Northern Liang dynasty, 428 AD
This is one of two similar pagodas unearthed in Jiuquan, the northern prefecture of Gansu where Dunhuang is located. It is dated by inscription to 428 AD. The rest of the inscription is a selection from Buddhist sutras. The pagoda is about 18 inches (45cm) tall. The ball on top of its mast displays a line carving of the Big Dipper (not visible in this photograph). The pagoda's octagonal base contains line carvings of heavenly guardians and trigrams from the I Ching. The Big Dipper and trigrams are evidence for assimilation between early Buddhism (a Silk Road import) and the native Chinese culture.
Because the pagoda has a known date, it is important evidence for dating the earliest cave-chapels at Mogao, which are decorated in a similar style.