Archeology and History of the Silk Road

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Sunday, 5 July 2015

2nd shipwreck confirmed from 13th century Mongolian invasion


Archaeologists have discovered a Mongol ship which took part in a failed invasion on Japan over 700 years ago


MATSUURA, Nagasaki Prefecture--A shipwreck found here is the second confirmed vessel
from a 13th century Mongolian fleet that foundered in a typhoon in a failed attempt to invade Japan, researchers said July 2.
Archaeologists from the University of the Ryukyus and the Matsuura city board of education determined that the wreck was a part of the Mongolian invasion fleet partly based on its structure.
Chinese ceramic wares dating from the 12th to 13th centuries were discovered in and around the wreck, backing up their conclusion, they said.
The research team, which is surveying around the Takashima Kozaki underwater archaeological site, discovered the shipwreck last autumn around 200 meters off the southern coast of Takashima island and 15 meters below the surface.
The remains of the ship measure 12 meters long and maximum 3 meters wide. The wreck was lying on the seabed apparently with its bow pointing southward.
Yoshifumi Ikeda, a professor of archaeology at the University of the Ryukyus who is leading the research project, said his team has found potential shipwrecks from the Mongolian invasion at three other locations.
“We have successfully confirmed the two ships from the Mongolian invasion, and further research on them is expected to lead to the discovery of even more sunken Mongolian ships,” Ikeda said.
The first confirmed Mongolian warship was discovered in 2011 around 1.7 kilometers west of the wreck found last year.
Numerous artifacts have been found on the seabed in the Takashima Kozaki site from wrecks of a fleet dispatched in the second Mongolian attempt to invade Japan in 1281. The two invasion attempts in 1274 and 1281 ended in vain as the both fleets were destroyed in typhoons.
The latest ship is estimated to have measured about 20 meters from bow to stern and 6 to 7 meters wide, slightly smaller than the first ship.
Its body was split by nine wooden bulkheads and was loaded with rocks that were apparently used as ballast. The boat’s keel has not been found. The archaeologists believe it remains buried at the bottom of the sea.
About 20 artifacts, including a white porcelain bowl, brown glaze pottery vase, roof tiles and ironware, have been discovered in and around the wreck, the researchers said.

To view a.o. two video's of the shipwreck, click HERE for the original article in the Asahi Shimbun

(This article was written by Sunao Gushiken and Sei Iwanami.)




The same story but now in the Daily Mail of 3 July 2015

Mongol ship sent by Genghis Khan's grandson to invade Japan before it was destroyed by 'kamikaze' typhoon is discovered underwater after 700 YEARS


  • Ship was part of Mongol armadas which sailed to Japan in 1274 and 1281
  • But the 4,000 ships and 140,000 men were sunk by devastating typhoons
  • Storm has gone down in Japanese history as 'kamikaze', or the divine wind
  • It is the third sunken ship from failed invasion to be discovered in the water

The Mongolian ship which was sent to invade Japan in the 13th Century had been decaying underwater for over 700 years.
Dispatched by Genghis Khan's grandson Kublai, it formed part of two massive armadas - made up of 4,000 ships and 140,000 men - tasked with invading the island and expanding the legendary Yuan Dynasty in 1274 and 1281.
But both fleets were destroyed by destructive typhoon winds which have gone down in Japanese history as 'kamikaze' - or the divine wind - which saved the country from foreign invasion. 

Historic: Archaeologists have discovered a Mongol ship which took part in a failed invasion on Japan over 700 years ago
Historic: Archaeologists have discovered a Mongol ship which took part in a failed invasion on Japan over 700 years ago

Attack: Dispatched by Genghis Khan's grandson Kublai, it formed part of two massive armadas tasked with invading the island in 1274 and 1281.
Attack: Dispatched by Genghis Khan's grandson Kublai, it formed part of two massive armadas tasked with invading the island in 1274 and 1281.

Sunken: But both fleets were destroyed by destructive typhoon winds which have gone down in Japanese history as 'kamikaze' - or the divine wind

It was found in a bay close to the city of Matsuura on the west coast of Kyushu island - and archaeologists believe it was taking shelter from the storm when it sunk.
This is the third sunken ship from the armada to be discovered by archaeologists from the University of the Ryukyus, who found the last one around 200m from Takashima Island in October 2014.
The latest is estimated to be around 20m from bow to stern and up to seven metres wide - slightly smaller than the first ship.
The second ship to be discovered on the seabed yesterday is 12m long and 3m wide at its longest point. 
The first Mongolian warship was discovered in 2011 around 1.7km west of the wreck found last year.

