Sir Aurel Stein's First Expedition


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Collection of Stein's expedition maps as Google-Earth overlays (inaccurate but still very useful!)

Stein's First Expedition

In the last years of the 19th century, an increasing number of manuscripts, both in known and unknown scripts and languages, as well as other findings, appeared in the region known at that time as Eastern or Chinese Turkestan. They stirred up keen interest among European scholars, but their provenance was entirely unknown, because the local treasure-seekers who offered them for sale concealed their origins.

Map of manuscripts found in Chinese Turkestan (Xijiang) (source of map)
To enlarge the image click on the map

Hence Stein decided to carry out systematic archaeological excavations in this territory.

This his first expedition was exploratory with limited funding. Stein had to learn how to raise a caravan of camels and ponies to carry his surveying gear and provisions (food and water!) for a varying number of diggers and camel drivers through a hostile, largely uncharted desert environment: thousands of kilometers on foot. Guided by Hsüen-tzang's (Xuanzang), Marco Polo's, and Sven Hedin's descriptions he was able to discover and record a number of sites of great antiquarian and ethnographic importance among them scores of manuscripts in a variety of scripts and languages.

From 1900 to 1901, he conducted research around Khotan. This first fieldwork was already characterized by the comprehensiveness of all his subsequent expeditions. Alongside archaeological research, Stein also paid attention to the geography, anthropology, ethnography and linguistics of the region
His first expedition (1900-01) was funded by the Government of India and the Government of Punjab and Bengal, and it was agreed that the finds should be studied in London and allocated to specific museums later. He started from his base in Kashmir in May 1900, Stein travelled across Gilgit to the Hindukush chiefship of Hunza. By the end of June, after crossing the Kilik Pass, Stein arrived in Chinese territory at the head of the Taghdumbash Pamir.
Descending eastwards to Tashkurghan, it became possible to figure out the ancient topography of Sarikol by identifying the localities which the great Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang had mentioned when passing there in 649 C.E. Stein later referred to Xuanzang as his “patron saint”, because on his expeditions in Chinese Central Asia, he followed in the footsteps of this 7th century Buddhist monk who travelled from Central Asia to India, returning later to China with Buddhist sutras.
In Ilchi, the capital of the Khotan district, Stein had evidence of the practice of forging old books, and possibly other antiques. He then travelled into the desert, later surveying and mapping the Kunlun range. He visited ancient sites of Yotkan, Dandan-Uiliq, Niya, Rawak and Endere.
In May 1901 his journey, undertaken on horseback and by foot, covering 3,000 miles, came to its end at Osh, Ferghana, and he returned to Europe across Russia.
Stein published a popular account of the first expedition entitled “Sand-buried Ruins of Khotan” (1903), and a detailed archaeological report Ancient Khotan after his second expediton (2 volumes, 1907):

Stein's expedition reports are too voluminous to reproduce in this limited format. I have resorted to a picture album approach accompanied by extensive, detailed maps, enlivened by excerpts and supported by copious references to his original texts, which fortunately exist in facsimily editions by Toyobunko

All Photos are copies of original Stein's photos from the facsimile reprints of Stein's Expedition Reports at NII-Toyobunko, Japan

A Sentimental Leave-Taking from Srinagar-Gulmarg
May 1900

Aurel Stein in front of his tent in Gulmarg in 1929

For 29 years, when not traveling Stein lived in tents at Gulmarg near Srinagar in Kashmir. Here he wrote all his expedition reports.

When I reached Kashmir in May 1900 Mohand Marg, my mountain retreat of former seasons, was still covered with snow. My knowledge of Kashmir topography, however, stood me in good stead, and after a short search at the debouchure of the great Sind Valley I found near the hamlet of Dudarhom Gulmarg, a delightfully quiet grove by the river-bank where I could pitch my tents. There under the shade of majestic Chinars and within view of the snow-covered Mount Haramukh, I was soon hard at work from morning till evening.
The few weeks which remained to me in Kashmir were none too long for the literary tasks that had to be completed before my departure. For over ten years past I had devoted whatever leisure I could spare from official duties to work on the Sanscrit text of Kalhana's great poem "Chronicle of the Kings of Kashmir."

On the 23rd of May I completed the last of the tasks for the sake of which I had retired to my peaceful camping-ground. The date fixed for my start was drawing near, and with it came the necessity for returning to bustling Srinagar for the last preparations. Thanks to the convenient water-way provided by the Anchar Lake, and the ancient Mar Canal, a single night passed in boats sufficed to bring me into the Kashmir capital.
Ram Singh, the Gurkha Sub-Surveyor, whose services Colonel St. George Gore, R.E., the Surveyor-General of India, had very kindly placed at my disposal, together with a complete outfit of surveying instruments, joined me punctually on the day of my arrival at Srinagar.
On the 28th of May arrived Sadak Akhun, the Turkestan servant whom Mr. George Macartney, C.I.E., the British representative at Kashgar, had been kind enough to engage for me. He had left Kashgar in the first half of April and came just in time to start back with me. He was to act as cook and `Karawan-bashi ' combined.

