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KHARA-KHOTO -RUIN

 
     
 

Sir Aurel Stein visited this ruin in the delta of the Etsin-gol during his third expedition. The fortress city was named Etsina by Marco Polo. The Chinese name now is Heicheng. Here we have made photos of some of the illustrations in Stein's report, Innermostasia. The photography is poor, but hopefully will give the reader some idea of the extense of this remarkable ruin. Innermostasia is among the books by Aurel Stein included in the Silk Road project on the Internet but viewing a selection of photos of the fortifications is not as convenient. I have also made copies from sections of Stein's maps to show the general location.


 
 

Stein was the second famous archeologist-explorer to visit Khara-khoto. The Russian, Pyotr Kozlov, visited twice from 1908 and removed extensive artifacts to St. Petersburg leaving relatively little for Stein in comparison with what Stein uncovered in other locations.

 
 

A Google search finds many web sites with articles and or photos of this remarkable ancient city.
Stein's books are included on the web site of the Silk Road project - Toko {short description of image}
There is a Wikipedia entry - {short description of image}
Also a National Geographic article {short description of image}Some very recent photos are spectacular and show the ruin has had some restoration but it essentially the same as in Stein's photos.
An excellent article by a Russian, A. Andreyhev, focused on the work of Pyotr Kozlov. {short description of image}

 
 

Khara-Khoto is located at 101 degrees 25 min East Longitude and 41 degrees 44 minutes north Latitude.
The area was controlled by the Hsiung-nu and Great Yueh-chih before the Han Chinese expanded their domain westward. Later was controlled by the Uighur, and Tanguts before Chingis Khan's Mongols arrived in 1225. The city was occupied by the Hsi-hsia from 1032 to 1227 and then by the Mongols until 1366. The nearest town was Dashoba to the north on the other side of the Etsin-gol. Aduna-kora was a smaller walled fort 2 miles to the northwest. It had inner wall 20 feet thick and outer wall 12 feet thick both made of stamped clay. The inner enclosure was 83 yards square and the outer 220 yards east to west and 180 yards north to south. There were gates in the south and east faces. Stein found pottery there from the Sung Dynasty. Both Aduna-kora and Dashoba are shown on the maps listed below.

 
 

The description from Stein's report - Innermostasia.

 
 

Section II - Khara-khoto and its Remains

On 26 May Stein had recruited a dozen local Mongols as laborers along with extra camels. They all started for Khara-khoto. About 2.5 miles from the river they found the first fort. It had walls 12 feet thick and 24 feet high enclosing an area of 49 feet square. The solid bricks were 14 x 8 x 6 inches laid with reeds between every sixth course. They found no remains. They continued south east across the gravel on which was the usual potsherds including fine glazed ware from Sung era. They next found the fort called Aduna-kora. {short description of image}. It was built of two walled enclosures one inside the other. Both were built of stamped clay with the inner walls 20 feet thick and the outer walls 12 feet thick. In both the north and west walls were very badly eroded due to wind and rain. {short description of image}. The inner fort was about 83 yards square and the outer walls enclosed an area 220 yards east to west by 180 yards north-south. The inner gate was in the center of its southern wall. The outer gate was on its east side and protected by a bastion and court some 40 feet square. Stein found no structural remains. Sung era potsherds were found along with 5 Chinese copper coins, 4 from T'ang era and one from 990-1004 AD. Since the ruin of Khara-khoto was another 10 miles east, Stein concluded that this fort nearer the river was used as a convenient way-station for caravans proceeding along the river that didn't want to stop at Khara-khoto. Beyond the for the ground became more sandy. They sighted the high walls of the city while still 8 miles or so from it. Stein remarks that this sight was the most impressive that he had ever seen in the desert. Besides the walls there was a very large stupa on a big bastion. {short description of image}. They soon saw also a Muhammadan tomb near the southwest corner {short description of image}. Stein used this structure for storage and pitched his tent beside it. The men used the inside of a bastion guarding the western town gate for shelter. There was a huge sand drift against the west wall {short description of image}.

