Chinese archeologists recently concluded that the relief images carved on the Moya Cliff in Kongwangshan, Jiangsu Province, date back to 61 A.D., more than 300 years earlier than the famous Mogao Caves with Buddhist murals in Dunhuang, Gansu Province.
The relief is located on the southwestern side of a cliff. It features more than 100 human figures, ranging from 4 inches for a head carving to 5 feet and 1 inch for a whole-body figure. The relief portrays people drinking and playing games. It also depicts scenes from Buddhist scriptures, including a scene of the disciples of Buddha Shakyamuni after the Buddha reached Nirvana.
The relief at Moya Cliff was discovered in 1979. Researchers from the Chinese Institute of Archeology recently found a line of Chinese characters in the Official Style (Lishu Style) on a relief figure. The characters, which are on the figure’s left calf, are hardly distinguishable due to erosion of the stone and small cracks on the figure.
Mr. Jia Ruiguang, deputy director of the Office of Cave Research at the Chinese Institute of Archeology, confirmed that the characters say, “Yongping Year Four,” which was 61 A.D. This was 127 years before what was previously estimated. The relief at Moya Cliff is the earliest documented artistic relief carving.