Archeology and History of the Silk Road

Monday, 29 October 2012

Revisiting the Southern Silk Road


Part 1-Border of the ancient kingdom of Shu






Part 2- The megalithic tombs







Part 3- The lost kingdom of Dian












Part 4- South of the rainbow













Part 5- Road to the West












Source: CCTV

Han dynasty silk clothing unearthed

Source: CCTV  21.9.2012

Watch Video

Play Video
Now, let’s join a team of archaeologists in Shandong Province for their recently unearthed discovery. Archaeologists in Heze city found access to a secret mezzanine structure inside a Han Dynasty tomb, unveiling a silk robe.
The robe was sealed in a box made of bamboo, hidden in a concealed area in the tomb. Experts say it’s the first time ever that they have found a piece of clothing stored this way as a funeral item. Judging from the jade-ware decoration, they believe it’s a personal belonging of the tomb’s owner, the mother of West Han Dynasty’s Emperor Ai. The discovery has lent much support to the historical studies on the Han Dynasty.
silk robe unearthed
a bronze mirror and silk robe

Editor:Qin Xue |Source: CCTV.com

Silk artifacts display in Madrid attract local residents

28.10.2012

Watch Video

Play Video
Chinese silk products first arrived in Spain a thousand years ago, when the silk road linking China’s Xi’an to Western countries was thriving. But today, the silk art exhibition being held in Madrid is enabling local resident there to take a closer look at silk’s past and present.
Fifty-four sets of silk artifacts, on loan from Hangzhou’s Silk Museum range in eras from China’s Han dynasty some two thousand years ago, to the Qing dynasty, some hundreds of years ago, are on display at Spain’s National Decor Art Museum in Madrid.
Many of them are being displayed outside of China for the first time. A horse rider’s boot made of silk from the Liao dynasty in 10th century AD, and a silk product created for export during the Qing dynasty are popular items, that have aroused the interest of local residents.
The exhibition with Chinese silk as the center piece will last for two months.
Source: CCTV.com

La Ruta de la Seda pasa unos días por Madrid

F. Pastrano - Extremo Oriente
26 de octubre de 2012
DSCN3649a Orientaciones.jpg
A Benjamín de Tudela, un aventurero medieval navarro, podemos considerarlo como el pionero europeo en tierras de Asia oriental. Viajó por China entre 1160 y 1173, incluso antes que Marco Polo, que lo hizo a finales del siglo XIII. Este hecho, que trasciende a la simple anécdota, es el comienzo de una serie de viajes en los que el comercio y la aventura se mezclaban a partes iguales.
Occidente conoció China a través de la Ruta de la Seda y fue este español quien tuvo el honor de abrirla para España.
En realidad no hubo una sola Ruta de la Seda, sino varias, pero todas en esencia eran itinerarios por tierra o mar que empezaban en China (Chang'an, hoy Xian) y acababan en el Imperio Romano. Caravanas de camellos, caballos o mulas traían una gran cantidad de productos más o menos exóticos, desde la seda a la porcelana, pero sobre todo sirvieron para que Oriente y Occidente empezaran a conocerse, tarea que hoy todavía no ha acabado.
De entre todas las piezas que nos llegaban por esa vía la seda era la más exótica, la más preciada, la más enigmática. Ya los romanos se maravillaron con ese tejido misterioso, cuyo origen desconocían. Entonces (s. II a.C.) se creía que procedía de la savia de un árbol, o de sus hojas.
Y los chinos abonaron las teorías fantásticas con una serie de leyendas. Una dice que hacia el s. XVII a.C. Cuando la emperatriz Lei Zu, esposa del legendario emperador Huang Di,  tomaba el té, un capullo de gusano cayó accidentalmente en su taza. Al sacarlo, aparecieron los hilos que, convenientemente tejidos, dieron una tela de gran belleza y resistencia. Desde entonces la fabricación de la seda fue uno de los secretos mejor guardados de China. Hasta que otra princesa (la Historia la escribían los aristócratas) sacó del imperio y llevó a Khotan (Turquestán Oriental) algunos huevos de gusanos escondidos en su peinado.
Sea como fuere, lo cierto es que se han encontrado en China restos de telas de  seda con 4.700 años de antigüedad, y que a Occidente, concretamente a la corte del emperador bizantino Justiniano, unos monjes nestorianos llevaron huevos de gusanos de seda ocultos en sus cayados de bambú.
Dentro de las actividades celebradas con motivo del Año Europeo del Diálogo Intercultural UE-China, en el Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas de Madrid se ha inaugurado la exposición “Ruta de la Seda. Antiguos tejidos chinos”. Extraordinarias piezas procedentes del Museo Nacional de la Seda China de Hangzhou (institución que custodia los fondos museográficos más significativos de esta milenaria producción), 54 objetos de seda que van desde la dinastía Han (386-534) a la dinastía Qing (1644-1911). Objetos únicos nunca antes vistos en España, como tejidos planos, túnicas, calzados, tocados... muchos de ellos recuperados de yacimientos funerarios.
Por unos días, la Ruta de la Seda pasa por Madrid. Una forma interesante y barata de viajar.
..............................
Exposición “Ruta de la Seda. Antiguos tejidos chinos”. Del 26 de octubre de 2012 al 23 de diciembre de 2012. Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas, calle Montalbán 12, Madrid. Entrada gratuita.



