route leading diagonally across them, distinctly supports the belief in the antiquity of the present Tärim course, as far as its general direction in this section is concerned. It does not appear to me likely that, if the present southerly course of the Tärim were of at all recent origin, it could have made its effect felt with such regularity in the formation of ` Dawäns so far away to the east.
We have, of course, no means to gauge with anything approaching exactness the chronology of these sand formations. But the impression I have just indicated is considerably strengthened by what I observed at the western foot of the big ` Dawän' below which we pitched our Camp 130 (see Map No. 56) on January 2, 1907. There I came upon the first rows of dead Toghraks since Camp 127, and it is noteworthy that I found them, too, stretching in well-defined lines from north
to south. I have before had occasion to mention that the wild poplars of the Tarim Basin show an invariable tendency to grow in lines parallel to the nearest open water-courses or to channels of subsoil drainage which continue them.3 Here the dead Toghraks, many of them of large size, all lay prostrate on the ground, and though their bleached and withered trunks and main branches still showed clearly recognizable features, I could see that they must have been dead far longer than those, for instance, which had grown up and died at the Niya Site since it was abandoned about the fourth century A.D. The position of this Toghrak grove, probably marking an ancient channel of the Tärim, was not more than sixteen miles in a straight line from the present bed of the Ilek branch.
It is, of course, possible to argue that the physical indications just discussed date back to
a previous swing of the deltaic pendulum of the Tärim, i. e. to a much earlier period, a prehistoric one, which preceded the formation of the Kuruk-daryä, and during which the whole Tärim drainage flowed southward before emptying itself into the Lop lake basin. But no such explanation is possible as regards the archaeological evidence which we shall have to examine presently.
On the evening of January 4, 1907, the seventh day of this trying tramp across dunes, we
struck the hard-frozen Köteklik-köl, one of the string of lagoons fed by the Ilek.4 Here I found that the many deflexions from our intended straight course, made in the endeavour to avoid the highest portions of successive ` Dawäns', had resulted in our striking the Ilek fully a day's march to the south of the site of Merdek-tim. The distance was easily covered on January 5 by moving north along the frozen Ilek. On the following morning we crossed its wide, marshy flood-bed at Kulacha, and there secured a guide in the person of an old Loplik fisherman. Led by him, we moved north-eastwards for about two and a half miles, across fairly high dunes and depressions with salt pools, until we arrived at the modest ruin which he knew by the name of Merdek-tim. We found that it was a small circular fort with a rampart built mainly of stamped clay and overgrown with luxuriant reeds (Fig. 89). Close to the south of it there passed a dry Nullab, which was said to have received water until three years before. To the north-west it connected with the neighbouring lagoon known as Merdek-köl, which itself was fed from the Bäyir-köl marsh of the Ilek. Pitching camp by the little fort, I was able to devote the day to a close examination of its remains, and I soon discovered indications of its early origin.
The circumvallation consisted of a rampart which, though decayed under the effect of moisture,
was still traceable to a height of ten feet above the present ground level over most of its circular outline. The very construction of the rampart suggested antiquity. Below, it consisted of stamped clay with thin layers of tamarisk fascines inserted at intervals of about a foot. This base rose to five feet above the present level of the soil, but, as its foot could not be ascertained, its original height may well have been greater. Above this came masonry, two feet high, and then stamped clay, still standing to a height of about three feet, both strengthened by the insertion of layers of
3 See above, p. 355. 4 See Desert Cathay, i. pp. 422 sqq.