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Horse head-shaped fragment - The Stein Collection

The Stein Collection

  • Object:

    Horse head-shaped fragment

  • Place of origin:

    Xinjiang (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 the head of a horse, might have belonged to a figurine of a horse with rider. The facial features, reins and mane are incised. Everything below the neck is missing. It was acquired at Yotkan, the site of the former capital of the Kingdom of Khotan, ca. 10 km west of today's town of Khotan in Xinjiang, China, and a major Buddhist centre. At this site large quantities of antiquities were brought to light, unfortunately generally not from scientific excavations. The most characteristic finds are small terracottas, moulded appliques in classical style and tiny animal figurines.

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 horse's head. Facial features, reins and mane are incised. Everything below the neck is missing.

Place of Origin

Xinjiang (made)


3rd century - 6th century (made)



Materials and Techniques

Moulded terracotta


Height: 2.5 cm, Width: 3.5 cm

Object history note

Purchased at or from the site of Yotkan.

Historical context note

Yotkan lies near the western end of the southern Silk Road. It was once the capital of the Kingdom of Khotan and a centre of Buddhism. Stein was the first person to excavate the site. He found fragments of pottery, engraved stones, coins bearing Chinese characters and Indian script, and animal bones; all indicating occupation for many centuries. Among the pottery finds were a large number of terracotta figures depicting monkeys, camels, human heads, flowers, monsters, birds and oxen, all dating from the third to the sixth century. Flakes of gold throughout the site were evidence of the gilded temples and monasteries which had flourished during this period. The V&A holds, on loan, a large number of terracotta figures from Yotkan.

Descriptive line

Horse head-shaped fragment, 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.110

Production Note

from Yotkan




Moulded; Incised

Subjects depicted





East Asia Collection

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