Towards the end of the 19th century, Russian scholars commenced exploring the Turfan oasis. British, French, Japanese and German expeditions were to follow. All of them brought not only art objects in their thousands to their home countries but also text fragments in their tens of thousands. And by the beginning of the 20th century, scientific work with treasures of the Turfan expeditions could begin.In 1904, F. W. K. Müller succeeded in deciphering some of the fragments from Turfan written in a kind of Estrangelo and in identifying them as belonging to the Manichean literature thought to have been completely lost. In the following years, a lot of dogmatic and liturgical texts of this religion, which had spread from the Near East to China were recovered, mostly from Turfan fragments. A particularly important text was brought to London by Sir Marc Aurel Stein. It was a Chinese scroll which contained Manichean texts in Chinese translation as well as in Iranian languages. Waldschmidt, who had a masterly knowledge of Chinese, was joined by the Iranian scholar Wolfgang Lentz in what became a collaborative effort. Together they published a couple of probing contributions to Manichaean studies.
Even more decisive for Waldschmidtʼs future career were the Sanskrit texts brought to Germany at the time of the Turfan expeditions. After the Indologist Richard Pischel was appointed to the University of Berlin in 1902, he intensified his Buddhist studies, which had commenced in 1883, publishing an edition of the Therīgāthā. And it was Pischel who began work on the Sanskrit Turfan manuscripts and who edited the first texts, e.g. “The Turfan recension of the Dhammapada” (1908). After his premature death in 1908, it fell to his successor Heinrich Lüders, chair of the Indology department in Berlin, to continue, together with his wife Else, working on the Turfan fragments. Lüders not only edited a number of texts, he also identified a huge number of greater and smaller fragments, thus laying the foundation for a project that Waldschmidt had initiated and which is still ongoing at the University of Goettingen, namely the cataloguing of the Sanskrit Turfan texts. And it was Lüders, as well, who inducted Waldschmidt into the intricate work with the fragmentary manuscripts. Being well-versed in the basic languages that Buddhism made use of when spreading into Central and East Asia, Waldschmidt, under Lüdersʼ guidance, undertook the difficult task of editing the Sanskrit Bhikṣuṇī-Prātimokṣa of the Sarvāstivāda school from the fragmentary manuscripts in the Turfan collection.