Portrait of Sir Aurel Stein  

Aurel Stein (1862 - 1943) was born in Budapest. He was educated there and in Dresden for secondary school, where he learned German, classical Greek and Latin, then at the Universities of Vienna and Tubingen. He was adept at learning languages and was among the early students of Sanskrit. He moved to England and received a doctorate from Oxford. He was recalled to Hungary for military service, which he performed by study at the Hungarian military topographic survey establishment. Thus he was uniquely qualified for his life-long chosen career.

From England is moved to India to make use of his skill in Sanskrit for translating ancient texts. He was employed by the Government of India at the Oriental College in Lahore and as registrar of the Punjab University. But he felt the duties inhibited his real calling, the study of ancient societies (civilizations) based on direct archeological research as well as study of documents. He spent his vacation days living in a tent on a high hill in Kashmir, translating Sanskrit and writing reports. Otherwise, he used every possible moment to conduct surveys with archeological purposes throughout western India, the area in which much Buddhist architecture remained. He learned more local languages and became an expert on Buddhist art and iconography.

By virtue of his persistent pestering of official government he finally received support for his first expedition across the mountains into Chinese Turkestan (1900-1901). With the 'Great Game" going on the Indian government was interested in the survey and mapping as much as the discovery of ancient remains. The results he obtained from recovery of extensive collections from buried ruins in the desert made him already famous.

He returned to India and resumed drudgery in his official duties. But he gained the interest of British officials so that further persistent letter-writing resulted in his obtaining even more official support for a more extensive campaign of exploration, surveying and archeological digging in Chinese Turkestan - 1906-08. During this second expedition not only did he find and retrieve many more rare artifacts from desert sites and complete extensive triangulation surveying of deserts and mountains, but also he located hundreds of miles of the ancient Han Dynasty wall at the eastern border of the Tarim Basin. But the most spectacular result was his retrieval of hundreds of rare manuscripts and paintings from a hidden 'library' at the "Cave of the Thousand Buddhas" near Tun-huang.

Back in India he again resumed archeological surveying and study in western and north-western India (mostly Pakistan today). More determination resulted in his receiving official support for a third, even longer, expedition throughout Chinese Turkestan and Kansu, China, and then through Persia (around Afghanistan) and back to India from 1913 to 1916, with even more spectacular results, duly publicized in Europe. By this time the new, post-revolutionary Chinese government recognized what he was doing. Jealousy of Chinese scholars and officials resulted in edicts to prohibit him from taking more artifacts, which aborted his planned fourth expedition. So far I have not located a report for this fourth expedition although it is mentioned by his biographers.

Meanwhile he continued to explore in India. He determined the location of Arnos, the mountain fastness captured by Alexander the Great. He also explored Alexander's route through the Gedrosia desert. After World War I brought British and French control of Mesopotamia from the Ottomans, he conducted surveys Iran, Iraq and Trans-Jordan, some by air.
His strongest life-long desire was to study the scenes of Alexander the Great's exploits in Afghanistan (as well as the routes taken by medieval travelers such as Marco Polo). He had obtained special and brief permission from the Afghan king to enter the furthermost north-east corner of the country in the Wakhan corridor en route to China on a previous expedition. But after that no permissions were to come until during World War II, in 1943. Then tragedy came as he no sooner arrived in Kabul than he took sick and died there in October. He was buried there in a ceremony attended by assembled international dignitaries.


In recent years there has been greatly expanded interest in the entire phenomena of the explorations of Chinese Central Asia - Xinjiang. During the decades either side of 1900 there was a veritable rush of European and Japanese explorers, adventurers, and even skilled scientists to surpass each other in public aclaim for their exploits in this then quite unkown region. This was the age of Shakelton and Petrie - the discovery of Tutkhamen's tomb and the Assyrian archives. There are now two major efforts that I know of to collect and publish the results of these explorations on the Internet. The British Museum has organized an international consortium called The International Dunhuang Project - IDP - here is a link to find info on Aurel Stein
There also is the Serindia project organized by National Institute of Informatics - Digital Silk Road Project - Digital Archives of Toyo Bunko Rare Books. Here is a link to their section related to Aurel Stein - http;//
Both these groups are publishing copious materials on the Internet.


Among his publications are: Chronicle of the Kings of Kashmir (translated from Sanskrit);
"Preliminary Report of a Journey of Archaeological and Topographic Exploration in Chinese Turkestan" (1901) An official report but a copy cannot be located in the US.
Ancient Khotan - official report of the first expedition;
Sand Buried Ruins of Khotan 1903 - personal narrative of the first expedition;
Ruins of Desert Cathay - 1907 - personal narrative of the second expedition;
Serindia 5 volumes - 1912 - official report of the second expedition;
Innermostasia 5 volumes - 1928 - official report of the third expedition;
"A Third Journey of Exploration in Central Asia, 1913-1916", in The Geographical Journal for August and September, 1916, xlviii, pp. 97-130, 193 -229. The personal narrative of the third expedition;

Memoir on Maps of Chinese Turkistan and Kansu: From the Surveys made During Sir Aurel Stein's Explorations 1900-1, 1906-8, 1913-15; - 1923 - A summary of the three expeditions focused on the surveying and description of the topography followed by detailed discussion of the set of 40 maps.
On Alexander's Track to the Indus - in which he claimed to have located Arnos;
The Thousand Buddhas - about the finding at the 'caves'; an excellent discussion on Buddhist iconography in general and the specific ancient samples found at Tun-huang.
A Catalogue of Paintings Recovered from Tun-huang - also about the Buddhist art;
An Archaeological Tour of Gedrosia - exploration along Alexander's route in the desert;
Archaeological Reconnaissances in S. E. Iran ;
On Old Routes of Western Iran; -
On Ancient Central Asian Tracks - 1933 - a narrative including events from the three expeditions in Chinese Turkestan.
"Johnson's map and topography of the K'un-lun south of Khotan" in Alpine Journal 1921, xxxiv, pp 562 sq.

His official and personal correspondence was continuous throughout his journeys and is now in libraries and archives. It was used by two recent biographers.


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