Shipwreck: This is the third sunken ship from the armada to be discovered by archaeologists from the University of the Ryukyus

Massive: The latest is estimated to be around 20m from bow to stern and up to seven metres wide
Massive: The latest is estimated to be around 20m from bow to stern and up to seven metres wide

The structures of the ship, and the 13th Century ceramics on board, backed up their theory that it was part of the Mongol invasion fleet.
A professor of archaeology at the University of Ryukyus says his team have now found potential shipwrecks from the same invasion at three different locations. 
Yoshifumi Ikeda told Asia and Japan Watch: 'We have successfully confirmed the two ships from the Mongolian invasion and further research on them is expected to lead to the discovery of even more sunken Mongolian ships.'
Numerous artifacts have been found on the seabed in the Takashima Kozaki archaeology. They include a white porcelain bowl, brown glaze pottery vase, roof tiles and ironware, have been discovered in and around the wreck, the researchers said.


Saturday, 4 July 2015

Hellenes and Romans in Ancient China (240 BC – 1398 AD)

By Lucas Christopoulos
Sino-Platonic Papers, 230 (August, 2012)
17th century map of China, by Johan Nieuhof (1618-1672)
Introduction: Following the death of Alexander the Great, a large number of his soldiers were forced to remain in the Asian fortified cities of Bactria and northwest India in order to control the occupied territories. These new colonies of the East appealed to migrants, many of them artists or mercenaries from Greece, during the reign of Alexander’s successor, Seleucos. Many of the children that issued from the mixed marriages of Greeks and locals belonged to a Hellenized aristocracy that came to rule Bactria and northwest India for, in some places, the next three hundred years. Soon after Seleucos had made an alliance with Chandragupta Maurya, the king of India, the Kshatriya, the warrior caste of India, had come to consider the Greeks as entirely members of their own clan. After the reign of Chandragupta’s grandson Ashoka, the first Buddhist king of India, this alliance was reflected in Gandhara with the development of a Greco-Buddhist culture.
The independent kingdom of Bactria claimed by Diodotes gave rise to a distinctive culture that mixed Persian, Indian and Greek elements, and its later expansion eastward eventually had a great impact on the Chinese world. The Greco-Bactrians and their Hellenized Scythian troops reached China through the Tarim Basin and established colonies in its southern portion, along the northern range of the Himalayas. The eastern part of the Roman Empire then took the relay, thronged with travelers, embassies and traders reaching China through Sri Lanka, the Kushana Empire and India, following the Spice Road from Roman Egypt. After the advent of Christianity, Byzantium developed close relations with Tang dynasty China in its turn, mostly with Syrian monks acting as intermediaries between the two empires.
In this article I have assembled elements from historical texts, archaeological discoveries and research from other scholars in order to establish the links between these civilizations. Few archaeological discoveries have been made in China, and the lack of information on that side makes this research difficult. The ancient Roman and Greek historical sources are also insignificant concerning this particular cultural exchange in East Asia. Modern Western scholars do not have many tools to investigate the subject seriously, and they are very cautious when it comes to Chinese national history. The subject can hurt national sensibilities, because it is situated at the crossroads of major ancient civilisations, and some might regard investigating the interactions in that area as taboo. But if we can pass over this psychological barrier, disregarding particular ethnicities and considering mankind’s history as global, then it is possible to make fascinating deductions concerning what happened along the Silk Road in Xinjiang.
I found only a few pieces of this particular historical puzzle; other needed pieces are still missing or may themselves raise further questions. I do not intend to try to draw definitive conclusions to these unresolved problems, but I do suggest that we need to assemble all the pieces that we have in order to have a clearer view. That is the premise of this essay. I hope that future archaeological discoveries and exchanges with other scholars will help to clarify this signal part of human history, one that links two ancient and greatly influential civilizations — Greece and China.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Symposium: Silks from the Silk Road: Origin, Transmission and Exchange

International Dunhuang Project


THURSDAY, JULY 2, 2015


Symposium: Silks from the Silk Road: Origin, Transmission and Exchange

Hangzhou, ChinaOct. 11th --Oct. 13th, 2015

In June 2014, the Silk Roads: the Routes Network of Chang'an-Tianshan Corridor jointly nominated by China, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan was inscribed on the World Heritage List, making the ancient Silk Road a common wealth of human beings.
Parallel to the cognominal exhibition, held at the China National Silk Museum from Sept. 15th to Oct. 14th, 2015, which include masterpiece ancient silk textiles and other treasures related to the Silk Road from 24 Chinese museums and archaeological institutions of eight provinces, the symposium will present the following six sections:
  • Silk Road and Technical Exchange
  • Archaeological Findings of Silk in China
  • Archaeological Findings of Silk outside China
  • Silks on the Silk Road from the Perspective of Linguistics
  • Maritime Silk Road and Chinese Export Silk
  • Silks on the Silk Road from the Perspective of Anthropology
Download a PDF (194KB) for more details and the programme.

