THOUGH heavily breached from the eighth century of our era by the thunderbolt advance of Islam, Buddhism none the less held, until the eleventh century, the lines of oases lying north and south of the desert of Takla-Makan. From that period deserted Buddhist monasteries and sanctuaries were covered by the sands; the remarkable dryness of the climate ensured the preservation of the documents that had escaped the iconoclastic zeal of the Muslim conquerors.
In 1893 the French travellers Dutreuil de Rhins and Fernand Grenard collected, in the Khotan region, manuscripts and fragments of statuettes. The Russian savants, set on the alert by the remarkable finds of their compatriot Petrovsky, Consul-General at Kashgar, set on foot the first methodical researches ( Klementz, 1898); they were followed closely by other missions: British, Dr (later Sir) M. Aurel Stein ( 1900-1); German, Grünwedel-Huth ( 1902-3), A. von Le Coq ( 1904-5), Grünwedel-A. von Le Coq ( 1905-7), A. von Le Coq, ( 1913-14); French, Paul Pelliot-Louis Vaillant ( 1906-8). The illustrated documents collected by these different missions carry the mark of the numerous and varied influences that were exerted upon this Asiatic Macedonia.
Indo-Hellenistic art, an instrument of Buddhist propaganda, had become loaded, from contact with Sasanian Persia, with Iranian elements that we will find in Bāmiyān (Afghanistan), as well as in Kizil (Chinese Turkestan). At Turfan (von Le Coq's mission) the influence of China was already active; from the sixth century the Chinese were there taking the place of the Avar princes ( Juan-Juan), who had themselves succeeded occupants