Monday, 17 January 2011

China and Inner Asia (1,000-200 BC): Interactions that changed China

The Oxford Centre for Asian Archaeology, Art and Culture, based in Oxford University’s School of Archaeology, has received its first major research award since its launch in October last year.
The project, led by Dame Jessica Rawson, Professor of Chinese Art and Archaeology at the University of Oxford, will look at how the early Chinese societies made use of different foreign materials and technologies. Researchers will track how the Chinese, with their highly organised, relatively dense population, were able to react fast and on a large scale.
Bright red carnelian beads found in tombs of the early Chinese states (circa 850-650BC) are telling signs of major interactions between the Chinese elite of the day and the peoples further west in present-day Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Siberia. Nearest comparisons are fine beads found in Iraq and other areas of the Middle East in tombs of the third and second millennium BC.
Carnelian beads are not the only materials that the Chinese borrowed and then copied and developed in their own contexts. Faience beads, typical of Western Asia and not China, have been found in Chinese tombs alongside the carnelian and a new fashion for gold developed at the same time.
The project will focus on the continuous interactions between the highly populated Yellow River basin and the more marginal areas to the north and west of China. These sparsely inhabited areas were essential bridges between the early Chinese and the metal-rich Altai and Ural Mountains.
Extravagant use of bronze for casting food and wine vessels, the hundreds of chariots surviving in tombs and large scale iron foundries demonstrate the power of the Chinese to exploit innovation.
Professor Rawson said: ‘An understanding of these factors will enable a fuller appreciation of the ways in which China’s physical environment and geographical position have in the past affected and will continue today to affect, not only its technological, but also its social development.’
The research team, led by Professor Rawson, will follow the trail taken thousands of years ago to see how materials and technologies reached the Yellow River across the steppes and deserts of Eurasia.
The Oxford team, together with researchers from the University of Science and Technology in Beijing, will examine exciting recent finds housed in provincial museums and at archaeological sites in China, Iraq, Iran and Central Asia as well as in the British Museum, London, to establish what the Chinese have borrowed and how they refashioned what they had gained from their Asian and Middle Eastern neighbours.

The photo is from the Beijing World Art Museum as well as the following details:
Gold, agate, and carnelian
L. 50 cm; W. 1.5 cm
Ur (Iraq). VIII Expedition, 1929-30. PG 1846, Burial C
Early Dynastic III
31-17-67 (U. 15312)
This is a set of arbitrarily strung beads from a non-royal burial (PG 1846) in the Royal Cemetery. It consists of twenty-five beads, nine hollow gold balls, eleven long double conoid carnelian beads, four diamond shaped agate beads, and one date-shaped bead made of limestone.
These beads were found near a body in a wooden coffin, the least disturbed of three burials in the plundered PG 1846. Along with these beads, Burial C wore two plain gold fillets, a small gold lunate earring in one ear, and two silver bracelets. Based on the jewelry, as well as a copper axe and knife found in the coffin, Burial C was probably that of a male.
The long carnelian beads that dominate this reconstruction attest to the contacts that existed between southern Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley, known as Meluhha in cuneiform records, during the 3rd millennium BCE. Recent studies of long carnelian beads from Ur indicate that some were produced in the Indus Valley and traded as finished products, while others were probably made in southern Mesopotamia by migrant Indus craftsmen. These “Meluhhans” produced carnelian beads using their own raw materials, distinctive hard stone drills and drilling techniques. The drilling process sometimes took several days for longer beads, and the skill involved in their production would likely have made these long carnelian beads valuable pieces of jewelry.
The large number of carnelian beads at Ur, including in the tomb of Puabi (PG 800), has led to suggestions that some of the Ur’s royalty might have been Indus princesses.
Author: Aubrey Baadsgaard

Kenoyer, J.M.
1997 “Trade and Technology of the Indus Valley: New Insights from Harappa, Pakistan.” World Archaeology 29, pp. 262-80.
1998 Ancient Cities of the Indus Valley Civilization. Karachi and Islamabad.
Parpola, S. A. Parpola, and R.H. Brunswig Jr.
1977 “The Meluhha Village: Evidence of Acculturation of Harappan Traders in Late Third Millennium Mesopotamia.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 20, pp. 129-65.
Woolley, C.L.
1934 The Royal Cemetery, Ur Excavations, vol. 2. London and Philadelphia.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting post! The Penn Museum in Philadelphia is featuring mummies from western China in their "Secrets of the Silk Road" exhibition come February. Check it out -