Monday, 15 June 2020

The Cultures of Ancient Xinjiang

The Cultures of Ancient Xinjiang, Western China: Crossroads of the Silk Roads

  • Paperback: 218 pages
  • Publisher: Archaeopress (19 Dec. 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 178969406X

The Cultures of Ancient Xinjiang, Western China: Crossroads of the Silk Roads unveils the ancient secrets of Xinjiang, western China, one of the least known but culturally rich and complex regions located at the heart of Asia. Historically, Xinjiang has been the geographic hub of the Silk Roads, serving international links between cultures to the west, east, north and south. Trade, artefacts, foods, technologies, ideas, beliefs, animals and people have traversed the glacier covered mountain and desert boundaries. Perhaps best known for the Taklamakan desert, whose name translates in the Uyghur language as 'You can go in, you will never come out', here the region is portrayed as the centre of an ancient Bronze Age culture, revealed in the form of the famous Tarim Mummies and their grave goods. Three authoritative chapters by Chinese archaeologists appear here for the first time in English, giving international audiences direct access to the latest research ranging from the central-eastern Xiaohe region to the western valleys of the Bortala and Yili Rivers. Other contributions by European, Australian and Chinese archaeologists address the many complexities of the cultural exchanges that ranged from Mongolia, through to Kashgar, South Asia, Central Asia and finally Europe in pre-modern times.

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Rome, China, and the Barbarians by Randolph B. Ford

EthnographicTraditions and the Transformation of Empires 

Hardcover – 23 April 2020

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

The Wonders of Creation and the Singularities of Painting

  • A Study of the Ilkhanid London Qazvini (Edinburgh Studies in Islamic Art)

    by Stefano Carboni

  • Paperback: 456 pages
  • Publisher: Edinburgh University Press (11 Feb. 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1474461395

Al-Qazwini's Wonders of Creation is one of a handful of extant illustrated codices produced under the Mongols of Persia. Al-Qazwini collected, edited and assembled a large body of literary works into a single text that reflects the cultural world of a medieval Arab encyclopaedist. In this lavishly illustrated volume, Stefan Carboni analyses the manuscript's miniatures, discusses the 368 paintings that illustrate the codex, and includes a partial critical translation of the related Arabic text. The codex contains a copy of a cosmographical text written in Arabic in Baghdad towards the end of the 13th century. The cosmography represents a physical description of the world arranged from the outer spheres of the universe, where the throne of God, the Angels and the Planets are located, down to Earth where the Peoples living in the Islands of the Oceans, the Mineral, the Vegetal and the Animal Kingdoms are described throughout the text. About the series: Edinburgh Studies in Islamic Art offers readers easy access to the most up-to-date research across the whole range of Islamic art, representing various parts of the Islamic world, media and approaches. Books in the series are beautifully illustrated academic monographs of intellectual distinction that mark a significant advance in the field.

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

Uzbekistan: The Road to Samarkand

  • by Yaffa Assouline (Author), Laziz Hamani (Photographer)

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Assouline Publishing (February 26, 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1614288917

At the heart of Central Asia lies a land where colossal mountains and sweeping valleys sleep under a blanket of lush greenery. Crowned with golden palaces and wondrous monuments, the architectural landscape of the region is so rich with detail, the structures have been said to mirror the heavens themselves. One of the few destinations on Earth where imagination aligns with reality, Uzbekistan flourishes with unparalleled scenery and unforgotten traditions. The towns and cities are like ‘open museums’, each edifice offering a unique and intricate aesthetic, each a testament to diverse cultural influences and diverse periods of history. Nature and architecture have a unique relationship, seemingly inspired by each other, as if they were trying to to outdo each other with their beauty. Discover the beautiful colors, textures and flavors of this incredible culture and journey through the cities of the Silk Road and the lands of Alexander The Great with stunning original photography by Laziz Hamani.

