Magazine article Geographical

Lost and Found in Lop Nor: Sven Hedin's Tape Measure

Magazine article Geographical

Lost and Found in Lop Nor: Sven Hedin's Tape Measure

Article excerpt

Swedish explorer, writer, and geographer Sven Hedin (1865-1952) made four expeditions into Central Asia between 1893 and 1935. The region was to have a profound effect on him. On his first trip, he wrote that "the whole of Asia was open before me. I felt that I had been called to make discoveries without limits - they just waited for me in the middle of the deserts and mountain peaks."

In 1901, while exploring one such discovery--the ruins of a small fortified station just north of Lop Nor in northwestern China--Hedin misplaced the tape measure he'd been using to survey the site. Such a tiny object in the middle of vast open plains was always going to be difficult to find, and Hedin understandably gave it up for lost. And so it remained for five years, until renowned explorer Aurel Stein stumbled upon it while on one of three expeditions he made to the deserts of Chinese Turkestan.

Stein described the object's rediscovery in a letter that he later donated to the Royal Geographical Society's archive. "The tape-measure was found by me on Dec. 23, 1906," he wrote, "lying exposed on the base of the ruined stupa rising at the main group of ruins situated in the desert seven marches to the north of Lop-nor marshes and two marches to the south of the salt springs of Altmish Bulak. …

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