Marc Aurel Stein
Aurel Stein was a giant of Central Asian scholarship. He was a explorer, archaeologist, geographer, and a phenomenal linguist. He was brought up in Budapest, Hungary, where he received a top-notch university education. He was fascinated by Orientalism and philology from an early age.
While studying Oriental manuscripts in England in 1887, Stein heard of a suitable job in India. But he yearned to explore the wild and treacherous regions of Central Asia, which first captured his imagination as a schoolboy, when he read about the exploits there of Alexander the Great. In 1900, he embarked on a great adventure which was to last for 30 years: the discovery of the lost cities of the Silk Road, the ancient trading route which once linked China to the Mediterranean, and along which silk first found its way to the West. Replete with priceless artefacts, its cities had lain buried in the deserts of Chinese Turkestan for 1,500 years.
Stein led extensive archaeological expeditions by camel caravan across the Taklamakan – the forbidding "desert of death" – and along hair raising mountain passes. They sometimes took over two years, during which he braved freezing temperatures, sweltering heat and sandstorms, and saw no other Westerner. He returned with treasures by the ton – sculptures and frescoes, ancient silks, manuscripts and other relics of a bygone Buddhist civilisation. He even unearthed the earliest known printed book. Then the Chinese banned him, branding him a "foreign devil" and "wicked bandit."
But Sir Aurel Stein was no bandit. He lovingly preserved and recorded what he had found for posterity.
For more detail, including a map of Marc’s route, see: an archeologist follows his dreams.