Aurel Stein: A hundred years on

Landscape

Tamarisk cones are a ubiquitous and striking feature of the Taklamakan — mounds formed where the dense roots of this plant have prevented the sand from blowing away. It is remarkable how little these have changed since Stein’s day: many of our shots were matched using these natural landmarks. Even though water courses have changed, flash floods from summer melt in the surrounding mountains sometimes cause long dormant seeds to sprout, as in the ancient riverbed at Niya. Over many seasons the receding waters leave behind clay layers which, like the tamarisk cones, stand proud of the surrounding sand.

Around the existing rivers there are still forests of white and black poplars, while their desiccated ancestors emerge from the desert dunes. The wood continues to be used for building, while leaves and sap have many other uses, including as a yellow dye, a medicine and soap. The reeds growing in the riverbeds are also harvested and used as fences for the animal pens. Around the abandoned desert settlements, the dried remains of mulberry trees attest the former fertility of these now arid regions.

Tamarisk cone left in middle of Keriya river after it has changed course, with Tokhta Pawan, February 1908.
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Ancient vineyard seen from foot of a tamarisk cone at Niya, January 1931.
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Eroded tamarisk cone with Musa, February 1931.
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Ancient defensive wall smothered by tamarisk cones north of Dunhuang, April 1914.
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Tamarisk cones on route to Endere, November 2008.
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Tamarisk cones on route to Endere, November 2008.
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Tamarisk cones at Miran, November 2008.
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Entrance to Niya with tamarisk, November 2011.
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Niya, panorama from top of tamarisk cone, which Stein marked as his 'Photo Station', from left to right showing farmstead with tank, then bridge, old river bed and another farmstead with ancient vineyard, October 1906.
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Niya, panorama from top of tamarisk cone, Stein's 'Photo Station', from left to right showing farmstead with tank, then bridge, flowering tamarisk in old river bed and another farmstead with ancient vineyard, November 2011.
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Niya, panorama from top of tamarisk cone, which Stein marked as his 'Photo Station', from left to right showing farmstead with tank, then bridge, old river bed and another farmstead with ancient vineyard, October 1906.
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Niya, panorama from top of tamarisk cone, Stein's 'Photo Station', from left to right showing farmstead with tank, then bridge, flowering tamarisk in old river bed and another farmstead with ancient vineyard, November 2011.
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Niya, ancient desiccated poplar, November 2011.
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Trees on riverside at Kizil, November 2008.
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Niya, ancient desiccated poplar, November 2011.
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Arbour of ancient mulberry trees at Niya with Musa, January 1931.
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Jiang with black poplar near Keriya, June 1908.
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Dead poplars on route to Abad, November 1913.
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Ancient trees among tamarisk cones to the northeast of N.XXXIX. at Niya, December 1913.
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Mulberry avenue south of farmstead N.XVIII. at Niya. Stein's dog Dash and Ram Singh standing beside tree, October 1906.
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Shack among trees, Domoko, June 1908.
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Ancient tree next to farmstead N.XX. at Niya during excavation, October 1906.
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Poplar forest near first camp on route to Niya, January 1931.
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Endere river, November 2008.
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Niya, tree and side of ancient tank, N.VIII., November 2011.
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Keriya River beside the road to Daheyan, November 2011.
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Tank in front of Ruknuddin Mazar, August 1906.
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Hedin's Pool on the Khotan River, November 1913.
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Endere River from the west, December 1913.
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Bridge in gorge below Wundargah, June 1931.
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Keriya river with Ibrahim Beg and labourer with cyclometer, June 1908.
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Lake on the Keriya River, June 1908.
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Cliff at Mazar Tagh, November 2008.
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Yardangs (eroded rock or bedrock) south of Endere fort, November 2008.
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Mountains from Melikawat near Khotan, November 2008.
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Ruins on north face of Tumshuk-tagh with horses, April 1931.
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Ruin and yardang near Endere stupa, November 1906.
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Ruins and yardangs at Niya, with Ibrahim, October 1906.
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Yardangs near Loulan, Lop Desert, February 1914.
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Route through the mountain passes, May 1931.
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Eroded cliffs in gorge on way to Karayulghun, April 1931.
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Gorge with cliffs of red clay below Toghradong, April 1931.

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Conglomerate cliffs below which route passes to Chong-tokai, September 1913.
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