1965 Volume 74 Issue 1 Pages 1-12
1) The existence of ancient sites, sand-buried or lying on the wind-eroded ground and slept for many centuries in the Taklamakan desert was not the discovery of the modern scientific expeditions, but was noted and described by Chinese travelers and historians of early days. For instance, Hauan-Chuang, the great Buddhist pilgrim in the 7 th century, described the abandoned sites in the great sandy desert to the east of the Niya oasis along the southern route, in his famous travelling notes of “Records of the Western Countries in the time of the T'ang”. Li-Kuangyin, a historian in the Ch'ing dynasty of the 19 th century, in his “Studies of the Western Countries in the Han dynasty, with Illustrations” tried to correlate the territories of the ancient kingdoms with the oases of the present day, with a perplexing conclusion stating that the territories of Shanshan, Chiemo, Chingchueh, Yuni, Siauyan, Junglu, etc. described in the Han Annals have been abandoned to the “Gobi”.
The impact to the modern scientific world, however, was made by the expeditions of European geographers, historians and archaeologists between the later part of the 19 th and the early 20 th centuries. Particularly the great successes brought by Sven Hedin of Sweden and Sir Aurel Stein of England aroused activity in other countries and expeditions were sent to Sinkiang from several countries. Among them the explorations of the Japanese party led by Count K. Otani evoked a great interest in the Japanese, although its scientific research was of a special field, i. e. the study of remains of Buddhism and Buddhist temples in the ancient period in Sinkiang.
The modern scientific explorations uncovered various aspects, particularly, the historical importance of the region. The Old Silk Road was not only the routes through which currents of trade moved, the most important export from the East was the silk of the Seres, i. e. of the ancient Chinese, but the currents of cultural intercourse linking the Far East with the West and with India. As for the ruined sites, the periods of the final abandonment were established fairly accurately by the dated Chinese documents and other archaeological remains which revealed that some were abandoned between the 3 rd and the 4 th centuries, many were in the 8 th century and still others in later periods up to the 15 th century.
2) In contrast to the successful achievements in the fields of cultural history and archaeology, geography has been concerned in the many problems and riddles, especially concerning the ruined sites on the edge of the Taklamakan.
What were the main causes which led to the abandonment ? Under what conditions could the ancient settlements flourish in the drift-sand desert, where no water is available today ? Why were many of the sites buried in sand or were partly sand-covered and the surrounding areas abandoned to desert ? No historical documents and archaeological remains give clues to these problems.
The problems have received much attentions in many countries and many geographershave attempted to offer explanations, presenting various theories. The classical exemple was the desiccation hypothesis presented by E. Huntington of the U. S. A. in 1907, which aroused a sensational debate in various countries. He tried to explain the complicated problems simultaneously by assuming the pulse of climate, the existence of a fairly long-continuing pulse of precipitation within historical times in Inner Asia. Many geographers, however, were not in favor of his theory and some felt that he was claiming the progressive desiccation during historical times. The attention and the interest of many geographers and historians were focused on the causes of abandonment of the sites, though no definite record was preserved, and a variety of assumed causes were presented.