Visualizing Dunhuang

  • Seeing, Studying, and Conserving the Caves 

    Publications of the Department of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University 


    17 Nov. 2020

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (17 Nov. 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691208166

A beautifully illustrated study of the caves at Dunhuang, exploring how this important Buddhist site has been visualized from its creation to today. 
Situated at the crossroads of the northern and southern routes of the ancient silk routes in western China, Dunhuang is one of the richest Buddhist sites in the world, with more than 500 richly decorated cave temples constructed between the fourth and fourteenth centuries. The sculptures, murals, portable paintings, and manuscripts found in the Mogao and Yulin Caves at Dunhuang represent every aspect of Buddhism. From its earliest construction to the present, this location has been visualized by many individuals, from the architects, builders, and artists who built the caves to twentieth-century explorers, photographers, and conservators, as well as contemporary artists. 
Visualizing Dunhuang: Seeing, Studying, and Conserving the Caves examines how the Lo Archive, a vast collection of photographs taken in the 1940s of the Mogao and Yulin Caves, inspires a broad range of scholarship. Lavishly illustrated with selected Lo Archive and modern photographs, the essays address three main areas
-Dunhuang as historical record, as site, and as art and art history. 
Leading experts across three continents examine a wealth of topics, including expeditionary photography and cave architecture, to demonstrate the intellectual richness of Dunhuang. Diverse as they are in their subjects and methodologies, the essays represent only a fraction of what can be researched about Dunhuang. The high concentration of caves at Mogao and Yulin and their exceptional contents chronicle centuries of artistic styles, shifts in Buddhist doctrine, and patterns of political and private patronage-providing an endless source of material for future work. 
Contributors include Neville Agnew, Dora Ching, Jun Hu, Annette Juliano, Richard Kent, Wei-Cheng Lin, Cary Liu, Maria Menshikova, Jerome Silbergeld, Roderick Whitfield, and Zhao Shengliang. 
Published in association with the Tang Center for East Asian Art, Princeton University

Saturday, 2 May 2020

Mystery of unique 2,100-year-old human clay head

with a Ram's skull inside!
Modern fluoroscopy identifies sheep bones inside the Tagar culture death mask.

X-ray technology of the period indicated something was unusual about the bones inside the clay head - but could not reveal more. Picture: Vyacheslav Porosev, Instutute of Nuclear Physics, SB RAS
The discovery of the magnificent clay likeness of a young man in the Shestakovsky burial mound No 6 has long intrigued Russian archeologists.
Among cremated people this elegant mask of, perhaps, a handsome warrior immediately stood out as a remarkable find when it was first unearthed in Khakassia in 1968 by Professor Anatoly Martynov.
X-ray technology of the period indicated something was unusual about the bones inside the clay head - but could not reveal more. 
‘There are skull bones and a small hollow space, which, however, does not correspond to the inner size of the human skull but is much smaller,’ noted the prescient Martynov in 1971. 
Then - and later - opening the clay head was deemed impossible since it would destroy this ancient relic. 
‘It was suggested that there was a human skull inside. It was of course quite surprising to see instead a sheep’s skull.’ Picture: Evgeny BabichevInstutute of Nuclear Physics, SB RAS
Almost four decades later scientists returned to the mystery of this man from the Tagar culture which is known for its elaborate funeral rites, for example the use of large pit-crypts containing some 200 bodies which were set ablaze. 
As scientist Dr Elga Vadetskaya had observed, the heads of the dead were covered in clay, moulding a new face on the skull, and often covering the clay face with gypsum. 
So the expectation was - in deploying new technology on the man’s death mask - that the bones inside, though small fragments, would be human.
But they were not. 
The research was led by Professor Natalya Polosmak, from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, and Dr Konstantin Kuper, of the Institute of Nuclear Physics, both in Novosibirsk, and part of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. 
Clay head from Shestakovo burial