Friday, 26 October 2012

Sir Aurel Stein & the Silk Road finds


From the Victoria & Albert Museum website:


Endere, Miran and Miran Fort



The Silk Road finds - Map 4

Endere

Endere was once an important military post and centre of Buddhist worship on the southern Silk Road. Coins found there indicate that the Chinese controlled the area as early as the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD). During the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), Endere fell to the Tibetans and the city was abandoned in the ninth century AD, when the nearby Endere River changed its course. Stein excavated there in 1901 and 1906, locating remains of its great fort and a number of buildings devoted to Buddhist worship. In one shrine he found textile rags and fragments of Buddhist manuscripts deposited at the feet of stucco statuary, possibly as votive offerings. Written in Chinese, Tibetan and Sanskrit and other scripts, they suggested that the shrine had drawn worshippers from far and wide.
Ruined tower with remains of wind-eroded dwelling in the foreground, Endere, Sir Marc Aurel Stein, 1906. Photo 392/27(104), © The British Library Board (left). Same view, John Falconer, 2008. Photo 1125/16(306), © International Dunhuang Project (right)
Ruined tower with remains of wind-eroded dwelling in the foreground, Endere, Sir Marc Aurel Stein, 1906. Photo 392/27(104), © The British Library Board (left). Same view, John Falconer, 2008. Photo 1125/16(306), © International Dunhuang Project (right)
Endere site with gate, Sir Marc Aurel Stein, 1906. Photo 392/27(102), © The british Library Board
Endere site with gate, Sir Marc Aurel Stein, 1906. Photo 392/27(102), © The British Library Board



  
Endere stupa, Victoria Swift, 2008. Photo 1187/2(172), © The British Library Board
Endere stupa, Victoria Swift, 2008. Photo 1187/2(172), © The British Library Board
Ruins of large building inside Endere fort, Victoria Swift, 2008. Photo 1187/29223, © International Dunhuang Project
Ruins of large building inside Endere fort, Victoria Swift, 2008. Photo 1187/29223, © International Dunhuang Project
The V&A holds on loan a number of textiles from Endere, including tanned leather, wool felts and yarns, woven silk, and braided plant fibres. The intriguing small object (below, left) is made of one length of cream felt which has been folded over and stitched around the edges with cream wool thread. It is unclear what the pad of felted wool would have been used for. Stein discovered it in the ruins of what once was a small dwelling, which he believed dated to the re-settlement after the Tang dynasty effective domination of the Tarim Basin. These fragments of red woollen braid (right) attached with stitching to felted buff wool may have been added decoration to the front opening of a felted garment.
Felt pad, 800-1000 AD. Museum no. LOAN:STEIN.113 (E.VI.006)
Felt pad, 800-1000 AD. Museum no. LOAN:STEIN.113 (E.VI.006)
Braided borders, 400-700 AD. Museum no. LOAN:STEIN.127 (E.Fort.0014)
Braided borders, 400-700 AD. Museum no. LOAN:STEIN.127 (E.Fort.0014)

