Archeology and History of the Silk Road



Saturday, 22 November 2014

Excavation Hong Kong links to the tragic tale of the Song era's last young emperors?

Fanny W. Y. Fung

 Legend has it that when Mongol invaders captured the Song dynasty capital of Lin'an, loyal ministers fled with their seven-year-old emperor, Shi, and his five-year-old brother Bing, in a last-ditch effort to save the dynasty.
They headed south and arrived in what is now Kowloon in 1277AD. Alas, their time there was short. Shi soon died of sickness. With the Mongols closing in, the small band of loyalists refused to surrender. A minister scooped up the hastily crowned Bing and jumped off a cliff in Yashan, Canton.
Did the two boy emperors really come to Hong Kong? Historians still debate that.
But an archaeological excavation in Kowloon City renews hope of tracing the city's link to the brothers.
The dig has exposed old wells, among other artefacts, providing historians with a treasure trove from which to decipher some of the city's history. Photos: SCMPAn archaeologist hired by the MTR Corporation has unearthed thousands of clues, including two intact wells dating back to the Song (960-1279AD), or perhaps the Yuan, (1279-1368AD) dynasties.
"This is very important because the era matches the stories told from written records," says Professor Chiu Yu-lok, a historian at the Open University of Hong Kong. "They show the existence of mature settlements in the area in that period."
Independent Hong Kong historian Anthony Chan Tin-kuen says the discoveries offer a plausible explanation for the brothers' story.
"When the emperor and his people took refuge, they needed food and other materials and therefore would not stay in a barren place," he says. "The location of wells indicates a populous area in the Song-Yuan era."
The wells and other historical items were discovered during an archaeological survey of the area around the MTR's new To Kwa Wan station, part of the Sha Tin-Central railway link. The area was identified in 2008 as probably having high archaeological value.
Most of the items discovered have been moved to the government's depository for archaeological finds. One of the stone wells will be preserved on the site.
The station site is about 100 metres from the monument of Sung Wong Toi boulder, carved to commemorate the two boy emperors' refuge in Kowloon.
The site has yielded hundreds of treasures: house structures, burial sites, kilns, ditches, ponds and wells. Thousands of ceramic shards, coins and remnants of iron tools have also been unearthed.
Buried in layers up to four metres below the ground, the remnants show settlements from the Song dynasty to the early 20th century.
While some people are excited about the finds, two archaeologists are more cautious about its significance.
The man in charge of the excavation, Dr Liu Wensuo, of the Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, declined to be interviewed.
Chinese University archaeologist Tracey Lu Lie-dan says it would be unscientific to draw any conclusions about the significance of the discovery as it will take a long time for the archaeological team to analyse the finds.
The latest find in Kowloon City may not be as surprising as the remnants of the Ma Wan excavation in 1997.
There, an archaeological team found 20 graves, proving that there had been a human settlement in Hong Kong in the late Neolithic to early Bronze Age (2000-1000 BC).
The Kowloon City site could fill a gap in the study of the city's role in the Song dynasty, a culturally important age that saw the invention of movable type and the rise of lyrical literature, even as the dynasty suffered from military and diplomatic weakness.
Despite knowing that the Song dynasty had settlements in east Kowloon, little archaeological evidence had been found until recent years.
The first archaeological study was near Sacred Hill - a slope in the Ma Tau Wai area levelled by the Japanese army in the 1940s. From 1918 to 1937, Walter Schofield, a colonial civil servant and amateur archaeologist, found remains from pre-Han (before 206BC) periods and Tang (618-907AD) and Song dynasties, according to a report by Dr Liu.
The MTR excavation is the fifth archaeological survey in Kai Tak since 2002.
But the history of Hong Kong in the Song era is far richer than just the story of the two young emperors.
By the 4th century, eastern Kowloon was a salt production hub. When the dynasty nationalised salt production, the government set up a local headquarters of the Imperial Salt Monopoly in Kowloon, spanning an area that includes today's Kowloon City, Kowloon Bay, To Kwa Wan, Kwun Tong and Tsim Sha Tsui, according to the Kwun Tong district council and studies by historians.
As Kowloon Bay became a popular shelter for ships sailing between Guangdong and Fujian during the Song dynasty, people arriving from other parts of China started to settle in the area and establish villages. Among the migrants of the time was the Lin clan from Fujian, who set up a village called Po Kong Tsuen near the present San Po Kong.
Another trace of the Song empire is the Hau Wong Temple in Kowloon City. Built in the 18th century, it is a grade-one historic building. Some people say the temple was built to commemorate Yeung Leung-chit, a military general and uncle of Emperor Shi who took him to Kowloon. But this claim is still debated.
After the Mongols routed the Song regime, succeeding dynasties kept a foothold in Kowloon, including the Ming and the Qing. Facing threats from Western military powers in the 19th century, the Qing empire built the Kowloon Fort and the Kowloon Walled City. The Walled City, which became a lawless and dirty slum, was razed 20 years ago.
Official recognition of Song-era Chinese heritage in Kowloon City did not come until British colonial rule. According to Legislative Council records, the decision was partly a political move to provide what was then a brand new colony with a "respectable halo of antiquity" and partly a strategy to preserve some open space in Kowloon for the public.
The colonial government attempted to sell the land for development in 1915. The Sung Wong Toi boulder - slated to be razed - was saved only after building contractor Li Sui-kum revealed the plan to the public and two University of Hong Kong academics petitioned for its conservation.
Some hope the new Kowloon discoveries will trigger renewed interest in Hong Kong's imperial past. "In the 19th century, people started to pay attention to the roots of Hong Kong as they looked for something which could strengthen their cultural identity," says Professor Chiu. "Later in the 1950s, a group of scholars became very keen on reconstructing the history of Kowloon and conducted a lot of studies. Yet there was very little information available from archaeological finds."
Until now.

