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It was the Taklamakan Desert expedition (Hedin’s First Expedition, 1893-97) by the Swedish explorer Sven Hedin(Portrait of Hedin(4)) that paved the way for the great expedition rush to follow Having studied geography, Hedin’s main concern was to explore unknown areas in order to fill in the blank spots on the world map.
He was attracted at the same time by the antiquities that were found one after another, and was also fascinated by a legend told in the Tarīm Basin about an “ancient city asleep beneath the desert”.
It was Hedin’s mentor Ferdinand von Richthofen who gave him an important insight which would affect the course of the expedition.
Richthofen, who was studying the aridificationof Western America and Western Central Asia, thought that Central Asia once covered by the ocean and that civilization came into being in areas around where certain portions of the sea had dried up.
His interest in desertification drew his attention to the Tarīm Basin, and it was he who suggested Hedin to research the area.
The antiquities excavated from Khōtan that the Russian consul Nikolai Petrovsky in Kashgar showed Hedin further encouraged Hedin to make the to Khōtan.
Entering the Taklamakan Desert north-northeastward from Khōtan in mid January 1896, Hedin found a site of ruins buried under quicksand.
The news of the discovery of an “Ancient City of the Taklamakan” (later known as the “Ancient City of Sven Hedin”) created a huge impact with scholars in Europe. It was this discovery which first proved that the legend was not just a fairy tale.
For his second expedition (1899-1902), Hedin went out to search for more information on Lake Lop Nor, whih had been shrouded in so much mystery. During his search, however, he located the legendary city Loulan.
At Loulan, Hedin excavated several ancient graves, recorded the mummies in photographs and sketches, and carried out simple research, such as taking samples textiles found on the mummies. It was clear that a full-scale excavation project of the site would result in a significant archaeological accomplishment.
Hedin, however, was satisfied by the sole fact that he was the one who first rediscovered the city. Since he was not an archaeological specialist, he thought that the site should be left to the hands of those archaeologists who would follow him. And indeed, the explorers who followed in Hedin footsteps made full use of the information that he left concerning the archaeological site.
Hedin would also influence later explorers in regard to exploring techniques. For example, during the dangerous journey across the Taklamakan Desert, Hedin barely managed to survive with no water for 5 days, losing his fellow expedition members and camels one by one.
Hedin’s experiences in the desert would be a gold mine of information and advice for later explorers who could learn from his mistakes and experiences.
Furthermore, the maps that he drew over his journeys across the vast Tarīm Basin became a guide for finding the ancient cities tucked deep in the desert. Hedin staked his life to become a great pioneer of the Central Asian desert.
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