On the morning of the 31st of May sixteen ponies were ready to receive the loads which were made up by our tents, stores, instruments, &c. Formidable as this number appeared to me, accustomed as I was to move lightly on my wanderings in and about Kashmir, I had the satisfaction to know that my personal baggage formed the smallest part of these impedimenta.
Leaving Srinagar May 1900

Srinagar -Gilgit -Baltit-Karimabad Hunza -Tashkurgan- Kashgar
For the Route see the Google Map
540 km

May 31June 29, 1900
Sand-buried Ruins of Khotan

Today one can drive on the Chinese-built Friendship Highway” to Kashgar in a few days, in Stein's time the distance of 540 km had to be negotiated on foot along the old Caravan Route ponies carrying the “goods”, of which Stein had a good load. He required 2 months. I will, for brevety's sake spare the reader Stein's full description of this journey.

The Castle at Karimabad with the Hindukush towering above the Hunza Valley

View from Kilik Pass, the border to China

Sir George Macartny the British Consul General at Kashgar, the
trusted friend of Western travelers

However, already on the second day he had to cross the modest Tragbal pass (3630 m) and encountered a most difficult situation,which I will let him tell himself:

Tragbal Pass - Carrying the Ponies Across a Snow Bridge

The road, after leaving the straggling line of wooden huts which form the Bazar of Bandipur, leads for about four miles up the open valley of the Madhumati stream. At a height of about 9,000 feet a fine forest of pines covers the spur and encloses a narrow glade known as Tragbal. Here the snow had just disappeared, and I found the damp ground strewn with the first carpet of Alpine flowers.
A crude wooden rest-house begrimed with smoke and mold gave shelter for the night, doubly welcome, as a storm broke soon after it got dark. The storm brought fresh snow, and as this was sure to make the crossing of the pass above more difficult I started before daybreak on the 1st of June.
A steep ascent of some two thousand feet leads to the open ridge which the road follows for several miles. Exposed as this ridge is to all the winds, I was not surprised to find it still covered with deep snowdrifts, below which all trace of the road disappeared. Heavy clouds hung around. The snow remained fairly hard. Soon, however, it began to snow, and the icy wind which swept the ridge made me and my men push eagerly forward to the shelter offered by a Dak runners' (mail man) hut. The storm cleared before long, but it sufficed to show how well deserved is the bad repute which the Tragbal (11,900 feet) among Kashmirian passes.
For the descent from the pass I was induced by the 'Markobans' owning the ponies to utilise the winter route which leads steeply down into a narrow snow-filled nullah. Though the ponies slid a good deal in the soft snow of the slope, we did not encounter much difficulty until we got to the bottom of the gorge. Here the snow bridges over the stream had begun to give way, and the high banks of snow on either side were in many places uncomfortably narrow.
At last our progress was stopped at a point where the stream had washed away the whole of the snow vault. To take the laden animals along the slatey and precipitous side of the gorge, which was free from snow, proved impracticable. To return to the top of the gorge, and thence follow the proper road which descends in long zigzags along a side spur, would have cost hours. So the council of my `Markobans,' hardy hill-men, half Kashmiri, half Dard, decided to try the narrow ledge of snow which remained standing on the right bank of the stream.
The first animal, though held and supported by three men, slipped and rolled into the stream, and with it Sadak Akhun, who vainly attempted to stem its fall. Fortunately neither man nor pony got hurt, and as the load was also picked out of the water the attempt was resumed with additional care.
Making a kind of path with stones placed at the worst points, we managed to get the animals across one by one. But it was not without considerable anxiety for my boxes, with survey instruments and similar çontents, that I watched the operation. Heavy rain was falling at the time, and when at last we had all the ponies once more on a safe snow-bridge, men and animals were alike soaked. By one o'clock I reached the Gorai rest-house, down to which the valley was covered. with snow; having taken nearly seven hours to cover the eleven miles of the march.

After many like adventures the small caravan reached Kashgar after dark on June 29,1900 – and found the gates of the city already closed.
Sand-buried Ruins

Jun 29-Sep 12, 1900

Under the Macartneys's Roof

Kashgar was the entry point to the vast desert area of the Taklamakan, where Sven Hedin (1890-1902) and others had discovered numerous archeological sites dated to 800 BC -600 AD buried in the sands. Polyglott Stein was the best educated and most thorough of these explorers. He was especially eager to uncover manuscripts.

The cheerful impressions of that first evening under Mr. Macartney's hospitable roof in Chini Bagh (Chinese Garden) were a true indication of the happy circumstances under which the busy weeks of my stay at Kashgar were to pass. Chini-Bagh had been a simple walled-in orchard with a little garden house, such as every respectable Kashgari loves to own outside the city walls, when Mr. Macartney, more than ten years before my visit, took up the appointment of the Indian Government's Political Representative at Kashgar. Continuous improvements effected with much ingenuity had gradually changed this tumbledown mud-built garden house into a residence which in its cosy, well-furnished rooms now offered all the comforts of an English home, and in its spacious out-houses and "compound" all the advantages of an Indian bungalow.