Precious fresco found in Tang tomb

English 19 November 2014
According to news released by Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archeology on Nov. 18, 2014, the excavation of the joint tomb of Chancellor Han Xiu and his wife of Tang Dynasty (618-907) has finished. Hundreds of cultural relics were excavated, including epitaph, tomb figures and exquisite frescoes that are still colorful after over 1,000 years. The landscape painting on the north wall of the coffin chamber is the earliest Tang fresco on a single wall discovered so far. (Chinanews/Zhang Yuan)

Looted, recovered, returned: new research on the Begram ivories

A seated figure in mid-conversation
A seated figure in mid-conversation. © National Museum of Afghanistan
A major new book, illustrated in full colour, has just been published on a group of these famous objects which had been stolen from the National Museum of Afghanistan during the 1990s but were recovered, then conserved and exhibited at the British Museum in 2011 before being returned to Kabul in 2012.
Lions and elephant carved in openwork
Lions and elephant carved in openwork. © National Museum of Afghanistan
Carved from bone as well as ivory, but popularly known as the ‘Begram ivories’, they were one of the many memorable highlights of the British Museum’s 2011 exhibition Afghanistan: crossroads of the ancient world. Over a thousand of these exquisite Indian miniature carvings, originally attached to wooden pieces of furniture, long since decomposed, were recovered by French archaeologists excavating the ancient site of Begram in 1937 and 1939. The main pieces were published but the collection was divided almost equally between the National Museum in Kabul and the Musée Guimet, the French national museum of Asian art in Paris. During the 1990s, disaster struck the Kabul collection during the civil war and hundreds were stolen from their galleries and storerooms, and remain scattered in many different collections around the world.
Composite bone plaque showing a bird
Composite bone plaque showing a bird
In 2010 a private philanthropist very generously stepped in and acquired this particular collection on behalf of the National Museum in Kabul. They were in a poor state and required a huge amount of conservation. This work was done within a very short space of time at the British Museum with the support of Bank of America Merrill Lynch through their global Art Conservation Project. The bank also sponsored the Afghanistan exhibition.
A digitally re-coloured version of a plaque covered with different pigments
A digitally re-coloured version of a plaque covered with different pigments. © National Museum of Afghanistan
This was also a golden opportunity to conduct scientific analyses on these pieces in order to understand how they were made, and the nature of previous conservation treatments. This work therefore involved a number of scientists, conservators and curators, who collaborated closely on this new publication. The results reveal important new evidence for the extent of ancient pigments on some of these beautiful objects, including black (lamp black), red (hematite and vermilion), blue (indigo) and possibly other colours using organic pigments. This is the first time any of the ivory and bone furniture ornaments from Begram have been scientifically analysed and the results show the huge potential in this approach.
Composite bone plaque showing a bird
Composite bone plaque showing a bird. © National Museum of Afghanistan
A mythical beast
A mythical beast. © National Museum of Afghanistan
The book also includes many previously unpublished photographs of these objects when they were exhibited in Kabul during the 1960s and 1970s. They show how, in some cases, private photographs taken of museum displays offer useful evidence for the appearance of objects in the event of disaster.
begram book cover_544
J Ambers, C R Cartwright, C Higgitt, D Hook, E Passmore, St J Simpson, G Verri, C Ward and B. Wills, Looted, Recovered, Returned: Antiquities from Afghanistan is published by Archaeopress and available both in printed and e-versions. The publication was supported by Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