Miran

Miran lies between Kargilik and lake Lop Nor on thesouthern Silk Road. Stein excavated an ancient fort and remains of a Buddhist sanctuary there in 1907 and uncovered spectacular Buddhist murals in its temples and stupas. These depicted winged figures with garlands; imagery which he identified with the mythology and style of Persia and Greece. The appearance of the signature "Tita" led Stein to conclude that the paintings were the work of an artist from the eastern Mediterranean. Temple sculpture, including a colossal Buddha head, was rendered in the opulent Gandharan style of northwest India. Stein called this fusion of regional styles Graeco-Buddhist and determined that the site had flourished in the first centuries of the millennium, when trade along the southern Silk Road had thrived.
Miran stupa, Sir Marc Aurel Stein, 1907. Photo 392/27(156), © The British Library Board
Miran stupa, Sir Marc Aurel Stein, 1907. Photo 392/27(156), © The British Library Board
Miran stupa ruin, Sir Marc Aurel Stein, 1907. Photo 392/26(256), © The British Library Board
Miran stupa ruin, Sir Marc Aurel Stein, 1907. Photo 392/26(256), © The British Library Board
View looking along base of stupa, Miran, Sir Marc Aurel Stein, 1906. Photo 392/27(118), © The British Library Board (left). Same view, Victoria Swift, 2008. Photo 1187/2(131), © International Dunhuang Project (right)
View looking along base of stupa, Miran, Sir Marc Aurel Stein, 1906. Photo 392/27(118), © The British Library Board (left). Same view, Victoria Swift, 2008. Photo 1187/2(131), © International Dunhuang Project (right)
View of Miran from west, Victoria Swift, 2008. Photo 1187/2(150), © International Dunhuang Project
View of Miran from west, Victoria Swift, 2008. Photo 1187/2(150), © International Dunhuang Project



The V&A holds on loan from Miran, silk and wool fragments, and a group of lotus flowers made of cotton and silk and plaster-covered fabric fragments. These artificial flowers (below, left) were cut out flat from plain woven cotton and silk, some dyed blue and some red while others were left undyed. The flowers were cleverly made up with wooden pegs and tufts of silk thread to represent stalks and stamens. The stalks would then have been pushed through a painted cloth which perhaps covered the floor, walls or even the ceiling. The flowers may have been votive offerings of the worshippers at the shrine of Miran. The remains of a coarse cotton cloth (centre) has been covered with a very thin coat of white plaster painted dark blue. Onto the wet plaster were fixed groups and sprays of artificial leaves cut separately out of red and blue cloth and stuck together. Stein discovered these in the ruins of a shrine, square outside but circular within, which had once been surmounted by a dome and enclosed a small stupa in its centre. Spectacular murals had once decorated the walls such as winged figures and western-looking people in a 'Graeco-Buddhist' style, as coined by Stein. He described the long length of silk (right) as a girdle based on the much worn ends. He found it in the ruins of a small building with just one room and a hemispherical dome above it. It was still rolled-up. The width of the silk is about 6 centimetres wider than the standard measurement of silks made during the Han and Qin dynasties, and therefore might belong to a later date. The so-called girdle was maybe left behind by a traveller several hundred years later seeking shelter when the roof of the building was still intact.
Artificial flowers, 300-400 AD. Museum no. LOAN:STEIN.628 (M.III.0013).
Artificial flowers, 300-400 AD. Museum no. LOAN:STEIN.628 (M.III.0013).
Fragments of painted cotton, 300-400 AD. Museum no. LOAN:STEIN.238 (M.III.0026).
Fragments of painted cotton, 300-400 AD. Museum no. LOAN:STEIN.238 (M.III.0026).
Length of silk, 300-400 AD or later. Museum no. LOAN:STEIN.276 (M.X.001).
Length of silk, 300-400 AD or later. Museum no. LOAN:STEIN.276 (M.X.001).

