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Detailed map showing the areas explored by Sir Aurel Stein

Detailed map showing the areas explored by Sir Aurel Stein

Astana

Astana lies south of Turfan on the northern Silk Road. It once served as a burial site for Kharakhoja, an important trade centre during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). Here Stein unearthed a stunning array of burial objects, including clay figurines, textiles, gold and silver coins, and thousand-year-old mortuary cakes, preserved in the dry heat of the desert. Ancient contracts for labour, land and grain purchases excavated at Astana and Kharakhoja show that carpets, rolls of silk, cotton and linen were often used as money.

The V&A holds several silk fragments, dating from the third to the sixth century. These include plain and pattern-woven pieces, some of which have been resist-dyed, painted and embroidered.

These figured silks incorporate decorative themes from Central Asia, Persia and China; reflecting the rich mingling of cultures which occurred along the Silk Road.


Karakhoja

Karakhoja lies south of Turfan, towards the eastern end of the northern Silk Road. The Chinese established a military post at Karakhoja in the fourth century AD, but it fell to successive nomadic groups until the Chinese regained it during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). Later, the Turkic Uygurs made Karakhoja their capital. Stein excavated its Buddhist shrines and cave-temples, finding for example Uygur text fragments, some textile fragments and fragments of stucco Buddha, some of them painted.

Ruined tombs, Karakhoja, Sir Marc Aurel Stein, 1914. Photo 392/28(613), © The British Library Board

View of northern group of ruined tombs, Karakhoja, Sir Marc Aurel Stein, 1914. Photo 392/28(613), © The British Library Board

Large ruined tombs, Karakhoja, Sir Marc Aurel Stein, 1914. Photo 392/29(158), © The British Library Board

Large ruined tombs, Karakhoja, Sir Marc Aurel Stein, 1914. Photo 392/29(158), © The British Library Board

Resist dyed silk fragment, Karakhoja, 800-1000 AD, plain weave in silk, resist dye, length 64 cm x width 21 cm. Museum no. LOAN:STEIN.542 (Kao.III.E.i.01.a), on loan from Government of India and the Archaeological Survey of India.

Resist dyed silk fragment, Karakhoja, 800-1000 AD, plain weave in silk, resist dye, length 64 cm x width 21 cm. Museum no. LOAN:STEIN.542 (Kao.III.E.i.01.a), on loan from Government of India and the Archaeological Survey of India.

The V&A holds on loan a piece of clamp-resist dyed silk from Karakhoja. This rectangular piece consists of six separate parts of textile stitched together. All parts are of plain woven red silk but with two different resist dyed patterns. Two pieces show a repeating design of five petalled flowers in cream while four pieces have a cream coloured design of repeating four petalled floral lozenges. Stein discovered this textile in the ruins of a sepulchral structure in the Uygur city of Karakhoja (Gaochang). It is possible that the textile piece had been used as some sort of cover.


Loulan

Loulan was once an important garrison town which lay between the Peishan and Taklamakan deserts on the Silk Road. The city was also a centre of Buddhist worship. When Sven Hedin explored the site in 1900, he discovered remains of a stupa, reliefs depicting Buddhas among lotuses, and statues of deities. This strategically important city is mentioned in Chinese records for the first time in 176 BC with the conquest by the Xiongnu, but the area fell under Chinese control around 100 BC. Located in the middle of the Silk Road, Loulan had contacts with many cultures, represented by hundreds of documents in Chinese, Indian Kharosthi, and Sogdian scripts which were unearthed by Hedin and Stein. A woollen cloth, which Stein found in a tomb, depicted the head of Hermes and his caduceus, or staff, in the classical style of western Asia. He also unearthed a number of mummies with feathered felt caps and arrow shafts by their sides, which indicated that a community of herdsmen and hunters had inhabited the region long before various conquests. Loulan flourished until the early fourth century AD, when it was abandoned, due to the desiccation of a nearby lake, Lop Nor.

