Archeology and History of the Silk Road



Sunday, 25 January 2015

New post from IDP (the International Dunhuang Project from the British Library)


A Suicidal Thunder God?

Drawing at the end of Dunhuang manuscript Or.8210/S.3326.
Showing this manuscript today to a group of visiting students, I was again struck by the strangeness of this figure and hope that someone might be able to provide an explanation or point to similar figures elsewhere.
The crude line drawing shows a figure dressed as a Chinese official with the label 電神 (Dianshen, thunder god) to the right and an apparent book title to the left — ending with 電經一卷 (Thunder Sutra, one roll). Most curious, however, are the drawn bow and arrow: the arrow is back to front, ie pointing towards the thunder god himself.
The image appears at the end of a very interesting — but also somewhat mysterious — manuscript which consists of two texts (translated for IDP by Imre Galambos). The first is a divination text based on cloud formations (nephelomancy). This is followed by a series of star charts. In a paper by Jean-Marc Bonnet-Bideau and Francois Praderie on this manuscript, the authors showed the star charts to be very accurate: it is a scientific document. The paper is extremely fine but the writing and the graphics appear sketchy and are certainly not in a fine scribal hand. It is therefore possible that this was a working copy which used a master — and fine — copy of a star chart, perhaps even tracing from it, hence the accuracy of the stars' positions. But how did this end up in Dunhuang, 1500 miles from the Imperial Astronomy Bureau in Chang'an where it was almost certainly produced?
Although we will probably never have all the answers to these questions, I hope that the suicidal thunder god might yet have more to tell us.


Saturday, 24 January 2015

Classic, Treasure and Magic along the Silk Road

19 janvier 2015

Le cycle de conférences données par Yu Xin, professeur invité à l'EHESS, se poursuit tout le mois de janvier.
  • Archaeological Evidence, Cultural Imagination and Image of the Medieval World:  New Perspectives on Treasures from Kucha
    Mardi 20 janvier, de 14h à 16h, Salle des réunions (étage 3B, 52 rue du Cardinal-Lemoine, Paris 5e)
    dans le cadre du séminaire de d’Étienne de la Vaissière
  • The Journey to the East: A Magical Tradition of Figurine Across Eurasia:  from Gaochang to Kyoto
    Mercredi 21 janvier, de 17h à 19h, Salle 2, RdC, EHESS, Le France (190, Avenue de France, Paris 13e)
    dans le cadre du séminaire d’Antonella Romano
  • The Transformation of Sacrificial Money: New Hypotheses Based on the Archaeological Discoveries in Turfan
    Jeudi 29 janvier, INHA, de 11h à 13h, Salle Mariette (6 rue des petits-camps, Paris 2e)
    dans le cadre du séminaire de Marcello Carastro et Stéphan Dugast

YU Xin

Université Fudan, Shanghai
Yu XinLe labex TransferS invite, du 10 février au 10 mars, le Professeur YU Xin - Professeur d’Histoire chinoise médiévale, département d’Histoire de l’Université Fudan, Shanghai.

Classic, Treasure and Magic along the Silk Road

Après un cycle de 4 conférences en janvier à l’EHESS, le Pr. Yu donnera 2 séminaires à l’École normale supérieure.