Here Stein spent 2 months assembling his caravan, buying camels, acquiring with Macartney's help and advice reliable servants and, for him more excting, studying Sanscrit and Turki. He did not speak Chinese. Macartney provided him with a Ssu-chieh, a scholar as translator from whom he quickly learned a minimum of the all-important Chinese etiquette.

On Sep 12, 1900 I finally set out from Kashgar for the journey to Khotan. Avoiding the ordinary caravan route, I chose for the march to Yarkand the track which crosses the region of moving sands around the popular shrine of Ordam-Padshah from the north and joins the main road from Kashgar and Yangi-Hisar at the oasis of Kizil."
Sand-buried Ruins


Sep 17 – 26, 1900

A Chinese Dinner Party

A march of about eighteen miles brought me on the 17th of September from Kokrobat into Yarkand. About three miles from the city, I found the whole colony of Indian traders, with Munshi Bunyad Ali at their head waiting to give me a formal reception. Most of the traders from the Punjab had already left for Ladak. All the same it was quite an imposing cavalcade, at the head of which I rode into Yarkand.

They were all in their best dresses, decently mounted, and unmistakably pleased to greet a `Sahib.' So it was only natural that they wished to make some show of him. Accordingly I was escorted in great style through the whole of the Yangi-Shahr, or " New City," and the Bazaars.

Then we turned off to the right and rode round the crenellated walls of the " Old City " into an area of suburban gardens. Here lies the Chini-Bagh which Mr. Macartney had in advance engaged for my residence. It proved quite a summer-palace within a large walled-in garden., Passing through a series of courts, I was surprised to find a great hall of imposing dimensions, with rows of high wooden pillars supporting its roof. Beyond it I entered a series of raised apartments, once the reception-rooms of Niaz Hakim Beg, the original owner of these palatial quarters. The gilding of the latticework screens separating the rooms had faded, and other signs of neglect were numerous. Yet good carpets covered the floors and the raised platforms; tasteful dados ran along the walls, and over the whole lay an air of solemn dignity and ease.

The days which followed my arrival at Yarkand passed with surprising rapidity.

Liu-Darin (`Darin' is the local version of his Chinese title 'Ta jen'), the Amban of Yarkand, was absent on tour when I arrived. But he soon returned, and after the due preliminaries had been arranged, I made my call at his Yamen. I found Liu-Darin a very amiable and intelligent old man. Conversation through a not over-intelligent interpreter is not the way to arrive at a true estimate of character. But somehow Liu-Darin's manners and looks impressed me very favourably. On the next day I received the return visit of the old administrator, and found occasion to show him the Si-yu-ki of Hsüen-Tsiang and to explain what my objects were in searching for the sacred sites which the great pilgrim had visited about Khotan, and for the remains of the old settlements overwhelmed by the desert. It was again reassuring to find how popular the figure of the pious old traveller still is with educated Chinese.

On the 22nd of September Liu-Darin insisted on entertaining me at a Chinese dinner. Well-meant as the invitation no doubt was, I confess that I faced it with mixed feelings. My Kashgar experiences had shown me the ordeal which such a feast represents to the average European. However, things passed better than I had ventured to hope. The dinner consisted of only sixteen courses, and was duly absorbed within three hours. It would be unfair to discuss the strange mixture of the menu, especially as I felt quite incompetent to analyse most of the dishes, or the arrangements of the table. Having regard to my deficient training in the use of eating-sticks I was provided with a fork and a little bowl to eat from. As my host insisted on treating me personally to choice bits, a queer collection accumulated on this substitute for a plate. I felt more comfortable when I managed to get it cleared from time to time. For the hot spirit, a kind of arrack it seemed, served in tiny square cups as the only beverage, there was no such convenient depository, and in reply to the challenges of my convives I had to touch it more frequently than I could have wished. Besides my host, two of his chief officials, jovial-looking men, were keeping me company.

50 km south-east of Yarkand
Sep 28-Oct 2, 1900

Karghalik, the mosque

Waiting for Cash from Kashgar

On Sep 28 by half-past four I had approached Karghalik through a belt of villages rich in orchards and shrines of all kinds. I soon was enveloped by the tangled net of Bazars that form the centre of Karghalik town, and was struck with their comparative cleanliness and the thriving look of the whole place. It is clear at the first glance that Karghalik derives no small amount of profit from its position at the point where a much-frequented route to the Karakorum Passes joins the great road connecting Khotan with Yarkand. After a long search among the suburban gardens to the south I found a large plot of meadow land with some beautiful old walnut-trees that carried me back in recollection to many a pretty village in Kashmir. It was a delightful camping-ground for myself, and, as my people found quarters in a cottage close by and the ponies excellent grazing, everybody was satisfied.