Stein describes how impressive the huge fortress city was in the middle of total desolation. He noted the dry bed of a river than skirted the walls. As usual, Stein promptly sent Afraz-gul off to search the desert to the northeast. He had obtained information from a local Mongol that there was another ruins in that direction. He sent the remaining camels and ponies back to graze at Dzusulun-tsakha. The camels then would be employed in relays bringing water. Two days later he sent Lal Singh out again to survey up the dried-up branch of the river and the across the Morun-gol. On 27 May Stein began excavation within and adjacent to the walls. He quickly found the Mongol nomads were not that interested in digging. This effort required 8 days. Plus Afraz-gul reported that indeed he had found another ruin.

Stein records that the most striking aspect of Khara-khoto was the immense walls. (And even now photos available on the Internet show that this is so). The area measured 460 yards on the north side and 381 yards on the west. He assessed it at twice the size of Lou-lan but less than a half of So-yang-ch'eng near Ch'iao-tzu. The walls were constructed of stamped clay reinforces by a wooden frame of big rafters. They were 38 feet thick at base with an inward slope to a width of 12 feet at a height of 30 feet from the ground level. The wall was wider at the north western corner where the large stupa was located. In places a parapet one foot thick with loopholes rose for 5-6 feet. There were ramps leading up to the top of the walls near the gates and at the north western and south eastern corners. There were gates 18 feet wide in the western and eastern walls protected by rectangular outworks built as massively as he main walls. {short description of image}and {short description of image}. In addition the walls were defended by large circular bastions at the four corners and by rectangular bastions along the sides, - 4 each on the western and eastern sides and 6 and 5 respectively on the north and south sides. The largest bastions were 47 feet wide. The walls were also opened at two points by passages of a later date. Stein did not establish the purpose for these late breaches, but guessed they might have been the work of 'treasure seekers'. The incessant wind had piled up sand against the outside of the western and northern walls. Near a bastion the sand pile reached the height of the wall where they destroyed the parapet and cut into the wall itself. There was some similar result of wind driven sand on the inside of the eastern and southern walls. Inside, Stein had difficulty tracing the foundations of former buildings. He found that they had been built of stamped clay and wood but not thick. He found relatively few artifacts considering the size of the ruin. But among them were 230 Chinese and 57 Tibetan (Hsi-hsia and Tungut) documents. There also were Uighur and Turkish documents.

Later analysis by Mr. Maspero found dates within the period of Yuan - Mongol- dynasty between AD 1290 and 1366. (Chingis Khan conquered the Tangut kingdom in 1227 and the Mongol dynasty fell to the Ming dynasty in 1368.) Of 17 Chinese coins found in or around the city 13 show dates between 1008 and 1161 and 3 are from the T'ang era. The Sung dynasty and absence of Hsi-hsia coins indicated to Stein that the majority of trade at the time involved the Sung.
Among other small items there were many of glazed pottery dated by experts to Sung, Yuan and even Ming eras.
Stein considered that the western side of the town was occupied mostly by shrines. Near the northern wall he found a cella 32 by 50 feet with walls 1.5 feet thick built of sun-dried bricks 12 x 5 x 2 inches set on edge, in which there was considerable debris. His team cleared a pile of refuse 4 feet deep. Inside he recognized the base for a large statue and several alcoves. He found a coin there dated 1068-78 AD. There were many pieces of gilt stucco that originally comprised the statue. He describes many pieces of stucco depicting parts of human anatomy and costume. There were also fragments of silk banners and faience including pieces of decoration from the former roof.

Stein found another shrine on a built up platform of stamped clay 82 by 63 feet located on the main east west street. Stairs led up from the east. The shrine chapel measured 12 by 17 feet. Inside he recovered various items in Chinese and Tibetan. Some 70 yards to the south of K K i ii, was a row of three small stupas and two shrines. In the south eastern corner Stein found remains of several buildings. One of these revealed some Muhammadan documents. Dr. Laufer assessed one fragment of paper as the 'oldest paper money now in existence'.