For more information, go to the website of the China National Silk Museum ( under Research)

Ancient 'mummy' unearthed from 'lost medieval civilisation' near Arctic, claim scientists

New find at Zeleny Yar necropolis, which shows links to Persia, to be examined within weeks. 







Archeologists working at the site, near Salekhard, say they suspect the remains are of a child or teenager from the 12th or 13th centuries AD. Picture: Vesti.Yamal
The expected but as yet unopened human remains are wrapped in birch bark and it is likely that this 'cocoon' contains copper which - combined with the permafrost - produced an accidental mummification.
Archeologists working at the site, near Salekhard, say they suspect the remains are of a child or teenager from the 12th or 13th centuries AD.
The new find matches others discovered at Zeleny Yar, belonging to a mystery medieval civilization with links to Persia despite its position on the edge of the Siberian Arctic. If confirmed, it will be the first mummy from the civilisation found at this intriguing site since 2002. 
Fellow of the Research Center for the Study of Arctic, Alexander Gusev, said: 'We decided, after consulting with colleagues, to take the find as a whole piece, that is without opening it in the field, taking for further research in the city.'
Checks with a metal detector show there is indeed metal beneath the birch bark. 'The birch bark 'cocoon' is of 1.30 metres in length and about 30 cm at the widest part. 
'It follows the contours of the human body. If there is really a mummy, the head and skull are likely to be in good condition. We think it is a child, maybe a teenager. The find is now in Salekhard, in the Shemanovsky Museum, in special freezer. We plan to return to Salekhard on 15 July and immediately start the opening of the 'cocoon'.
Zeleny Yar

Zeleny Yar
'The find is now in Salekhard, in the Shemanovsky Museum, in special freezer. We plan to return to Salekhard on 15 July and immediately start the opening of the 'cocoon'.' Pictures: Vesti.Yamal
Anthropologist  Evgeniya Syatova will be among those examining the discovery which, hope experts, will throw light on this tribe and its origins. She is leading archeologist at the Scientific and Production Center for the Protection and Use of Historical and Cultural Monuments, Sverdlovsk region.
'The mummification was natural,' said Mr Gusev. 'It was combination of factors: the bodies were overlain with copper sheets, parts of copper kettles and together with the permafrost, this it gave the preserving effect.'
Local Vesti.Yamal TV came to the site as the find was made. Their images show it being removed from the ground. 
Previously, archeologists found 34 shallow graves at the medieval site, including 11 bodies with shattered or missing skulls, and smashed skeletons.  Five mummies were found to be shrouded in copper, while also elaborately covered in reindeer, beaver, wolverine or bear fur. Among the graves found so far is just one female, a child, her face masked by copper plates. There are no adult women.  
Nearby were found three copper masked infant mummies - all males. They were bound in four or five copper hoops, several centimetres wide.
Similarly, a red-haired man was found, protected from chest to foot by copper plating. In his resting place, was an iron hatchet, furs, and a head buckle made of bronze depicting a bear.
mummified by accident - but who were they? mummies found in Salekhard

mummified by accident, but who were these people?

Child mummy with the facial copper mask

Mummified hand of a child
Five mummies were found to be shrouded in copper, while also elaborately covered in reindeer, beaver, wolverine or bear fur. Pictures: The SIberian Times, Natalya Fyodorova
The feet of the deceased are all pointing towards the Gorny Poluy River, a fact which is seen as having religious significance. The burial rituals are unknown to experts.
Artifacts included bronze bowls originating in Persia, some 3,700 miles to the south-west, dating from the tenth or eleventh centuries. One of the burials dates to 1282, according to a study of tree rings, while others are believed to be older. 
The researchers found by one of the adult mummies an iron combat knife, silver medallion and a bronze bird figurine. These are understood to date from the seventh to the ninth centuries. 
Unlike other burial sites in Siberia, for example in the permafrost of the Altai Mountains, or those of the Egyptian pharaohs, the purpose did not seem to be to mummify the remains, hence the claim that their preservation until modern times was an accident.
Face of mummified adult man
Mummy of adult man
'A red-haired man was found, protected from chest to foot by copper plating. In his resting place, was an iron hatchet, furs, and a head buckle made of bronze depicting a bear.' Pictures: Kate Baklitskaya, Go East
The soil in this spot is sandy and not permanently frozen. A combination of the use of copper, which prevented oxidation, and a sinking of the temperature in the 14th century, is behind the good condition of the remains today. 
Natalia Fyodorova, of the Ural branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said previously: 'Nowhere in the world are there so many mummified remains found outside the permafrost or the marshes. 
'It is a unique archaeological site. We are pioneers in everything from taking away the object of sandy soil (which has not been done previously) and ending with the possibility of further research.'
In 2002, archeologists were forced to halt work at the site due to objections by locals on the Yamal peninsula, a land of reindeer and energy riches known to locals as 'the end of the earth'.