Miran Fort

Ruined fort, Sir Marc Aurel Stein, 1906. Photo 392/27(109), © The British Library Board
Ruined fort, Sir Marc Aurel Stein, 1906. Photo 392/27(109), © The British Library Board
The Miran fort lies midway along southern Silk Road, at the foot of the Kunlun Mountains. When Tibetan troops occupied the area in the late eight century AD, they built the fort as part of a defensive network in and effort to control the surrounding area, which included a nearby mountain pass into Tibet, and the Qinghai route of the Silk Road into China.  The fort was abandoned at the end of the 9th century, and had declined into a small farming community by the time Sir Aurel Stein visited the area.
In 1907, Stein excavated rubbish heaps at the fort and found wood slips, dating from the eight to the ninth century AD, which provided early examples of Tibetan writing. He also found fragments of wool rugs in bright colours and pieces of silk.
Ruined structure, Miran Fort, Sir Marc Aurel Stein, 1914. Photo 392/28(357), © The British Library Board
Ruined structure, Miran Fort, Sir Marc Aurel Stein, 1914. Photo 392/28(357), © The British Library Board
Southern bastion of fort, John Falconer, 2008. Photo 1125/16(130), © International Dunhuang Project
Southern bastion of fort, John Falconer, 2008. Photo 1125/16(130), © International Dunhuang Project
The V&A holds a large number of textiles from the Miran Fort on loan. They include patterned and plain woven silk and wool, woven and spun hemp, woven horsehair, cords and painted silk.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Nazi buddha from space might be fake


Statue said to have been looted by Nazis may well be from space but expert says it was probably made in the 20th century
Iron Man statue
The statue may well be made from a meteorite but experts say it is a 20th-century fake. Photograph: Elmar Buchner/PA
The narrative was, perhaps, just a little too good to be true. When news broke last month of the so-called "buddha from space" – a swastika-emblazoned statue, apparently 1,000 years old, that had been carved out of a meteorite and looted by a Nazi ethnologist – the world was enthralled.
There were only, it turns out, a few slight catches. According to two experts who have since given their verdict on the mysterious Iron Man, it may have been a European counterfeit; it was probably made at some point in the 20th century; and it may well not have been looted by the Nazis. The bit about the meteorite, though, still stands.
According to Buddhism specialist Achim Bayer, the statue bears 13 features which are easily identifiable by experts as "pseudo-Tibetan" – and which sit uneasily with speculation by researchers last month that it was probably made in the 11th-century pre-Buddhist Bon culture.
These include the 24cm-high statue's shoes, trousers and hand positioning, as well as the fact that the buddha has a full beard rather than the "rather thin" facial hair usually given to a deity in Tibetan and Mongolian art. In his report, Bayer says he believes the statue to be a European counterfeit made sometime between 1910 and 1970.
"I would like to briefly address readers from outside our field and clarify that there is not any controversy among experts about the authenticity of the statue, the 'lama wearing trousers', as I would like to call it," writes the University of Seoul academic. "Up to date, no acknowledged authority in the field of Tibetan or Mongolian art has publicly deemed the statue authentic and the issue has to be considered uncontroversial."
The statue's Asian provenance is not the only aspect of the story to have been questioned. In September, the man leading a team of German and Austrian researchers, University of Stuttgart geologist Elmar Buchner, said its previous owner had claimed it had been brought to Europe in the late 1930s by Ernst Schäfer, a Nazi ethnologist who led an SS expedition to Tibet.
But German historian Isrun Engelhardt, who has studied Schäfer's trip to Tibet in depth, has cast doubt on this suggestion, questioning the statue's absence on the long list of items brought back. "There is an extremely precise list of the purchased objects, including date, place and value," she told Spiegel.
Buchner says he had no reason to doubt the account of the previous owner, and stresses that his team was only looking into what the statue was made of – a rare form of iron with a high content of nickel – not where it had come from. While they felt able to say the material most likely came from the Chinga meteorite, which crashed to earth 15,000 years ago, the researchers admitted that "the ethnological and art historical details … as well as the time of sculpturing, currently remain speculative".
Moreover, Buchner's statements about the origins were qualified. He told the journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science: "If we are right that it was made in the Bon culture in the 11th century, it is absolutely priceless and absolutely unique worldwide."

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

In search of Kublai Khan's fleet

Digging for what remains of Kublai Khan's fleet. 
 Photo: Photo courtesy of the Bach Dang Battlefield Research Group


 In Xanadu did Kubla Khan 
A stately pleasure-dome decree: 
Where Alph, the sac-red river, 
ran Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea…

