Archeology and History of the Silk Road

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Sunday, 30 August 2015

Archaeologists unearth remains of Scythian warrior in golden cloak and his horse

  • The tomb was unearthed in the village of Krasny Yar in southern Russia
  • The man is thought to have been a ruler of the nomadic Scythian tribes
  • Gold flakes from his cloak were found in the grave along with other riches
  • The warrior lived around 400-500BC and was buried alongside his horse


The remains of warrior king who was buried in a cloak covered in gold and ruled the Russian steppes around 2,500 years ago has been uncovered.
Archaeologists found the man, who is thought to have been a Scythian ruler, in a tomb within a burial mount in the Altai Territory of southern Russia.
He had been buried in the mount with his horse and riches including a belt made of several different types of metal, a iron Scythian sword, or akinak, a bronze chisel-shaped knife and other bits of iron

Archaeologists discovered the remains of a Scythian warrior king (pictured) who was buried with his horse, weapons and a golden cloak in a barrow mound in southern Russia. It is thought the man had been a ruler of the nomadic warriors during between 400BC and 500BC. Flakes of gold from his cloak were found in the grave
Archaeologists discovered the remains of a Scythian warrior king (pictured) who was buried with his horse, weapons and a golden cloak in a barrow mound in southern Russia. It is thought the man had been a ruler of the nomadic warriors during between 400BC and 500BC. Flakes of gold from his cloak were found in the grave

They also found what they believe to be the remains of his funeral meal – lamb bones.
However, perhaps most surprising was the discovery of small pieces of gold foil that appear to have adorned his clothing.

Professor Alexander Kazakov, the archaeologist leading the excavation and head of research at the Barnaul Law Institute of the Russian Interior Ministry, said: 'Although the material of the warriors clothing had long rotted away, the gold flakes were still present in the soil.'

WHO WERE THE SAKA TRIBES? 

The Scythians, or Saka, were Iranian nomads who roamed large parts of the Eurasian steppes from the 9th century BC to the 4th Century AD.
They are thought to have been among the earliest people to master mounted warfare and lived in confederated tribes.
They were notoriously aggressive warriors and were reputed to drink the blood of their enemies.
They were also skilled archers and often gained employment as mercenaries.
Wealthy tribal leaders were often buried with large hoards of silver and gold in barrows known as kurgan tombs. 
The Scythians were a group of nomadic people who lived in a region of central Eurasia that stretched from Iran to China and across Asia to what is now Eastern Europe.
There are several mentions of this ferocious band of nomads in ancient Greek and Chinese texts which make reference to their warrior prowess.
They began to rise to prominence in the 8th Century BC and their skills of fighting from horseback made them formidable foes.
In the 7th Century BC, the Scythians established their first kingdom using their powerful short bows and short swords to devastating effect from horseback.
However, by around the 5th Century BC, the Scythians had established a highly lucrative trade with Greece and many of the elite became incredibly wealthy.
The Scythians were known for wearing spectacular jewellery, like a gold necklace thought to date from 400BC which was found in Ukraine.

The burial mound was found in a field outside the village of Krasny Yar in the Altai Territory of southern Russia
The burial mound was found in a field outside the village of Krasny Yar in the Altai Territory of southern Russia

A bronze chisel  and an iron Scythian sword (pictured) were found in the tomb with the warrior. The researchers also found the remnants of a leather belt, a belt made with several types of metal and other iron fragments
A bronze chisel and an iron Scythian sword (pictured) were found in the tomb with the warrior. The researchers also found the remnants of a leather belt, a belt made with several types of metal and other iron fragments

The Scythians became incredibly wealthy and often fashioned intricate jewellery like the neckpiece found in Tolstaya Mogila, Ukraine, (pictured) which is thought to date from around 400BC
The Scythians became incredibly wealthy and often fashioned intricate jewellery like the neckpiece found in Tolstaya Mogila, Ukraine, (pictured) which is thought to date from around 400BC

The new tomb, found on the outskirts of the village of Krasny Yar in the Altai Territory of southern Russia, is thought to date from between 500BC and 400BC.
The site of the grave had been almost obliterated by decades of farming which had ploughed over the burial mound, or kurgan.
However, Professor Kazakov said the remains were found protected by a stone ring beneath the barrow.
He said that the fact the man had been buried with his horse at least 500-years before the birth of Christ showed how greatly horses were valued.

