Administratively, the lake is in Lop Nur township of Ruoqiang County, which in its turn is part of the Bayingolin Mongol Autonomous Prefecture. The lake system into which the Tarim River and Shule River empty is the last remnant of the historical post-glacial Tarim Lake, Lop Nur is hydrologically endorheic— it is landbound and there is no outlet. The lake measured 3,100 km2 in 1928, but has dried up due to construction of dams blocked the flow of water feeding into the lake system. The dried-up Lop Nur Basin is covered with a salt crust ranging from 30 cm to 1 m in thickness. Lop Nur has been used as a testing site. From around 1800 BC, until the 9th century the lake supported a thriving Tocharian culture, archaeologists have discovered the buried remains of settlements, as well as several of the Tarim mummies, along its ancient shoreline. Former water resources of the Tarim River and Lop Nur nurtured the kingdom of Loulan since the second century BC, an ancient civilization along the Silk Road, Loulan became a client-state of the Chinese empire in 55 BC, renamed Shanshan. Marco Polo in his travels passed through the Lop Desert, and it is also likely that Swedish soldier Johan Gustaf Renat had visited the area when he was helping the Zunghars to produce maps over the area in the eighteenth century. The lake was given names in ancient Chinese texts. In Shiji it was called Yan Ze, indicating its saline nature, in Hanshu it was called Puchang Hai and was given a dimension of 300 to 400 li in length and breadth, indicating it was once a lake of great size. These early texts also mentioned the belief, mistaken as it turns out and this shift of the terminal lake caused some confusion amongst the early explorers as to the exact location of Lop Nur. The change in the course of the river, which resulted in Lop Nur drying up, was suggested by Hedin as the reason why ancient settlements such as Loulan had perished. In 1921, due to intervention, the terminal lake shifted its position back to Lop Nur. The lake measured 2400 km2 in area in 1930-31, in 1934 Sven Hedin went down the new Kuruk Darya in a canoe. He found the delta to be a maze of channels and the new lake so shallow that it was difficult to even in a canoe. In 1900 he had walked the dry Kuruk Darya in a caravan, in 1952 the terminal lake then shifted to Taitema Lake when the Tarim River and Konque River were separated through human intervention, and Lop Nur dried out again by 1964. In 2000, in an effort to prevent further deterioration of the ecosystem, the Taitema Lake however had shifted 30 to 40 kilometres westwards during the past 40 years due in part to the spread of the desert. Another cause of the destabilization of the desert has been the cutting of poplars and willows for firewood, in response, the Kara-Koshun dried basin may be considered part of the greater Lop Nur
Image: Basin of Lop Nur 90.25E, 40.10N, Desert of Lop, Kum Tagh and Astin Tagh
Map of Lop Nur by Folke Bergman, 1935. Kara-Koshun where the terminal lake was found in 1867 is located to the south-west of Lop Nor, and the lake had shifted back to Lop Nor by the time this map was drawn. Taitema Lake was a smaller transit lake and located to the west of Kara-Koshun.
Europoid Mask, from Xiaohe Tombs complex near Lop Nur, China, 2000-1000 BCE
Image: Basin of Lop Nur 90.25E, 40.10N, Kum Tagh and Astin Tagh