So wrote the opium-addicted 18th-century English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge after a dream about the great Mongol ruler Kublai Khan. A grandson of Genghis Khan, Kublai's realm stretched from the Pacific Ocean to the Black Sea, covering a fifth of the known world. In 1279, he became the first non-Chinese emperor, establishing the Yuan Dynasty and ruling over China, present-day Mongolia, Korea and other Asian regions. But his ambition to occupy more lands led to one of his worst defeats when he sent his warships to invade Vietnam in 1288. Now, 725 years later, Australian archaeologists are helping excavate the site where the mighty Kublai Khan's invasion fleet of 400 was destroyed by the Vietnamese. They had lured the Mongols up the Bach Dang River just as the tide was starting to ebb. The Vietnam army had driven hundreds of sharpened wooden stakes into the bed of the river that were invisible at high tide; when the tide turned and began to ebb, the entire fleet was holed and sunk, captured or burnt by fire arrows. "The Bach Dang battlefield research project came about after Jun Kimura, one of my PhD students now at Murdoch University, was asked to go to Vietnam in 2008," says Dr Mark Staniforth, a senior researcher in archaeology at Monash University. "I had been looking for an opportunity to do some research there on the site where Kublai Khan's fleet was defeated and went with him initially to help record a couple of wooden ship's anchors found in the Red River. That gave me the chance to spend a few days in Bach Dang looking at the site and where we discovered the Vietnamese had been working since the 1950s. They were doing a good job but suffered a few problems — mainly not having much in the way of equipment or money." Since that first visit four years ago, Dr Staniforth, Dr Kimura and other international marine archaeologists have been assisting the Vietnamese, offering their expertise as well as funding raised from Monash, the Australian Academy of the Humanities, the National Geographic Society and other sources. He says his aim all along had been to help the Vietnamese start preserving their underwater cultural heritage because so little had been done. "Their archaeologists do really good work on the land but underwater they have only used treasure hunters to dive on wrecks collecting and selling the most valuable items, mostly Chinese ceramics, leaving the rest to be held by local museums while in the process destroying the sites," he says. "The government decided 11 years ago this was not a good idea and legislated to stop the plunder. But while they know what not to do with shipwrecks and other marine archaeological sites, they don't know what to do: they don't have the trained people or equipment so they've been struggling." Dr Staniforth was a chief investigator on last April's excavation of the wreck of the Clarence, the earliest and best-preserved example of an Australian-built trading vessel yet located in Victoria. (See Cutting Edge theage.com.au/national/education/wreck-reveals-its-bounty-20120416-1x3az.html). It was one of Australia's largest underwater research projects, with a team of 60 scientists, students and volunteers involved in the month-long study of the Clarence's remains on the site in Port Phillip Bay where it disappeared more than 160 years ago. He says at least 8000 ships have been wrecked around Australia and more than 700 in Victorian waters, but laughs when asked about the likely number in Vietnam. With a 3600-kilometre coastline, in a country next door to China whose ships have been sailing along that coast for more than 3000 years, he says the number of wrecks would be incalculable. "Given the trade with Asian countries that China was involved with over the centuries, Vietnam had to be one of the big players. There is so much evidence early civilisations had to be connected by sea and not by land that the number of shipwrecks would be huge. But no one has gone looking: Vietnam was essentially closed to the outside world until 1992 and even after the war they closed their borders so no one had done much archaeological work until 20 years ago." Having helped locate more of the wooden stakes that sank Kublai Khan's fleet, the international team of archaeologists working on the Bach Dang battle project will next month start offering training programs aimed increasing awareness at local and national levels about the extent of Vietnam's underwater and maritime cultural heritage. "We're there to donate our time and our expertise to train people," Dr Staniforth says. "We've had up to 20 archaeologists involved at various times on the Bach Dang project, although three or four key players go each year. Next month we'll have six and we'll be running one-day and two-day courses at the end of our research for the Vietnamese. As well as an introduction to the basic principles of archaeology, we will also introduce the range of sites covered under the title 'nautical' or 'maritime' archaeology, not just shipwrecks and certainly not all underwater." He says the courses will be run at the Institute of Archaeology building in Hanoi but that the institute has also invited three of the visiting archaeologists to investigate the latest shipwreck to be found: a 14th-century trading vessel located in Quang Ngai and discovered last month by local fishermen who had stolen various objects from the wreck to sell. The ship contains ceramic wares made in China during the 14th and 15th centuries, as well as coins from the 12th and 13th centuries. "We'll have a look at the wreck and offer some recommendations; it's in shallow water just off shore but we don't know what the site is like or the water quality. Seeing the site will tell us a lot and we'll let the Vietnamese know what they are getting themselves into!" Dr Staniforth says. "Excavation projects in Australia cost tens of thousands of dollars — even at the cheap end of town — and to do that in Vietnam won't be a whole lot cheaper." He says the main challenge confronting Vietnamese archaeologists is that with few dive shops, there is little or no equipment to hire and no money to buy it. Shipping the weight of equipment that would be required from Australia would cost more money than the Vietnamese or Australians could afford. "The problems the Vietnamese face are tremendous, which is why we are taking it one step at a time and, until we get a lot more funding or support from somewhere, we'll run these training courses. Archaeology is taught at many universities in Vietnam and at the Institute of Archaeology, but not marine archaeology. After these introductory courses, the institute may be interested in teaching it at a higher level. But how that might be funded is still up for discussion." Five miles meander-ing with a mazy motion Through wood and dale the sacred river ran, Then reached the caverns measureless to man, And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean

