Central Asian Collections in Munich

The Turfan and central Asian collections held mainly in Berlin resulted from four expeditions led by Albert Grünwedel (1856–1935) and Albert von le Coq (1860–1930) between 1902 and 1914. But they were not the only German explorers to this region over this period: there are collections in museums in Munich and Bremen. In May I was able to visit and study these and here I give a brief introduction to the largely unpublished and unexhibited Munich collection.1

Francke/Körber Collection in Munich

The Museum of Five Continents, Munich.

I originally learned about this collection at the Museum of the Five Continents in Munich through Dr. Ulf Jäger who wrote a short introduction to it for IDP News 25 (spring 2010), followed up with a longer piece in The Silk Road Journal (4.1: 60-63). The collection is not fully catalogued or published.2 Dr Gerd Gropp (1935–2022), who brought attention to the collections in the 1980s (Gropp 1984), carried out a preliminary classification but was unsuccessful in raising funds to catalogue it fully. He passed on the endeavour to Dr Jäger but funds are still lacking. The recently retired curator, Dr Bruno Richtsfeld, published a two-part article in German (2010–11). The first part describes the expedition in more detail and gives a description of the collections. I am indebted to his article for much of the information below.

As this article explains, the finds taken to Berlin by Grünwedel and le Coq prompted the director of the then Königlich Ethnographisches Museum München, Prof. Dr. Lucian Scherman (1864–1934), to fund his own expedition in the hope of acquiring similarly spectacular exhibits for the Munich museum. The scholar chosen for the expedition was the Tibetologist, August Hermann Francke (1870–1930): pictured below. Francke was at this time cataloguing Tibetan manuscripts and inscriptions acquired from Endere in the Tarim Basin by Aurel Stein on his first expedition.4 He had lived in Ladakh from 1896–99 and was due to return, funded by the Bible Society, for further mission work in this region (Bray 2015). He therefore arranged his travel to go to Leh via Kashgar, Yarkhand and Khotan and suggested Hans Körber (1886–1979), a teacher with skills in photography as well as in Chinese, Russian and Turkish languages, as a companion.

They started out in May 1914 and travelled through Russia—separating in Moscow—making collections on the way. They met again in Kashgar and travelled via Yarkhand to Khotan visiting sites noted by Aurel Stein who had excavated in this region on his first and second expeditions (1900–1 and 1906–8 respectively). Stein had passed this way in the previous year on his third expedition (1913–16) and was, in summer 1914, travelling from Inner Mongolia and towards Turfan. They did not meet: Francke and Körber’s proposed visit to Turfan, which Grunwedel and Le Coq had previously visited, was abandoned.

Unlike Stein and Grünwedel/Le Coq, Francke and Körber did not excavate but generally acquired their finds through surface acquisitions at sites, purchases from locals and some through the help of Karekin Moldovack, an Armenian silk and carpet merchant then resident in Khotan (on whom more in a future post but also see Waugh and Sim-Williams 2010). Their acquisitions were mainly small: pottery sherds, manuscript fragments, coins, stucco pieces, figurines. They noted the sites at which the finds originated, using a system similar to that of Stein and depending largely on his works for identification of the sites. A list is given below. Of course, in cases where they acquired pieces from locals this provenance might not be accurate and we also know that forgeries had been produced for nearly two decades by then (Waugh and Sims-Williams 2010).

After packing their finds in Khotan, they left them in the care of Moldovack to be sent on to the Swedish Mission to Kashgar for shipping to Europe. They departed for Tibet on 17 August, 1914. On crossing the border into Kashmir, they met Count Filippo de Fillipi (1869–1938), the Italian explorer—and great friend of Stein—who told them of the outbreak of World War I. They made more collections which were left in Leh. As Germans moving into what was then British territory, they were considered enemy aliens and were interred on arrival in Srinigar and then taken to the POW camp in Ahmednagar. By this time, if not before, the two men had fallen out and were never to reconcile. Körber remained in the camp until the end of the war, writing there his manuscript ‘Morphologie des Tibetischen’, which was to gain him his doctorate in 1921 after his release from the University of Marburg. He held various other posts in China and the Phillipines before going to California in 1928 where he took US citizenship. He then held posts at the University of Southern California and the University of San Diego and remained there until his death.