New Liao and Jin evidence in the Jilin province

  China Daily   By Wang Zhen ( ) 

Archaeologists say that there are startling implications in discoveries made over the past two years at the well-preserved Chengsijiazi site, near Baishan, Jilin province, of Liao (916-1125) and Jin (1115-1234) dynasty relics that are at least 400 years old and are considered strong evidence of the socioeconomic and cultural conditions.
Jilin finds new Liao and Jin evidence
An archaeologist showing large relics from the Chengsijiazi site. [Photo/Xinhua]
The remains include city infrastructure, courtyard walls, drains,stove sites and house foundationsat a rammed earth site covering 600square meters, and were discovered by a team led by Liang Huili, of the provincial Relics and Archaeology Institute, who made the comment, on Nov 12, in an interview.
Liang explained, "We had to discontinue our digging at the end of 2013 terrible weather. Then we went back to look for remains of the city construction this past April."
She went on to say, "We found roof components such as plate tiles,semicircular tiles and eave tiles and a great number of porcelain shards.We were really excited, because these things were only used in royal architecture."
Jilin finds new Liao and Jin evidence
Archaeologists discover handprints on excavated bricks. [Photo/Xinhua]
Archaeologists found the characters ‘da’an’inscribed on many of the relics, as well as ‘da’an ba nian’, or ‘ba’an eighth year’ and ’da’an jiu nian’, or ‘ba’an ninth year’, referring, according to is the scientists, the reign title of the Liao’s Yeluhongji emperor (1032-1101).
Liang suggests that this site was once the emperor’s palace, based on the relics and of studies of historical documents, but, inspite of the fact that the Chengsijiazi site was first discovered in the 1960s,scientists haven’t had a chance to do extensive research until now.
They say the city site was established during the Liao and was used up to the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368). It was a center of politics, economic activity, culture and the military from the Liao and Jin periods to the early Ming dynasty (1368-1644).
Jilin finds new Liao and Jin evidence
The site produced some tiles with inscribed characters. [Photo/Xinhua]

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Tang Dynasty offices discovered in Daming Palace excavation

Tang Dynasty offices discovered in Daming Palace excavation
The excavation team member works on the site of the ruins of Daming Palace. Provided to China Daily

