Aurel Stein

Aurel Stein bigraphy, stories - Hungarian-born British archaeologist and orientalist

Aurel Stein : biography

26 November 1862 – 26 October 1943

Sir Marc Aurel Stein (usually known as Aurel Stein) KCIE, FBA

() (26 November 1862 – 26 October 1943) was a Hungarian-British archaeologist, primarily known for his explorations and archaeological discoveries in Central Asia. He was also a professor at various Indian universities.

Early life

Stein was born in Budapest into a Jewish family. His parents and his sister retained their Jewish faith but Stein and his brother, Ernst Eduard, were baptised as Lutherans, apparently to increase their prospects.Mirsky, Jeannette. 1977. Sir Aurel Stein: Archaeological Explorer, pp. 3-4, 32. Chicago, University of Chicago Press. Paperback edition, 1998. He later became a British citizen and made his famous expeditions with British sponsorship.


Stein was influenced by Sven Hedin’s 1898 work, Through Asia. He made four major expeditions to Central Asia—in 1900, 1906–1908, 1913–1916 and 1930.The New Encyclopædia Britannica. 15th Edition. (1977). Vol. IX, p. 547. 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 in 1913–1916, he excavated at Khara-Khoto.

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.

During 1901 Stein was responsible for exposing forgeries of Islam Akhun.

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 and bribing the Taoist caretaker.Deuel, Leo. 1970. Testaments of Time, p. 459. Baltimore, Pelican Books. Orig. publ. Knopf, NY, 1965; "Collecting Aurel Stein" The Caxtonian Vol. XIX, No. 2, November 2011,, accessed 24 Jan 2013 He acquired 24 cases of manuscripts and 4 cases of paintings and relics. He was knighted for his efforts, but he continues to be considered a great burglar and condemned to this day in China for the removal of countless priceless artifacts from the caves and serious damages caused to the sites. His discovery inspired other French, Russian, Japanese, and Chinese treasure hunters and explorers who also took their toll on the collection.Larmer, Brook. 2010, "Caves of Faith", p. 136-138, National Geographic Magazine, June 2010.

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.

When he was resting from his extended journeys into Central Asia, he spent most of his time living in a tent in the spectacularly beautiful alpine meadow called Gulmarg (or ‘Meadow of Roses’). Stein was a lifelong bachelor, but was always accompanied by a dog named "Dash" (of which there were seven). Photograph of Aurel Stein’s grave marker in Kabul He died in Kabul on October 26, 1943 and is buried in Kabul’s British Cemetery. His collection is important for the study of the history of Central Asia and the art and literature of Buddhism.

"Stein’s fourth expedition to Central Asia, however, ended in a failure so humiliating that he never wrote about it and seldom referred to it. Nor was it mentioned in his obituaries. Both of Stein’s biographers, Jeannette Mirsky in 1977 and Annabel Walker in 1995, mention this debacle but fail to explore the circumstances surrounding it. This prompted my own investigations in the Harvard archives. The story they revealed is one of assorted rivalries: between British and American diplomats in China, between Harvard’s Fogg Museum and the British Museum, and finally, between the two Harvard sponsors of the expedition. It also reveals much about how awakening nationalism changed the rules of archaeology."Last of the "Foreign Devils" by Shareen Blair Brysac. Abstract in Archaeology, Volume 50 Number 6, November/December 1997. Accessed 31 March 2011.