A.H. Francke. Sketch by the Hungarian artist Laday, made in Ahmednagar POW,
Source: Francke 1921, frontispiece.

Francke, however, was released from the camp in 1916 as part of an exhange of prisoners and was repatriated via England to Germany.5 He was then drafted, first as an ambulance driver then as a interpreter in POW camp for Indians in Romania. After Romania joined the war against Germany he was detained in POW camp near Belgrade, only returning to Germany in 1919. Here he published the account of their journey which he had written in the camp in India (Francke 1921). He was then to obtain his doctorate and became Professor of Tibetan at Berlin University (Bray 2015).

The collections remained in Kashgar and Leh until after the war when Francke raised funds for their transport, via Leh, to Berlin where they arrived in 1928. He unpacked them and wrote a description, reprinted in Richsfeld’s article, but died soon after.

The items have all since been given FK (for Francke-Körber) museum numbers and there is a handlist which goes to FK-1176, although many objects are in multiple parts. This list also includes material from Tibet. The manuscripts have been photographed. The material is now mainly stored in trays, organised by types of objects rather than sites—box 33 for example, pictured below, contains fragments of moulded feet and fingers, all that remains of complete statues in Buddhist settings from Domoko (Kad.) and Aksipil (A.).

Below is a list of sites and a brief description of the types of material acquired, summarized from Richtsfeld (2010-11: 91–125). NB. Francke made clear that they did not visit many of these places but acquired material in Khotan from local ‘treasure-seekers’.

A.—Aksipil: Yotkan-style pieces and Buddhist figures acquired from locals.
AK.—Akterek: purchased a small collection of coins.
Bo.—Borazan: on way to Yotkan.
Cad. see Kha.
Ch.—Chal-mak Kazan: south of Yotkan. Did not visit. Buddhist pieces brought by locals.
DB.—Dombak: visited grave site and dig up clay pot with cremated remains.
Do.—Domoko: Buddhas feet and fingers (pictured above) acquired from locals, as well as manuscripts in Chinese, Tibetan and Khotanese.
H.—Hanguya: Buddhist figures in white plaster, ‘See especially the standing Buddha in Abhaya-mudra, H.72 and H.98, perhaps the finest piece in our collection.’
I.—Iman Jafar: clay and bronze items, including coins, spoon and eagle head, acquired from locals.
Kad._Khadalik, Domoko: see description under Do.
Kha.—Khan-ui, north of Kashgar, including old settlement site, fort and Buddhist stupas Topa Tim and Maura-tim: bought copper coins from local treasure seekers and a pottery figurine, said to come from here, purchased from Hogberg, one of the resident Swedish missionaries.
kan.—Kashgar: stucco finds, potsherds and jade from remains of Japanese (Otani expeditions) in old town. Islamic-period glazed bricks and coins acquired from locals.
Kd.—Kara-dobe: found pieces white stucco and were brought other pieces by locals.
K.I.—Khotan (general): this used for ‘all finds that were acquired in Khotan and about whose origin nothing was known.’ [Richstfeld 103]
Ki.—Kanchugan (Kinchuglian), Islamic period fortress near Kashgar: Potsherds and some slag picked up from ground.[FK4]
Kiz.—Kurgan Tim, remains of a stupa near Kashgar: potsherds.
Ks.—Karasai: pieces of stucco/clap brought by locals.
K.T.—Karakir Tim: pottery sherds picked up from ground.
Leh.—Ladakh: purchase of items for which no export ban.
M.Ta.—Mazar-tagh: manuscripts in Tibetan, Sogdian and Tocharian acquired from locals in Khotan.
M.—Mo-ji: potsherds.
Nu.—Nubra: In Ladakh en route to Tibet: clay tablets in Tibetan.
Thurs. see Kha.
Y. and Yo.—Yotkan: potsherds, some with masks; animal figurines (see below); two ivory dice; jade figurines; beads. Purchase of a modern ribbon loom with patterns. Y. indicates that the provenance is less certain.

Box 8 with monkey figurines from Yotkan. (More on monkeys from Khotan in a forthcoming post).

Y.—Yarkand: coins recently from near Yamen; Islamic-period glazed bricks from a local shrine
YA.I.—Yengi Arik I at Guma: potsherds.
YA.II.—Yengu-Arik II: Chinese coins, bronxe rings, buckle etc from locals.