Chinese archaeologists recently found in the ruins of Daming Palace what is believed to be the zhongshu sheng, an office responsible for drafting and issuing imperial edicts during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907). 
According to excavation team leader Li Chunlin, of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Archaeology Institute, a 50-square-meter room has been unearthed in the west of the office ruins, and a relatively small room in the north of the office has also been found. 
The team began excavating in 2010 a 5,200-sq-m area northwest of Huanyuan Hall and Xuanzheng Hall, the main buildings of the Daming Palace, the Tang Dynasty imperial palace. The area was made the focal point of a projected five-year excavation from 2011 to 2016, approved by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, after many Tang cultural relics were found there. 
Two excavations, in 2011 and 2012, unearthed ruins of roads, walls, channels and an incomplete yard, said Gong Guoqiang, another excavation team leader. 
Gong said that the third excavation on the site began in a 1,500-sq-m area in October, and the complete layout of the yard should be unearthed by the end of the year. 
Experts say the room recently discovered might be the zhongshu sheng, because it was located in the west side of the Xuanzheng Hall. Historical records indicate that the zhongshu sheng and menxia sheng were in the west and east sides of the hall. 
Archaeologists found hundreds of artifacts around the office ruins, and many of them bore inscriptions in Chinese characters reading "official" that were used by imperial officials. 
During the Tang Dynasty, the central government set three sheng, or offices, and six ministries. The zhongshu sheng was for drafting and issuing imperial edicts, the menxia sheng was for checking such edicts, and the shangshu sheng was for managing government affairs. The three sheng were directly under the management of the emperor and were higher than the six ministries. 
Such ruins of central governmental offices have never before been discovered, Gong said, and they provide information for the research of the ancient government structures. 
The ruins of Daming Palace are located in the northern suburban of Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi province. The city was the Tang Dynasty's capital. It covered 84 sq km and had a population of over 1 million. In ancient times, it was called Chang'an and was one of the largest and most prosperous international cities in the world.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Earliest letters home on show in Hubei Museum

China Daily, 5 November 2014

Earliest letters home on show in Hubei museum
The earliest letters home are on exhibit at the Yunmeng Xiangshan Museum in Xiaogan, Hubei province, Nov 2, 2014. [Photo/IC]
The two letters, inscribed on wooden tablets, were unearthed in the west suburb of Yunmeng county of Hubei province in December 1975. The letters are from the end of the Warring States period, which date back over 2,200 years ago, and are said to be the oldest letters home in the world.
The letters were written by brother soldiers Heifu and Jing from the Qin army in today's Huaiyang, Henan province, to their brother at home "Zhong". The letters are now well preserved and the ink handwriting is still clear and recognizable.
From the two letters, we can learn about social and economic development during that period. According to experts, the letters were delivered home by acquaintances, as a way of delivering personal letters through official mail was still not allowed at the time. It wasn't until the Song Dynasty that the delivery of personal letters was permitted.
Also, the format of writing a letter was not quite the same as that in China today. For example, the date was written at the beginning of the letter, instead of at the end. Some vocabulary in the letters are still in use today in Chinese letters.
Earliest letters home on show in Hubei museum
Earliest letters home on show in Hubei museum

New Discoveries on 14th Century Blue-and-White Ware

Manila, Philippines – Chinese ceramic expert, May Huang, is coming to Manila to talk on the recently discovered blue-and-white shards from downtown Jingdezhen in China. The lecture, New Discoveries on 14th Century Blue-and-White Ware, will be held on November 22, 2014 at 3 p.m. at the Ayala Museum. The event is organized by Asia Society Philippines, Oriental Ceramic Society of the Philippines (OCSP) and Ayala Museum.
In 2009, a group of early Yuan blue-and-white shards were discovered accidentally in downtown Jingdezhen at Hongwei Cinema and excavated thereafter. By far the most important aspect of the new discoveries is its Persian inscriptions on the rims of seven pieces of shards of stem bowls, unraveling the past controversy over the origin of the 14th century blue-and-white ware.
May Huang is a highly accredited ceramic archaeologist. A lecturer at the School of Ceramic Art, Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute, she has twice received the Institute’s award of Exemplary Teacher.
Ms. Huang will be joined by the ceramic specialist Rita Tan and the distinguished Yuan blue-and-white ware collector Larry Gotuaco. Ms. Tan will give a brief introduction on the 14th century or Yuan blue-and-white ware, stressing the importance of this particular discovery. Mr. Gotuaco will give a short presentation on the Philippine finds of this group of ware.
“New Discoveries on 14th Century Blue-and-White Ware” is presented by Security Bank and Watershed Developments.
Tickets are P350 for adults and P200 for students, senior citizens, AGC employees and members of Ayala Museum, Asia Society and Oriental Ceramics Society of the Philippines. Lecture fees include admission to the museum exhibitions. For ticket inquiries, call Ayala Museum at 7598288 or email
May Huang, lecturer at the School of Ceramic Art, Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Alumnus Uncovers Ancient Medicine Along Silk Road