From the Daily Mail in April 2014


Who were the accidental mummies? Scientists baffled by amazingly well-preserved 800-year-old bodies found in Russia


  • Archeologists unearth mysterious tribe of people south of the Arctic Circle
  • Experts say they were mummified 'by mistake' by copper used in burial ritual
  • It is thought the group share almost no customs with other nearby groups
  • Some of the artifacts found suggest links to Persia, around 3,700 miles away

Daily Mail    14 April 21014
Russian academics are working on unlocking the secrets of a mystery medieval civilization on the edge of the Siberian Arctic - which had links to Persia.
A burial ground has been found with human remains mummified seemingly by accident - and wearing copper masks.
But who they were remains a puzzle to Russian archeologists and experts.

A red haired man was found, protected from chest to foot by copper plating, among a group of bodies in a mysterious burial ground in northern Russia
A red haired man was found, protected from chest to foot by copper plating, among a group of bodies in a mysterious burial ground in northern Russia

A genetic study will now be carried out on the remains in a bid to solve the riddle of where the people came from
A genetic study will now be carried out on the remains in a bid to solve the riddle of where the people came from

A total of 34 shallow graves have been excavated by archeologists at Zeleniy Yar, 18 miles south of the Arctic Circle, and included a small treasure trove of jewellery and artifacts indicating this was a trading outpost of some importance around one millennium ago.
'The medieval necropolis include 11 bodies with shattered or missing skulls, and smashed skeletons,' reported The Siberian Times.
'Five mummies were found to be shrouded in copper, while also elaborately covered in reindeer, beaver, wolverine or bear fur.

'Among the graves is just one female, a child, her face masked by copper plates. There are no adult women.' 
Three copper masked infant mummies - all male - were unearthed nearby. They were bound in four or five copper hoops, several centimetres wide.
A red-haired man was also found, protected from chest to foot by copper plating. In his resting place, was an iron hatchet, furs, and a head buckle made of bronze depicting a bear.

A total 34 shallow graves were uncovered by archeologists working at Zeleniy Yar, Russia, which is 18 miles south of the Arctic Circle
A total 34 shallow graves were uncovered by archeologists working at Zeleniy Yar, Russia, which is 18 miles south of the Arctic Circle
As well as copper plating, the bodies were covered in reindeer, beaver, wolverine and bear fur
As well as copper plating, the bodies were covered in reindeer, beaver, wolverine and bear fur

The feet of the deceased are all pointing towards the nearby Gorny Poluy River, a fact which is seen as having religious significance.
Yet the burial rituals are reported to be unknown to experts and not typical of others in this cold and inhospitable region.
Artifacts included bronze bowls originating in Persia, some 3,700 miles to the south-west, dating from the tenth or eleventh centuries, it is believed.
'One of the burials dates to 1282, according to a study of tree rings, while others are believed to be older,' reports The Siberian Times. 

A bronze bowl (top) and a silver plate found beside the burials


Silver medallions and other decorations from the burial
A bronze bowl (top left) and a silver plate found beside the burials and silver medallions and other decorations (right)

A belt and bracelet from the burial. Artifacts found have led experts to link the people with Persia, thousands of miles to the south
A belt and bracelet from the burial. Artifacts found have led experts to link the people with Persia, thousands of miles to the south

An iron combat knife, silver medallion and a bronze bird figurine was found by one of the adult mummies and are understood to date from the seventh to the ninth centuries.
It is thought the preservation of the bodies was 'an accident' caused by a combination of the copper, which prevented oxidation of the remains, and a dip in temperatures in the centuries after the group were buried.
Natalia Fyodorova, of the Urals branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said: 'Nowhere in the world are there so many mummified remains found outside the permafrost or the marshes. 

