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0396 Innermost Asia : vol.1
極奥アジア : vol.1
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Marches isolated Mesa.

Relics found on Mesa.

Evidence of ancient traffic.

Position of objects found on slope.

296   THE SEARCH FOR THE ANCIENT CHINESE HIGH ROAD [Chap. VIII

to   We had scarcely covered half a mile when the discovery of a Wu-chu coin picked up under

my eyes gave welcome assurance that notwithstanding the altered direction we could not be far off the line which the ancient Chinese route had followed. Then we tramped on steadily for another five and a half miles, without my paying much heed at the time to the fact that the soil, though still showing a surface of decomposed clay with abundant flakes of gypsum, was increasingly hardened by salt impregnation. When we arrived at the Mesa, which rose to a height of about twenty-five feet above ground manifestly eroded, it too was found to be encrusted with shôr.

Here a strange discovery awaited us. I was just preparing to climb the Mesa to inspect the ground ahead, when one of my men noticed three Wu-chu coins lying in line, about a yard or so from each other, close to the western foot of the ridge. I picked them up myself, and found that the impression left by them on the salty clay was quite clear. Next there were found on the northwestern slope, about five feet above ground level, the gracefully designed hook, cast in copper, C. ci. os (P1. XXIII), which probably formed part of a buckle, and the ornamental pierced copper ball, C. ci. 04 (Pl. XXIII), together with a small corroded fragment of iron, C. ci. o6. The close search which was immediately made brought to light on the southern slope of the Mesa, on a level about ten feet above the ground near by, the major portion of an iron snaffle-bit, C. ci. 02 (Pl. XXIII), and a small iron skewer with ring handle, C. ci. 03 (Pl. XXIII). A little apart lay the rusted but otherwise well-preserved iron dagger, C. ci. of (Pl. XXIII), retaining part of a cross-piece where the guard had been, and measuring over blade and tang a little over nine inches. This seemed to me the most striking of all the finds and suddenly brought back to my mind the similar incident in an explorer's quest, as told in one of Jules Verne's stories which I had read more than forty years before.' Finally we recovered two more Wu-chu coins, large inscribed pieces and well preserved, like the first finds, together with the fine pale-green glass bead, C. ci. o8 (Pl. XXIII), on the northern slope about eight feet above the ground level.

The discovery of all these relics close together was a dramatic surprise. There could be no possible doubt that they dated from the period when the Chinese ` route of the centre ' leading to Lou-lan was frequented by traffic. The evidence of the coins is completely supported by that of the small iron skewer C. ci. 03 (Pl. XXIII), which in shape and make exactly conforms to five other specimens excavated in 1907 at different watch-stations of the Han Limes west and north of Tunhuang.2 The collective character of the finds afforded striking proof that notwithstanding our deviation from the bearing indicated by the previous discoveries, chance, or perhaps a kind of subconscious antiquarian instinct, had rightly brought us to what must have been a place of halt on the ancient desert highway I was endeavouring to trace.

But however much I rejoiced at this happy chance and the further guidance it promised, it left two puzzling questions unanswered. The first, relating to the immediate locality, arose from the fact that, apart from the first three coins, all the objects were found on the slopes of the clay ridge. This necessarily suggested at first that they had reached their position through wind-erosion, which had carried off the soil on the top where they might have originally rested, as certainly had happened with the metal objects picked up on the slopes of L.C. But a very careful search made on the summit of the narrow ridge revealed no trace of any structural remains. Nor did

1 See Jules Verne, Voyage au centre de la Terre, 54me édition, pp. 306 sq.

The curious coincidence with the discovery of the old Norseman's dagger which helps to guide the explorer in the fiction appealed to me all the more powerfully, that perhaps nothing on this globe could in strangeness more closely

resemble that vast subterranean sea by the shore of which the great novelist's fancy places the incident than the dread ancient sea-bed we were now approaching.

2 Cf. Serindia, ii. p. 768, T.W. 005, 007 (Pl. LIV) ; p. 775, T. xi!. a. 0026 (Pl. LIV) ; p. 784, T. xviii. ii. 9 b ; p. 788, T. xxvxu. 0019.