Sean Bradley, ND, MSAOM, traces the path of medicinal myrrh from Arabia to China with a renowned Smithsonian scholar.
Sean Bradley holds jar of myrrh
Sean Bradley holds jar of myrrh, used by martial artists for protection from injuries.
The first known medical use of myrrh, an aromatic resin from the Commiphora tree, appeared in Greek texts in the 5th century B.C. Healers used it to treat topical wounds. Over centuries, it spread across central Asia and throughout China, where it appeared in medical texts a thousand years later as a balm for injuries such as falls from horses.
Bastyr University alumnus Sean Bradley, ND (’08), MSAOM (’08), EAMP, is retracing myrrh’s path through medical guides and other texts from the ancient world. It’s part of a larger collaboration to unearth forgotten knowledge from the texts of traditional East Asian medicine.
"We think of medical research as lab and clinical work, but scholarship going back to ancient texts can discover medical knowledge that has been lost over time,” says Dr. Bradley, a research investigator at the Bastyr University Research Institute and practitioner at Seattle Asian Medicine and Martial Arts.
Ancient drawing of commiphora tree
Drawing of commiphora (myrrh) from the Bencao gangmu, an ancient Chinese medical text.
Studying ancient medicine has already yielded discoveries that have reshaped health care. Aspirin pills are related to a compound in willow bark, which Native Americans chewed to relieve pain. Artemisinin, the basis for a widely used malaria therapy, comes from sweet wormwood, a traditional Chinese medicine. The scientist who developed the drug received a prestigious Lasker Foundation prize in 2011.
By studying myrrh, Dr. Bradley hopes to shed light on how medicine spread and evolved throughout antiquity. He recently presented his research to the International Society for the History of Medicine at its conference, The Great Silk Road and Medicine, in Tbilisi, Georgia. He spoke about how myrrh moved from culture to culture on the Silk Road network of trading routes, medical knowledge traveling along with the resin itself. His talk received a best presentation award.
Dr. Bradley is working with a leading authority on ancient medical texts, Alain Touwaide, PhD, of the Institute for the Preservation of Medical Traditions, hosted by the Smithsonian Institution. A historian proficient in 12 languages, Dr. Touwaide has searched through ancient botanical texts, primarily in Greek, Latin and Arabic. He discovered 2nd century Greek references to eating broccoli to treat intestinal cancer, a relationship modern researchers are now investigating. He has built meticulous databases detailing where and how plants are mentioned, enabling medical researchers to test long-forgotten medicines.

East-West Meeting

Map of Silk Road routes
The Silk Road network of trading routes linked cultures of the ancient world.
That approach to cataloguing ancient medicine caught the interest of Dr. Bradley. He will use the same method with East Asian medicine, which has an even larger body of ancient texts than the Mediterranean world.
Building such databases is “deeply important for the study of worldwide botanical medicine,” Dr. Bradley says.
The two met at Bastyr University’s Kenmore campus in 2011, when Dr. Touwaide spoke as a visiting scholar through the William A. Mitchell, Jr., ND, Memorial Fund for Botanical Medicine. Dr. Bradley attended his talk on the resurgence of herbal medicine in the age of pharmaceuticals and found himself drawing parallels to his own research interests.
The two arranged a collaboration with the help of Timothy C. Callahan, PhD, Bastyr’s senior vice president and provost. Dr. Touwaide is also working with botanical medicine professor Eric Yarnell, ND (’96), on a study of ancient herbal treatments for urology issues.
“This is an exciting way to build on the work Dr. Touwaide has been doing for more than 30 years cataloguing the uses of medicinal plants throughout history,” says Dr. Callahan.