The archaeologists from the Barnaul Law Institute of the Russian Interior Ministry (pictured) spent several days excavating the site. The burial mound had almost been obliterated by decades of ploughing by farmers
The archaeologists from the Barnaul Law Institute of the Russian Interior Ministry (pictured) spent several days excavating the site. The burial mound had almost been obliterated by decades of ploughing by farmers

The Scythians were a nomadic culture who developed a huge empire between China and Eastern Europe
The Scythians were a nomadic culture who developed a huge empire between China and Eastern Europe

The archaeologist added that such a tomb was extremely rare and was yielding valuable insights into the little-known nomadic culture that left few records other than the spectacular jewelled creations of their master craftsmen.
He added: 'Until now we have very little details about how they went about the burial process which is why this tomb is so valuable.'
One of the students, Alyona Naumova, who took part in the research, told local media that he felt privileged to be able to take part in the spectacular find.
He said: 'As a student of history this was a rare opportunity of experiencing it first hand and being in direct touch with our ancestors.'

Friday, 28 August 2015

Asia and Scandinavia Symposium: New Perspectives on the Early Medieval Silk Roads

SYMPOSIUM: ASIA AND SCANDINAVIA

11 September 2015kl. 9:00 AM-5:30 PM
Welcome to the Symposium - Asia and Scandinavia: New Perspectives on the Early Medieval Silk Roads.
Var: Östasiatiska museet, Stockholm
Location: The auditorium at the Museum of Far Eastern AntiquitiesPrice: Free entrance, but limited seating
The early medieval trade routes of Eurasia reached its northwestern outpost in Scandinavia. The symposium takes archaeological material from investigations in east Scandinavia as a starting point and opens the research field toward the east, through present-day Russia and Central Asia, to meet current Silk-Roads-related research in China.
Presentations and discussions will be in English.
Admission free, but limited seating, so reserve a seat and register your participation via: bokning@ostasiatiskamuseet.se
Organized by the National Museums of World Culture. In co-operation with the National Historical Museums (SHMM) in Sweden. With the support of The Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences.

Shigir Idol of Siberia around 11.000 years old

Culture on edge of Siberia was 'as advanced' as in Middle East, then considered to be the apex of development.
Idol 'will get a huge recognition in the world and will show that the centre of cultural development in Eurasia was not only the Middle East but also in the Urals'. Picture: The Siberian Times 
The disclosure this week on the precise fixing of age of the ancient wooden carved statue known as the Shigir Idol is seen as groundbreaking to our understanding of the pre-historic world. 
As first revealed by The Siberian Times, the haunting monument is 11,000 years old, according to leading German scientists. As such, it is more than twice as the age of the Pyramids of Egypt and the Stonehenge monument in the United Kingdom. 
The Idol - found in a peat bog in the Urals - is also 1,500 years older than previously thought by scientists, and the exact fixing of its age destroys theories by sceptics that it was not as ancient as its proponents believed. 
Big Shigir Idol
Press conference on the results of the joint research was held on August 27 in Yekaterinburg. Picture: Alexander Varketin
The new findings are described as highly significant in understanding the cultural development of ancient man. Russian academics believed that foreign colleagues doubted the age of the Idol, but this scepticism is now shown to be misplaced. 
General director of the Sverdlovsk Regional History Museum, Natalia Vetrova, said earlier Russian claims that it was at least 9,500 years old 'were not recognised by the international scientific community. And we wanted to know for sure, and tell the world how old our Idol is'.
Thomas Terberger, a professor at the Department of Cultural Heritage of Lower Saxony, one of those involved in dating the Idol, said: 'The results exceeded our expectations. The age of the Shigir idol is 11,000 years. 
'This is an extremely important data for the international scientific community. It is important for understanding the development of civilisation and the art of Eurasia and humanity as a whole. 
'We can say that in those times, 11,000 years ago, the hunters, fishermen and gatherers of the Urals were no less developed than the farmers of the Middle East.'
Big Shigir Idol, Yekaterinburg History Museum