Clay head from Shestakovo burial
The man ‘could have got lost in the taiga, drowned, or disappeared in alien lands’. Pictures: Mikhail Vlasenko
‘I had been working with Natalya Polosmak on other research, and she suggested checking this head because they could not simply look inside - and were puzzled,’ explained Dr Kuper. 
‘It was suggested that there was a human skull inside. It was of course quite surprising to see instead a sheep’s skull.’
What made these ancient people fill human remains with a ram's remains?
In the article for the magazine Science First Hand Professor Polosmak offers two options but also acknowledges that ‘as this is the only such case so far, any explanations of this phenomenon will undoubtedly contain, alongside the elements of uniqueness, elements of chance’.
Professor Anatoly Martynov
Professor Anatoly Martynov unearthed the head in 1968 in Khakassia. Picture: Kemerovo State University
She believes the Tagar people ‘may have buried in this extraordinary manner a man whose body had not been found’.
She surmises that the man ‘could have got lost in the taiga, drowned, or disappeared in alien lands’.
For this reason he was ‘replaced with his double – the animal in which his soul was embodied’ and in this was sent to the afterlife alongside the remains of his fellow humans.
‘This must have been the only way to ensure the after-death life of a person who had not returned home.
'Archaeologists know a number of such burials, referred to as cenotaphs, which have no human remains but may contain a symbolic replacement. As the latter, an animal could have been used.’
Head prepared for fluoroscopy
Clay head prepared for fluoroscopy at the Institute of Nuclear Physics, SB RAS. Picture: Vyacheslav Porosev, Instutute of Nuclear Physics, SB RAS
Her other theory for the ‘false burial’ is that it may have been done to give the man ‘a chance to have a fresh start, a new life in a new status.
‘Instead of a living man whose death was staged for some reason, an animal – a sheep in human disguise – was offered.’
One thing is clear: for ancient people the ram had a great significance. 
'What does the sheep’s skull hidden under the clay covers depicting a man’s face tell us? What is it, an accident? Or was the animal the main hero of ancient history?
'The latter hypothesis seems justified. A ram (sheep) is among the most worshipped animals of old times. Initially, the Egyptian god Khnum was depicted as a ram (later, as a man with the head of a ram).’
200 mummified bodies in burial mound at Belaya Gora
Remains of 200 mummified bodies found in one of the Tagar burial mounds at Belaya Gora. Picture: A. Poselyanin
A third version has been proposed by Dr Vadetskaya in her book 'The Ancient Yenisei Masks from Siberia’  after studying elaborate burial rites of ancient people during this Tesinsk period.
Her work was based on research of other archaeologists but also had fascinating input from forensic experts.
She believed the burial rite had two stages - the first of which was putting the dead body in a ‘stone box’ which then went into a shallow grave or under a pile of stones for several years.
The main goal was partial mummification - the skin and tissues decomposed, but tendons and the spinal cord persisted. 
Then the skeleton was taken away intact and was tied by small branches. 
Tagar clay head pictured by Anatoly Martynov

Tagar clay head pictured by Anatoly Martynov
Clay head pictured in 1968. Traces of the ropes and sticks, which were used to attach the head to the "funeral doll", visible on the back of the head. Anatoly Martynov
The skull was trepanned and the rest of the brain was removed. Then the skeleton was turned into kind of ‘doll’ - it was wrapped around with grass and sheathed with pieces of leather and birch bark.
Then, according to Dr Vadetskaya, they reconstructed ‘the face’ on the skull. 
The nose hole, eyes socket and mouth were filled with clay, then the clay was put onto the skull and the ‘face’ was moulded though without necessarily much facial resemblance to the deceased. 
Often this clay face was covered with a thin layer of gypsum and painted with ornaments. 
She suspected that these masked mummies went back to their families pending their second, bigger funeral. 
This might have been for some years: there is evidence that gypsum was repaired and repainted. 
Head with clay modeled face

Head with clay modeled face

Head with clay modeled face
Faces molded on the skulls were often covered with thin gypsum layer painted with ornaments. Pictures: Elga Vadetskaya, The State Hermitage Museum
She wrote: ‘For some mummies the wait was too long. They decomposed, so only the heads were left to be buried. 
‘In some cases even the head did not survive. Then they had to recreate the whole image of the deceased one.’
She believed that this was the case with the mysterious human sheep skull.
The ram remains were used to replace the real human skull of this ‘mummy doll’ lost or destroyed during the decades between the two funeral rites. 
According to Vadetskaya, a large pit was dug for these ‘Big' funerals.
Elga Vadetskaya
Doctor Elga Vadetsakaya. 
A log house was erected and covered with birch bark and fabrics. 
Many such human remains were put inside, and the log house was with the remains of dead were ignited. 
The log house was partly burned down and often the roof collapsed. 
The pit-crypt burial was then covered with turf and earth and formed a mound. 
In this particular case there were relatively few human remains - no more than 15, yet in others the number could rise into the hundreds. 
So - there are three main theories. 
Perhaps future scientists will gain access to more elaborate technology to examine this death mask and unlock more secrets about this extraordinary find.

Monday, 27 April 2020

The Cumans and Magyars

  • The History and Legacy of the Steppe Nomads Who Raided Europe Throughout the Late Middle Ages

  • Paperback: 135 pages
  • Publisher: Independently published (8 April 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 979-8635405147