On the morning of Oct 8 arrived the consignment of money, sent by Mr. Macartney from Kashgar in payment for my drafts on Lahore. My halt at Karghalik had been made partly in expectation of it. With the bags of Chinese silver coin and the smaller packet of newly-coined gold Rouble pieces, Mr. Macartney's `Chaprassi' brought home-letters also. He was to return the next day and carry my own mail to Kashgar.
History of Karghalik


230 km east of Khargalik
Oct 10 -Nov 25,1900 and Apr 4 1901 (on the return)

The Pigeon Shrine and Finding a Garden in Khotan

A long march on the 10th of October was to bring me at last to the very confines of Khotan. By the time I reached the Mazar of Kum-rabat-Padshahim (" My Lord of the Sands Station ") we were again in a sea of sand.
Amid these surroundings the lively scene that presented itself at the shrine popularly known as " Pigeons' Sanctuary " (Kaptar-Mazar) was doubly cheerful. Several wooden houses and sheds serve as the residence for thousands of pigeons, which are maintained by the offerings of travellers and the proceeds of pious endowments. They are believed to be the offspring of a pair of doves which miraculously appeared from the heart of Imam Shakir Padshâh, who died here in battle with the infidel, i.e., the Buddhists of Khotan. The youthful son of one of the Sheikhs attached to the shrine was alone present to tell me the story. Many thousands had fallen on both sides, and it was impossible to separate the bodies of the faithful `Shahids' from those of the `Kafirs.' Then at the prayer of one of the surviving Musulmans the bodies of those who had found martyrdom were miraculously collected on one side, and the doves came forth to mark the remains of the fallen leader. From gratitude, all travellers on the road offer food to the holy birds.
While watching the pretty spectacle I could not help being reminded of what Hsüantsang tells us of a local cult curiously similar at the western border of Khotan territory:
Some thirty miles before reaching the capital, "in the midst of the straight road passing through a great sandy desert," the pilgrim describes "a succession of small hills," which were supposed to be formed by the burrowing of rats. These rats were worshipped with offerings by all the wayfarers, owing to the belief that in ancient times they had saved the land from a great force of Hiung-nu, or Huns, who were ravaging the border. The Khotan king had despaired of defending his country, when in answer to his prayer myriads of rats led by a rat-king destroyed over-night all the leather of the harness and armour of the invading host, which then fell an easy prey to the. defenders.
" The rats as big as hedgehogs, their hair of a gold and silver colour," of which Hsüantsang was told as inhabiting this desert, are no longer to be seen even by the eyes of the pious. But the locality he describes corresponds exactly to the position of the `Kaptar-Mazar' relative to ancient Khotan, amidst dunes and low, conical sandhills

From there onwards lay an unbroken succession of gardens, hamlets and carefully cultivated fields on both sides. The road itself is flanked by shady avenues of poplars and willows for almost its whole length. Autumn had just turned the leaves yellow and red.

On the road the dust lay ankle deep. It was easy to realise the vicinity of a great trade centre from the lively traffic which passed us. I saw strings of donkeys carrying `Zhubas,' the lambskin coats for the manufacture of which Khotan is famous. Few, indeed, were the passers-by that did not ride on some kind of animal—pony, donkey, or bullock. To proceed to any distance on foot must seem a real hardship even to the poorer classes. No wonder that the people see no reason to object to the ridiculously high heels of their top boots. When riding the inconvenience cannot be felt. But to see the proud possessors of such boots waddle along the road when obliged to use their legs is truly comical.

On the morning of the 13th of October I was just about to start from my camp at Yokakun for Khotan when the Beg arrived, whom the Amban, on hearing of my approach, had deputed to escort me. The Beg was in his Chinese gala garb and had his own little retinue. So we made quite a cavalcade, even before Badruddin Khan, the head of the Afghan merchants in Khotan and a large trader to Ladak, joined me a few miles from Khotan town with some of his fellow-countrymen.

The bazaarliks of Khotan watching our state procession into town

I found a large though somewhat gloomy house, but none of the attractions of my Yarkand residence. The maze of little rooms all lit from the roof and badly deficient in ventilation could not be used for my own quarters. Outside in the garden there was a picturesque wilderness of trees and bushes, but little room for a tent and still less of privacy. So after settling down for the day and despatching my messages and presents for the Amban, I used the few remaining hours of daylight for a reconnaissance.

There is a charm about the ease with which, in these parts, one may invade the house of anyone, high or low, sure to find a courteous reception, whether the visit is expected or otherwise. So when after a long ride through suburban lanes and along the far-stretching lines of mud-built fortifications, about half a mile from Tokhta Akhun's, I came upon another residential garden, enclosed by high walls and surrounded by fields, I did not hesitate to have my visit announced to the owner. Through a series of courts I entered a large and airy reception hall, and through it passed into a large open garden that at once took my fancy. Akhun Beg, a fine-looking, portly old gentleman, received me like a guest', and when informed of the object of my search readily offered me the use of his residence. I had disturbed him in the reading of a Turki version of Firdusi's Shahnama. My acquaintance with the original of the great Persian epic seemed to win for me at once the goodwill of my impromptu host, and I hesitated the less about accepting his offer.