THE oldest wooden statue in the world

THE oldest wooden statue in the world
'We can say that in those times, 11,000 years ago, the hunters, fishermen and gatherers of the Urals were no less developed than the farmers of the Middle East.' Pictures: The Siberian Times 
He predicted that as a result of the latest tests, the Idol 'will get a huge recognition in the world and will show that the centre of cultural development in Eurasia was not only the Middle East but also in the Urals'.
Russian experts have described the findings as 'sensational'. They show that the Idol - covered in an 'encrypted code' which academics say maybe a coded message from ancient man - is the oldest of its kind in the world. 
During the research it was discovered the Idol had eight faces, one more than previously understood. Only one is three dimensional. The wooden masterpiece was originally dug from the Urals' peat bog in 1890. The bog has preserved it 'like a time capsule'.
THE oldest wooden statue in the world
Professor Mikhail Zhilin, leading researcher of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Archeology, has spoken previously of his 'feeling of awe' when studying the Idol. Picture: The Siberian Times 
The German analysis dates the Idol to the opening of the Holocene epoch. It was made from a freshly-cut 157 year old larch, and stone tools were used for carving the markings and hieroglyphics which several academics say contains a message from ancient man to people living now.
The ancient monument now stands 2.8 metres in height but originally was 5.3 metres tall, as high as a two storey house. In the Soviet era, two metres of the ancient artifact went missing, though drawings were made of it by pre-revolutionary archaeologist Vladimir Tolmachev
Professor Mikhail Zhilin, leading researcher of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Archeology, has spoken previously of his 'feeling of awe' when studying the Idol. 'This is a masterpiece, carrying gigantic emotional value and force,' he said.
THE oldest wooden statue in the world
Previously was understood that the Idol had seven faces, only one is three dimensional. Picture: The Siberian Times 
'It is a unique sculpture, there is nothing else in the world like this. It is very alive, and very complicated at the same time. The ornament is covered with nothing but encrypted information. People were passing on knowledge with the help of the Idol.'
While the messages remain 'an utter mystery to modern man', it was clear that its creators 'lived in total harmony with the world, had advanced intellectual development, and a complicated spiritual world', he said.

The Nativist Prophets of Early Islamic Iran

The Nativist Prophets of Early Islamic Iran: Rural Revolt and Local Zoroastrianism


  • Paperback: 586 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; Reprint edition (20 Mar. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1107642388

Patricia Crone's book is about the Iranian response to the Muslim penetration of the Iranian countryside, the revolts subsequently triggered there and the religious communities that these revolts revealed. The book also describes a complex of religious ideas that, however varied in space and unstable over time, has demonstrated a remarkable persistence in Iran across a period of two millennia. The central thesis is that this complex of ideas has been endemic to the mountain population of Iran and occasionally become epidemic with major consequences for the country, most strikingly in the revolts examined here and in the rise of the Safavids who imposed Shi'ism on Iran. This learned and engaging book by one of the most influential scholars of early Islamic history casts entirely new light on the nature of religion in pre-Islamic Iran and on the persistence of Iranian religious beliefs both outside and inside Islam after the Arab conquest.

Review

'What needs to be stressed about The Nativist Prophets of Early Islamic Iran is that it is a book of rare intellectual courage. It is written in such a way that we are left in no doubt as to the momentous issues that were at stake in this procession of seemingly bizarre creeds and persons, in a land which, for most outsiders of the time (Arab Muslims quite as much as Byzantine Christians), was as distant and majestic as the face of the moon … Patricia Crone's book has made this battle intelligible and vivid to us, and as real and urgent, in its wider implications, as if it had happened only yesterday.' Times Literary Supplement

'The Nativist Prophets of Early Islamic Iran is the story of an immense and mysterious landscape, intermittently rocked, throughout the late antique and early Islamic periods (effectively from around 250 to 850 AD), by detonations of religious fervor sparked by social unrest … The thrill of this book is that it brings the Iranian world into the mainstream of late antique history. Iran is seen as yet another participant in the religious and intellectual upheavals of the time.' The New York Review of Books

Book Description

Patricia Crone's book is about the Iranian response to the Muslim penetration of the Iranian countryside, the revolts subsequently triggered there and the religious communities that these revolts revealed. The book also describes a complex of religious ideas that has demonstrated a remarkable persistence in Iran.