Before the Mongols rode across the steppes of Asia and Eastern Europe, the Cumans were a major military and cultural force that monarchs from China to Hungary and from Russia to the Byzantine Empire faced, often losing armies and cities in the process. The Cumans were a tribe of Turkic nomads who rode the steppes looking for plunder and riches, but they rarely stayed long after they got what they wanted. 
From the late 9th century until the arrival of the Mongols in 1223, there was virtually nothing that could be done to stop the Cumans. Old Russian chronicles, Byzantine texts, Western European chronicles, and travel diaries of Islamic scholars all reveal that the Cumans were a threat to any kingdom in their path. Some kingdoms chose to fight the Cumans and often suffered heavy destruction, while others believed buying them off was the more reasonable course of action. The latter course often brought them into intimate contact with the most powerful kingdoms of medieval Eastern Europe before the Cumans were eventually replaced by the Mongols, with the remaining Cumans dispersing and integrating into various European and central Asian kingdoms in the 13th century. Many Cumans joined the Mongol Golden Horde and later became Muslims, while some helped found dynasties in Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania. 
The Cumans came from somewhat mysterious origins before they became the western vanguard of a massive nomadic horde that grew in ferocity and effectiveness as the centuries passed, but they were far more than mindless barbarians interested in violence alone. Although violence did play a major role in early Cuman culture, sources reveal they were also interested in diplomacy and eventually integrated with their sedentary neighbors. Archaeological discoveries further indicate that their culture was unique, complete with mythology and some art, but in the end, the Cumans disappeared as quickly as they appeared on the historical scene, much like other nomadic peoples before and after them.
Of all the steppe peoples in the medieval period, perhaps none were more important to European history than the Magyars. Like the Huns and Avars before them and the Cumans and Mongols after them, the Magyars burst into Europe as a destructive, unstoppable horde, taking whatever they wanted and leaving a steady stream of misery in their wake. They used much of the same tactics as the other steppe peoples and lived a similar, nomadic lifestyle. The Magyars also had many early cultural affinities with other steppe peoples, following a similar religion and ideas of kingship and nobility, among other things. 
That said, as similar as the Magyars may have been to other steppe nomads before and after them, they were noticeably different in one way: the Magyars settled down and became a part of Europe and Western Civilization in the Middle Ages. The Magyars exploded onto the European cultural scene in the late 9th century as foreign marauders, but they made alliances with many important kingdoms in less than a century and established their own dynasty in the area, roughly equivalent to the modern nation-state of Hungary. After establishing themselves as a legitimate dynasty among their European peers, the Magyars formed a sort of cultural bridge between the Roman Catholic kingdoms of Western Europe and the Orthodox Christian kingdoms of Eastern Europe. Ultimately, the Magyars chose the Roman Catholic Church, thereby becoming a part of the West and tying their fate to it for the remainder of the Middle Ages. 
The Cumans and Magyars: The History and Legacy of the Steppe Nomads Who Raided Europe Throughout the Late Middle Ages examines how the Cumans and Magyars became influential players in the region, and the influence they had.

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

The Last Journey of the San Bao Eunuch, Admiral Zheng He

By Sheng-Wei Wang

Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Proverse Hong Kong (17 Nov. 2019)
Language: English

ISBN-10: 9888491814

From 1405, in order to maintain and expand the Ming Dynasty’s tributary system, Yongle Emperor Zhu Di (reigning 1402-1424) and Xuande Emperor Zhu Zhanji (reigning 1425-1435) ordered eunuch Zheng He to lead giant fleets across the seas. But soon after Zheng He’s seventh and last voyage in the 1430s, the Ming emperors put an end to this activity and ordered all records of previous voyages to be destroyed. Chinese writer Luo Maodeng (罗懋登), knowing the history of some of these voyages, wished to preserve a record of them, but, conscious of the possible penalty, decided to record the facts “under a veil”, in his 1597 novel, An Account of the Western World Voyage of the San Bao Eunuch (《三宝太监西洋记》). This is what Dr. Sheng-Wei Wang has concluded after reading and analysing Luo’s novel. Her book, The last journey of the San Bao Eunuch, Admiral Zheng He, shows the methodology and evidential arguments by which she has sought to lift the veil and the conclusions she suggests, including the derivation of the complete trans-Atlantic navigational routes and timelines of that last journey and the idea that Zheng He’s last expedition plausibly reached the ancient American Indian city, Cahokia, in the U.S. central Mississippi Valley in late autumn, 1433, long before Christopher Columbus set foot for the first time in the Americas. She supports the hotly debated view that Ming Chinese sailors and ships reached farther than previously accepted in modern times and calls for further research. She hopes this book will become an important step in bridging the gap in our understanding of ancient China-America history in the era before the Age of Discovery. An interesting contribution to an ongoing debate. This edition has 48 scattered b/w illustrations and 8 b/w plates.

