Sir Marc Aurel Stein (1862 – 1943): Stein Márk Aurél was a Hungarian archaeologist and scholar, mainly concerned with exploring ancient Central Asia. He studied at various European universities including Vienna, Leipzig, Oxford and Tubingen. He went on to become Principal of Oriental College in Lahore, Registrar of the Punjab University and finally Principal of Madrasa College, Calcutta.
Stein’s greatest discovery was made at the Mogao Caves also known as ‘Caves of the Thousand Buddhas’, near Dunhuang in 1907. It was there that he discovered the Diamond Sutra, the world’s oldest printed text which has a date (corresponding to AD 868), along with 40,000 other scrolls…
Stein joined the Survey in January 1904, becoming Inspector General of Education and Archaeological Surveyor in Baluchistan and in the territory of the Northwest Frontier Province, reorganised by Lord Curzon. Between 1910 and 1917, he was Superintendent of Archaeology in the North-West Frontier Province and Honorary Curator of the Peshawar Museum.
Meantime, he also made four major expeditions to Central Asia – in 1900, 1906-8, 1913-16 and 1930. One of his significant finds during his first journey during 1900-1901 was the Taklamakan Desert oasis of Dandan Oilik where he was able to uncover a number of relics. During his third expedition 1913-16, he excavated at Khara-Khoto.
He travelled widely both in Europe and America, exploring Swat, Blauchistan, and the Middle East. In Archaeological Reconnaissances in North-Western India and South-Eastern Iran he describes his explorations and excavations along the route of Alexander’s Campaign in the Punjab, in Persian Makran and South-Eastern Iran, and the Persian Gulf Coast.
The British Library’s Stein collection of Chinese, Tibetan and Tangut manuscripts, Prakrit wooden tablets, and documents in Khotanese, Uyghur, Sogdian and Eastern Turkic is the result of his travels through central Asia during the 1920s and 1930s. Stein discovered manuscripts in the previously lost Tocharian languages of the Tarim Basin at Marin and other oasis towns, and recorded numerous archaeological sites especially in Iran and Balochistan.
Stein’s greatest discovery was made at the Mogao Caves also known as ‘Caves of the Thousand Buddhas’, near Dunhuang in 1907. It was there that he discovered the Diamond Sutra, the world’s oldest printed text which has a date (corresponding to AD 868), along with 40,000 other scrolls (all removed by gradually winning the confidence of the Taoist caretaker). During 1901 Stein was responsible for exposing forgeries of Islam Akhun. During his expedition of 1906–1908 while surveying in the Kunlun Mountains of western China, Stein suffered frostbite and lost several toes on his right foot.
Sir Leonard Woolley called his expeditions ‘the most daring and adventuresome raid upon the ancient world that any archaeologist has attempted’.
In 1943 he gained permission to explore Afghanistan for the first time in 42 years of career as an explorer. Unfortunately, after arriving in Kabul he died, with fate having denying him the opportunity to explore the country.
Sir Leonard Woolley called his expeditions ‘the most daring and adventuresome raid upon the ancient world that any archaeologist has attempted’. Some people take a different view. China, home to the ‘Caves of a Thousand Buddhas’ excavated (and ‘looted’) by Stein, views him more as scholar-brigand.