Stein, Sir Aurel

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STEIN, SIR AUREL (Mark ; 1862–1943), British archaeologist. Stein was born in Budapest, the son of a prosperous merchant. His family, although Jewish on both sides, were advocates of assimilation and Stein was baptized as a Lutheran and educated at Christian schools. He attended three universities in Central Europe, and went to India in 1888 to take up the positions of principal of Oriental College in Lahore and registrar of Punjab University. From 1889, when he entered the Indian Education Service, he was constantly engaged in journeys of archaeological exploration. He traveled in Central Asia, West China, Persia, Iraq, and Transjordan. His work can be classified as follows: expeditions to Central Asia (1900–01; 1906–08; 1913–16, and 1930); expeditions to Baluchistan and Iran between 1927 and 1936 (to examine the traces of the Mesopotamian and Indus Valley civilizations); journeys to establish the marching routes and battlefields of Alexander the Great; a reexamination of the Roman-Parthian frontier to fix the western terminus of the silk trade. As a result of the Hungarian Geological Survey of Tun-huang in 1897, Stein made his greatest discoveries there of ancient Chinese art of the fourth century: Cave Shrines of the Thousand Buddhas (1907). There he brought to light beautiful Chinese murals and paintings and some Chinese manuscripts from the fifth to tenth centuries as well as the oldest specimen of a printed book (dated 868 c.e.). Stein also explored the Graeco-Buddhist monuments of Northwest India and intended to explore Afghanistan, but died a few days after his arrival. From 1884, Stein spent much of his time in London and became a naturalized British subject in 1904.

Stein was knighted in 1912 and given honorary degrees by Oxford and Cambridge universities. His work threw much light on the history of ancient civilizations.

Among his books are Rins of Khotan (1903), Ancient Khotan (1907), Serindia (1921), Innermost Asia (1928), The Thousand Buddhas (1921), An Archaeological Tour in Gedrosia (1931), Archaeological Reconnaissances in Northwestern India and Southeastern Iran (1937), On Old Routes of Western Iran (1940), and On Ancient Central-Asian Tracks (1964) with a biography by J. Mirsky. Stein was one of the most famous explorers and archaeologists of his time.


Oldham, in: Proceedings of the British Academy, 29 (1943), 329–48; Smith, in: jjras (1919), 49–61; jras (1946), 86–89. add. bibliography: odnb online; J. Mirsky, Sir Aurel Stein: Archeological Explorer (1977); A. Walker, Aurel Stein: Pioneer of the Silk Road (1995).