Aurel Stein: A hundred years on

Silk Road Settlements

The soil of the Taklamakan is fertile and with irrigation it can support extensive agriculture. The southern oasis towns on the alluvial piedmont were dependent for their livelihood on the spring and summer meltwater from the mountains. Water was channeled through complex irrigation systems and stored in tanks for winter supplies.

The site of Cadota (Niya) was a thriving community from the first to the fourth century, becoming part of the larger kingdom of Kroraina by the third century. Farmsteads lined the Niya River for over 25 km into the Taklamakan Desert. Their residents cultivated orchards and vineyards, as well as keeping large herds of livestock.

Their substantial houses were built with frames made from local poplar wood, and these are often all that remains of them today. But objects discarded when the settlements were deserted provide a picture of life in these settlements. Also left behind were legal and administrative archives: manuscripts written on wood and leather in the Gandharan Prakrit language.

Karadong was on the route across the Taklamakan which followed the Keriya River. Here Stein discovered houses and a large rectangular complex that is now identified as a fortified post.

Plan of part of Niya, drawn by Stein.
Ancient Khotan, Vol. 2, Plan XXVII.

Plan of the Karadong quadrangle or fortified post, drawn by Stein.
Ancient Khotan, Vol. 2, Plan XXXVIII.

Chair leg made of carved and painted wood, with the top in the shape of a human head and the bottom carved as a horse's hoof. Excavated by Stein at Niya.
The British Museum, 1907,1111.92

Handmade clay amphora, excavated by Stein at Karadong.
The British Museum, MAS.520

A typical Niya wooden manuscript of pieces of inscribed wood placed text-side together and secured with strong and clay seals (Chinese characters and a Hellenistic head). Gāndhārī in kharoṣṭhī script. Excavated by Stein at Niya.

Spindle-whorl of lacquered wood with painted decoration of five-petalled flowers. Excavated by Stein at Niya.
The British Museum, MAS.548

Letter to the RGS written by Stein from his camp at Endere describing the manuscript finds at Niya and their seals, November 1906.
RGS, Stein CB7, f.51

Karadong fortified post after partial excavation by Stein, March 1901.
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Niya, a ruined farmstead showing wooden wall and roof beams, with Stein's plane table in the centre, January 1931.
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Niya, ruin identified by Stein as the local administrative office, December 1913.
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Niya, remains of bridge across the long-dry riverbed, December 1913.
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Niya, household implements mainly excavated by Stein from ruin N.IV. at Niya, January 1901.
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Niya, ruin N.I. before excavation, identified by Stein as a Buddhist monastery, January 1901.
The Library and Information Centre of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Stein Photo 5/2(45)

Niya, excavations at farmstead N.XXVI, showing carved roof beam (now in New Delhi), October 1906.
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Niya, excavations at farmstead N.XX. with ancient poplar tree, October 1906.
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Niya, farmstead N.XIII. after excavation, with ancient furniture and implements. Parts of the woven reed wall can be seen. October 1906.
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Karadong, dwelling Ka.I. during excavation, February 1908.
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Travellers at Karadong, February 1908.
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Karadong, jars, wooden lock and a screen from dwelling Ka.I., excavated by Stein, February 1908.
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Niya, remains of the bridge with flowering tamarisk in the ancient river bed, November 2011.
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Niya, farmstead N.XXIV., with desert where there were once fields and orchards, November 2011.
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Karadong fortified post, from the northern walls looking south, November 2011.
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Niya, farmstead N.III., with Idris Abdurusul, November 2011.
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Niya, remains of structure, possibly animal pens, to the northeast of farmstead N.VIII., November 2011.
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Niya, detail of base of woven reed wall supported with wooden posts, November 2011.
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Niya, farmstead N.XXIV. with standing posts and cross beams, November 2011.
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Niya, farmstead N.VIII. showing remains of several rooms, November 2011.
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Niya, with local guide Kaysar Mahmut, November 2011.
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Niya, rooms on the northeast side of farmstead N.II. showing horizontal timber foundation, November 2011.
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Niya, southern end of farmstead N.III. with fence and plan, November 2011.
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Karadong, Rachel Roberts with base of wooden pillar near fortified post, November 2011.
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Karadong, beams in central portion of interior of fortified post, November 2011.
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