A February 6 2021 Facebook post purportedly detailed the discovery of a hidden library at a monastery in Tibet which contained thousands of “secret manuscripts”:
As originally written, the post read:
¡Increíble! Biblioteca encontrada en el Tíbet que contiene 84.000 manuscritos secretos (libros), incluida la historia de la humanidad durante 10.000 años. Monasterio de Sakia. Quizás la biblioteca más grande del mundo sobre la lejana historia del planeta. Fue descubierto detrás de una enorme pared. Tiene 60 metros de largo y 10 metros de alto. Seguramente ocultada por monjes ante el avance del comunismo chino de la época.
That translated roughly to:
Amazing! Library found in Tibet containing 84.000 secret manuscripts (books), including the history of humanity over 10.000 years. Monastery of Sakia. Perhaps the world’s largest library in all of the history of the planet. It was discovered behind a huge wall. It is 60 meters long and 10 meters tall. Surely it was concealed by monks ahead of the advance of Chinese communism of the time.
Although an image of the purported library was included, no news sources or other citations were included.
The Image and Reddit Iterations
An initial reverse image search was not very fruitful, returning primarily Facebook posts and Pinterest pins on Google.
As was the case on Facebook, the account only submitted an image of a man in the purported library, with no links to any identifying information to support the claim. In a top level comment on one of the threads, another account replied:
This is WRONG. They haven’t been touched in ages, they are currently being examined. Just click-bait by someone that didnt read.
Sakya Monastery and Wikipedia Revisions
On Facebook, the English translation of the original post mentioned the “Monastery of Sakia”; on Reddit, a commenter linked to the Wikipedia entry for Sakya Monastery, which contained a section with the title “Library”:
A huge library of as many as 84,000 scrolls was found sealed up in a wall 60 metres long and 10 metres high at Sakya Monastery in 2003. It is expected that most of them will prove to be Buddhist scriptures, although they may well also include works of literature, history, philosophy, astronomy, mathematics and art. They are thought to have remained untouched for hundreds of years. They are being examined by the Tibetan Academy of Social Sciences.
No citations in the entirety of the article confirmed the claim that a library of “as many as 84,000 scrolls” was located, but it did provide a year during which the discovery purportedly occurred — 2003. We searched the revisions to the page, and found that most edits about the library were added after the September 2020 Reddit posts were published.
The earliest change was made to the page in September 2007:
A huge library of as many as 84,000 scrolls were found sealed up in a wall 60 metres long and 10 metres high at Sakya (Ch: Sagya) Monastery in 2003. It is expected that most of them will prove to be Buddhist scriptures although they may well also include works of literature, and on history, philosophy, astronomy, mathematics and art. They are thought to have remained untouched for hundreds of years. They are being examined by the Tibetan Academy of Social Sciences.
In April 2021, the citation link was no longer operational and was no longer listed on the entry’s list of citations. We located an archived copy of the article, published by Xinhuanet.com on November 14 2003:
LHASA, Nov. 14 (Xinhuanet) — Chinese scholars will soon have collected and cleaned up all the ancient lections of Sagya, one of the four leading sects of Tibetan Buddhism, as part of an effort to protect and learn more about the precious cultural legacy in the area.
All the lections were piled up in a huge wall that is 60 meters long and 10 meters high at the Sagya Monastery in Sagya county, roughly 400 kilometers from Lhasa, capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region in southwestern China.
It is said that as many as 84,000 scrolls of the ancient holy writings were stored in the wall. Nevertheless, no one knows any further details about them since they remained in place untouched for the past hundreds of years.
Buddhism scholars believe that the majority of the huge collection may be mainly Buddhism scripture and probably also covers a wide variety of realms including literature, history, philosophy, astronomy, mathematics and art.
Experts with the Tibetan Academy of Social Sciences is expected to check and categorize for the first time the lections, which will provide a chance to learn more about the whole collection, said Cewang Junmei, president of the academy, [in November 2003].
The Sagya Monastery, a divine site of the sect from the very beginning, is made up of two parts: the northern part was built in 1073 and the southern part in 1268, according to Bandian Toinyu, director with the management committee of the monastery.
The monastery is also on the list of the cultural heritages to be repaired. The entire restoration project will cost approximately 80 million yuan (9.6 million US dollars) and so far 12.3 million yuan (1.5 million U.S. dollars) has been materialized.
Contemporaneous Fact Checks
On September 30 2020, Africa Check examined a variation of the meme and claim spreading on Facebook, concluding:
The library holds over 40,000 texts handwritten in Tibetan, Sanskrit, Chinese and Mongolian, on a wide range of subjects such as medicine and philosophy. In 2003, monks discovered a sealed wall containing 84,000 more texts, speculated to date back several hundred years.
The monastery is 1,000 years old. Africa Check has not found any evidence that any of the texts in its library are 10,000 or more years old.
The Sakya Monastery in Tibet does exist, and its library does contain some 84,000 centuries-old texts. But neither the library nor the texts date back 10,000 years.
In February 2021, Australian fact-checking site AAP FactCheck examined a Facebook post about the Sakya manuscripts, deeming the claims “partly false” and explaining that the bulk of claims were unfounded or unverified:
A 2010 Alamy photo caption contains matching details about the find, while a republished 2003 report from Chinese state media agency Xinhua includes many similar details, although it makes no mention of the manuscripts being “secret”.
However, AAP FactCheck was unable to independently verify the size or nature of the find. Several articles, including from Chinese news service CGTN, and travel sites Lonely Planet and Rough Guides, list a different number of works or make no mention of the purported recent “discovery”.
AAP FactCheck also consulted two experts in early human history; both asserted that the claims were incongruent with existing historical records:
In addition, several experts said it was impossible that the most ancient works at the monastery could detail 10,000 years of human history as this would easily predate the oldest recorded writing.
“The claim is false,” Joshua J. Mark, an editor and researcher for the Ancient History Encyclopedia website, said in an email.
“The oldest known written literature of length is the Epic of Gilgamesh (c. 2150-1400 BCE) based on an earlier oral Sumerian tale or tales,” he said.
While modern humans are thought to have existed for at least 300,000 years, the period of recorded history is much shorter and is tied to the development of text 5,000 years ago.
Boyo Ockinga, an associate professor of ancient history at Macquarie University in Sydney, agreed that claims the library’s works dated back 10,000 years didn’t match with historical records.
“The consensus of scholarly opinion is that writing was invented in Mesopotamia by the Sumerians in the late 4th to early 3rd millennium BC; there is some uncertainty about how much later the Egyptian hieroglyphic script was invented, but it will have been around the same time or a little later,” he said in an email.
“These are the earliest scripts known, so the claim that these Tibetan texts are 10,000 years old is completely untenable.”
A viral Facebook post about a “secret library” of 84,000 “secret manuscripts” uncovered in Tibet was one of several popular social media claims about the purported finding. Although the image was deemed authentic in previous fact checks, the claims that accompanied it were either unsupported, exaggerated, or both. Moreover, the source for the general claim was a Chinese news report in 2003 — roughly 18 years prior to the image and story’s circulation in 2021. As such, we’ve rated the post Decontextualized.