  • Vendredi 13 février
  • Exploration on Zhujunda : The legend of a vegetable along the Silk Road
  • 16h-18h, Amphithéâtre Rataud, ENS (45, rue d’Ulm, 75005 Paris)
  • In Dunhuang Manuscripts P. 3391, the problematic entry “zhujunda” is found in the category of vegetable in the text. What’s the meaning ? This puzzle baffles scholars. This research aims to provide an accurate description of this word from the dimensions of semantics and natural history, employing materials from various unearthed documents, medical books, anecdotes, and encyclopedias. It tries to show the role which zhujunda had played in the medieval social life as well as in the cultural exchange between the west and the east. It arrives at the following conclusions : both of leaf-beet and root-beet came from Persian. In the period of Sassanid Empire leaf- beet arrived in China, and its translation “junda” was originated from Medieval Persian language, while root-beet came in after Arab invaded Iran, and its translation “zhujunda” found its root in new Persian language, which should be no late than the early 10th century. These things and their corresponding names passing from Iran to China enriched Chinese culture in the medieval ages.
  • Vendredi 6 mars
  • New Perspectives on the Horse Anthroposcopy through the Archeological Materials
  • 16h-18h, salle Cavaillès, ENS (45, rue d’Ulm, 75005 Paris)
  • The horse anthroposcopy comprises one important aspect of Xingfa, which is a practical technique that utilizes observation to judge things’ good or bad, and also serves as the basic paradigm of that people conceive the world around them in traditional China. In recent years, several lost books concerning anthroposcopy have been excavated : The Book of Horse Anthroposcopy in the Mawangdui silk texts ; The Book of Dog Anthroposcopy in the Shuanggudui bamboo slips ; The Book of Dog-judging Methods in the Yinqueshan bamboo slips ; The Methods for Sword-judging in the Juyan wooden slips. These findings of ancient books concerning anthroposcopy reveal their significance in the knowledge, belief, and society of traditional China. In this lecture, I will try to use the wooden slips from Dunhuang discovered by Stein, the Mawangdui silk texts, the Shuihudi bamboo slips, the Xuanqun wooden slips, Dunhuang manuscripts, mural paintings in tombs, art crafts and received texts, such as Qimin Yaoshu, to discuss the origin and development of the horse anthroposcopy technique from Han through Tang synthetically. I hope this research will shed a new light on the study of Xingfa in medieval China.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Ancient ship wreckage discovered in Xi'an

Archaeologists discovered the wreckage of an ancient ship subsequent to the discovery of the ruins of five large-scale ancient bridges in the old course of the Weihe River in the northern suburbs of Xi'an, capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi province, on Jan 16.

 Archaeologists clean the wreckage of an ancient ship at the ruins of No. 1 bridge in the old course of the Weihe River in the northern suburbs of Xi'an, capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi province, Jan 16, 2015. [Photo/]

According to archaeological materials, few ancient ships were found in Shaanxi, with only one unearthed in the Lintong district of Xi'an.
To keep the ruins warm, archaeologists covered the wreckage with canvas, and they did not begin cleaning the wreckage until 10 o'clock when the temperature in the area rose.
So far, as the body of the ancient ship has not been completely revealed, it's impossible to proceed with carbon-14 dating, which may reveal when the ship was built.
Archaeologists faced another puzzle. As the wreckage was discovered buried under the earth at two different sites, there is no way to make sure it belongs to two ships or just one that had broken into two parts.
Liu Rui, leader of the archaeological team for the Weihe River ruins, said that they will take three days to clean the wreckage of the ancient ship.
Adjacent to the wreckage, archaeologists also found traces of "sao", or a mattress used to build dykes in the ancient times.
Archaeologists cover the wreckage with canvas to keep it warm at the ruins of the No. 1 bridge in the old course of the Weihe River in the northern suburbs of Xi'an, capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi province, Jan 16, 2015. 

Part of the wreckage of an ancient ship is revealed at the ruins of the No. 1 bridge in the old course of the Weihe River in the northern suburbs of Xi'an, capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi province, Jan 16, 2015. 

Traces of "sao", or a mattress used in dyke construction in ancient times, are seen at the ruins of the No. 1 bridge in the old course of the Weihe River in the northern suburbs of Xi'an, capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi province, Jan 16, 2015. [Photo/]

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Yuan Dynasty tomb murals most likely Mongolian

For the video, Click HERE January 2015
Elaborately depicted murals created during the Yuan dynasty, some 700 years ago, have been found in a tomb in Hengshan county, north Shanxi province.

