The Dandan Oilik Site is located in Chira County in Khotan Prefecture of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in China. Chira County is an oasis city on the southern edge of the Taklamakan Desert, which stretches for 1000 km from east to west and 400 km from north to south, and is a huge area almost equivalent to the total area of Japan. The site is situated deep inside the desert, about 90 km north of the urban area of Chira County. About 60 km west of the remains is the Khotan Darya river and 30 km east of the remains is the Keriya Darya river, and to reach the remains one has to travel northward along either of these rivers and travel through the barren desert. For the current survey, we drove in cars from Yutian for about 100 km along the Keriya Darya River and rode on camels to the remains to minimize the labor of travelling through the desert.
The Dandan Oilik Site was discovered by the Swedish geographer Sven Hedin in 1896.Inspired by this discovery, Aurel Stein, a British citizen of Hungarian descent went to the remains in 1900 to carry out an excavation survey for archaeological purposes. He confirmed 17 building remnants and uncovered 14 of them, examining many Buddhist temple remnants and collecting Buddhist relics and other artifacts including a wooden panel painting of the "Legend of the Westward Conveyance of Sericulture'. As a result,the of Dandan Oilik Site was professed to be a sacred land of Buddhism by Stein. His findings were recorded in a report called "Ancient Khotan", which is still an essential reference material in the research of Buddhist art and the eastward advancement of Buddhism. The remains seem to have been explored by some other survey teams afterwards, but had been left in peace since the 1928 exploration by Bosshard, a Swiss botanist。
It was not until about 70 years later in 1997 that the Dandan Oilik Site once again attracted attention, when researchers from the Xinjiang Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, who came to the site with a petroleum oil expedition team and reevaluated the remains. In 1998, an unnamed non-Chinese persons unofficially excavated the site. A preliminary survey was officially carried out 4 years later in 2002 by a Japanese-Chinese joint team. It was at that time that partially exposed murals were discovered at the site of the CD-4 Buddhist temple, which prompted an urgent excavation survey by the Xinjiang Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology.
Portraying images of Buddha, bodhisattva and worshippers among other figures, the murals carried such significance and were of excellent quantity and quality, which became an essential relic for not only the research of Western Region Buddhism but also the research of history of ancient Asian Buddhist paintings. It was thus determined that Japanese and Chinese researchers would work together on the study and protection of the murals, and a dedicated joint project was launched in 2003. After 4 years in 2006, the protective restoration of the murals was completed using state-of-the-art technologydeveloped by China, Japan and other countries. In 2005 when the restoration work was still underway, a TV program jointly created by China Central TV and NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) called "New Silk Road" presented part of the restored murals. Among the murals shown in the program, the figure of tathagata, which has been called the "Mona Lisa of the Western Regions", received a great response. It was exhibited in the "New Silk Road Exhibition" hosted by NHK and made a strong impression on the Japanese public.
The discovery and excavation of these murals also gave rise to renewed recognition the significance of the Dandan Oilik Site, prompting the need to study their size and extent, and the state of preservation of the remnants and a distributional survey was planned. As a result, the distributional survey of the site was carried out for 3 years between 2004 and 2006 by a Japanese-Chinese joint Dandan Oilik expedition team, wherein the scattering locations of remnants and important artifacts were registered using GPS data and measured with Total Station surveying instruments. In the final year of the project in 2006, part of the remnants was excavated and surveyed.
The current report summarizes the 2002 urgent excavation survey, distributional survey, excavation of part of the remnants, and the findings of the protection and study of the murals.
Chapter 1 looks at the location of the remains and the history of their survey andresearch.
Chapter 2 describes the results of the distributional survey and measurements using the Total Station surveying instruments. The distributional survey showed that the remains stretched for 3 km in every direction, and 70 sites were registered, including the remnant of a circular castle wall, 45 buildings, a rough-woven fence, 2 hearths/cooking stoves, 11 kilns and 10 orchard remains. Fifteen of the 45 building remnants were Buddhist temple related facilities. The team also tried to locate the remains of a pagoda which Stein had claimed to have found in a location about 12 km north to the Dandan Oilik, which was not successful but led to the registration of 11 sites including some buildings and kiln remnants and scattered artifacts. A distribution map, survey map and measured drawings of the collected artifacts are presented as the findings of the distributional survey.
Chapter 3 describes the urgent excavation survey of the remains of the CD-4 Buddhist Temple, as well as the survey results of the CD-3a, CD-1 and CD-17 sites excavated in 2006 whole Buddhist shrine was uncovered and remaining 30 murals of various sizes were collected from the site of CD-4 Buddhist temple are reported with descriptions of ehr murals At the CD-3a and CD-1 sites, 2 rooms each were excavated to study the state of preservation of the remnants. At the CD-17 site, the total excavation of a building was performed. As a result, some important artifacts were discovered, including a wood strip at the CD-3a site and a wooden tablet carrying the letter "Guan 官”at the CD-17 site. From a room of CD-l, murals with jars used as a flower base was confirmed.
Chapter 4 reports on the protective restoration project of the murals found at the CD-4 Buddhist temple, describing the research findings on the murals. One report each from both Japanese researchers and Chinese researchers and their respective results are presented, as well as some other related research findings. The tiexianmiao (iron-wire drawing), which looks as if it were the origin of the old mural of the Golden Hall of Horyuji Temple, is said to be reminiscent of the style used by Yuchi Yiseng, a noted painter who was a descendant of the Khotan royal family.
Attached as an Appendix is a report on the Damagou Buddhist Temple Site discovered at a site 3 km south to the urban area of Chira. It has been pointed out that the temple indicats a significant link to the Buddhist temple at Dandan Oilik, not only in terms of its remnants but also in the style of its murals.
Since the research has only just begun, the Japanese-Chinese Joint Research of the Dandan Oilik Site has merely completed its initial stage. There still remain many issues for light to be shed upon. Japan and China are planning to continue their efforts to protect and study the Dandan Oilik Site and other world cultural assets yet to be found in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
For years, the two countries also conducted a joint academic research project on the Niya Site, which are situated to the east of Dandan Oilik. For further reference the 3 volumes of reports on the Niya Site are also recommended.