The oasis of Khotan has from very early times been the largest and most important cultivated territory in the south of the Tarim Basin. To this fact we owe the ample information which the Chinese records furnish as to its ancient history.

Stein spend several weeks in Khotan preparing for his winter expedition into the desert. Khotan is described in his extensive reports in Ancient Khotan, volume 1”, too voluminous to reproduce here:
Geography, cultivation and industry 
Population of the oasis
and its origins 
History according to Hsüantsang, Tibetan sources, and later Chinese records 

Buddhist Sites around Khotan


10 km west of Khotan
Oct. 15 and Nov 24. 1900

Trying to Find the Ancient Capital of Khotan

Yotkan was the capital of the Khotan kingdom from the 3rd to the 8th cent AD. Stein found that Yotkan had been plundered thoroughly by local treasure hunters. This load was all he was able to collect or purchase and ship home:
Sand buried Ruins of Khotan

Terracotta fragments from Yotkan.

Throughout his travels Stein also performed anthropometric measurements on the local population.
This is an early sample from Yotkan.

Ancient Khotan, volume 1  
Search for the ruins of the city
List of purchased antiques


100 km north-east of Khotan
Dec 7, 1900 – Jan 3, 1901

Stein's First Major Discovery

On the morning of December 7, a misty and bitterly cold day, I set out for the winter campaign in the desert. In order to reach Dandan-Uiliq I had decided on the route via Tawakkél, which, though longer than the track leading straight into the desert which reduced the extent of actual desert-marching. At Tawakkel (Dec 10-12, 1900) thanks to the stringent instructions issued by Pan-Darin, I was able to collect a party of thirty labourers for my intended excavations, together with four weeks' food supply. Owing to superstitious fears and in view of the expected rigours of the winter, these farmers were naturally reluctant to venture so far into the desert, though they appreciated the pay offered, 1 Miskals per diem, which was more than twice the average wages for unskilled labour.

The winter of the desert had now set in with full vigour. In daytime while on the march there was little to complain of; for though the temperature in the shade never rose above freezing point, yet there was no wind, and I could enjoy without discomfort the delightfully pure air of the desert and its repose which nothing living disturbs. But at night, when the thermometer would go down to below zero Fahrenh., my little Kabul tent, notwithstanding its extra serge lining, was a terribly cold abode. The "Stormont-Murphy Arctic Stove" which was fed with small compressed fuel cakes (from London !) steeped in paraffin proved very useful; yet its warmth was not sufficient to permit my discarding the heavy winter garb, including a fur-lined overcoat and boots, which protected me in the open. The costume I wore would, together with the beard I was obliged to allow to grow, have made me unrecognisable even to my best friends in Europe. When the temperature had gone down in the tent to about 6 degrees Fahr. below freezing-point, reading or writing became impossible, and I had to retire among the heavy blankets and rugs of my bed. There `Yolchi Beg', my foxterrier, had usually long before sought refuge, though he too was in possession of a comfortable fur coat of Kashmirian make, from which he scarcely ever emerged between December and March.
To protect one's head at night from the intense cold while retaining free respiration, was one of the small domestic problems which had to be faced from the start of this winter campaign. To the knitted Shetland cap which covered the head but left the face bare, I had soon to add the fur-lined cap of Balaclava shape made in Kashmir, which with its flaps and peak pulled down gave additional protection for everything except nose and cheeks. Still it was uncomfortable to wake up with one's moustache hard frozen.

On the fifth such morning, the 18th of December, after turning a great Dawan, Turdi guided us to his spot, and a couple of miles further south I found myself amidst the ruined houses which mark the site of Dandan-Uiliq.
Sand-buried Ruins

Old Turdi felt quite at home among these desolate surroundings, which he had visited so frequently since his boyhood. It was the fascinating vision of hidden treasure which had drawn him and his kinsfolk there again and again, however scanty the tangible reward had been of their trying wanderings.

The structures more deeply buried in the sand had escaped unopened. It was important to select these in the first place for my excavations, and I felt grateful for Turdi's excellent memory and topographical instinct which enabled him readily to indicate their positions. Guided by this first rapid survey, I chose for my camp a spot from which the main ruins to be explored were all within easy reach.

On the morning of the 19th of December I commenced my excavations by clearing the remains of a small square building immediately to the south of my camp. Turdi knew it as a ' But-khana ' or " temple of idols." A careful examination of the remains of walls which were brought to light on the north and west sides under several feet of sand showed that there had been an inner square cella enclosed by equidistant outer walls twenty feet long, forming a kind of corridor or passage on each side.

Mixed with frequently repeated architectural ornaments there were numerous reproductions in low relievo of the figure of Buddha, in the orthodox attitudes of teaching with hand raised or seated in meditation Other small relievos showed attendant figures in adoration, such as the graceful garland-holding woman rising from a lotus and probably meant for a Gandharvi, which has been reproduced on the cover of this book. Conventional as all these representations are and evidently casts from a series of moulds, they at once arrested my interest by their unmistakable affinity to that style of Buddhist sculpture in India which developed under classical influences.