The tomb was discovered last year when a heavy downpour washed away the top stone. After excavation work by archaeologists, the remarkable appearance of the murals are now revealed for the public's pleasure.

The tomb is located along a mountain slope in Luo Ge Tai village of Hengshan County. It is composed of a pathway with a dome-shaped chamber. Pictures are painted on the walls of the chamber. A mural depicts the tomb-owner seated with his five wives, the background being a check-patterned screen. Their outfits and the vessels on the table in front of them shed light on the ethnicity of the tomb-owner.

"He is most likely a Mongolian, but from their clothes, furniture, and all the things painted on the mural, we can still see the influences of the Han culture. So the tomb-owner might also be Han, but wearing Mongolian clothes," excavation team leader Miao Yifei said.

Seven of the 24 Stories of Filial Piety, which are popular legends, especially in northern China, were painted in the surrounding areas of the main picture.

Filial Piety stories were widely portrayed in Yuan dynasty tombs in north Shanxi province and the central area of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. It indicates an active cultural exchange between these three provinces during that time, and similar customs that brought it about.

"The murals are both beautifully painted and in very good condition, just thinking that they've been there for some 700 years," Miao said.

The discovery of the tomb and murals reveals much about Yuan dynasty archaeology in the provinces of Shanxi and Shanxi, and the Inner Mongolian Autonomous region.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Exhibiting Buddhist Cave Temples and Their Art

From Dunhuang, China, to the Getty Center, Los Angeles: Opportunities and Challenges of Exhibiting Buddhist Cave Temples and Their Art


Thu Jan-29-2015, 6:00pm


Levinthal Hall, Stanford Humanities Center

Program / Series

Silk Road Buddhism 


Stanford Humanities Center

Mimi Gardner Gates

Director Emerita, Seattle Art Musuem

In 2016, the Getty Center, Los Angeles, will feature the first major US exhibition about the Buddhist Grottoes of Dunhuang located on the Chinese Silk Road.
How to create an engaging visitor experience which conveys not only the extraordinary beauty of the Buddhist art at Dunhuang, but also evokes the spiritual power of the site and its myriad devotional images?  This talk will discuss original works of art from the Library Cave at Dunhuang - hanging painted banners and embroideries, artists' sketches and pounces, hand-copied sutras and prints, such as the Diamond Sutra, d. 868, as well as full-scale, hand-painted replica caves.
Free and open to the public

Speaker's Bio

Mimi Gardner Gates, now Director Emerita, was Director of the Seattle Art Museum for fifteen 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.

Mimi Gates is a scholar of the history of Chinese art with a B.A. from Stanford University and a Ph.D. from Yale University.  Prior to moving to Seattle, she was Curator of Asian Art (1975-1986) and Director (1987-1994) of the Yale University Art Gallery.  In the field of Chinese art she has taught, published essays and organized numerous exhibitions, including Porcelain Stories, From China to Europe (Seattle Art Museum, 2000).  At the Seattle Asian Art Museum, she created the Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas.  She is currently working on an exhibition project at The Getty Center in Los Angeles for 2016 entitled Cave Temples of Dunhuang: Buddhist Art on China’s Silk Road.

Currently she serves on the boards of Heritage University, Copper Canyon Press, Northwest African American Museum, Terra Foundation for American Art, San Francisco Asian Art Museum, and the Yale University Art Gallery.  Mimi chairs The Dunhuang Foundation and the Board of Managers of the Blakemore Foundation.  She is a former fellow of the Yale Corporation.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Rare mural paintings found in Yuan Dynasty tomb January 19, 2015
A view of mural paintings found in a tomb of Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) in Hengshan county, Northwest China’s Shaanxi province, Jan 18, 2015. Archaeologist said the delicate mural paintings showing a banquet of tomb owners differ from other mural paintings found in the area and will help study history of the dynasty in North Shaanxi. [Photo provided by Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology]

