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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 6 Collections and/or Records:

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]

Central Asiatic Expeditions : fossils and artifacts

Identifier: Film Collection no. 147
Scope and Contents Filmed during the AMNH Third Asiatic Expedition to China and Mongolia, 1921-1930. The film records the paleontological finds of the expedition. The most important is shown first: the discovery of the "perfect dozen" nest of dinosaur eggs by George Olsen, paleontologist, at the Flaming Cliffs of Shabarakh Usu in the Gobi Desert. Bones of Baluchitherium, one of the largest land mammals, a hornless relative of today's rhinoceros, and Embolitherium, an Oligocene mammal, are also seen being...
Dates: 1925

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

Frontiers of a forbidden land

Identifier: Film Collection no. 151
Scope and Contents Filmed during the AMNH First Asiatic Zoological Expedition to Yunnan and Fukien, China, 1916-1917. This is the record of the AMNH First Asiatic Zoological Expedition to eastern and southwestern China (Fukien and Yunnan provinces), the purpose of which was to collect zoological specimens and visual ethnographic records. Roy Chapman Andrews, was accompanied by his wife, Yvette Borup Andrews, who served as photographer, and Edmund Heller, collector and explorer, who served as specimen...
Dates: 1916-1917

The Central Asiatic Expeditions : Mongols

Identifier: Film Collection no. 149
Scope and Contents China and Mongolia, 1921-1930. The first sequence concentrates on daily life in a Mongol camp near Tsagan Nor (or White Lake). The camp is a complex of Mongolian tents (yurts) with men, sheep, and dogs milling about; yaks pull heavy logs; and a camel is being trained. The film moves to Urga (now Ulan Bator) where Khalka women with elaborate headresses are seen; a Mongol affected with gigantism enters the city and is photographed with Roy Chapman Andrews. The film then shifts back to the...
Dates: 1922-1925

Additional filters:

Scientific expeditions -- Gobi Desert (Mongolia and China) 3
Gobi Desert (Mongolia and China) -- Description and travel 2
Scientific expeditions -- Asia, Central 2
Scientific expeditions -- Mongolia 2
Beijing (China) -- Description and travel 1