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Central Asiatic Expeditions (1921-1930)



The Central Asiatic Expeditions took place between 1921 and 1930, and were led by Roy Chapman Andrews. Walter Granger was chief paleontologist and the second in command. With a team of up to forty scientists, drivers, and assistants, they were able to collect a vast multitude of objects for the American Museum of Natural History and make many groundbreaking discoveries such as the first dinosaur eggs. They explored throughout the Gobi Desert and cemented this area as a prime location for paleontological study.

“These expeditions went into Mongolia to explore the Gobi Desert, seek the ancestry of man, and study the natural history of the region. With the aid of a fleet of motor cars, a supporting caravan of camels and a well-organized scientific staff, the expeditions of 1922, 1923, 1925, 1928 and 1930 covered practically all of the fields of desert exploration” (1). Roy Chapman Andrews had explored the regions of China and Mongolia in two previous trips. The First Asiatic Zoological Expedition (1916-1917) was largely zoological in scope and was restricted to the Chinese provinces of Fukien and Yunnan. The Second Asiatic Zoological Expedition went into Mongolia in 1919, and was also zoological in nature. Andrews considered these preparatory steps in his larger proposal to launch an extended, large scale expedition into Mongolia (2). They are often grouped as part of the overarching Central Asiatic Expeditions. After obtaining the support of the Museum, Andrews was able to gather enough sponsorship to make his plan a reality by 1921. It was known as the Third Asiatic Expedition until approximately 1925, when the name was changed to Central Asiatic Expeditions (3). Andrews supervised all activity, which was comprised of five distinct summer collecting seasons in the Gobi desert, as well as winter seasons. Additionally, herpetologist Clifford Pope spent his time collecting in areas of southern China such as Fukien Province and Hainan Island. The 1922 Expedition traveled from Kalgan to Urga, then southwest to Tsagan Nor in the Altai region and back to Kalgan. In 1923, exploration efforts focused on exploiting the fossil fields discovered in Inner Mongolia and the eastern Altai region of Outer Mongolia. The 1925 exploration included forty men, and the main party traveled as far northwest as Orok Nor. The 1928 Expedition was conducted entirely in Inner Mongolia. In 1930, the work was confined to vertebrate paleontology, geology and topography, and was performed from camps near the Outer Mongolian border. The expeditions gathered astaggering body of observations, records, measurements, photographs, films, and collections as materials for the American Museum of Natural History and scientific papers in publication. They made many historic discoveries, including the first dinosaur eggs. The Expeditions were memorable as well for the use of automobiles in their work, and Andrews’ inexhaustive promotion and fundraising efforts, which included yearly speaking tours, sponsorships and even auctioning one of the dinosaur eggs.


(1) Andrews, Roy Chapman, Walter Granger, Clifford Hillhouse Pope, Nels Christian Nelson, and Glover Morrill Allen. The new conquest of Central Asia: a narrative of the explorations of the Central Asiatic Expeditions in Mongolia and China, 1921-1930. (New York: American Museum of Natural History, 1932).

(2) Roy Chapman Andrews, "Urga, the Sacred City of the Living Buddha," Harper's Monthly Magazine 141, no. 842 (1920): 147.

(3) Charles Gallenkamp, Dragon hunter: Roy Chapman Andrews and the Central Asiatic expeditions (New York: Viking, 2001), 106.


Found in 22 Collections and/or Records:

Roy Chapman Andrews papers, 1987 Accession

Identifier: Mss .A54
Scope and Contents The bulk of the collection consists of Andrews' correspondence, manuscripts, and transcripts of Andrews' broadcasts and talks from 1934 to1944. It also contains one folder of family and biographical documents and newspaper clippings received from Charles Gallenkamp, Andrews' biographer, in 1990. The majority of the administrative papers' correspondence concerns requests for speaking engagements about Andrews' explorations, requests for articles, and letters from the public and from companies...
Dates: 1920-1947; Majority of material found within 1934-1944

Andrews, Roy Chapman; Third Asiatic Expedition, 1921 - 1925

 Record Group — Multiple Containers
Identifier: VPA 101
Scope and Contents

Correspondence between Andrews and James Wong, Osborn, Matthew.

Correspondence from 1921 includes 4 black and white photographs from Chow-K'ou-Tien dig.

Correspondence from 1922 includes a record of fossils collected in 1922 with assigned AMNH collection numbers as well as the list of field boxes with contents.

Dates: 1921 - 1925

Berkey, Charles P.; Third Asiatic Expedition, 1922

 Record Group — Box: 5, Folder: 8
Identifier: VPA 101
Scope and Contents

Copy of a telegram sent by Berkey to Hovey regarding work of the Third Asiatic Expedition.

Dates: 1922

Frederick B. Butler collection on the 1925 field season of the Third Asiatic Expedition

Identifier: Mss .B88
Scope and Contents This collection contains field notes written by Butler during the 1925 field season (April 11-August 20) of the Third Asiatic Expedition. It also contains a typed diary detailing his experiences in Mongolia and discussing expedition staff members. Correspondences include letters to and from Butler and his wife in Tianjin (Tientsin), China, and official correspondences. Also included are various lectures ("Speech to the Algonquin Club. Boston, Dec. 7, 1926"; "Expedition lecture with...
Dates: 1924-1927; Majority of material found within 1925-1926

CAE II 100th Anniversary Rephotography Mission Image collection

Identifier: MA.2021.010
Content Description Images and progress reporting produced by J. Kelly Cluer and M. Saandar during the CAE II 100th Anniversary Rephotography Mission project. Bulk of the material is born-digital, with the exception of some analog poster-sized printouts of comparison shots. Material includes original rephotographs, compiled images in pdf format comparing the historic photograph with the rephotograph, powerpoint presentations and a progress report. AMNH Research Library collection images from the Second Asiatic...
Dates: 2016-2020

Central Asiatic expedition field photographs

Identifier: PPC .C446
Scope and Contents

Field photographs from the Central Asiatic Expedition. Includes dozens of loose photographs; one container with three oversize panoramic prints.

Dates: 1921-1930

Central Asiatic expedition scrapbook photographs

Identifier: PPC .C4462
Scope and Contents

Photographs originally included in an album given to the U.S. Geographic Survey by F.B. Butler. Returned to the AMNH April 1991.

Dates: 1921-1930

Central Asiatic Expeditions copy slides, 1966.

Identifier: PSC 164

Photographic copy slides made from the original hand-colored lantern slides. Field photographs from the Central Asiatic Expeditions (1921-1930). Images of Mongolian people and landscape, fossil beds where dinosaur eggs were found and scenes from traveling on land. Places include Mongolia, Tibet, China and Gobi Desert.

Dates: 1966

The Central Asiatic Expeditions : fauna

Identifier: Film Collection no. 146
Scope and Contents Filmed during the AMNH Third Asiatic Expedition to China and Mongolia, 1921-1930. The expedition collected zoological specimens throughout Mongolia, but the main collecting was done in the Gobi Desert. This film shows some of the animals that were collected for scientific purposes, as well as those kept as pets. The animals collected includes swans, nightjars, ruddy shelducks, grebes, ducks, gazelles, wild asses, and jerboas. Next are seen the animals "kept" by members of the expedition: an...
Dates: [1921-1930]