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Taxila  12 Januar 2015
Terror, islamistischer Fundamentalismus, Chaos: Das bringen viele Menschen mit Pakistan in Verbindung. Kaum bekannt ist, dass Pakistan vor mehr als 2000 Jahren ein buddhistisches Zentrum war. Ein Besuch in der ehemaligen Hauptstadt des Gandhara-Reichs, 30 Kilometer ausserhalb von Islamabad. 
Mit Gras bewachsenes, altes Steingebäude.Bild in Lightbox öffnen.
Bildlegende:Die Dharmarajika Stupe in Taxila wird noch heute von Buddhisten aus der ganzen Welt besucht. KARIN WENGER/SRF 
Erhöht neben einer Schnellstrasse und hinter hohem Gras trohnt ein 15 Meter hoher halbkugelförmiger Sakralbau: eine Stupa. Der König hatte sie in Taxila vor mehr als 2300 Jahren als Grab- und Erinnerungsmal erbauen lassen. Taxila war damals die Hauptstadt des Gandhara-Reichs. Noch heute kommen Buddhisten aus China, Japan, Sri Lanka und Thailand hierher, um zu beten.

Die ersten Darstellungen des erleuchteten Buddhas

Mit Gras bewachsenes, grosses Steingebäude.Bild in Lightbox öffnen.
Bildlegende:15 Meter hoch ist die halbkugelförmige Stupa von Dharmarajika. KARIN WENGER/SRF 
Doch viele sind es nicht. Pakistan ist kein Tourismus-Land und die meisten Bewohner der islamischen Republik interessieren sich nicht für ihr buddhistisches Erbe. An diesem Tag sitzen nur ein paar Schafhirten unter einem Baum in der Nähe der Stupa. Er komme jeden Tag hierher, um sich auszuruhen, sagt einer der Hirten. Aber was dieser Steinhaufen genau sei, wisse er nicht. Bestimmt sei er alt und wichtig.
Der Buddhismus ist aus dem heutigen Indien ins Gandhara-Reich gelangt. Von dort breitete er sich bis nach Ostasien und Japan aus. In Gandhara, das den Norden des heutigen Pakistans und Teile Afghanistans umfasst, entstanden die ersten bildlichen Darstellungen des erleuchteten Buddhas. Ein wichtiger buddhistischer Bildungsort entstand.

Neu eröffnetes Archäologie-Museum im Swat-Tal

In Gandhara verschmelzten die Kulturen aus dem Osten und Westen. Angesiedelt auf der Seidenstrasse und der Handelsstrasse zwischen Indien und China prägten persische, griechische, römische und asiatische Einflüssen das Reich. Das griechische Vermächtnis Alexanders des Grossen ist bis heute sichtbar: in der schachbrettartigen Planung der alten Städte, in den Toga-ähnlichen Kleidern Buddhas. Und manche Studien sagen gar, im genetischen Erbe der hellhäutigen, grossgewachsenen Paschtunen mit den scharfgeschnittenen Gesichtszügen.
Kaputte Steinfigur eines BuddhaBild in Lightbox öffnen.
Bildlegende:Buddha-Statue in den Ruinen des Klosters Jaulian bei Taxila. KARIN WENGER/SRF 
Auch viele der Buddhas, die auf Stehlen und Reliefs verewigt wurden, weisen die feinen Gesichtszüge auf. Beinahe 3000 der wertvollen Kunstobjekte der Gandhara-Zeit sind im neuen archäologischen Museum im Swat-Tal ausgestellt. Der Kurator Faizul Rehman führt stolz durch die Ausstellung. Er zeigt auf ein Steinrelief, auf dem Buddha auf einem Pferd die Welt verlässt.