The clearing of this single small shrine not only yielded some one hundred and fifty pieces of stucco relievo fit for transport to Europe, but supplied me with the indications I needed in order to direct the systematic excavation of structures more deeply buried in the sand.

Building DII before excavation

The excavated cella of building DII

I proceeded to a group of small buildings buried below six to eight feet of sand by a fairly high dune. I was able correctly to gauge their construction and character, though only the broken and bleached ends of posts were visible above the sand. After some digging we found a temple, the cella of which was enclosed by a quadrangular passage about 4.5 feet wide. This passage, which almost certainly served for the purposes of circumambulation ('pradakshina') common to all traditional forms of Indian worship. The interior of the cella was once occupied by a colossal statue made of stucco and painted, which probably represented a Buddha. But of this only the feet remained.
The walls of the cella, which must have been of considerable height, were decorated inside with frescoes showing figures of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas enveloped in large halos. As these too were over life-size, only the feet with the broad painted frieze below them showing lotuses and small figures of worshippers, could be seen on the walls still standing.

Painted panel from Bulding DII

Painted panel, Rustam (Persian) as Boddhisattva

At the foot of the principal base and leaning against it we found five painted panels of wood, all oblong, but of varying sizes. Even the imperfect cleaning at the time sufficed to show that these little paintings represent personages of Buddhist mythology or scenes bearing on Buddhist worship and legends.
Text from Sand-buried Ruins, Illustrations from Ancient Khotan vol 2

Judeo-Persian Document (~718 AD)

Sanscrit fragment

It had not needed the discovery of a pictorial representation of a`Pothi' (book) to make me eagerly look out for finds of ancient manuscripts. None had turned up during the excavations of the first three days.

So, on the 22nd of December, I directed my men to the excavation of a structure close by, which by its position and ground-plan as deducible from the arrangement of the wooden posts that were seen sticking out above the sand, appeared to suggest an ancient dwelling-place. By noon, at a depth of 2 ft. from the surface, a small scrap of paper showing a few Brahmi characters was found in the loose sand which filled the building. I greeted it, with no small satisfaction as a promise of richer finds. Barely an hour later a cheerful shout from one of the men working at the bottom of the small area so far excavated on the north-west side of the apartment announced the discovery of a `Khat,' or writing.

Carefully extracted with my own hands and cleared of the adhering sand, it proved a perfectly preserved oblong leaf of paper, 13 inches long and 4 inches high, that had undoubtedly formed part of a larger manuscript arranged in the shape of an Indian `Pothi.' The six lines of beautifully clear writing which cover each side of the leaf show Brahmi characters of the so-called Gupta type, but a non-Indian language.

The interesting find was quickly followed by a series of other manuscripts either in loose leaves, more or less complete, or in little sets of fragments. They all showed Brahmi writing of an early type and had, as their conformity in paper, size and handwriting showed, originally belonged to at least three distinct `Pothis,' or books. Their contents were soon recognised by me as Sanskrit. texts treating of Buddhist canonical matter.
Ancient Khotan

From Prof. Margoliouth's translation of the Judeo fragment, it will be seen that the document (718 AD) represents the much-mutilated fragment of a letter written by a Persian-speaking Jew, mainly relating to certain business affairs.
Other Finds and General Observations

Sand-blown Rawaq Stupa

20 km north-east of Khotan
Jan 3-6, 1901

Rawag stupa before excavating the base

Rows of sculptures after excavation

The examination of the scanty remains at Rawaq had completed the task for which I had set out just a month previously from Khotan. So on the morning of January 6 I dismissed Ahmad Merghen with the last batch of the Tawakkel labourers, and set out with a much reduced caravan for the Keriya river.

Ancient Khotan

170 km east of Khotan
Jan 8-12, and Mar 30 1901 (on the return)

I had originally intended to steer due east from Rawaq, in order to strike the nearest point on the Keriya river, but the rising height of the dunes and the impossibility of getting at water obliged me after the first day to seek the southern route eastwards which the main caravan route follows. By the evening of January 8 the hard-frozen river was at last safely reached.

I decided first to visit Keriya, the head quarters of the District east of Khotan, before commencing other explorations, in order to secure personally the assistance of the local Amban.

Kara-dong, the old site further down the Keriya river, seemed temptingly near, but in the lonely jungle tracts along the river, uninhabited except by nomadic shepherds, it would have been impossible to raise either labourers or the badly-needed supplies. Four long marches brought us to Keriya through the belt of Toghrak jungle and scrub accompanying the river's course in the desert.
Ancient Khotan

Niya Ruins the Great Find
150 km north-west of Endere Ruins
Jan 23-Feb 28, 1901

On January 23 I set out from Niya Bazaar with twenty labourers and a small convoy of additional hired camels to help in the transport of a month's supplies. A three days' march brought me to starting-point for my fresh expedition into the desert. The route lay all along the Niya river, and through the belt of thick forest which accompanies its course.

