The expert of research: Marc Aurel Stein
The first archaeologist who followed Hedin’s route to the Taklamakan sites was Marc Aurel Stein (Portrait of Stein(5)). Stein is the person who best utilized the information gleaned from Hedin’s explorations for his own explorations and research.
Stein called himself an “archaeologist explorer” and was the first person to carry out full-scale archaeological research in Central Asia. Slowly but surely Stein would proceed in a way unprecedented to excavate and researchthe sites of long-buried cities in the desert.
One of the first times we find Stein referring to Hedin’s work can be found in his writings about his discovery of Dandān-Uiliq(6). This important discovery of Dandan-Uiliq occurred during his first expedition in the Taklamakan (1898-1900).
He had started off excavating the ancient city ruins of Yōtkan (Photo of Yōtkan(7), Pieces of Terracottas Excavated from Yōtkan(8)) near Khōtan, along the Southern Route of the Silk Road, and there he had had his team buy antiquities and collect information from local people concerning other possible sites.
Through this information gathering, Stein became convinced that the ruins known by the locals as “Dandān-Uiliq” were all in probability the same site that Hedin had called the “Ancient City of Taklamakan.” And, with this conviction, he made up his mind to follow Hedin’s map and to uncover the site for himself.
There are other instances as well of Stein utilizing Hedin’s data in his research. The map that Hedin had drawn during his excavation of Loulan proved to be very useful when Stein began his own excavations there during his second expedition (1906-08).
Stein praised the accuracy of Hedin’s maps, and not only did he rely on Hedin’s maps, but when putting together his expedition teams went to some lengths to locate and hire locals who had served on Hedin’s expeditions.
Stein also gained much about exploration of the area from his reading of Hedin’s works. It was Hedin’s bitter experiences that taught Stein the basics about how to succeed in his work in the severe conditions of the deserts.
One essential tip he gleaned was that expeditions into the heart of the desert were only possible in winter when water can be transported in the form of ice. Another tip gleaned from reading Hedin was that it was useful to offer a monetary prize to the person who uncovered a valuable artifact or excavation clue during expeditions.
Stein gained such practical advice, learning from his predecessor’s experience as he prepared for his own explorations.
“There is yet another request which I must trouble with you. Sven Hedin’s account leads me to believe that my work in the desert would be made far easier by the use of a portable well-sinking apparatus….
Now I remember from my military course of instruction that portable well-sinking apparatus of the Norton pattern has been used with great advantage in desert tracts during the Abyssinian war and by French expeditions in the Sahara region.
I should very much like to find out what would be the approximate weight of a Norton well apparatus capable of penetrating to a depth of 30 feet, and what it would cost.
I should require an apparatus as light as possible yet fit for the purpose.… I may add that the soil to be bored into consists of sand with layers of clay.” (From “Sir Aurel Stein: Archaeological Explorer”, Volume I, p.87.)
In addition to the information from past expeditions, Stein was also very attentive to the latest information and technologies which he could make use of during his own explorations. One of his most important sources was the British diplomatic representative George Macartney, who lived in Kashgar. The situation behind Macartney holding such ample information was as follows.
At that time, for any foreign mission or expedition to be granted permission to enter Central Asia, it was necessary to visit either the Russian or the British consulate in Kashgar to obtain the various permits and to make other necessary arrangements.
The Russian consul Nikolay Fyodorovich Petrovsky, while he was a learned and erudite man with thorough knowledge of the area, was known to be arrogant and difficult to go along with. As a consequence, most foreign expedition leaders tended to look to the other consul, George Macartney of Britain for assistance.
And, with so many people passing through his doors, Macartney came to be one of the most informed men in Central Asia. In addition to information brought to him by visitors and scholars to the area, like the Russian consul, he also had extensive intelligence networks across the Central Asian region for political reasons.
A British citizen, Stein had a good advantage in gaining information from Macartney, and at the same time, he became aware of the progress of other expeditions working in the area from Macartney. This information aided Stein in planning for his own expeditions.
“It is a relief to know that ‘the party’ will stick to Kuchar [a northern oasis] and may the genius loci and Grünwedel’s personal disposition keep it there until I have got to Lop-nor. It illustrates what I always held to be the drawback of parties…. Pelliot & the Frenchmen are to set out from France ‘in the spring.’ I am wicked enough to wish that the Russian route might continue to be barred even then.” (From “Sir Aurel Stein: archaeological explorer”, Volume I, p.231.)
“… Macartney helps me most vigorously to push on with my preparations & thus to keep my start.... Up to the present my French rivals have not turned up…. The Germans are about Korla [an oasis in the north] and apparently undecided whether to go on to China – or India. M., of course, watches their plans and movements.” (From “Sir Aurel Stein: Archaeological Explorer”, Volume I, p.238.)
We can see from this the way Stein’s expeditions was based on his careful and elaborate preparations which were themselves based on what he had learned from the experiences of his predecessors and his information-gathering from Macartney on other teams working in the area.
Stein’s careful planning and thoroughness can be assumed by his expedition preparation times which were extraordinarily longer than that of the other explorers.
Stein, however, not only used information from other sources but he also left many records of his own for the times to come. His own expeditions were primarily excavations done in the severe environment of the desert, and therefore his work was performed under many intense difficulties with a number of limitations.
But it was conducted with incredible preciseness - maps of sites and plans of ruins were drawn without exception and every single spot where antiquities were excavated was recorded. Furthermore, Stein published each and every accomplishment in a detailed research report.
This is an outstanding accomplishment among his fellow explorers of the Central Asian region.