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0243 Ancient Khotan : vol.1
Ancient Khotan : vol.1 / Page 243 (Color Image)

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doi: 10.20676/00000182
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Realizing the importance of systematic examination of the locality, I had, during my first

brief stay at Khotan, on October 15 paid a rapid preliminary visit to Yôtkan ; at the same

time I arranged for the collection of such antiques from the place as happened to be for sale

among the villagers or in the hands of Khotan traders. The proceeds of this search awaited

me at Khotan on my return from the mountains ; and after giving to my men and animals

a few days of much-needed rest I hastened to proceed to Yôtkan for a thorough survey of

the site. I reached it on November 25 from the south, after a brief visit to the jade-pits

at the debouchure of the Yurung-kâsh Valley, and devoted the next four days to a careful

study of the antiquarian aspects of the site and its immediate vicinity.

The name Yôtkan is borne by a group of detached hamlets, of which the northern one, Position of

called Khalche, is situated, as the map of the Khotan oasis and the large scale one of Plate XXIII Yotkan.

show, nearly five miles from the western gate of the Yangi-shahr or Chinese town of Khotan,

and approximately west by north of it. Through the centre of the area formed by the village

lands of Yotkan there passes a ravine, deeply cut into the loess soil and known as the Yötkan-

Var. Where the course of this ravine approaches the houses of Khalche it is adjoined on

the south by the site which has furnished whatever relics have so far been recovered of the

old Khotan capital.

The remarkable appearance presented by this site, and the no less curious nature of the

operations to which finds of antiques are there due, were bound to attract from the first my

special interest. A preliminary survey showed the site to consist of a large depressed area

sunk from 20 to 3o feet below the level of the surrounding ground, and forming, as seen in

the large scale map (Pl. XXIII), an irregular oblong with sides each about half a mile in length.

Except where the Yotkan-Yâr enters and leaves it, this depression proved to be bordered

everywhere by steep banks cut into what at first seemed natural loess, but which on closer

examination showed, besides pure soil, layers full of pottery débris, ashes, decayed wood, and

other decomposed matter. Along considerable portions of the enclosing banks there were

plentiful signs of recent diggings and washings'. It was soon made clear to me by the

villagers' statements that it was solely the working of these banks, or more exactly of the deeply

embedded layers just mentioned, which produced the annual yield of antiques from Yotkan ;

while within the depression itself, now mostly occupied by rice-fields and marshy ground, finds

were wholly unknown.

The first careful inspection of the whole site sufficed to convince me that this great Excavated

depression or basin was indeed, as the villagers plainly told me, the result of long-continued area of

p   ~   g p y   g   Ytkan.

excavations, such as were still proceeding each summer. Neither the extent nor the shape of the depressed area could possibly be accounted for by the erosive action of flood-water carried in the Yôtkan-Yâr, as had been somewhat vaguely assumed by some earlier visitors to the site when they spoke here of ` frightful ravages in the soil '. But as soon as I had realized that this strange-looking site corresponded in its present features to the huge open-air pit of some mine or quarry, and had like it been created by systematic diggings, two fresh questions at once confronted me. What was the object for which such extensive and necessarily laborious excavations had been carried on, and when and how had they originally been started ?

To the first question the evidence of the work which on my visit in October I found actually proceeding supplied a conclusive answer : it was for gold in the first place and next for chance finds of small objects of value, such as pieces of worked jade, gems, ornaments, &c., that the banks enclosing the site were annually being dug into and the soil from their débris-filled layers ` washed ' by a varying number of diggers. To obtain a reliable answer to the