Early pagodas include some sculptured stone ones in addition to pagoda columns and pagodas in relief found in grottoes. In September 1969 two small dagobas sculptured out of stone were found in Jiuquan. They are very important relics dating back to the Northern Liang period (397-439).
One of the pogodas, called the Sakyamuni Buddhist Pagoda, bears an inscription that it was sculptured in 428 in the Chengxuan period of the Northern Liang, around the fifth year of the Shiguang period of the Northern Wei Dynasty.
The pagoda is 44.6 centimeters high and the diameter of its base is 15.2 centimeters. A tenon on the bottom indicates that the pagoda may originally have been joined to some place or a base. Its basic style is that of a Lamaist dagoba, but it is a bit different. The whole pagoda is cylindric, but it is still formed by a pedestal, a main body and a steeple. The pedestal is divided into an octagonal part and a round part. The octagonal part, 8 centimeters high, is carved with images of four males and four females according to the Eight Diagrams (eight combinations of three whole or broken lines formerly used in divination). The round part is 7.2 centimeters high and is inscribed with the pagoda's name and Buddhist scriptures. Above the round part of the pedestal is the 9-centimetre-high main body in the shape of an inverted bowl. Eight round niches around the main body contain carved images of seated Buddha. The upper part of the main body is decorated with eight huge lotus petals. On top of the inverted bowl is a 1.2-centimetre- high girdle serving as the base of the steeple, which is the same as the neck of a Lamaist dagoba. The seven-tier body of the steeple is 16 centimeters high and tapers off gradually from the bottom up. The main body takes up most of the steeple, a characteristic of early Lamaist dagobas. The top is a flat ball 4 millimeters high carved with the seven stars of the Big Dipper, rarely seen in other Buddhist pagodas.
The pagoda's unique structure and shape and its incorporation of the Eight Diagrams and the star map indicate that soon after Buddhism was introduced into China, it was integrated with Chinese culture.
The other stone pagoda, called Chengduan'er Pagoda, was unearthed with the Sakyamuni Buddhist Pagoda. The structure and shape of the two pagodas and their carvings are similar. Obviously, they were sculptured at the same time. Chengduan'er Pagoda is 42.8 centimeters high and the diameter of its base is 12 centimeters. The two pagoda differ in five ways: 1. Chengduan'er Pagoda is slenderer. 2. Its niches for Buddhist images on the inverted bowl have lintels carved with designs of beads. 3. Designs of lotus petals are carved under the main body of the pagoda. 4. No vertical lines run through the seven tiers of the steeple's main body. 5. The pagoda doesn't have the Eight Diagrams and a star map.
Similar stone pagodas were discovered in Jiuquan before 1949, but they were all damaged. These two small sculptured stone pagodas are among the earliest extant ancient pagodas and are thus invaluable.