Aurel Stein: A hundred years on

Tibetan Forts

The empires surrounding the Tarim all sought control of the region and its trade routes. In the mid-eighth century the Tibetan Empire moved northward into the Tarim Basin, following the withdrawal of Chinese forces owing to civil war in central China. The Tibetans built military forts at strategic positions.

Mazar Tagh fort stands on a bluff overlooking the Khotan river on a route through the Taklamakan. It guarded the northern boundaries of Khotan. Miran fort is on the site of an older settlement of the Krorainan kingdom and protected the routes along the southern Taklamakan and south to the Tibetan plateau. Endere fort also guards the route south.

About a century later when the Tibetan armies withdrew, the forts were abandoned, along with the rubbish heaps left by the soldiers. Stein’s excavations uncovered over a thousand Tibetan documents on wood and paper. He also unearthed broken armour, spear heads, bags and other discarded artefacts. These offer a glimpse into the life of Tibetan soldiers at this time.

Plan of Mazar Tagh fort drawn by Stein.
Serindia, Vol. 3, Plan LLIX.

Plan of Endere fort drawn by Stein.
Ancient Khotan, Vol. 2, Plan XXXVI.

Woollen bag excavated by Stein at Miran fort.
The British Museum, MAS.1128

Ink sketch on paper of a camel suckling her calf excavated by Stein at Endere fort.
The British Museum, 1907,1111.136

Two paper fragments in Tibetan concerning 'evil foods' and divination, excavated by Stein at Mazar Tagh fort.
Or.15000/76

Plan of Miran fort drawn by Stein.
Serindia, Vol. 3, Plan XXXVI.

Manuscript on paper of two religious poems in Tibetan excavated by Stein from Endere fort.
Or.8212/173

Tallies on wood concerning military supplies in Tibetan excavated by Stein from Mazar Tagh and Miran forts.
IOLTib N 1107, IOL Tib N 1541, IOL Tib N 1111, IOL Tib N 710 & 715

Miran fort showing large bastion on the south wall, January 1907.
Photo 392/27(109)

Endere fort, walls and remains of the south gate, November 1906.
Photo 392/27(102)

Mazar Tagh fort and watchtower with the Khotan river in background, April 1908.
Photo 392/26(717)

Mazar Tagh fort showing the northwest side, with Khasim and Tokhta, November 1913.
Photo 392/28(277)

Mazar Tagh fort, showing the refuse slopes below the former stables, April 1908.
Photo 392/26(706)

Mazar Tagh fort, showing the main hall from the east wall, April 1908.
Photo 392/26(722)

Mazar Tagh fort viewed from the north across the bend of the Khotan River, November 1913.
Photo 392/28(278)

Ismail Akhun arriving at Mazar Tagh, November 1913.
Photo 392/28(271)

Mazar Tagh fort from the right bank of the Khotan River, April 1908.
Photo 392/26(714)

Endere fort showing the temple and rooms inside the walls, November 1906.
Photo 392/27(103)

Miran fort showing the rooms inside the walls, January 1907
Photo 392/27(150)

Storage jars excavated from Miran fort, November 1906.
Photo 392/26(207)

Miran fort showing the rubbish-filled rooms inside the walls, January 1907.
Photo 392/27(149)

Ruin of domed structure to the southwest of Miran fort, January 1907.
Photo 392/27(154)

Mazar Tagh fort seen from the northwest with river in background, November 2008.
Photo 1125/16(479)

Miran fort showing large bastion on the south wall, November 2008.
Photo 1187/2(60)

Mazar Tagh fort and watchtower with the flood-bed of the Khotan River in background, November 2008.
Photo 1125/16(477)

Endere fort, wall and remains of the south gate, November 2008.
Photo 1187/2(209)

Mazar Tagh fort with Idris Abdurusul, Matkasim Tomur and Li Wenying from XJIA, November 2008
Photo 1125/16(445)

Shrine at Mazar Tagh looking down over the flood-bed of the Khotan River, November 2008.
Photo 1125/16(447)

Shrine at Mazar Tagh with fort in background, November 2008.
Photo 1125/16(452)

Mazar Tagh fort, detail of the corner of south bastion showing construction method, November 2008.
Photo 1125/16(481)

Mazar Tagh fort from the watchtower, with Khotan River in background, November 2008.
Photo 1125/16(463)

Miran fort from the east with IDP group, November 2008.
Photo 1187/2(115)

Miran fort showing the southeast corner, November 2008.
Photo 1187/2(117)

Matkasim Tomur with a carved wooden beam from Endere fort, November 2008.
Photo 1187/2(227)

Endere fort showing remains of buildings in the northwest section, November 2008.
Photo 1125/16(291)

TOP