Stein next described the group of 4 stupas on the top of the walls in the north west corner. {short description of image}and {short description of image} and {short description of image}. The largest one is on a platform 18 feet square and reaches a height of 30 feet but originally was much higher. These stupas were built of bricks set on edge. Other stupas remain only in total ruin. He found also models of stupas used as votive offerings.


Section III - Remains outside Khara-khoto

Stein describes the results of his survey outside the city walls starting with a group of stupas near the north-west corner. All had been broken into by 'treasure seekers'. The tallest rose to 20 feet height. {short description of image} These also had many small votive stupa models plus clay tablets showing Buddha seated on a lotus. Stein notes an interesting fact, that the tablets here and relievos and small statues were mass produced from moulds. Clearing the debris resulted in finds of packets of Hsi-hsia texts, totaling over 100 pages plus about 50 Tibetan leaves, and many fragments. (plate 18). Another mound, only 10 feet high, some 100 yards from the north east corner contained more votive stupas and numerous leaves in Hsi-hsia or Chinese.

He considered another structure even more interesting - a ruin marked K K ii from which Colonel Kozlov extracted his huge collection in 1908. (Now being put on line in St. Petersburg). Its location was several miles west of the city walls {short description of image}and {short description of image}There was a brick platform 28 feet square and 7 feet high made of bricks 12 x 5 x 3 inches. Stein remarked at the poor condition previous explorers had left the scene insuring that many valuable items would be damaged or destroyed. He hoped that this unnamed explorer had at least made photo of the structures and drawings prior to their destruction. The dome that had covered and proprotectedcted the contents had been destroyed. Shapir, a Mongol who had also accompanied Col. Kozlov, explained to Stein what the site had looked like and what its contents had been prior to the Russian's exploitation. Stein estimated that the height of the missing dome would have sufficed to house large statues, and indeed found a huge stucco head in the debris. Shapir stated that the formerly intact shrine had no entrance. Despite the large quantity of materials taken by Col. Kozlov, Stein found much more remaining. Stein comments that photos accompanying Kozlov's article do show the extent of the structure before it was destroyed. It was built on a three story base with projecting cornices and an circular drum and above that a cylindrical dome. Stein further comments that the material is receiving public discussion by Russian scholars. (Now widely published by the IDP.)

Stein draws attention first to the numerous tests in Hsi-hsia he recovered - over 1100 hundred of which 300 printed in Hsi-hsia and 59 in Chinese. This sharply contrasts with the preponderance of Chinese texts throughout the town, leading Stein to guess that Chinese was the language of daily life and commerce while Tibetan was reserved for religious texts. He remarks further than most of the texts, both written and printed, and in Chinese or Hsi-hsia were oblong books more common in use during Sung times. There were fewer roll type texts typical of T'ang era. He deplored having found many documents clearly cut in two by hoe or pickax. But there were more small fragments apparently collected as a religious custom.
There were also many artistic relics. Stein's laconic (ironic?) assessment deserves quotation. "The remains of artistic or technical interest recovered from the wreckage were, as the Descriptive List shows, numerous enough. But after the account given above of the conditions in which they were found, it cannot cause surprise that almost all have badly suffered, whether at the time when the shrine was cleared - and demolished - or subsequently through exposure. Nevertheless a brief review of them will be useful if only to show how much it is to be hoped that the large and valuable haul of antiques which Colonel Kozlov's expedition carried away from this ruin may yet obtain that adequate study and publication which it deserves."