Headless human remains discovered in ancient Hun burials in Kazakhstan








Archaeologists have discovered headless remains in several large burial mounds in Semeytau, East Kazakhstan Oblast. The remains belong to ancient Huns and Sarmatians, Tengrinews reports citing Liter.
The excavations began in early August and were made by an archaeological group from Semey that is part of East Kazakhstan archaeological expedition. The work was led by Aidar Aitkali and lasted for two weeks, during which the group dug up and examined three largest and most interesting burial mounds in the big burial complex located in the area.
The mounds were arranged in a line, some of them had a circular fence composed of closely stacked stones. Experts believe it was meant to drive away evil spirits. A peculiar feature of these mounds is that they were built with so-called "whiskers". Those consisted of two stone ridges laid out in the form of arcs stretching from the mound. The biggest burial mound they excavated had whiskers of about 15-20 meters long ending in small round stone mounds. 
“Burial mounds with whiskers have their own distinctive features. Each of them has a clear cardinal orientation, and the “whiskers” are always directed to the east,” Pavel Zhukov, a local historian, said.
"Hun-Sarmatian mounds are somewhat different from the Scythian or Saka ones. What is interesting in this mound is that the burial chamber was lined with very large stone slabs brought here from the nearby Semeytau mountains. The only find in the mound is a bead. Maybe a woman was buried here. But there is also an opinion that this was a male warrior, because many of the ancient nomads had a custom of wearing a small necklace of beads around the neck," a local historian Hadzhi-Murat Iliuf said about the biggest mound.
According to the researchers, the most curious fact about the site was that none of the skeletons from the burial grounds had skulls.
There are several theories explaining this. According to one version, the skulls were stolen by robbers who believed that this would prevent to spirits of the dead from avenging them for looting their graves. According to another version, there was a custom among nomadic tribes of the Early Iron Age similar to the traditions of Papuans of the southern lands, who believed that fertility of village women directly depended on the number of heads and skulls collected, so more heads meant more offsprings.
Aydin Zhuniskhanov, MA Archaeology and Ethnology, relies on Herodotus' Histories in explaining the lacking heads. The famous Greek wrote that the warlike tribe of Issedonians had strange customs. For them, it was acceptable to turn skulls of a ruler or a leader into objects of worship. According to another version, Issedonians could have had manners and customs similar to the rituals of the peoples of the island of Sumatra in Southeast Asia, where a groom was expected to present his bride with a wedding gift in the form of a human head.
A more mundane but more realistic explanation was given by Professor Amantay Issin. Tarbagatai foothills have always been a tasty morsel for neighboring nations and tribes. As a rule, chiefs and kings of a tribe led military campaigns. It is reasonable to assume that their heads were the spoils of war to their enemies. Everyone knows that as proof of victory the nomads beheaded a king of the opposing party and displayed the head.
In addition, the heads could disappear from the burial grounds as a result of multiple lootings done in search for ancient treasures and for the needs of emerging science. During the reign of Catherine the Great there were anthropological rooms, that bought human skulls for their needs. Those trophies were a training tool for the anthropologists taking their first steps in the study of the structure of ancient human remains. 
Perhaps, a more detailed and thorough examination of the burial mounds would shed some light on the reasons behind this strange arrangement of the remains. One possible way is to compare this find with a similar one made in the late 1990s in Tarbagatay district of East Kazakhstan Oblast. Excavations of five large mounds there also revealed skeletons of people without heads. All of the remains belonged to men rising to 1.8 to 2 meters, apparently noble warriors, perhaps kings or chiefs of the tribe. Those mounds dated back to I century BC - I century AD, that is, the early Iron Age. It is probably no coincidence that Semeytau mounds belong to the same epoch.
By Dinara Urazova, editing by Tatyana Kuzmina
For more information see: http://en.tengrinews.kz/science/Headless-human-remains-discovered-in-ancient-Hun-burials-in-261756/
Use of the Tengrinews English materials must be accompanied by a hyperlink to en.Tengrinews.kz