Den Taliban schutzlos ausgeliefert

Er sei stolz auf das buddhistische Erbe, auch wenn das einige im Tal anders sehen würden, sagt der Kurator. Dann wendet er sich einer Landkarte des Tals zu, die mit blauen Punkten gesprenkelt ist: 1400 buddhistische Stupas und Klöster gab es im Swat-Tal. Bei vielen von ihnen haben die archäologischen Grabungen noch nicht einmal begonnen, so Faizul Rehman weiter.
Bereits in den 1950er-Jahren begann ein italienisches Team von Archäologen mit Ausgrabungen. Ein italienischer Architekt baute wenige Jahre später das erste Museum in Mingora. Doch als die Taliban 2007 die Macht im Tal übernahmen, vertrieben sie auch die Archäologen. Die Kunstgegenstände konnten noch rechtzeitig aus dem Museum gerettet werden. Aber das Museumsgebäude sei den Taliban schutzlos ausgeliefert gewesen, erinnert sich der Kurator.

Steinhaufen oder ein Werk des Teufels

Im Februar 2008 sprengten die Terroristen ein Fahrzeug vor dem Museum in die Luft. Das Gebäude erlitt schweren Schaden. Erst nachdem die Taliban 2009 vertrieben waren, kehrten auch die italienischen Archäologen zurück. Sie bauten das Museum wieder auf.
Die Füsse von zwei Statuen, der Rest ist nicht mehr zu sehen.Bild in Lightbox öffnen.
Bildlegende:Überreste von Statuen in Dharmarajika. KARIN WENGER/SRF 
Anfang Dezember wurde es jetzt wieder eröffnet. Doch die ausländischen Besucher brauchen eine Spezialbewilligung. Und die lokale Bevölkerung sieht in den buddhistischen Überresten im besten Fall Steinhaufen, wie die Schafhirten. Und im schlimmsten Fall ein Werk des Teufels, das beseitigt werden muss. Einige Bewohner haben Stupas abgetragen, um mit den Steinen Häuser zu bauen. Andere haben sie zerstört, um auf dem frei gewordenen Platz Gemüse anzubauen.
Vergessen scheint, dass der Islam erst im 11. Jahrhundert ins Swat-Tal eingezogen war. Aus Sicht der Archäologie ist er eine neue religiöse Erscheinung. Aus buddhistischer Sicht die Bestätigung, dass sich alles wandelt – auch in Pakistan.

Sendungsbeitrag zu diesem Artikel

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Fayaz-Tepa in Central Asia (Uzbekistan)

Larry Stout sent me the following mail:
You know the famous paintings of "Tocharian donors" at the Kizil caves near Kucha, Xinjiang, which are said to date from the sixth century CE.  Today, while exploring on Google Earth, I stumbled onto images of a strikingly similar painting from an archaeological site called Fayaz Tepa at Termez, Uzbekistan), said to date from the first century BCE -- thus some 600 years older.  However, the (rather imaginative) restoration of the latter "donors" shows them apparently bringing tribute to a king, whose feet, like those of the tribute-bearers are turned out, as those of Kanishka are shown on Kushan coins.

I was not familiar with this painting and this site and looked it up at the internet and found the following quite beautiful pictures from Nicola e Pina.

Background information about Fayaz- Tepa in Central Asia (Uzbekistan)

Fayaz-Tepa, Termez
From ancient times the territory of Central Asia has been a crossing point not only of many caravan roads and ways, but also a place where different religions coexisted in ancient times: Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Manichaeism. At present, several Buddhist temples survived in Uzbekistan. Among the most famous are Airatam, Kara-Tepa and Fayaz-Tepa.
Fayaz-Tepa complex was discovered in 1963 by the archaeologist L. Albaum during excavations near the Buddhist temple on the Kara-Tepa hill in the heart of the old Termez. This temple complex is characterized by rich paintings and well-preserved sculptures. The complex is U-shaped series of corridors, cells and sanctuaries. Separately, there is a Buddhist dagoba, which is also of great interest.
Fayaz-Tepa, Termez
Fayaz-Tepa, Termez
Fayaz-Tepa, Termez