He continues to describe the mass of architectural remains - sculptural fragments in stucco of images of all sizes from colossal statues to mere figurines that must have originally filled the interior. These included many large parts of bodies from fingers to heads. He found fragments of mail which he ascribed to a statue of a Lokapala and also a demon's face. There were heads of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. There were animal figures as well. There were numerous tempera fragments from wall and ceiling decorations. The remains of silk paintings had suffered badly. He found many block printed designs of Buddhist divinities and other sacred objects. He considered the examples of block illustrations significant for the study of Chinese wood engraving.
There also were many pen and ink drawings. Again he hopes for publication by the Russians. He completes his distressed description of 'waste' left behind by the Russian with comments on silk fabrics.

He lacked the specifically datable materials that he hoped the Russians would produce. But meanwhile presumes the remains dated from the quarter century prior to the Mongol conquest of 1226. At the other extreme, he notes that the Hsi-hsia script was only invented by the Tangut ruler Li Yuan-hao about 1032.

Next he shifts to discuss other ruined structures such as a small brick platform 12 feet square and a low mound south of K.K. that measured 19.5 by 21.5 feet with walls 1.5 feet thick of bricks 12 x 6 x 3 inches. There was a domed building {short description of image}and {short description of image}and {short description of image}about 30 yards to the south west of the south-west corner bastion . Its original height was nearly 23 feet but part of its dome had collapsed. The domed hall measured 18.5 feet square, and there was a vaulted porch. As the walls rise they shift to an octagon and then to a circular drum and high dome.{short description of image} This building is entirely western and clearly a Muhammadan tomb of 'gumbaz'. The design is Saracenic. The interior was empty. Stein notes that Marco Polo wrote that Islam was practiced in the region. Whatever its date, Stein believes it must be the oldest Muhammadan building remaining in western most China.

Another 3/4 mile north east of the north eastern corner there was a small stupa, less "Tibetan' looking than the others. {short description of image}. Tis base measured 11 feet square and had a tapering dome 15 feet high. Stein found the usual evidence of 'treasure seekers'. Further east there was another mound that contained a temple. The walls, 19 by 22 feet only 2 feet high at most nevertheless had tempera frescos some of which Stein managed to extract. There was the usual image platform 12 feet 3 inches by 11 feet 6 inches. But only fragments of the former statues remained.

 

Stein was able to hire local Torgut Mongol herdsmen from their nearby camp in winter, although they had to be closely supervised. He spent 8 days in excavation work. The outer wall was 466 yards long on the north side and 381 yards long on the west side They were 38 feet thick at the base made of stamped clay with wood frame. The walls were still 30 feet high and 12 feet wide at the top with a parapet and loop holes. Inside there was a ramp leading to the top. The gate was 18 feet wide and protected by an out work. There were large circular bastions on the 4 corners and rectangular bastions on the sides. . There were both Buddhist stupa and Mohammeden tomb on or near the wall.


 
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This extract from Stein's map shows the location of the ruins of the fortress city, Khara-Khoto just east of the Etsin-gol dry river bed and Stein's route along the river north east from Tung-huang to find it. The city was still a major desert oasis when Marco Polo passed by even though it had been severely damaged by Chingis Khan a few years previously. The dotted lines mark Stein's routes.

 
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This extract from Stein's map shows the location of the ruins of the fortress city, Khara-Khoto just east of the Etsin-gol dry river bed and Stein's route along the river north east from Tung-huang to find it. The city was still a major desert oasis when Marco Polo passed by even though it had been severely damaged by Chingis Khan a few years previously. The dotted lines mark Stein's routes. Note the tower symbols for detached ruins.

 
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This is another detailed look at a section of one of Stein's maps of the Etsin-gol dry river bed and adjacent Khara-khoto fortress city ruins.

 
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Detail of map 42 in Innermostasia -this shows the southern edge of the map with Mao-mei in the southeast corner. Mao-mei was the entry point on the Et-sin gol river for travel north along the river to Khara-khoto.

 
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Detail of map 45 in Innermostasia - this shows further flow of the Etsin-gol north and the medieval fortress city Khara-khoto east of the river.To the west is a section of the Etsin-gol double river bed that Stein visited. He marked various towers and small forts.