Stupa ruins and remains of dwelling, Loulan, Sir Marc Aurel Stein, 1906. Photo 392/27(132), © The British Library Board

Stupa ruins and remains of dwelling, Loulan, Sir Marc Aurel Stein, 1906. Photo 392/27(132), © The British Library Board

Wooden enclosure of grave, Loulan, Sir Marc Aurel Stein, 1914. Photo 392/28(412), © The British Library Board

Wooden enclosure of grave, Loulan, Sir Marc Aurel Stein, 1914. Photo 392/28(412), © The British Library Board

View to the south from ruined stupa, Loulan, Sir Marc Aurel Stein, 1906. Photo 392/27(133), © The British Library Board

View to the south from ruined stupa, Loulan, Sir Marc Aurel Stein, 1906. Photo 392/27(133), © The British Library Board

Dead man found in grave, Loulan, Sir Marc Aurel Stein, 1914. Photo 392/28(421), © The British Library Board

Dead man found in grave, Loulan, Sir Marc Aurel Stein, 1914. Photo 392/28(421), © The British Library Board


 
The V&A holds on loan a large number of textiles from Loulan, including cotton, wool and figured silks, carpet and tapestry fragments.


Mingoi

Mingoi is located in the foothills of the Tianshan mountain range, on the northern Silk Road. Over a hundred Buddhist cave temples lend the site its name Mingoi, "The Thousand Dwellings". Stein explored a number of shrines here and found remains of colossal statues, fantastic carvings in wood, paintings and stucco reliefs. Depicted on the walls of the caves were Buddha legends, garlands of flowers, swags and tassels, fantastic canopies and mythological beasts. Stein found much evidence that the site had been occupied during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) and Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD). Many Chinese coins, dating later than the eight century, had been left as votive offerings. Uygur manuscripts and graffiti indicated that the site had been occupied while the Uygurs controlled the region in the ninth to tenth century. A large amount of fallen brickwork appeared to have been hardened by burning; evidence that the site had been consumed in a large blaze in the second half of the tenth century. The caves also yielded much information about textiles of the period. Many statues were clothed in patterned and embroidered garments of Chinese silk. At their bases, Stein found votive rags of silk and linen.

Entrance to cave temple 'B', Mingoi.

Entrance to cave temple 'B', Mingoi, Sir Marc Aurel Stein, 1907. Photo 392/27(358), © The British Lbrary Board (left). Same view, Victoria Swift, 2008. Photo 1187/2(48), © International Dunhuang Project (right)

Main group of cave temples, Mingoi.

Main group of cave temples, Mingoi, Sir Marc Aurel Stein, 1907. Photo 392/27(359), © The British Library Board (left). Same view, Victoria Swift, 2008. Photo 1187/2(55), © International Dunhuang project (right)

Cave temples near Korla, Mingoi, Victoria Swift, 2008. Photo 1187/2(56), © International Dunhuang Project

Cave temples near Korla, Mingoi, Victoria Swift, 2008. Photo 1187/2(56), © International Dunhuang Project

General view of Mingoi, Victoria Swift, 2008. Photo 1125/16(56), © International Dunhuang Project

General view of Mingoi, Victoria Swift, 2008. Photo 1125/16(56), © International Dunhuang Project

Head of Bodhisattva, Mingoi, Central Asia, 500-700 AD, baked clay. Museum no. LOAN:I A SURVEY.13 (Mi.xvi.0017), © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. On loan from Government of India and the Archaeological Survey of India.

Head of Bodhisattva, Mingoi, Central Asia, 500-700 AD, baked clay. Museum no. LOAN:I A SURVEY.13 (Mi.xvi.0017), © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. On loan from Government of India and the Archaeological Survey of India.

The V&A holds on loan several textiles from Mingoi, including plant fibres; plain and pattern woven silk, and also a number of terracotta bodhisattva heads, one of which is shown below. This stucco relief of a tile displays a Bodhisattva head in its centre. A bodhisattva is a saviour figure who delays his own nirvana to help others achieve enlightenment. The narrow head is in the late Gandharan style of eastern Central Asia. Originally coloured and complete with a background, the tile would have adorned one of the many Buddhist shrines at Ming-oi on the northern Silk Road. Ming-oi literally means “the Thousand Dwellings”, a term not solely confined to this specific site, but also to other temple sites. This tile has been accidentally burnt later on and now is blackened. It was recovered by Stein in 1907.


