The University of Arizona

Radiocarbon Chronology for Early Caves of the Mogao Grottoes at Dunhuang, China

G Qinglin, H Takabayashi, T Nakamura, C Gangquan, K Okada, S Bomin, F Yuquan, H Nishimoto


The Mogao Grottoes site at Dunhuang is one of the largest stone cave temples in China. The site features 735 caves with Buddhist mural paintings. To investigate the chronology of early caves of the Mogao Grottoes, radiocarbon dates were measured by accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) on plant remains collected from 4 caves: 268, 272, 275, and 285. Caves 268, 272, and 275 are regarded (by archaeological analysis) to be the earliest existing caves in the Mogao Grottoes. The fourth cave, 285, features inscriptions on the north wall mentioning the oldest dates of the Chinese Mogao era. Plant materials, taken from the plaster layer of mural paintings and core materials from statues, were collected as samples (n = 11) for AMS 14C dating at Nagoya University. Two samples from cave 275 gave calibrated 14C ages of cal AD 380?430 (1 σ). The other samples resulted in a time interval of cal AD 400-550. The calibrated 14C ages obtained for the samples taken from painted murals and the statues in cave 285 are consistent with the date given by the inscription remaining on the cave?s north wall.

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