 
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Detail of map 45 in Innermostasia - this shows the area around Khara-khoto next to the Etsin-gol river.

 
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Detail of map 45 in Innermostasia - This shows Khara-khoto and watch towers along the Estin-gol dry bed - also the small fort at Aduna-kora - note Stein surveyed only a part of the then flowing river to the west The map also shows the location of Dashoba.

 
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Innermostasia 240 - Photo Stein made of the south-west wall of Khara-Khoto showing the remains of the Buddhist stupa on the corner bastion.

 
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Innermostasia 241 - Northwestern corner of the walls of Khara-khoto with stupas outside - note the large breach in the wall

 
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Innermostasia 242 - Stein's photo of the south face of the Khara-Khoto city wall showing that over the many centuries sand has piled up against this wall due to the direction of prevailing wind. Not also the dead trees.

 
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Innermostasia 243 - West face of circumvallation of Khara-khoto, with Muhammadan tomb at south-west corner

 
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Innermostasia 244 - Interior of Khara-khoto, looking toward south-east

 
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Innermosasia 245 - Interior of Khara-khoto view toward north west

 
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Innermostasia 247 - North west corner of Khara- khoto fortress wall from inside showing the strange cut in the wall and the stupa outside.

 
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Innermostasia 246 - Western wall of Khara-khoto showing the breaches made by wind-driven sand and piles of sand against the wall.

 
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Innermostasia 248 - Ruined stupas built above the north-west corner of Khara-khoto walls

 
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Innermostasia 249 - Alcove at back of temple K K at Khara-khoto with image bases

 
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Innermostasia 250 - Bastions guarding the eastern gate of Khara-khoto - note how Stein poses one of his assistants in these photos to show scale.

 
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Innermostasia 251 - Ruin of Muhammadan tomb at K.K VI -Khara-khoto view from north. Stein's intrepid pet dog appears.

 
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Innermostasia 252 - Front of Muhammaden tomb - K.K. VI - at Khara-khoto

 
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Innermostasia 253 - Ruined dwelling, east of K.K. iv, near Khara-khoto

 
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Innermostasia 254 - Ruins of a dwelling, east of KKxiv near Khara-khoto

 
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Innermostasia 255 - Remains of a dwelling east of KK ii, near Khara-khoto, partially buried in a tamarisk cone

 
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Innermostasia 256 - Ruined shrine and stupa K.K IV at Khara-khoto

 
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Innermostasia 257 - Base of destroyed stupa KKii with debris of stucco sculpture, before clearing - Stein strongly objected to the manner in which previous explorers had nearly destroyed the stupa itself while taking away the most valuable artistic treasures

 
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Innermostasia 258 - Debris covering slopes of base of destroyed stupa, K. K. ii at Khara-khoto

 
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Innermostasia vol 3 Plan 17 - Sketch plan of site of Khara-khoto - this shows the relationship of the ruined city with ancient river bed - Khara-khoto lies east of the Etsin-gol near the border with Mongolia. It was a thriving city before Ghengis Khan captured it but still important when Marco Polo visited.

 
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Innermostasia vol 3 Plan 18 - Sketch plan of ruined town of Khara-khoto - The walls were still massive (and they exist today) but there was not much remaining inside. There are many photos in the book - here is one. {short description of image}

 
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Innermostasia vol 3 Plan 19 - Plans and sections of stupas and shrine at Khara-khoto - see above for for photos.

 
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Innermostasia vol 3 Plan 20 - Sketch plans of seven ruins at and near Khara-khoto -

 
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Innermostasia vol 3 Plan 21 - Ruined Gmbaz outside Khara-khoto - (a Moslem tomb) - one of several photos {short description of image}

 
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Innermostasia vol 3 Plan 22- Sketch-plan of ruined dwellings east of , and shrine K.K. ii at, Khara-khoto

 

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