Read more: click HERE

Wikipedia articles related to the Silk Road

Just read the blog from :

International Dunhuang Project


IDP staff are downing tools for four days to create and edit Wikipedia articles related to the Silk Road and add images where appropriate. Throughout the week we will be visited by Wikipedians and students from UCL and SOAS. If you would like to join in, either in person or remotely, please see our Wikipedia page. If you are working remotely please do get in touch and let us know which articles you have worked on. We will post more during and after the event.

Ancient porcelain on display at Shanghai Museum


Watch Video

Play Video
Blue and White Porcelain holds a special place in Chinese history. The technique matured in the 14th century, during Yuan dynasty, so the pieces produced during that era are of rare quality. Unfortunately, though, few such pieces remain. So today an exhibition of just such pieces is a real treat.
Among the 80 pieces on show, a particular stellar example is on loan from Britain’s Percival David Foundation. Inscriptions on its neck indicate that the vase was created in 1352, the 11th year of the Zhizheng reign during Yuan dynasty. That particular period is believed by scholars to have produced ancient times’ best blue and white porcelains.
Ancient porcelain on display at Shanghai Museum
Lu Minghua, Director of Porcelain Dept., Shanghai Museum, said, "This vase is significant also because it help experts determine the whereabouts of other wares with similar shapes and quality."
The pictures on this piece tell the ancient story of Gui Guzi coming down the mountain to save his disciple - the later strategist Sun Bin. It fetched 230 million yuan at UK’s Christie’s in 2005. And another item shaped like a Mongolian yurt is one of its kind... there’s really nothing else like it from the yuan dynasty. Their whites come from the porcelain itself, while the blue glaze is typically made from colbalt oxide - which holds its color well even after centuries. That’s the fact that has helped make such pieces so-prized by collectors world-over. And the items on show have been drawn from museums and foundations from all over the earth... The UK, Iran, of course China and others. Luckily, anybody interested in checking out the display will have plenty of time. The exhibition runs till next January.
Source: CCTV.com

Monday, 22 October 2012

Khitan Seals

From the phenomenal blog Babelstone from Andrew West

The Liao dynasty (907–1125) was the first Chinese dynasty to be ruled by a non-Chinese people (the Khitans) who used their own writing system to represent their own language (in the case of the Khitans, two separate writing systems). The Khitan language and scripts were used in parallel with the Chinese language and script for governmental purposes during the time of the Liao dynasty, and bronze seals of office were carved in either Chinese characters or Khitan large script characters (presumably depending upon the native language of the recipient).
This post discusses those seals that have been identified as having a seal face inscription in either the Khitan large script or the Khitan small script which I have been able to find images of. There may be as many as twenty Khitan large script seals held in collections in China, but I have only been able to find images of the seal face of a few of these seals. Much of the analysis presented here is preliminary, and I hope to expand and improve this post as and when I find more information on Khitan seals.

Seal 1 = A5 | Seal 2 = A4 | Seal 3 = Chinese | Seal 4 = B4 }



A. Ninefold Seal Script Official Seals

During the Song dynasty (960–1279) Chinese characters on official seals were engraved using a highly stylized style of calligraphy known as "ninefold seal script" 九疊篆 that was based on archaic Small Seal Script character forms, but with tightly convoluted strokes. This complex style of calligraphy was applied to both Chinese script and Khitan script official seals during the Liao dynasty. This set a precedent that was followed by the Western Xia, Yuan and Qing dynasties, which developed mock archaic ninefold seal script forms of Tangut, Phags-pa and Manchu respectively, for use on official seals. Of the non-Chinese dynasties, only the Jurchen Jin dynasty that succeded the Liao seems to have only used Chinese script on seals.
As there is no surviving key to Khitan seal script characters it is often very difficult to determine what standard form Khitan large character a seal script character corresponds to, especially as the meaning of most Khitan large script characters is unknown or uncertain. A table of Khitan ninefold seal script characters is appended at the bottom of this post.