1. The Bremen collection was catalogued and published by Dr Gropp in 1974.
2. Ronald Emmerick published some of the manuscript fragments in a 1984 article.
3. The second part discusses the subsequent history of the collection through the correspondence of Lucian Scherman and Albert von Le Coq. As Richtsfeld notes, the Munich collection includes ‘fourteen copies of Buddhist wall paintings that Albert Grünwedel found on the 3rd Berlin Turfan Expedition (1906/07) and donated to the museum in June 1911.’ (Richsfeld 2010-11: 65-66)
4. Published as ‘Tibetan manuscripts and sgaffiti discovered by Dr M. A. Stein at Endere.’ Ancient Khotan: 548-569, Appendix B.
5. For a discussion of Francke during this period see Bray 2015. I have not been able to confirm the details of Francke’s release but in 1916, as this document shows, there was discussion about releasing civilian POWS over 45. Franke was 46 at this time: Körber only 30. See https://archive.org/details/furthercorrespon00grea/page/n1/mode/2up


Bray, J. 2015. ‘A.H. Francke’s Last Visit to Ladakh: History, Archaeology and the First World War.’ Zentralasiatische Studien 44:147-178.
Emmerick, R. E. 1984. ‘Newly-discovered Buddhist Texts from Khotan.’ In Y. Tatsuro (ed.). Proceedings of the Thirty-First International Congress of Human Sciences in Asia and North Africa. Tokyo: 219–20.
Francke, H. 1921. Durch Zentralasien in die indische Gefangenschaft. Verlag der Missionsbuchhandlung.
Gropp, Gerd. 1974. Archäologische Funde aus Khotan, Chinesisch-Ostturkestan. Die Trinkler-Sammlung im Übersee-Museum, Bremen. Bremen: Friedrich Rover.
Gropp, Gerd. 1984. ‘Eine neuentdeckte Sammlung Khotanischer Handschriftfragmente
in Deutschland.’ In Middle Iranian Studies, pp. 147-150. Edited by Wojciech Skalmowski and Alois van Tongerloo. Leuven: Uitgeverij Peeters.
Jäger, Ulf. 2005. Archaeological finds from Khotan in the State Museum of Ethnography in Munich. IDP News 25: 3.
Jäger, Ulf. 2006a. The August Hermann Francke and Hans Körber Collection: Archaeological Finds from Khotan in the Munich State Museum of Ethnology. The Silk Road, 4.1: 60-63
Jäger, Ulf. 2006b. ‘On one of the largest collections of pre-Islamic antiquities from Central Asia in Germany: the August Hermann Francke and Hans Körber collection from Khotan / Xinjiang / PR China from 1914 in the State Museum of Ethnology in Munich.’ Archäologisches Nachrichtenblatt 11(3): 268–71.
Körber, Hans. 1921. Morphologie des Tibetischen. Marberg University. Diss.
Richtsfeld, Bruno J. 2010-11. ‘August Hermann Franckes (1870–1930). Bearbeitung der Serindien- und Ladakh-Sammlung Francke/Körber im Völkerkundemuseum München aus dem Jahre 1928. Die Serindien-Sammlung des Staatlichen Museums für Völkerkunde München I.’ Münchner Beiträge zur Völkerkunde 14, pp. 65–128.
Richtsfeld, Bruno J. 2010-11a. ‘Der Briefwechsel Lucian Scherman – Albert von Le Coq und die Gründe für das Scheitern einer Serindien-Abteilung am Völkerkundemuseum München. Die Serindien-Sammlung des Staatlichen Museums für Völkerkunde München II.’ Münchner Beiträge zur Völkerkunde 14, pp. 129–193.
Waugh, Dan. & Ursula Sims-Williams. 2010. ‘The Old Curiosity Shop in Khotan.’ The Silk Road 8: 69-96.

Many thanks to Jens-Uwe Hartmann, Ulf Jäger, Anahita Mittertrainer, Renate Node, Simone Raschman, Uta Werlich, and conservation staff at Munich for all their help with providing information, contacts and enabling this visit. Thanks also to the Leverhulme Trust: the visit was carried out as part of my Leverhulme Emeritus Fellowship to research the history of Khotan for a forthcoming book.

This entry was posted in Aurel Stein, Buddhism, Silk Road archaeology, Silk Road art and history and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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