The Movement of Knowledge

Myrrh trains with students
Dr. Bradley (airborne) trains with students at Seattle Asian Medicine and Martial Arts.
Dr. Bradley’s path to the Silk Road started with his childhood interest in martial arts and a hapkido teacher who taught him ways to prevent and heal injuries. He enrolled in Bastyr’s Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine and Master of Science in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, teaching hapkido, a Korean martial arts form, to classmates on campus, often at 6 a.m.
“That’s the only time everyone was free,” he says.
After graduation, he founded his practice in Seattle’s Lake City neighborhood. The clinic offers both medicine and classes in martial arts and movement therapies such as tai chi and qi gong.
As he studied Chinese herbs at Bastyr, Dr. Bradley grew hungry for more extensive translations of medical texts. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Chinese at the University of Washington and began a master’s program in Chinese literature, learning about vast repositories of ancient texts in China. Chinese universities and libraries have their own collections of ancient medical texts but English translations are often lackluster or nonexistent, he says.
His research on myrrh underscores the need to study medicine across cultures. The resin is native to the Arabian Peninsula (its name is Arabic for “bitter”), though its first recorded mentions are in the writings attributed to Hippocrates.
“To begin I focused on its use in Greek and Chinese medicine,” he says. “The next step is seeing if I can fill in the pieces in between, which would involve ayurvedic medicine, Persian medicine, Tibetan medicine and Arabic medicine. They all have records, although not as extensive.”

Medicine Across Cultures

Touwaide holding book
Alain Touwaide at a meeting of the History of Science Society
A cross-cultural approach is crucial for understanding how medicine developed, says Dr. Touwaide. “The study of the history of medicine is very compartmentalized,” he says. “That’s completely wrong. Chinese, Tibetan, Indian, Arabic and Greek medicine were not isolated. They exchanged information and methods and concepts.”
Dr. Bradley found that myrrh’s uses were remarkably consistent between Greece and China centuries later. The resin was most often used for treating injuries and also for gynecological uses such as postpartum pain. It was also used to treat eye disorders such as trachoma.
Today, it is mainly used in Chinese medicine for topical injuries. Martial arts fighters apply formulas containing myrrh to their striking hands for protection from injuries, a technique Dr. Bradley teaches at his clinic.
Other historical uses of myrrh changed suddenly, a mystery Dr. Bradley plans to investigate further.
“Those changes could be a case of misidentification,” he says. “It could be at some point in history they got the plant wrong.
“It’s very much an act of discovery.”

A 7,000-Year-Old Story in Turkey

Hurriyet Daily News, November 14, 2014

Known as the immortal city, 7,000-year-old Misis in the southern province of Adana is coming to light with archaeological work that is revealing the ancient city’s rich history


    Misis is located right next to the Ceyhan River, 27 kilometers east of the center of the southern province of Adana on the historic Silk Road. AA Photo
Misis is located right next to the Ceyhan River, 27 kilometers east of the center of the southern province of Adana on the historic Silk Road. AA Photo
Misis (Mopsouestia) might be outshone by Rome, but the ancient city on the banks of the Ceyhan River in southern Turkey is just as old as the old imperial capital, while arguably trumping Rome’s moniker of “the eternal city” with its own title, “the immortal city.” Some 7,000 years after its founding, archaeological work at the site is now revealing the traces of antiquity.

The city is located right next to the Ceyhan River, 27 kilometers east of the center of the southern province of Adana on the historic Silk Road

As part of a project titled “The Infinite City: Misis,” made by Yüreğir Municipality, excavations have been continuing in the area, headed by Professor Anna Lucia of the National Research Council at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient Mediterranean and Professor Giovanni Salmeri of Pisa University. 

Structures such as city walls, stadiums, caravanserais and theaters are being unearthed during the archaeological works in the ancient city, which was first settled seven millennia ago.

