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Central Asiatic Expeditions Films (1921-1930)



Series title for Film Collection nos. 146-151


Professor Henry Fairfield Osborn, AMNH President (1908-1933) and noted paleontologist, believed that central Asia was the birthplace of man. When the young curator of mammals, Roy Chapman Andrews, started talking about exploring central Asia he was encouraged by Osborn. Andrews personally raised funds and organized an expedition that he called the Third Asiatic Expedition (TAE), 1921-1930, since he had already reconnoitered Mongolia in 1919, and in 1916-1917 the AMNH had completed the First Asiatic Zoological Expedition. The TAE spanned a decade and was comprised of field trips undertaken in 1921, 1922, 1923, 1925, 1928, and 1930. Eventually, the entire series of expeditions became known as the Central Asiatic Expeditions.

Asia magazine, co-sponsor of the TAE, hired cinematographer James Barnes Shackelford, an expert in the use of the Akeley camera (a special camera equipped with a gyro head, a long-focus lens, and a coupled viewfinder, which could be set up in less than a minute and have its film changed in thirty seconds) to film the expedition in 1922, 1925, and 1928. The resulting films and photographs are some of the most comprehensive and most professional, making it the best documented expedition in the collection. In the 1930s the raw footage was edited into short thematic films titled and captioned for use in lectures. No comprehensive visual record exists.

The TAE received front-page attention as it traveled throughout China and Mongolia; its discoveries made headlines and were the subject of the photogravure sections of newspapers. Such publicity led to the purchase of several hundred feet of film by Paramount Publix Corporation in 1931.

Although the expedition failed to find evidence that central Asia was the birthplace of man, it is remembered for the discovery of dinosaur eggs in the Gobi Desert, thus proving that dinosaurs were reptiles not mammals.

From: Catalog of the American Museum of Natural History Film Archives, 1987.

Found in 2 Collections and/or Records:

Central Asiatic Expeditions : maps, staff and transportation

Identifier: Film Collection no. 148
Scope and Contents Filmed during the AMNH Third Asiatic Expedition to China and Mongolia, 1921-1930. The film opens with animated maps tracing the routes of the expeditions. Members of the expedition staff are introduced as they work in the field: Roy Chapman Andrews, leader; Walter Granger, chief paleontologist; Albert Thomson, assistant paleontologist; Leslie Erskine Spock, geologist; Alonzo W. Pond, archaeologist; and Captain W. P. T. Hill, topographer. The next segment shows the problems the expedition...
Dates: 1922-1928

The Central Asiatic Expeditions : Peking

Identifier: Film Collection no. 150
Scope and Contents Filmed during the AMNH Third Asiatic Expedition to China and Mongolia, 1921-1930. Film brought from the U.S. was intended for recording the expedition, but some precious film was used to photograph Peking (now Beijing), the site of the expedition's headquarters. Because of the need to conserve film, this film is choppy, but provides a record of the city in the 1920s. The varied modes of transport are shown: trolleys, ox carts, sedan chairs, rickshaws, camels, wheelbarrows, horsedrawn...
Dates: 1922-1928

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  • Subject: Scientific expeditions -- Asia, Central X

Additional filters:

Beijing (China) -- Description and travel 1
Gobi Desert (Mongolia and China) -- Description and travel 1
Scientific expeditions -- Gobi Desert (Mongolia and China) 1