192 ANCIENT SITES OF THE KHOTAN OASIS [Chap. VIII
second question, which touched upon the past of the site and had a direct antiquarian bearing, might have been a more difficult matter. But fortunately I was in time with my inquiries ; the commencement of the excavations did not reach back further than the memory of a generation still living.
The statements which I collected from a number of intelligent old villagers both at Yôtkan and in the vicinity, and which I took every opportunity to test during my stay, threw light on a number of interesting points and were fully accordant in essentials. From them I ascertained that no finds of any kind indicating that an ancient site was buried here below the ground had been made until the time of Niâz Hâkim Beg, still well remembered throughout Khotan as the first governor under Yâqûb Beg. Two or three years after his appointment, which took place about 1866, the small canal conveying water from the Kara-kâsh river for the irrigation of the Yôtkan fields began to cut for itself a deeper bed in the soft loess, that is, to turn into a ` Yâr'. This is the origin of the ravine, which begins about one-and-a-half miles to the west of Yôtkan at the village of Chalbâsh, and after passing Khalche and the Yôtkan site joins the ` Yârs' of Kâshe about a mile to the north-east.
The archaeologist has good reason to feel grateful to the Yôtkan-Yâr, for without its formation the remains of the old Khotan capital might have been left buried for ages to come. It was only when the flood-water escaping in the newly-formed ravine had created a small marshy depression (kul) a little to the south-east of Khalche, that the villagers accidentally came across little bits of gold amidst old potsherds and other débris. The latter objects possessed, of course, no interest for them ; but the gold naturally excited the cupidity of the villagers, many of whom had, like the rest of the poorer agricultural population of Khotan, at one time or another tried their luck at ` prospecting ' for jade in the river-beds or else at gold-washing on the Yurung-kâsh and in the mountains. So they set to work washing the soil near the incipient Yâr, and the proceeds were so rich that they came to the governor's knowledge.
Niâz Hakim Beg was an administrator of considerable enterprise. He sent to Yôtkan large parties of diggers, whom he employed like the men I found working for small capitalists in the jade-pits along the Yurung-kash bed 3. The owners of the fields which were gradually cut away by these washings received compensation. Subsequently the excavations were continued by private enterprise, the usual arrangement being that the owners of the soil and the diggers share the proceeds equally. The earth excavated from the banks has to be washed, just like the old deposit of gold-carrying streams. The larger supply of water needed for this purpose caused the Yôtkan canal to cut its bed deeper and deeper until it formed the existing Yar, the bottom of which is from 29 to 3o feet below the level of the fields (see Fig. 26). Finally the canal had to be diverted to a higher level ; but springs came to the surface at the bottom of the ravine, and these with others rising within the excavated area account for its swampy condition. In the recollection of old villagers the land of Yôtkan was everywhere a level flat ; there were no springs or swampy ground—nor any knowledge or tradition of the
old city ' (kône-shahr) below.
We shall see presently that this negative fact has its antiquarian interest ; and it may, therefore, be useful to point out that the accidental discovery of the Yôtkan site, about the date indicated by the villagers' statement, can be established independently by a record made as long ago as 1874. The still useful notes which Pandit Râmchand, one of the native surveyors with Sir Douglas Forsyth's Mission, collected when passing through Khotan in the spring of