As well as the artifacts underground, unearthed mosaics, an ancient stone bridge, city walls, aqueducts, baths, ancient stone tombs and the Havraniye Caravanserai make the city unique and significant. 

Salmeri said excavation work on the area was being carried out by expert teams from Italy. 

The Pisa University professor said Misis was a very old city and that they had found remains from the Neolithic, Chalcolithic, early Hittite, Roman and Byzantine eras. “People and history are living together here. This place will become a culture and archaeological park in two or three years,” he added. 

Salmeri said the professional excavation teams were working to shed light on the history of the region with pieces unearthed in excavations. “We have found pieces from the Neolithic age. Our analyses show that they are from 7,000 years ago. The ancient city of Misis hosted various civilizations,” he said, adding that the second stage of this year’s works would end in the next few days. 

Mosaic Museum and project 

The archaeological work is helping augment the collection of the nearby Misis Mosaic Museum. In the museum various periods can be viewed in chronological order, and floor mosaics belonging to a basilica located within the boundaries of the Misis Ancient City are exhibited in situ. 

The ancient city was discovered in 1956 and the mosaic area was revealed by Professor Dr. Theodor Bosset and Dr. Ludwig Budde from a German archaeology team who were carrying out excavations at that time on the Misis Mound.

The project, “The Infinite city: Misis,” includes the construction of a new housing project by The Housing Development Administration of Turkey (TOKİ). Agricultural activity will continue in the area, but not at the excavation site itself, and a set of incentives will be offered to local farmers by the Agriculture Ministry, permitting daily life to continue at Misis.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Ears of Ancient Chinese Terra-Cotta Warriors Offer Clues to Their Creation

Technology yields new insight into how a Chinese emperor produced an army for eternity within his tomb.

By Heather Pringle for National Geographic
14 November 2014

China's first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, was a man haunted by death.

In 246 B.C. the adolescent ruler commissioned a massive tomb furnished with everything he'd need for the next life, including an entire army of life-size terra-cotta warriors, from mighty generals to humble infantrymen. Arranged in battle formation in pits near the emperor's tomb, the clay army stood watch for more than 2,000 years. Then, in 1974, local farmers rediscovered the site while digging a well.

Since then, archaeologists have puzzled over how ancient artisans produced the estimated 7,000 lifelike clay soldiers, right down to their stylish goatees and plaits of braided hair. Some have suggested that the statues were modeled after real, individual soldiers; others think they were assembled from standard clay ears, noses, and mouths, similar to the Mr. Potato Head toy.

A photo of a one of the terracotta warriors.
The researchers digitally combined photos to create 3-D models of the left ears of 30 of the figures. They found that no two were alike.PHOTOGRAPH BY O. LOUIS MAZZATENTA, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

Recently, in a project known as Imperial Logistics: The Making of the Terracotta Army, a team of archaeologists from University College London (UCL) in Britain and from Emperor Qin Shi Huang's Mausoleum Site Museum in Lintong, China, have been using the latest imaging technology and other advanced methods to deduce the design process behind the warriors. The British-Chinese team took detailed measurements of the statues' facial features, focusing especially on the ears. Forensic research shows that ear shapes are so variable among humans that they can be used to identify individuals.

"If a thief presses an ear against a door or a windowpane, that can be as effective as a fingerprint," says team member and UCL archaeologist Andrew Bevan. If the terra-cotta warriors portrayed real people, each statue should have distinctively shaped ears.

But taking measurements of the clay ears was a risky proposition. The fragile warriors are packed so tightly in their burial pit that moving among them with calipers could have damaged them. So the team used new digital technology known as structure-from-motion to create precise, three-dimensional reconstructions of the warriors' ears.

Watch a 3-D animation of the terra-cotta army that was found in Pit 1, the largest excavation pit in Xian, China.

For the initial sample, team members picked 30 terra-cotta warriors and photographed the left side of their heads from a safe distance and from slightly different vantage points. Then they digitally combined the photos to create 3-D models of each left ear and measured the complex surface geometries of each.

