The mountains and deserts of Central Asia are a geographical absurdity in terms of human survival, and yet one of the most important traffic circles in the history of interchange between East and West. The silk route that later took Marco Polo to Cathay had been the road long which the ancient civilizations of India, China, and Hellenized western Asia had traded crucial political, religious and cultural influences in the early centuries of the era. Sir Mark Aurel Stein, the famous British explorer and archaeologist, made three expeditions over a period of nearly seven years into Innermost Asia-what is now Chinese Turkestan and its adjacent areas. Touring 25,000 miles on pony and foot, he traversed mountains at the ""roof of the world""--from the Hindukush to the Pamirs--and excavated scores of ancient desert oases, Greco-Buddhist caves, and remnants of the Chinese limes, an extension of the Great Wall designed to protect China's route of political and commercial expansion. The only European on the expeditions, Stein's discoveries have become invaluable to art and cultural historians. The records of his adventures rank with those of his ancient traveling patrons--the Chinese wanderer Hsuan-Tsang and centuries later, Marco Polo himself. Intersperse as they are with his extensive knowledge of early Asian history and art, the exciting journals are a classic in archaeological contributions to the mysterious importance of Central Asia-areas that are now closed to Western eyes.