturday, 13 November 2010 The Schoyen Manuscripts: "Bamiyan Manuscripts" on Show
The Schøyen Collection has put on show some of the Buddhist manuscripts that it contains ('Salvaged Bamiyan Manuscripts on Show' The Schøyen Collection 12 November 2010)
A selection from the centrepiece of the Buddhist collection - some 5,000 leaves and fragments, with around 7,000 micro-fragments from a library of originally up to 1,000 manuscripts found in caves in Bamiyan, Afghanistan - are on display in Buddhamonton in Thailand until February 2011. The exhibition, Traces of Gandharan Buddhism - An Exhibition of Ancient Buddhist Manuscripts in the Schøyen Collection, is being presented in the holy town, built by the government and people of Thailand as a shrine to commemorate 2.5 millennia of the Buddha's existence. A collaboration between Thai National Buddhist Affairs and associated Buddhist religious bodies, under the leadership of His Holiness Somdet Phra Buddhacharya, and Norwegian counterparts facilitated by the Norwegian Institute of Palaeography and Historical Philology, the exhibition is part of the celebration to honour the 84th anniversary of King Bhumibol's birth starting this year. The manuscripts were found in caves in Bamiyan in 1993-95. Together with 60 in the British Library, the manuscripts in the Schøyen Collection have been called the 'Dead Sea Scrolls of Buddhism'. Spanning the 2nd to 7th centuries AD, they are the earliest known Buddhist scriptures and are written on palm leaf, birch bark, vellum and copper.[...] The first fragments were acquired in London in the summer of 1996, with the bulk of the material acquired from 1997 and 2000, also in London.
It is claimed that "the items on display largely avoided destruction during a civil war between several local war lords and the Taliban, by being taken out of the war zone", and then it is stressed that significant parts of this heritage that remained in Afghanistan when the Taliban took power in most of the country in 1996 were earmarked for destruction, together with other Buddhist objects and monuments, the point being made is that 'the Schøyen Collection played a major role in rescuing these items for scholarship and for the common heritage of mankind'.
Martin Schøyen said: "I am proud to have played a part in preserving these important parts of Buddhist scripture so that they can now be studied by scholars and venerated by believers half a world away from where they rested for centuries, but where they came under threat of destruction. I would like in turn to acknowledge the role of Jens Braarvig and Frederik Liland of the University of Oslo for their commitment to scholarship. They have been instrumental in bringing these manuscripts to public access and attention."
The catalogue Traces of Gandhāran Buddhism: An Exhibition of Ancient Buddhist Manuscripts in the Schøyen Collection by Jens Braarvig and Fredrik Liland Hermes Pub. in collaboration with Amarin Print. and Pub. Public Company, Bangkok, 2010 [UPDATE is available online]
Here is what the catalogue (pp xix-xx) says about the Origin of the Manuscripts
The Buddhist manuscripts in the Schøyen Collection were according to scanty and partly confirmed information found by local people taking refuge from the Taliban forces in caves near the Bāmiyān valley, in Afghanistan, in 1993-95. There are certain indications, however, that some of the material come from other places. The manuscripts, which are mostly in fragments, were probably damaged already in the late seventh or early eight century A.D., since the latest examples of scripts in the collection are from this period. According to information passed on by the manuscript dealers, many manuscripts were further damaged when Taliban forces blew up a stone statue of the Buddha in one of the caves. Local people trying to save the manuscripts from the Taliban were chased by them when carrying the manuscripts through passes in the Hindu Kush to the north of the Khyber Pass. The first fragments of the collection were acquired by the Schøyen Collection in the summer of 1996 from the London bookseller Sam Fogg. The bulk of the material was acquired between 1997 and 2000. The collection comprises around 5,000 leaves and fragments, with around 7,000 micro-fragments, from a library of originally up to 1,000 manuscripts. They span from the second to the seventh century A.D., and are written on palm leaf, birch bark, leather and copper. A certain effort has been made with regard to establishing the origin and the Buddhist school from which the material stem (sic). Regrettably most of the information available about the physical origin is quite scanty, and any archaeological survey has up until now been difficult. One probable place of origin has, however, been suggested, as discussed below. [...] In October 2003 Mr. Kazuya Yamauchi of the National Research Institute of Cultural Properties, Tokyo, Japan, visited the Bāmiyān area. His findings and the photographs above were kindly presented to the manuscript project. Mr. Yamauchi went to Zargaran, a settlement some 1.2 km east of the site of the smaller of the two giant Buddha statues carved into the cliffs on the northern side of the Bāmiyān Valley, that were demolished by the Taliban in 2001. There he was told by villagers that about ten years before one of the caves had collapsed in an earthquake, revealing a large quantity of manuscript fragments which, when gathered together, made a pile approximately 10 cm high. Although the locals claimed to have burned them, it may be that not all of them were destroyed. It is therefore possible, though not absolutely certain, that a substantial proportion of the Buddhist manuscripts in the Schøyen Collection come from this location. Further archaeological work is required to confirm this as the findspot.

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