Seal A1

Wen Wu 文物 1983.08 p.82.


Found at : Chifeng, Inner Mongolia (内蒙古自治區赤峰市翁牛特旗) in 1965.
Present Location : Chifeng Museum (赤峰市博物館).

The seal inscription comprises five Khitan large characters in two columns, two characters in the first (righthand) column, and three in the second (lefthand) column. Uniquely amongst surviving Khitan seals, the inscription text is repreated on the side of the seal as a single column of standard Khitan characters engraved in outline:
 

The first character  is one of the many variant forms of the Khitan large character meaning "six" (reading unknown). The next character  appears to be a variant form of a Khitan large character normally written  or  (*u). In memorial inscriptions this character most commonly occurs before the character  (*ur/ru) to form the word *uru meaning "group" or "division" in reference to the tribal groupings or divisions under the Liao regime (confusingly translated into Chinese as 院 yuàn "court"):
  •  "Six Divisions" (六院) [Epitaph for Dorlipun (多蘿里本郎君墓誌) line 2]
  •  "Six Divisions" (六院) [Epitaph for the Grand Prince of the North (北大王墓誌) line 15]
  •  "Northern Division" (北院) [Epitaph for Yelü Qi (耶律褀墓誌) line 12]
  •  "Southern Division" (南院) [Epitaph for Yelü Qi line 13]
On this seal the character  is not followed by the character , but I think it is certain that  is intended to refer to the Six Divisions, one of the main tribal groupings during the Liao dynasty. Marc Miyake notes one instance on a memorial inscription where there is the same omission of  when refering to the Six Divisions, which suggests that the word uru "division" could on occasion be represented by the single character //.
The character  which follows "Six Divisions" in the seal inscription is relatively uncommon in memorial inscriptions, and of unknown meaning or pronunciation, but in the two places in the Epitaph for Yelü Qi where this character occurs it is also preceded by the word uru "division":
  •  "affairs of the [...] Southern Division" [line 13]
  •  "Northern Division [...]" [lines 23–24]
The fact that the character  occurs after the word "division" on both instances where it used on memorial inscriptions confirms the identification of the character  on the seal inscription as a variant form of .
The penultimate character in the seal inscription is the genitive particle  *-un. Several different genitive particles are used in the Khitan large script ( being among the most common), and  probably corresponds to the Khitan small script genitive particle  *un which occurs after words ending in u or w. It is noteworthy that even though Khitan Large Script memorial inscriptions use a variety of different genitive particles in different contexts, only this one particular genitive particle is used on any of the seal inscriptions that I have seen, and it even occurs after characters that take a different genitive particle in memorial inscriptions (see Seal A2). This may suggest that seal inscriptions use a fixed genitive particle that does not obey the normal grammatical rules of the Khitan large script.
The final character in the seal inscription is the the word  (normally written  in memorial inscriptions) *doro which means both "ceremony, ritual, rite" (Chinese  禮) and "seal" (Chinese yìn 印). The Khitan word for "ceremony" and "seal" was borrowed into Jurchen, with a very similar glyph (), the same two meanings and the same pronunication *doro (Manchu doro ᡩᠣᡵᠣ preserves the meaning "ceremony", although the word temgetu ᡨᡝᠮᡤᡝᡨᡠ is used for "seal").
The seal inscription thus means "Seal of the [...] of the Six Divisions" *[?] uru [?]-un doro (六院□之印). The undeciphered character between "Six Divisions" and "Seal of" is presumably the title of an office or officer of the Six Divisions for whom the seal was made.



Seal A2

Kao Gu 考古 1990.12 p.1143.

Found at : Kezuo, Liaoning (遼寧省喀左縣) in 1973.
Present Location : Kezuo Museum (喀左縣博物館).