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Rare 2,000-year-old egg discovered inside ancient Chinese tomb


  • A 2,000-year-old egg was unearthed by archaeologists in southeast China 
  • The fragile find dates back to the Han dynasty (202 BC to 220 AD) 
  • The artefact resembles a chicken egg in size and shape 
  • Han people preferred to bring household items to their tombs 

Archaeologists digging in southwest China have discovered an egg that is over 2,000 years old. 
Researchers with the provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology made the miraculous discovery when they were exploring an ancient tomb from the Han dynasty (202 BC to 220 AD) at Huangjinwan ruins, The People's Daily Online reported.
The site, near Xishui County, was discovered in 2009.
Eggstraordinary discovery: Archaeologists in southwest China have discovered a 2,000-year-old egg
Eggstraordinary discovery: Archaeologists in southwest China have discovered a 2,000-year-old egg
Unearthed: The egg was discovered in an ancient tomb at Huangjinwan ruins near Xishui County
Unearthed: The egg was discovered in an ancient tomb at Huangjinwan ruins near Xishui County
Zhang Gaike, who heads up ruins' excavation project, said that the egg resembles a chicken egg in shape and size.
The delicate egg is filled with soil.  
'We tried to clean the mud on the shell,' said Mr Zhang, 'but as soon as the brush touched the shell, it cracked.'
It is the first time an egg has been found in a tomb in Guizhou province, and Mr Zhang said it showcased the difference in the tombs of the Han dynasty and the earlier dynasties of Shang and Zhou.
He explained that during the Shang and Zhou dynasties people preferred being buried with delicate bronze wares; but in the Han, people brought daily necessities into their tombs.

The archaeologists say they now need more time to determine what type of egg they have found, and why the shell - a fragile and perishable material - has been so well-preserved for so long. 
Since the excavation of the tomb is not yet complete, the egg has been left there. 
Technicians have consolidated the soil around the precious artefact to protect it. 
Covering about 40,000 square metres, the Huangjinwan ruins is the largest Han site that has been found in Chishui River basin. 
Clucking great find: The Han dynasty egg resembles a chicken egg (pictured) in shape and size (file photo)
Clucking great find: The Han dynasty egg resembles a chicken egg (pictured) in shape and size (file photo)
The Han dynasty was regarded as the first unified and powerful empire in Chinese history.
It was established by Liu Bang, who became Emperor Gaozu, following four years of civil war started by peasant uprisings against the despotic Qin dynasty (221 - 207BC).
In terms of power and prestige, the Han Dynasty in the East rivalled its almost contemporary Roman Empire in the West. 
It was considered a golden age in Chinese history especially in arts, politics and technology.  

Mummified new-born baby protected in leather shroud for 1,500 years ago found in Altai Mountains

Child may give clues to mysterious mountain people linked to Attila the Hun's ancestors.
The baby was buried in tightly closed stone box, so the body was in an isolated air chamber for over 1,500 years. Picture: Gorno-Altaisk State University
The tragic infant's remains were unearthed in excavations near Kurai village in Kosh-Agach district of the Altai Republic in southern Siberia. The baby's remains were sealed in a tightly closed stone coffin, creating an isolated air chamber for over 1,500 years. 
Unintentionally, this led to the child's remains being mummified. The tiny human remains swathed in leather were found between two other burial mounds, presumably those of the parents. 
Archaeologist Dr Nikita Konstantinov, from Gorno-Altaisk State University, said: 'This was a baby, maybe one month old, possibly even newborn. The gender is unknown as yet. 
'The child was buried in a separate small burial mound located between the mounds of two adults, probably the parents. (The baby) was buried in tightly closed stone box, so the body was in an isolated air chamber for over 1,500 years. 
'This partially preserved the soft body tissue and fragments of a leather shroud, in which the baby was wrapped.' He added: 'Sadly the head was not preserved at all.'
Excavations in Kosh-Agach

