This book is meant to present a succinct account of the explorations, antiquarian and geographical, which I had the good fortune to carry out in Chinese Turkistan and adjacent parts of innermost Asia. The years spent on hard travel in those little-known regions, difficult of access and trying in their physical features, remain among the happiest memories of my life. But more strenuous still and longer were the years needed for the elaboration of the abundant scientific results which my three Central-Asian expeditions had yielded.
By the publication of personal narratives on the first two journeys and of eleven heavy quarto volumes of detailed reports on all three, I may well believe my duty done in the matter of record. But with the exception of Rains of Desert Cathay, containing a full account of the personal experiences on my second expedition (1906-08), all the above publications have long ago passed out of print and are now difficult to secure.
Since the last of those labors were disposed of, fully twenty-seven years after my return from the first journey, I have been free to turn to new fields of archeological exploration farther south. But my recollections of those fruitful years spent in the deserts and mountains of innermost Asia are still as fresh and cherished as before. So when the President of Harvard University kindly invited me to deliver a course of lectures at the Lowell Institute, Boston, I gladly availed myself of the opportunity offered to describe the travels and discoveries of those years in a condensed form suited for a wider public.
Considering the great extent and varied character of the explorations, it would have been still more difficult to achieve the requisite condensation had I not been able adequately to illustrate my account of them on the screen. This need made itself felt also when presenting here these lectures in print with suitable additions and changes. Hence I must feel grateful for the discerning consideration of my publishers which has rendered it possible to provide sufficient illustrations both of the scenes of my explorations and of the funds that rewarded them at ancient sites.
Before taking the reader to the distant region of Asia over which those explorations extended, it seemed necessary to sketch in broad outlines its characteristic physical features. Equally helpful it appeared to give a summary account of the history of which that region had been the scene for the last 2,000 years, and for which it was destined mainly by its geography. For these introductory chapters I was able to avail myself largely of what I had occasion to set forth in my lecture on "Innermost Asia: Its Geography as a Factor in History, "delivered in 1925 before the Royal Geographical Society.
In the course of three long expeditions carried over a vast area where practicable routes are limited by great natural obstacles, it was unavoidable that geographical considerations and archeological tasks should cause certain parts of it to be visited by me more than once. This circumstance has made it advisable to order my account of the chief phases in my exploratory work according to the localities which witnessed them, instead of adhering to strict chronological sequence.
The results of those expeditions, extending altogether over close on seven years, could not have been achieved had I not from their start, and all through the years which the study and record of the results claimed, enjoyed very willing and effective help from many sides. Preceding publications have afforded me welcome opportunities to acknowledge these manifold obligations in detail. Here I must be content with the briefest record of gratitude.
To the enlightened support of the Indian Government, which I was privileged to serve first in its Educational Service and later in its Archaeological Survey, I owe my largest debt for requisite freedom and means to carry out my chosen tasks. The authorities of the British Museum, besides providing a share in the cost of my second expedition, gave very valuable help by granting accommodation for the arrangement and study of the antiquities brought back from all my journeys and allowing expert scholars on their staff to aid in these tasks.
On the geographical side I feel greatly indebted to the Survey of India, which provided me in the field with well-trained and hardworking Indian Surveyors and at considerable expense published the results of the topographical surveys, carried out by them under my direction and with my assistance, in successive large series of maps. In the same direction the Council of the Royal Geographical Society has at all times accorded me generous help and encouragement, as attested by their grant in 1909 of the Founder's Gold Medal.
It would have been quite impossible for me to do justice to the varied interest and importance of the antiquities discovered, including abundant relics of ancient arts and crafts as well as early manuscript remains in a dozen or so of different languages, had not a large number of distinguished Orientalist scholars and students of Eastern art most readily offered their expert collaboration. The names of such valued helpers are far too many for individual mention in this place. So I must rest content with the references made in some chapters to those scholars to whom the elucidation of particularly important classes of documentary finds is due.
In connection with the present volume I have to record my special thanks to the Government of India in the Department of Education, Lands and Health for permission to use here a selection of photographs taken by me on my journeys, as well as to the High Commissioner for India in London who authorized the reproduction from my detailed reports (Ancient Khotan; Serindia; Innermost Asia) of plates illustrating certain antiques. For the accompanying map I am obliged to the Secretary of the Royal Geographical Society, who kindly allowed it to be reproduced from the one published with the above quoted paper in the Geographical Journal. With regard to the arrangement of the illustrative materials it affords me special gratification to acknowledge the same valuable help which my artist friend and assistant, Mr. Fred H. Andrews, O.B.E., has kindly rendered me for all my previous publications. To Mr. George A. Macmillan I owe sincere gratitude for his kindness in looking over my text with special regard to the needs of the general reader. Nor ought I to omit mention of the excellent work of Messrs. Henry Stone and Son, Banbury, on the color plates, which affords a guarantee for the faithfulness of these reproductions.
For the last thirty years the tasks entailed by the results of my explorations have imposed upon me prolonged periods of desk work in civilization, more exacting to me in some ways than efforts in the field. That most of this work could be done under the sheltering care and with the constant encouragement of those kindest of friends under whose ever hospitable roof I now write is a boon for which I cannot feel too grateful.
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In this volume of his exploration Sir Aurel Stein presents the accounts of the vast deserts of Central Asia from 1900 to 1916 during which he was guided principally by the accounts of two earlier travelers Marco Polo and Hsuantsang. He covered more than 25,000 miles on foot and sometimes by ponyback with a force consisting of few Muslims of the Indian survey department with a handful of caravan men and a motley band of local recruits for digging. He unearthed a host of oasis settlements and salvaged an immense amount of material which a loaded onto camels and eventually shipped to Delhi and London for study and display.
Sir Aurel Stein (1862-1943) carried out archaeological explorations for more than forty - five years. He is the author of many books, including Chronicle of Kings of Kashmir, On Alexander's Track to the Indus, and On Old Routes of Western Iran.
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