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0247 Ancient Khotan : vol.1
Ancient Khotan : vol.1 / Page 247 (Color Image)

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doi: 10.20676/00000182
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that year contain distinct reference to a ` discovery of buried ruins ' said to have lately ` been made quite close to the city of Khotan (Ilchi) at a distance of about four miles to the northwest' 4. Pandit Ramchand evidently did not see the place himself, and what he relates about the way in which the first find was made (` a golden ornament said to have been a cow') clearly reflects the more romantic form which the story would assume in Bazar gossip. But there can be no doubt that his notice refers to Yôtkan, thus proving that the site could not have been known for many years earlier b. The surveyor's record also confirms the villagers' statement about excavations for gold made under the governor's orders.

The systematic digging and washing for gold, which can thus be shown to have been carried on at Yôtkan for upwards of thirty years preceding my visit, is quite sufficient to account for the great extent of the excavated area as shown by my survey. The work was still being vigorously continued on the north side and along part of the banks to the west during the annual period when sufficient water is available for washing. Though this had passed by with September, and the diggers had departed, I found no difficulty in ascertaining the methods by which the operations are carried on and the character of their produce. Like the search for jade in the river-beds after the annual floods, like washing for gold in the flood-deposits of the Yurung-kash, or digging for it at the pits of Surghak, Kapa, &c., work at Yôtkan attracts annually for a short period numbers of the poorer agriculturists of the oasis who look to these occupations as a kind of time-honoured lottery. The small quantity of gold which washing of the soil in the banks ordinarily produces is just sufficient to be ` paying ', i. e. to provide the diggers, after compensation to the owners of the fields cut away, with the equivalent of the modest wage which prevails in Khotan for unskilled labour. But in recent years antiques, such as ornamented pieces of pottery, engraved stones, small objects of metal, and coins, have come to be counted as a kind of secondary product—and there always remains the chief attraction, the chance of finding valuable objects in gold, silver, or jade.

The gold usually found appears in the form of tiny flakes of leaf-gold of which I was able to secure samples, and less frequently in that of minute pieces of what looks like very thin gold plating such as might have been used in ornaments. It is easily distinguished by the villagers from the gold-dust (kej5ek-eiltun) washed from the river-beds. No coins or solid ornaments of gold and silver were admitted to be found now, though the discovery of such precious articles was readily acknowledged for the early years of the working, and near the original spot where it started. Whatever the chance of making such finds in the banks of soil now under exploitation, the diggers as well as the villagers would have reason to be reticent about them. The purchase of all gold produced in the Khotan and Keriya districts forms a monopoly of the Chinese administration, and as the rates paid by the latter are very considerably below those readily offered by traders, concealment of the true quantity of produce and secret disposal of it to private individuals are common throughout the territory 6. This practice would naturally be resorted to most readily in the case of valuable

' See Yarkand Mission Report, p. 449.

s The fact that Johnson, in the account of his visit to Khotan, in 1865, does not indicate any knowledge of Yotkan may probably be accepted as evidence that the site was then as yet undiscovered. He certainly seems to have made inquiries after ruins and ancient remains ; and notwithstanding the often sketchy nature of his notes, he would not have been likely to pass over a find-place so easily accessible if it had then been known ; comp. J. R. Geogr. Soc., xxxvii. p. 5.


6 The system was maintained also under Yagfib Beg's reign, as Pandit Ramchand's notes show. Of the excavations ordered at Yôtkan by the governor (Niaz Hakim Beg) he specially mentions ` the diggers are paid for any gold they may excavate at i ro tangas the Ser ', the market value then being 138 tangas ; comp. Yarkand Mission Report, p. 449. The information agrees accurately with what was told to me at Yôtkan of the tax levied by Niâz Hakim Beg on the produce of private diggings at that period.


Operations of diggers.

Gold washed at Yôtkan.