Thursday, 16 April 2020

Empire of Horses by John Man

The First Nomadic Civilization and the Making of China 

by John Man 

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Pegasus (3 Mar. 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1643133276

The author of landmark histories such as Genghis Khan, Attila, and Xanaduinvites us to discover a fertile period in Asian history that prefigured so much of the world that followed.
The people of the first nomadic empire left no written records, but from 200 bc they dominated the heart of Asia for four centuries, and changed the world in the process. The Mongols, today's descendants of Genghis Khan, see these people as ancestors. Their rise cemented Chinese identity and inspired the first Great Wall. Their descendants helped destroy the Roman Empire under the leadership of Attila the Hun.
We don't know what language they spoke, but they became known as Xiongnu, or Hunnu, a term passed down the centuries and surviving today as "Hun," and Man uncovers new evidence that will transform our understanding of the profound mark they left on half the globe, from Europe to Central Asia and deep into China.
Based on meticulous research and new archaeological evidence, Empire of Horses traces this civilization's epic story and shows how this nomadic cultures of the steppes gave birth to an empire with the wealth and power to threaten the order of the ancient world.

Tuesday, 14 April 2020

Walking to Samarkand

The Great Silk Road from Persia to Central Asia

Monday, 13 April 2020

Lecture of an hour on Buddhist Art by Mimi Gardner Gates (April 2019)


Caves of Dunhuang: Buddhist Art on China’s Silk Road 

Mimi Gardner Gates, Director Emerita, Seattle Art Museum
Sunday, April 14, 2019, 2:00 p.m.
Gartner Auditorium
The spectacular Buddhist caves of Dunhuang, on the Silk Road in the Gobi Desert in northwest China, are a UNESCO World Heritage site. This lecture presents the sites’ sculptures and wall paintings, among the finest and earliest examples of Buddhist art in China. 
Used by Buddhist monks since the AD 300s, the caves were the focus of worship and cultural interaction for thousands of years; they also served as a rich repository for precious art treasures and manuscripts that were rediscovered in the early 1900s. 
Dr. Mimi Gardner Gates, president of the American Friends of the Dunhuang Foundation, addresses the challenges of preserving the site today, as undertaken by the Dunhuang Academy in collaboration with the Getty Conservation Institute in Los Angeles.

Mimi Gardner Gates: A Chinese art history scholar, Mimi Gardner Gates earned a BA from Stanford University and a PhD from Yale University. Now director emerita, she was director of the Seattle Art Museum for 15 years (1994–2009). Under her leadership, the Olympic Sculpture Park was created, the downtown museum was expanded, and the artistic program achieved a high level of excellence. Prior to moving to Seattle, she was curator of Asian art (1975–1986) and director (1987–1994) of the Yale University Art Gallery. Among the numerous exhibitions she has organized, Cave Temples of Dunhuang: Buddhist Art on China’s Silk Roadwas held in 2016 at the Getty Center, Los Angeles. 
She currently chairs the Dunhuang Foundation and the board of managers of the Blakemore Foundation. She is a member of the board of the Terra Foundation for American Art, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Northwest African American Museum, and Copper Canyon Press. Gates is a former fellow of the Yale Corporation and the founder of the Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas at the Seattle Art Museum. 

The Metal Road of the Eastern Eurasian Steppe

The Formation of the Xiongnu Confederation and the Silk Road 

Sunday, 12 April 2020

Lives of Sogdians in Medieval China

  • By Moritz Huber

  • Hardcover: 350 pages
  • Publisher: Harrassowitz (31 Mar. 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 3447113804

Sogdians, a group of Central Asians based between the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya, played a significant historical role at the crossroads of the Silk Roads. Travelling the world as caravan leaders, organised in trading networks, they were found from Byzantium to the Chinese heartland. The Sogdian language was a candidate for the lingua franca of the Silk Roads for some hundred years and Sogdians acted as polyglot mediators at courts and prominent translators of Buddhist texts. In the Chinese capitals, fire temples were erected for their use and the exotic products they imported were cherished by the people and the court.
This socio-historical study by Moritz Huber provides a translation of the transmitted Chinese records on Sogdians in Sogdiana and China and combines them with archaeological evidence to present a differentiated picture of their presence in China from the 3rd to 10th century CE. Besides the transcription and translation of all epitaphs of Sogdians from an archaeological context, used to tell their interconnected biographies, as well as a detailed discussion of their political organisation in China under the sabao 薩保/薩寶, this publication further includes a case-study of the Shi 史 families in Guyuan 固原, Ningxia 寧夏 Province.

Along the Silk Roads in Mongol Eurasia

Generals, Merchants, and Intellectuals