The march of January 27, confirmed my surmise that the ancient site would be reached by following this direction. For the first five miles or so thick patches of dead forest were encountered between the tamarisk-covered hillocks.

Niya Ruins, House N1 after clearing

Shrivelled trunks of ancient fruit-trees, Niya Houses N

A rapid inspection showed me that the mode of construction in these buildings [ruin N] was substantially the same as that in the dwellings of Dandân-Uiliq, but their dimensions were larger and the timber framework far more elaborate and solid. I came upon some finely-carved pieces of wood lying practically on the surface, which showed ornamentation unmistakably of the Gandhâra style.

Here, in a position conveniently central for the exploration of the scattered ruins, I pitched my camp. As I retired to my first night's rest among these silent witnesses of ancient habitations my main thought was how many of the precious documents on wood, which Ibrâhim declared he had left behind at the ruin `explored' by him a year before, were still waiting to be recovered.

At sunrise of January 28, 1901 with the temperature still well below zero F I hastened to the ruined building where Ibrahim had a year previously found his ancient tablets inscribed with Kharosthi characters. On ascending the west slope, seen in the foreground of photograph, I picked up at once three tablets inscribed with Kharosthi lying amidst the débris of massive timber which marked wholly eroded parts of the ruined structure. On reaching the top I found to my delight many more scattered about in the sand within the nearest of the rooms still clearly traceable by remains of their walls. The layer of drift-sand that had spread over the tablets since Ibrahim had thrown them down here a year before, was so thin as scarcely to protect the topmost ones from the snow that lay about one inch deep over the more shaded portions of the ground. It dated, no doubt, from the snowfall which I had encountered on my way from Keriya to Niya eight days earlier.

Ibrahim seemed scarcely less elated than myself at seeing his statement confirmed, and the good reward I had promised him thus assured. He at once pointed out to me that the find-place of the relics was not in this room, where he had thrown them away in utter ignorance of their value, but in the south corner of the room immediately adjoining eastwards. There, in a little recess about 4 feet wide, formed between the fireplace, well recognizable above the sand, and the wall dividing rooms, he had come upon a heap of tablets while scooping out the sand with his hands in search of `treasure'.

The hundred and odd inscribed tablets with which I returned to camp from my first day's work amid these ruins represented a harvest far more abundant than I could reasonably have hoped for. The remarkable state of preservation in which a considerable portion of them made it easy for me, even during the first rapid examination on the spot, to recognize certain main features in their outward arrangement; and the few hours of study which I was subsequently able to devote to them in my tent during the bitterly cold evenings soon familiarized me with some aspects of their use as an ancient writing material.
Ancient Khotan

One of the Kharosthi “Pothis” fround at the Niya Site

Kharosthi document on leather

The first few hours' work was rewarded by the discovery of complete Kharosthi documents on leather. The oblong sheets of carefully prepared smooth sheepskin, of which altogether two dozen came to light here, showed different sizes, up to 15 inches in length. They were invariably found folded up into neat little rolls, but could be opened out in most cases without serious difficulty.

These documents have a special interest as the first specimens as yet discovered of leather used for writing purposes among a population of Indian language and culture. Whatever the religious objections may have been, it is evident that in practice they had no more weight with the pious Buddhists of this region than with the orthodox Brahmans of Kashmir, who for centuries back have used leather bindings for their cherished Sanskrit codices.

The tablets showed throughout the characteristic peculiarities of that type of Kharosthi writing which in India is invariably exhibited by the inscriptions of the so-called Kushana or Indo-Scythian kings. The period during which these kings ruled over the Punjab and the regions to the west of the Indus falls within the first three centuries of our era.

I felt absolutely assured as to their high antiquity and exceptional value. And yet during that day's animating labours and as I marched back to camp in the failing light of the evening, there remained a thought that prevented my archæological conscience from becoming over-triumphant. It was true that the collected text of the hundred odd tablets, which I was carrying away carefully packed and labelled as the result of my first day's work, could not fall much short of, if it did not exceed, the aggregate of all the materials previously available for the study of Kharoshthi.

Discoveries in a Rubbish Heap – His First!

The Building with the Rubish Heap

Excavating the Rubbish Heap

Promising as the finds were which my previous "prospecting" had yielded, I little anticipated how extraordinary rich a mine of ancient records I had struck in the ruin I proceeded to excavate. On the surface there was nothing to suggest the wealth of relics contained within the half-broken walls of the room, 23 by 18 feet large, which once formed the western end of a modest dwelling-place. But when systematic excavation, begun at the north-western corner of the room, revealed layer ufon layer of wooden tablets mixed up with refuse of all sorts, the truth soon dawned upon me. I had struck an ancient rubbish heap formed by the accumulations of many years, and containing also what, with an anachronism, we may fitly call the "waste-paper" deposits of that early time.

