Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.

Head fragment - The Stein Collection

The Stein Collection

  • Object:

    Head fragment

  • Place of origin:

    Xinjiang Uygur Zizhiqu (autonomous region) (made)

  • Date:

    3rd century - 6th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Moulded terracotta

  • Credit Line:

    Stein Loan Collection. On loan from the Government of India and the Archaeological Survey of India. Copyright: Government of India

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Ceramics, Room 137, The Curtain Foundation Gallery, case 2, shelf 5

This terracotta fragment of a male head has a bald forehead, narrow eyes, long thin moustache and arched eyebrows. This head may have belonged to a male figurine. It was purchased at Khotan by Sir Marc Aurel Stein. Khotan was a major kingdom on the southern branch of the Silk Road and also a major centre of Buddhism.

The Victoria and Albert Museum has more than 70 ceramic fragments and fragments of Buddhist sculptures, as well as around 600 ancient and medieval textiles recovered by Sir Marc Aurel Stein (1862-1943) during his second expedition (1906-8) into Chinese Central Asia, where he once again visited and excavated sites on the southern Silk Road, before moving eastwards to Dunhuang. At Dunhuang, he studied and excavated the Han-dynasty watchtowers to the north of the town, as well as the Mogao cave temples to the southeast, where he acquired material from the Library Cave. From there he moved on to the northern Silk Road, stopping briefly at Turfan sites but not carrying out any excavations. He made a perilous north-south crossing of the Taklamakan desert in order to hasten to Khotan where he excavated more ancient sites, before finishing off his expedition with surveying in the Kunlun Mountains.

Physical description

Terracotta fragment of a male head with bald forehead, narrow eyes, long thin moustache and arched eyebrows. Eyebrows rendered by raised ridges.

Place of Origin

Xinjiang Uygur Zizhiqu (autonomous region) (made)


3rd century - 6th century (made)



Materials and Techniques

Moulded terracotta


Height: 3.81 cm

Object history note

Acquired by Sir Marc Aurel Stein at Khotan Town. This object was mistakenly named "Kho" in the Loan Agreement between V&A and Government of India (numerical file), but corresponds to "Khot" in Stein, Serindia, vol. 1 (s. references). It is numbered "Khotan" on the object itsself.

Historical context note

Khotan sits near Khargalik at the western end of the southern Silk Road. The Khotan site comprises a group of oasis towns that lie in the fertile lands south of the Tarim Basin. The region is watered by two great rivers: the Karakash (Black Jade River) and the Yurungkash (White Jade River). In spring, these rivers swell with melted snow from the Kunlun Mountains and carry boulders of jade down from their glacial peaks. This has made Khotan the most important source of this precious stone since ancient times. From the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) onward, merchants from China carried their goods to Central Asia and returned with Khotanese jade. The area became the centre of agriculture and trade within the Kingdom of Khotan and a group of oasis towns sprang up around the rivers.

The Kingdom of Khotan was a centre of Buddhism on the southern Silk Road, founded by immigrants from India in the 3rd century BC. Traditionally, its first king was the eldest son of King Ashoka (304-232 B.C.), an early patron of Buddhism in India. Khotan enjoyed great prosperity, due to its exports of jade, carpets, silk and paper. The arrival of monks from Kushan, together with Persians and Chinese; produced a rich blend of artistic styles which Stein called "Serindian". During his excavations in 1900, he found Buddha statues in the sensual Indian Gandharan style, along with images of Hindu and local Khotanese deities. Coins bearing Indian and Chinese scripts were evidence of the political forces which affected this vital trade centre. During the first millennium, Khotan was ruled by a number of foreign powers, including China, Kushan and Tibet, until it was destroyed by the Mongols.One of these was Yotkan, capital of the kingdom. Here Stein acquired many terracotta figures, coins, pottery shards and even flakes of gold from its soil; evidence of the city's former grandeur. He also located Buddhist sites recorded by the 7th century monk Xuanzang, during his travels on the Silk Road. One of these was a sacred cave and shrine on Kohmari Hill, southwest of the capital, where the monk Tathagata had prophecied the founding of the Kingdom of Khotan. There are several terracotta masks and figures in the V&A Stein collection. Similar objects purchased at or from the site of Yotkan.

Descriptive line

Fragment of a terracotta male head, China.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Stein, Marc Aurel. Serindia: detailed report of explorations in Central Asia and westernmost China. Oxford: Clarendon, 1921, vol. 1, p.121

Production Note

from Khotan





Subjects depicted

Man's head




East Asia Collection

Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.