The group, buried around 800 years ago, are thought to have been mummified 'by accident' due to the copper plating placed around their bodies
The group, buried around 800 years ago, are thought to have been mummified 'by accident' due to the copper plating placed around their bodies

A belt buckle from the burial, which experts are continuing to investigate
A belt buckle from the burial, which experts are continuing to investigate

'It is a unique archaeological site. We are pioneers in everything from taking away the object of sandy soil (which has not been done previously) and ending with the possibility of further research.'
She suggested that the smashing of the skulls may have been done soon after death 'to render protection from mysterious spells believed to emanate from the deceased'.
In 2002, archeologists were forced to halt work at the site due to objections by locals on the Yamal peninsula, a land of reindeer and energy riches known to locals as 'the end of the earth'. The experts were disturbing the souls of their ancestors, they feared.
Work is underway now to solve this riddle, including a genetic study of the remains headed by Alexander Pilipenko, research fellow of Institute of Cytology and Genetics, part of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

China Fears Loss of Great Wall, Brick by Brick

From: Sinosphere.blogs.nytimes.com

Scholars say the Great Wall of China is disappearing as a result of erosion, theft of bricks and damage from tourists scrambling over unrestored sections.Credit Kevin Frayer/Getty Images
The Great Wall in northern China cannot be seen with the naked eye from high orbit above the Earth or from the moon, as some people believe. For centuries, those who have wanted to see the wall have had to make a trip to Asia to lay eyes on one of the greatest surviving artificial structures in the world.
These days, though, there is less of it to see, according to an article in The Beijing Times that cites local officials, statistics and a Great Wall scholar. The article, which appeared on Sunday, said that 22 percent of what was considered the Ming dynasty Great Wall had disappeared. And the total length of the parts of the wall that have vanished, 1,961 kilometers, or 1,219 miles, is equal to about 30 percent of the artificial part of the Great Wall. (More than 6,200 kilometers of the Ming-era wall’s 8,851.8 kilometers is artificial, and the rest consist of natural barriers, the article said.)
Those numbers were released in 2012 by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, and no doubt more of the wall has disappeared since then.
The Beijing Times article caused a stir on social media on Monday. People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s flagship newspaper, wrote in English on Twitter: “Report on vanishing Great Wall shocks the country.” Global Times, a newspaper overseen by People’s Daily, expressed anxiety in a Twitter post: “Nearly 30 percent of Great Wall disappears. Fancy a trip before it’s all gone?” People’s Daily Online and Global Times both ran stories on Monday that repeated the findings of The Beijing Times.



Nearly 30 percent of Great Wall disappears. Fancy a trip before it’s all gone? Photos: Xinhua http://bit.ly/1ImTta8 

The Great Wall is not actually a single wall, of course. Beginning with the Qin dynasty, successive empires built different series of walled fortifications in the area now known as northern China. For example, the Han dynasty, which ruled China from 206 B.C. to 220 A.D., built walls and watchtowers along the Hexi Corridor, a passage between mountains and high plateaus leading through the Gobi Desert in western China. Remnants of the Han-era Great Wall can be found west of the former oasis town of Dunhuang and were explored in the early 20th century by Sir Aurel Stein, the British archaeologist.
The Ming dynasty Great Wall also stretched into Gansu and ended at a desert site called Jiayuguan, east of the surviving Han sections.
It is the parts of the wall built during the Ming, which ruled China from 1368 to 1644, that are the best preserved. In Beijing, most tourists go to see the Ming wall at the renovated sections at Badaling or Mutianyu. In November 2009, President Obama walked along a temporarily closed-off section of Badaling, which is usually mobbed with tourists. In March of last year, his wife, Michelle Obama, went to Mutianyu with their two daughters and, to descend, took a ride in a plastic sled down a popular tourist slide.
Outside Badaling, Mutianyu and a handful of other heavily visited sections, there is the “wild wall,” and it is in these areas — the vast majority of the Ming-era wall — that the structure is vanishing.
The Beijing Times reported that the main causes were erosion from wind and rain, the plundering of bricks by nearby villagers to use in construction and the scrambling over parts of the wild wall by more adventurous tourists.
Some of the bricks taken by villagers have Chinese words carved into them. Scholars judge those bricks to be invaluable historical relics, yet the same bricks can be found sold in village markets near the Great Wall for about 40 to 50 renminbi, or about $7 to $8 — and that can be bargained down to 30 renminbi, according to The Beijing Times.
In 2006, China established regulations for the protection of the Great Wall. But The Beijing Times said that with little in the way of resources devoted to preservation, and given the fact that the Ming-era wall runs through some impoverished counties, the regulations amount to “a mere scrap of paper.”

Some Chinese citizens expressed concern online after seeing the Beijing Times report. “The modern Chinese have done what people for centuries were embarrassed to do and what the invaders could not do,” one person wrote on a Sina Weibo microblog. “The wall is being destroyed by the hands of the descendants.”
Yifu Dong contributed research from Beijing, and Crystal Tse from Hong Kong.