It was not sand from which I extracted tablet after tablet, but a consolidated mass of refuse lying fully 4 feet above the original floor, as seen in the photograph. All the documents on wood, of which I recovered in the end more than two hundred, were found scattered among layers of broken pottery, straw, rags of felt and various woven fabrics, pieces of leather, and other rubbish.
- Yet trash piles would become the most abundant sources of ancient documents in Stein's expeditions....

Elaborate chair found in Niya

Wool rug with Indian swastika ornaments

The most convincing proof of the dominating influence which Indian art exercised on the industries represented in this ancient settlement was furnished by a wool rug and the ornamental woodcarving of the chair shown above.
Their close agreement with decorative motives found in Gandhâra sculptures of the first centuries of our era was welcomed by me from the first as valuable confirmation of the chronological evidence deducible from the Kharosthi writing of the tablets. In another direction, too, this piece of ancient art furniture serves as useful testimony. Though not of intrinsic value in its material, and on that account no doubt left behind when the dwelling was abandoned, it yet shows by its workmanship that those who once lived here were people in affluent circumstances.

Extensive references to Niya 1901: 
Find of inscribed tablets 
Discovery of an ancient Rubbish Heap
Documents Wood and Leather 
Chinese Documents 

Endere Ruins
130 km north-east of Niya Bazaar
Feb 26, 1901

Stein visited Endere twice. In 1901 he explored only the Tang fort and then returned to visit Niya Bazaar and Karadong. In 1906 he came back and found, as ususal in the trash pilles, various manuscripts. 

130 km south-west of Niya Ruins and 240 km north of Keriya
March 13-17, 1901

Karadong had been discovered by Sven Hedin in 1896.

Stein writes:
Leaving my 'goods train' of camels to follow behind, I covered on February 26 to March 2, 1901 the distance from Niya back to Keriya, some 130 km, in two stages. After a few days in Keriya we reached the remains of Kara-dong, 240 km north on March 13, 1901. It proved a disappointment consisting mainly of one ruined quadrangle.

He abandoned the site on March 17, 1901 to return in 1907.

Wooden gateway to Stein's partially excavated quadrangle 1901

Ancient Khotan

Return: Khotan-Kashgar-Osh (Fergana) -Tashkent- by Train to London
See Placemarkers on Google Earth
May 12 -Jul 2, 1901

Of the journey which brought me back to Kashgar and thence through Russian Turkestan to England, the briefest account will suffice: Six rapid marches, diversified by the rare experience of gathering rain-clouds, carried me to Yarkand, where to my caravan had safely preceded me. It was fortunate that, owing to the short stay I was obliged to make at Yarkand for the settlement of my followers' accounts and debts, my collections escaped serious risk of damage from an abnormal burst of rain such as this region had not seen for long years. The downpour of two days and two nights turned all roads into quagmires and caused the mud-built walls of many houses in town and villages to collapse.

A ride of three days, in advance of my caravan, sufficed to bring me by May 12 to Kashgar, where, under Mr. Macartney's hospitable roof, the warmest welcome greeted me.
The Government of India in the Foreign Department had obtained for me permission from the authorities in St. Petersburg to travel through Russian Turkestan and to use the Trans-Caspian Railway for my return to Europe. I had also been authorized to take my collections for temporary deposit to England.
After a fortnight of busy work my preparations for the rest of the journey were completed, and all my antiques safely packed in twelve large boxes. They were duly presented at the Russian Consulate for customs examination—a most gently conducted one—and then received their seals with the Imperial eagle, which in spite of a succession of Continental customs barriers, I succeeded in keeping intact until I could unpack their contents in the British Museum.

On May 29, 1901, exactly a year after leaving Srinagar, I started from Kâshgar for Osh, the nearest Russian town in Farghana. By keeping in the saddle or on foot from early morning until nightfall I managed to cover the route from Kâshgar to Osh, reckoned at eighteen marches, within ten days. I arrived at Osh on June 7. Two days later, at Andijan, I reached the terminus of the Trans-Caspian Railway, which was now to carry me and my antiques in comfort and -safety towards Europe.

The few but delightful days which I spent at Samarkand mainly in visits to the great monuments of architecture of Timur's period, were unfortunately too short to permit of more than a glimpse of the important ancient site known as Afrosiyâb.

A day's stay at Merw allowed me to touch ground full of memories of ancient Iran. Then past the ruins of Göktepe, an historical site of more recent memories, the railway carried me to Krasnowodsk. From there I crossed the Caspian to Baku, and, finally, after long days in the train, I arrived in London on July 2, 1901.

There I was able to deposit the antiques unearthed from the desert sands in the British Museum as a safe temporary resting-place. It was a relief to find that the long and partly difficult transit of close on six thousand miles had caused but slight damage even to those most fragile of objects the reliefs of friable stucco, and that the eight hundred odd negatives on glass plates brought back as the photographic results of my journey were safe. But I soon realized that the successful completion of my exploratory labours, which had been rewarded by results far beyond long-cherished hopes, was also the commencement of a period of toil, the more trying because the physical conditions under which it had to be done were so different from those I had gone through.

Ancient Khotan