The building itself can be divided into three parts. One part is accommodation and ancillary buildings. Another one was the original dining room with kitchen, and a third one was used for performance of religious rites. Fayaz-Tepa is not only an iconic monument of Buddhism in Central Asia, but also of great value as one of the few monuments of Buddhist pictural art, which adorns the walls of the complex.
The walls along the temple were covered with paintings depicting the Buddha image variations. The walls of the sanctuary were decorated with images and story lines, one of which is the image of the two Buddhas, with images of women on both sides. The fact that the image of Buddha in Fayaz-Tepa is considered one of the most ancient images to have survived to the present date, and dates back to 1st century BC is of special importance.
Fayaz-Tepa, Termez
Fayaz-Tepa, Termez
The sculptures discovered by archaeologists in Fayaz-Tepa are also noteworthy. In particular, this is the statue of Buddha sitting under the sacred bodhi tree, and two monks standing on both hands. All this is included in the arch, resting on Corinthian columns. The sculpture was carved from limestone and covered with gold leaf. Today, this sculpture is one of the most valuable exhibits of the State Museum of History of Uzbekistan.
A giant dagoba of 10 meters high was discovered near the temple. There is a small dagoba inside of it of 3 meters high. This finding dates back to the 1st century AD.
In the 3rd century BC Termez was invaded by the Sassanid army, resulting in destruction of many Buddhist temples, including Fayaz-Tepa. At the time of archaeological excavations the building was heavily damaged and was under a huge layer of sand and dust. Today Fayaz-Tepa hosts a museum, research and restorations are underway.

Fayaz-Tepa pictures

Fayaz-Tepa, Termez
Fayaz-Tepa, Termez
Fayaz-Tepa, Termez
Fayaz-Tepa, Termez
Fayaz-Tepa, Termez
Fayaz-Tepa, Termez

Ruins of ancient bridges discovered in Xi'an

View of the north end of the ruins of No. 1 bridge of Chucheng Gate in the northern suburbs of Xi'an, capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi province, Jan 15, 2015.    16 January 2015
Chinese archaeologists have found five large ancient bridges in Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi province after 10 months of excavation. 
The archaeological excavations started in February and lasted till the end of 2014 on the ruins of Weiqiao, a group of bridges built during the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24).According to Liu Rui, excavation team head and research associate with the institute of archaeology of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Weiqiao was an important transport hub that linked the dynasty capital of Chang'an (now Xi'an city) with its outside regions.
The excavations were jointly carried by the archaeologists from the institute of archaeology of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Shaanxi provincial institute of archaeology and Xi'an institute of cultural relics and archaeology.
Wang Zhiyou, research associate with Shaanxi provincial institute of archaeology, said according to the unearthed wooden bridge piles, experts speculate that the bridges would be more than 880 meters in length and more than 15.4 meters in width.
"The discovery of the bridges is of great value for the protection of the ruins of ancient Chang'an city and the study of the transportation history of the Qin (221 BC-207 BC)," Liu said.
Excavations on the ruins are ongoing.

View of the ruins of No. 1 bridge of Chucheng Gate in the northern suburbs of Xi'an, capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi province, Jan 15, 2015. [Photo/]

 View shows the ruins of No. 1 bridge of Chucheng Gate in the northern suburbs of Xi'an, capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi province, Jan 15, 2015. [Photo/]

 View shows an eaves tile unearthed at the ruins of No. 1 bridge of Chucheng Gate in the northern suburbs of Xi'an, capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi province, Jan 15, 2015. [Photo/]

 View of a stone rammer unearthed at the ruins of No. 1 bridge of Chucheng Gate in the northern suburbs of Xi'an, capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi province, Jan 15, 2015. [Photo/]

View of the ruins of No. 5 bridge of Chucheng Gate in the northern suburbs of Xi'an, capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi province, Jan 15, 2015. [Photo/]