Sec. v] WORK AT THE SITES OF MURTUK 633
SECTION V.—WORK AT THE SITES OF MURTUK
On December 9th I left Toyuk and proceeded past the oases of Su-bâshi and Sengim north First visit
of the outer hill range to the village of Murtuk (Map No. 28. c. 3). I had previously made a recon- to shrines of
naissance from Kara-khôja to the many cave-temples and shrines of Bezeklik, situated about two
miles below the southern end of the cultivated area of Murtuk, in the gorge which the stream flowing
towards Kara-khôja has here cut through the range. This visit had shown me that those shrines
still retained a great portion of their wall-paintings. But it had also afforded unmistakable evidence
of the increased damage which the pictorial remains of this, the largest of the Buddhist sites of
Turfân, had suffered from vandal hands since my first visit in November 1907. A year before
that, Professor Grünwedel had made a two months' stay at the site and devoted all his archaeological
care and expert iconographic knowledge to the complete excavation and study of its remains. For
the thoroughness with which he has recorded, in his Altbuddhistische Kultstätten, the results of
his prolonged labours at these ruined shrines, students of the ancient art of Chinese Turkestan
will for ever remain deeply indebted .1 Many of the most interesting specimens of the paintings
on the walls of the Bezeklik temples were then removed for safety to the Ethnographic Museum
of Berlin, as had been, two years earlier, the remarkably well preserved fresco panels of the shrine
which Professor von Lecoq had found filled with debris and had cleared before Professor Grün-
wedel's return to Turfân.2
With the sad proofs of progressive damage before my eyes, I could feel no doubt that, as local Arrange-
ments was out of the question, careful removal of as much of these mural paintings as circum- removing
p q p g removing
stances would permit and artistic or iconographic interest would warrant, offered the only means selected
of assuring their security. This was the important task which brought me now to Murtuk, and to frescoes.
which I devoted the greater part of two successive stays of an aggregate length of fifteen days. The safe and careful execution of the task was made far easier than it could possibly have been otherwise by the fact that all the remains of the Bezeklik site had previously been thoroughly investigated and described by Professor Grünwedel, whose familiarity with Buddhist iconography is exceptional. It was fortunate also that once the selection of fresco panels for removal had been decided by myself, their position and relation to the general decorative scheme, &c., carefully noted, and exact instructions given as to the lines along which the portions of larger frescoed surfaces were to be separated, I could safely leave the work of actual removal, strengthening, and safe packing of the fresco pieces to the hands of my two Indian assistants, whom previous training at other sites under my direction had qualified for the purpose.
It was mainly due to Naik Shamsuddin's skill and indefatigable industry, with the valiant Method of
assistance of Afrdz-gul during the greater part of nearly two months which the task occupied, removal.
that the removal and packing of all the selected fresco panels were safely accomplished, in strict accordance with the methods that I had first applied in the case of the frescoes of the Mirân temples.3 These technical methods proved equally successful in the case of the Bezeklik frescoes selected for removal. These in the end filled over a hundred large cases, each as heavy as a camel could carry. Considering that the work was carried out at the coldest season of the year and for the greater part without such assistance as my presence could have afforded as regards the supply of needful materials, labour, &c., my capable ` handy man ' may well claim special credit for this achievement.
1 See Grünwedel, Kultstätten, pp. 223-301, with Figs. 2 See Von Lecoq, Chotscho, Pl. 16-38, with explanatory
494-613, among which many carefully executed drawings of text on the same.
specially interesting compositions, figures and decorative 3 Cf. Desert Cathay, i. pp. 463 sqq.