Ushak-tal

Stoneware sherd, Ushak-tal, 1000-1100 AD, length 4.45 cm x Width 4.13 cm. Museum no. LOAN:INDIA.36 (Ushak-tal.003), © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. On loan from Government of India and the Archaeological Survey of India

Stoneware sherd, Ushak-tal, 1000-1100 AD, length 4.45 cm x Width 4.13 cm. Museum no. LOAN:INDIA.36 (Ushak-tal.003), © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. On loan from Government of India and the Archaeological Survey of India

Ushak-tal lies between Karashahr and Turfan on the northern Silk Road. Stein believed that this section of the road once served as the main line of communication between Turfan and the northern oases of the Tarim Basin. Ushak-tal is the site of a walled enclosure built of layers of stamped clay and brushwood. There Stein found remains of a stable, fragments of pottery and glass, and a copper coin of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD).

The V&A holds on loan in its collection, a fragment of a green-glazed stoneware bowl with incised decoration, which probably dates from the Northern Song dynasty (960-1127 AD). This fragment of the rim of a stoneware bowl has a grey body and transparent, green glaze on either side. The incised decoration shows a combed pattern on the inside, and a plain band on the outside. Greenwares of this type were produced by the Huangbaozhen kilns in Yaozhou (now Tongchuan county), Shaanxi Province, northern China.  This bowl was probably made during the Northern Song dynasty, 11th - 12th century AD, and may have reached the site of Ushak-tal, near Karashahr on the northern part of the Silk Road, through trade.


Yar-khoto

Yar-khoto was an oasis town on the northern Silk Road. It served as the capital of Turfan until the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). Stein was impressed by the massive ruins at the site and visited repeatedly while excavating at the town of Turfan nearby. Among the remains of several Buddhist shrines he found fragments of stucco sculpture, a quilted shoe, and a bronze ornament depicting small gilded Buddha figures seated on a lotus branch. Numerous Chinese copper coins dating to the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) indicated that the site had been occupied during this time.

Large mansion, Yar-khoto, Sir Marc Aurel Stein, 1915. Photo 392/29(263), © The British Library Board

Large mansion, Yar-khoto, Sir Marc Aurel Stein, 1915. Photo 392/29(263), © The British Library Board

Ruins of large structures in centre of northern area, Yar-khoto, Sir Marc Aurel Stein, 1915. Photo 392/29(259), © The British Library Board

Ruins of large structures in centre of northern area, Yar-khoto, Sir Marc Aurel Stein, 1915. Photo 392/29(259), © The British Library Board

General view of stupa group, Yar-khoto, Sir Marc Aurel Stein, 1915. Photo 392/29(217), © The British Library Board

General view of stupa group, Yar-khoto, Sir Marc Aurel Stein, 1915. Photo 392/29(217), © The British Library Board

Ruins, Yar-khoto, Collin Chinnery, 1999. Photo 1118/1(82), © International Dunhuang Project

Ruins, Yar-khoto, Collin Chinnery, 1999. Photo 1118/1(82), © International Dunhuang Project

Head of Buddha, Yar-khoto, Central Asia, 10th to 11th Century AD, moulded clay, length 26.67 cm x width 20.3 cm. Museum no. LOAN:I A SURVEY.11 (Y.K.iv.001), © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. On loan from Government of India and the Archaeological Survey of India

Head of Buddha, Yar-khoto, Central Asia, 10th to 11th Century AD, moulded clay, length 26.67 cm x width 20.3 cm. Museum no. LOAN:I A SURVEY.11 (Y.K.iv.001), © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. On loan from Government of India and the Archaeological Survey of India

A larger than life Buddha's head from Yar-khoto is included in the V&A Stein collection. The head originally came from an over life-size statue. The whole was painted in pink with the eyeballs painted in white. The holes for the pupils are now empty, but were probably filled with stone or paint. Directly below the under lip is a round hole, around which are remains of white paint covered with blue. The surface of nose, forehead and left side of the face are lost. It was found in a passage on the back of a platform in an ruined Buddhist shrine at the site of Yar-khoto (Jiaohe). The ancient city of Yar-khoto was built on a high cliff to the west of Turfan and once was an important administrative centre as it was located at the junction of the Silk Roads north and south of the Tianshan Mountain range.

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