Statistical analysis revealed that no two ears in the small sample group were exactly the same. Indeed, the degree of variability resembled a human population. This preliminary finding lends credence to the idea that the ancient artists were aiming for realism.
"Based on this initial sample, the terra-cotta army looks like a series of portraits of real warriors," says UCL archaeologist Marcos Martinón-Torres.

The results also fit well with those of a 2003 study by John Komlos, a now retired German economic historian. Komlos measured 734 terra-cotta warriors and compared their heights to those of 150 Chinese men measured in the mid-19th century. The findings, reported in the journal Antiquity, were a close match, suggesting to Komlos "that the size of the terra-cotta figures could well represent the true physical stature of the Chinese infantry."

To further refine their research, the British-Chinese team is measuring a much larger sample of terra-cotta ears and analyzing other facial features so they can cross-reference the data.

A photo of a one of the terracotta warriors.
"The terra-cotta army looks like a series of portraits of real warriors," says one of the research team. PHOTOGRAPH BY O. LOUIS MAZZATENTA, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE 

Workshops vs. Assembly Lines
Today Qin Shi Huang's clay army stands nearly empty-handed, row upon row of unarmed men. But when Chinese archaeologists excavated around the figures, they found an array of actual weapons, from bronze swords and halberds to crossbow triggers and some 40,000 arrowheads, which frequently were bundled in groups of a hundred to fit in a quiver.

To glean clues about their production, archaeologist Xiuzhen Li, of both UCL and the mausoleum site museum, and other team members measured a large sample of the weapons, analyzed the chemical composition of their metal, and studied small inscriptions chiseled into their surfaces.

The results revealed something surprising. Initially, team members hypothesized that armorers manufactured the weapons using an assembly-line system similar to that developed by American car manufacturer Henry Ford. In this scenario, specialized workers would continuously produce one type of part—a bronze arrowhead, say, or a bamboo arrow shaft—and then send their products to an assembly line. There, workers would fit parts together to make one type of weapon.

But the chemical composition of the arrowheads pointed to a different picture. Each bundle exhibited a distinct chemical signature, slightly different from those in neighboring bundles. This strongly suggested that Qin Shi Huang's armorers worked in a "cellular production" system similar in some respects to that pioneered by Toyota to produce cars. Instead of monotonously making the same part for an assembly line, the imperial weapon makers were probably versatile artisans who worked in small, dispersed workshops making weapons from start to finish.

Each armorer was held accountable, however, for what he produced. Many of the small weapons bore chiseled symbols akin to makers' marks. Larger lances, halberds, and swords carried more detailed inscriptions that recorded the year they were made and the names of each person in the chain of command responsible for their manufacture.

This allowed imperial officials to track down anyone producing defective arms and mete out "stiff sanctions," says Bevan. The emperor ruled his vast realm with an iron hand, once condemning more than 460 scholars to be buried alive for possessing forbidden books.

A photo of Yang Jingyi brushing away some mud on one of the Terra Cotta warriors before restoring the statue.
An archaeologist brushes mud off one of the warriors that stood guard over the emperor's tomb, which has yet to be excavated. PHOTOGRAPH BY O. LOUIS MAZZATENTA, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

Tombs of the Imperial Family
During explorations of Qin Shi Huang's vast necropolis, archaeologists have discovered other terra-cotta treasures, including life-size figures of acrobats, dancers, and other entertainers. But researchers have yet to explore the dark secrets of the emperor's own burial mound.

Nearly a century after Qin Shi Huang's death, the Chinese scholar Sima Qian described how workers filled the emperor's tomb with rare artwork—including representations of celestial bodies—that could disintegrate if the tomb were opened.

Moreover, the emperor is said to have planned a gruesome death for anyone who dared to disturb his slumber. According to Sima Qian's history, the imperial tomb served as a giant booby trap, rigged with crossbows and washed by rivers of toxic mercury.

For the foreseeable future anyway, Qin Shi Huang will continue to rest in peace.