Excavations in Kosh-Agach

Excavations in Kosh-Agach

Excavations in Kosh-Agach
'The child was buried in a separate small burial mound located between the  mounds of two adults, probably the parents. Pictures: Gorno-Altaisk State University
DNA analysis - likely to be in Denmark - is to be made of the remains, which could throw intriguing light on a people thought to be from the Bulan-Kobinskaya culture which had links to ancient Hun warriors. 
'We know very little about this culture, but we see that it differs from the other cultures of this period,' he said of the Bulan-Kobinskaya grouping. 
'We hope that DNA analysis will help us to understand who these people were - and which migration patterns were underway in Altai at that time.' Genetic analysis could determine 'from where these people came' and establish traces they left in the modern population.
'The mummified remains are kept now in the university,' he said. 'After research, we will probably pass them to the local museum in Kosh-Agach.'
Altai is famed for the preservation of ancient human remains. Conquering warlord Attila the Hun was born in modern-day Hungary and lived later centuries than this child, but his ancestors were from Eurasia.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

From Tajikistan to Turfan: Traces of Cultural Heritage of Sogdians



International Conference "From Tajikistan to Turfan: Traces of Cultural Heritage of Sogdians"
dedicated to the study of Sogdian Culture

in the National Museum of Tajikistan, Dushanbe

7- 8 September 2015





Peace and Peril: Sima Qian's Portrayal of Han-Xiongnu Relations

Peace and Peril: Sima Qian's Portrayal of Han-Xiongnu Relations


Monday, 24 August 2015

Early Carpets and Tapestries on the Eastern Silk Road

Early Carpets and Tapestries on the Eastern Silk Road 



A mystifying group of carpets and tapestries created along the Silk Route over five hundred years ago is the topic of this richly illustrated book. The carpets and tapestries with riveting yet puzzling designs have been preserved in closed treasure houses in the former Japanese capital since the fourteenth to fifteenth centuries. They are brought out only one day a year for a Shinto-Buddhist festival procession and quickly returned to storage. This book is about their shrouded origin in China, the pariahs who wove them, the meaning of their obscure motifs, and the reasons for the secrecy continuing to surround their exhibition.

Early Carpets and Tapestries on the Eastern Silk Road is written by Gloria Granz Gonick, Art Historian and Research Associate at The Fowler Museum at UCLA, former Guest Curator for Matsuri Japanese Festival Arts, and former Museum Curator for the Los Angeles Craft and Folk Art Museum. She has studied the collections and their intriguing past over the past two decades during multiple research visits to China and Japan. The sites in Asia where the carpets and tapestries were created centuries ago, and over two hundred exemplary artworks have been photographed in color, and documented for this fascinating volume.

Brush strokes on very ancient murals may rewrite the history of art in China

A close-up shows part of one of the murals that may date back 4,600 years—well before the brush-stroke process of painting was known previously in China.

