Stein, Sir Marc Aurel (1862-1943)

Photograph (1909) of Sir Marc Aurel Stein, 1862-1943. Photograph (1909) of Sir Marc Aurel Stein, 1862-1943.

Sir Marc Aurel Stein (1862-1943) was a British/Hungarian archaeologist, ethnographer, geographer and linguist, who wrote many books about his expeditions and discoveries in India, Iran and Central Asia. He died in 1943 in Afghanistan and lies buried in the Christian cemetery of Kabul.

Stein was born in Budapest and studied linguistics at various European universities. He came to England in 1884 in order to further his studies. By this time he was fluent in many Indo-European languages and because of this skill he was given various positions within the British and Indian governments.

Stein carried out four major expeditions to Central Asia, namely in 1900-1, 1906-8, 1913-16 and in 1930. He made numerous discoveries during these expeditions, the results of which are still being studied. During his expeditions and archaeological work he uncovered and recorded many items, notably early manuscripts and wooden tablets in a wide variety of languages. He was also responsible for the discovery of the Mogao Caves (“Caves of the Thousand Buddhas”) near Dunhuang in 1907.

Among the many thousands of objects that passed through his hands, were hundreds of early textiles. These pieces included embroidered, printed and woven forms. The textiles, and other items, were divided among various museums, notably The British Museum (London; especially textiles from Cave 17, Dunhuang), The British Library (London), The Srinagar Museum (Kashmir, India), the National Museum (New Delhi) and The Victoria and Albert Museum.

The textiles in the Victoria and Albert Museum, for instance, include about 650 fragments dating from the seventh to the tenth centuries. These are catalogued by the museum under the heading of the Stein Textile Loan Collection (on loan from the Government of India and the Archaeological Survey of India). The collection includes a few silk as well as woollen (various animals) textiles embellished with decorative needlework, mostly embroidery.

The most important printed sources with respect to the textiles recorded by Stein are:

  • 1907. Ancient Khotan: Detailed report of archaeological explorations in Chinese Turkestan, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2 volumes.
  • 1912. Ruins of Desert Cathay: Personal Narrative of Explorations in Central Asia and Westernmost China, London, Macmillan & Co., 2 volumes.
  • 1921. Serindia: Detailed report of explorations in Central Asia and westernmost China, London & Oxford, Clarendon Press, 5 volumes
  • 1928. Innermost Asia: Detailed Report of Explorations in Central Asia, Kan-su and Eastern Iran, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 5 volumes.


  • HOPKIRK, Peter (1980). Foreign Devils on The Silk Road, London: John Murray.
  • MIRSKY, Jeannette (1977), Sir Aurel Stein: Archaeological Explorer, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • WANG, Helen and John Perkins (eds. 2008). Handbook to the Collections of Sir Aurel Stein in the UK, British Museum. Available at:
  • WHITFIELD, Susan (2004). Aurel Stein On The Silk Road, London: The British Museum Press, Serindia Publications.

Digital sources:

Digital source of illustration (retrieved 1 May 2017).


Last modified on Monday, 01 May 2017 16:47