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Albert von Le Coq

Albert von Le Coq ( 8 September 1860 Berlin, Prussia – 21 April 1930 Berlin, Germany) was a Prussian/German brewery owner and wine merchant, who at the age of 40 began to study archaeology.


He was born at Berlin, of a family of French Huguenot origin, as evidenced in his family name.
Von Le Coq was heir to a sizable fortune derived from breweries and wineries scattered throughout Central and Eastern Europe, thus allowing him the luxury of travel and study at his leisure. The business he owned survives today as the A. Le Coq brewery in Tartu, Estonia.

Career as archaeologist

Aided by his wealth, von Le Coq became a famous archaeologist and explorer of Central Asia.

Left image:Two Buddhist monks on a mural of the Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves near Turpan, Xinjiang, China, 9th century AD; although Albert von Le Coq (1913) assumed the blue-eyed, red-haired monk was a Tocharian, modern scholarship has identified similar Caucasian figures of the same cave temple (No. 9) as ethnic Sogdians, who inhabited Turpan as an ethnic minority community during the phases of Tang Chinese (7th–8th century) and Uyghur rule (9th–13th century).
Right image: Pranidhi scene, temple 9 (Cave 20), with kneeling figures praying in front of the Buddha who Albert von Le Coq assumed were Persian people (German: "Perser"), noting their Caucasian features and green eyes, as well as the donkey and Central-Asian Bactrian camel loaded with tributary goods. However, modern scholarship has identified praṇidhi scenes of the same temple (No. 9) as depicting ethnic Sogdians, an Eastern Iranian people who inhabited Turfan as an ethnic minority community during the phases of Tang Chinese (7th-8th century) and Uyghur rule (9th-13th century).
Albert von Le Coq's former residence in Turpan
Albert von Le Coq once lived in this house when he was in Turpan.

Von Le Coq was convinced that the influence of Ancient Greece could be found as far in the east as China. However, organising expeditions to Central Asia and China was beyond his means. The German archaeologist Hermann Parzinger has found a letter in the Prussian State Archive which reveals that the financial backing to von Le Coq’s expedition came from no one else than the last German emperor Wilhelm II. Wilhelm was obsessed with Greek culture and supported one of the expeditions with 32,000 German gold marks.

Von Le Coq was associated with the Museum für Völkerkunde (now called the Ethnological Museum of Berlin) in Berlin. Serving as assistant to the head of the Museum, Professor Albert Grünwedel, Le Coq helped plan and organize expeditions into the regions of western Asia, specifically areas near the Silk Road such as Gaochang. When Grünwedel fell ill before the departure of the second expedition, Le Coq was assigned to lead it. His account of the second and third German Turpan expeditions was published in English in 1928 as Buried Treasures of Chinese Turkestan.

The expeditions found extensive networks of Buddhist and Manichaean cave temples in the Xinjiang region of Northwest China. Although many of the manuscripts found in the cave were destroyed during the excavation, von Le Coq speculated that he had discovered a major Manichaean library. Some of the paintings also led him to believe that he had found evidence of an Aryan culture, related to the Franks. With the help of his assistants, Theodor Bartus, Le Coq carved and sawed away over 360 kilograms (or 305 cases) of artifacts, wall-carvings, and precious icons, which were subsequently shipped to the museum. In Buried Treasures ..., Le Coq defends these "borrowings" as a matter of necessity, citing the turbulent nature of Chinese Turkestan at the time of the expeditions. Chinese consider this seizure a "colonial rapacity" comparable to the taking of the Elgin Marbles or the Koh-i-Noor diamond. The artifacts were put on display at the museum and were open to the public until 1944 when the relics were destroyed in a British bombing raid during World War II.

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