Brush strokes on very ancient murals may rewrite the history of art in China

Recent discoveries in the ruins of a prehistoric city may rewrite the history of art in China. Archaeologists working in the ruins of the Neolithic Shimao Ruins have identified mural fragments that show possible brush strokes, which may mean the basic process of mural-making in China dates back about 4,000 years. Historians generally attribute the invention of the brush much later, to a Chinese general, Meng Tian, during the Qin Dynasty of 221 to 207 BC.
Experts examining the mural fragments have seen what they describe as marks on pigment layers that resemble those made with a brush. Also, some of the pigments were made from glauconite, which derives from the sea. The site of the Shimao Ruins is on the Loess Plateau, well inland.
“The history of using the brush by Chinese people will be rewritten if the tool used to make the mural is confirmed to be a brush. The source of the pigment is also a concerned matter for further research,"
experts told China Daily.
The story reports: “Since 2011 continuous excavations by Chinese archaeologists have found some 200 pieces of colorful murals in the Shimao Ruins, the largest completed urban construction in China, dating from the late Neolithic (4,600 to 4,000 years ago) age in Shenmu County, Shaanxi Province. The Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology recently issued a report on the discovery, saying that following lab experiments and analysis, the basic production process and rendering techniques used on the murals in Shimao Ruin were similar to those used to make frescoes dating from the Han Dynasty (202 BC to 220 AD) and later dynasties. This indicates the process and techniques were in use more than 4,000 years ago.”
The newspaper reports that the historical record relates that Chinese murals decorated houses and tombs as early as the Western Zhou Dynasty of 1046 to 771 BC, mainly in north China. Experts are now calling that region the birthplace of the Chinese mural.
Ancient Origins has had several stories about old murals unearthed in China over the past few years.
One article details a story from 2013 in Suozhou City, where archaeologists found an extremely well-preserved tomb with murals where a military commander and his wife were buried approximately 1,500 years ago in the Northern Qi Dynasty. The colorful murals cover 80 square meters (262 square feet) of the tomb.
While most of the tomb’s treasures had been looted, and the bodies were missing, the murals, drawn on plaster, are remarkably well-preserved and depict a man and a woman (most likely the occupants of the tomb) in various scenes. In one scene a man and woman are shown enjoying a banquet, and in another a man plays a harp while other musicians hold instruments. In addition to the commander’s wife, a number of other females are depicted in the murals, some of them musicians and some of them attendants.
The centuries-old mural in the tomb of a man and woman from Shuozhou City show a number of scenes of musicians, attendants and the night sky.
The centuries-old mural in the tomb of a man and woman from Shuozhou City show a number of scenes of musicians, attendants and the night sky.
The highlight of the tomb is the domed ceiling, which shows how the ancient Chinese viewed the heavens. The Silver River or Milky Way, stars and the sun and moon are represented, with the sun bearing a "gold crow" at its center. Supernatural beings and zodiac animals are depicted below this sky map.
In Kizil Caves, the earliest major Buddhist cave complex in China that dates to between the 3rd and 8th centuries AD, many of the statues are missing but beautiful murals still adorn the walls. These murals contain a variety of religious themes, ranging from the life of the Buddha to allegories or parables concerning the doctrine of karma. The Kizil Caves are in the Xinjiang area of northwest China.
Dance of princess Chandraprabha, cave 83, Kizil Caves
Dance of princess Chandraprabha, cave 83, Kizil Caves Public Domain
The beautifully painted wall of an ancient tomb was reported in 2014 in a near-perfect state of preservation in Datong City, northern China. Although the tomb occupant was missing from the 1,000-year-old tomb, the 2011 finding has nevertheless provided an in-depth understanding of its owner through the presence of vivid murals depicting scenes from his life. Another surprising feature of the tomb is a ceiling richly decorated with stars and constellations. The murals in this tomb depict the man’s travels with horses and camels, as well as a scene consisting of a deer, crane, bamboo trees, yellow turtle and a touching poem.
An elaborate, beautifully painted tomb was found earlier this year in Hengshan County, northern Xaanshi Province, when rains washed away soil and revealed a capstone on a hillside in China. The tomb dates to the Yuan dynasty, about 700 years ago.
Scholars believe the man entombed was Mongolian, though the clothes, furniture and murals show influences of Han culture. “So the tomb-owner might also be Han, but wearing Mongolian clothes,” archaeologist Miao Yifei told China.org.cn. “The murals are both beautifully painted and in very good condition, just thinking that they've been there for some 700 years.”
Paintings in a Yuan Dynasty tomb had beautifully painted scenes from stories of Filial Piety.
Paintings in a Yuan Dynasty tomb had beautifully painted scenes from stories of Filial Piety.
“It is composed of a pathway with a dome-shaped 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,” an article in China.org.cn said.
Featured image: A close-up shows part of one of the murals that may date back 4,600 years—well before the brush-stroke process of painting was known previously in China. (Photo: chinadaily.com.cn)