The seal inscription comprises six Khitan large characters in two columns, three characters in the first (righthand) column, and three in the second (lefthand) column.
The first character may be a Khitan version of the Chinese character 都 , which occurs in the Epitaph for the Grand Prince of the North:
  •  "Director-in-chief of the south west" (西南都監) [line 13]
The next two characters are not clear, and I do not know what standard form Khitan characters they correspond to.
The fourth character  *fu is commonly used to transliterate Chinese characters pronounced fu, including 府  "prefecture", 夫 "man", 父  "father", 副  "vice, deputy", 傅  "tutor". In this context it could be the final element in the name of a prefecture (XX 府) or the second element of a title such as "Grand Tutor" (太傅).
The last two characters of the seal inscription are  *-un doro "seal of ..." (之印). It is interesting to note that on this and other seal inscriptions the genitive particle  is used after the character  *fu (cf. Seal A6), whereas in memorial inscriptions  *fu is always (in the incomplete corpus of inscriptions I have studied) followed by the genitive particle :
  •  "of the Northern Prefecture" [Epitaph for Dorlipun lines 13–14]
  •  "of the Grand Tutor" [Epitaph for Xiao Paolu (蕭袍魯墓誌) line 10]
  •  "of the Upper? Northern Prefecture" [Epitaph for Xiao Paolu line 11]
  •  "of the Northern Prefecture" [Epitaph for Yelü Qi line 15]



Seal A3

Kao Gu 考古 1990.12 p.1143.

Found at : Panshan, Liaoning (遼寧省盤山縣) in 1986.

The seal inscription comprises four or five Khitan large characters in two columns, two or three characters in the first (righthand) column, and two in the second (lefthand) column.
The first character is the same as the first character in Seal A2, possibly the Khitan version of the Chinese character 都 "metropolitan". The remaining character (or characters) on the first column are too unclear to be identified, but it is a very similar inscription to that of Seal A2.
The last two characters of the seal inscription are  *-un doro "seal of ...".



Seal A4

Wen Wu 文物 1984.09 p.83.

Found at : Fengcheng, Liaoning (遼寧省鳳城縣) in 1964.
Present Location : Liaoning Provincial Museum, Shenyang

The seal inscription comprises six Khitan large characters in two columns, four characters in the first (righthand) column, and two in the second (lefthand) column.
The second character  elsewhere only occurs as the first element in the collocation , of uncertain reading and meaning, that may be an unknown Khitan word for Liao or an epithet specifically refering to the Khitan state (see Kane 2009 pp.162–165 for discussion of the corresponding term in the Khitan Small script). The word occurs in monumental inscriptions as well as in the recently identified Khitan codex (see Viacheslav P. Zaytsev, Рукописная книга большого киданьского письма из коллекции Института восточных рукописей РАН [A Manuscript Codex in the Khitan Large Script from the Collection of the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts, Russian Academy of Sciences] (2011) pp. 143–146).
  •  "[...]" [Epitaph for the Grand Prince of the North line 19]
  •  "Great [...] State" (大□□國) [Epitaph for Yelü Qi line 1]
  •  "Great Central [...] Khitan State" (大中央□□契丹國) [Nova N 176]
The character following  is definitely not . However, the preceding character (i.e. the first character of the seal inscription) could conceivably be a seal script form of , but that would give a reversed form of the unknown word, which seems a little implausible. I am unsure of what standard Khitan characters the two characters which actually follow  correspond to.
The last two characters of the seal inscription are  *-un doro "seal of ...", as expected.



Seal A5


Present Location : Liaoning Provincial Museum, Shenyang

The seal inscription comprises five Khitan large characters in two columns, three characters in the first (righthand) column, and two in the second (lefthand) column.
The first character  *fu is commonly used to transliterate Chinese characters pronounced fu (see Seal A2). The second character is read *u (cf. Seal A1 second character), and the two characters together (*fu.u) can be used to transliterate the Chinese word 副  "vice, deputy":
  •  "Vice Marshal" (副元師) [Epitaph for Yelü Qi lines 4 and 5]
I cannot identify the standard Khitan large character form of the third character, but presumably it is a title that is preceded by "vice". The last two characters of the seal inscription are the standard  *-un doro "seal of ...".



Seal A6

Wen Wu 文物 1961.09 p.64.

Found at : Zhelimumeng Naimanqi, Inner Mongolia (内蒙古自治區哲里木盟奈曼旗) in 1957.
Present Location : Museum of Inner Mongolia, Hohhot (内蒙古自治區博物館).

The seal inscription comprises five or six Khitan large characters in two columns, three characters in the first (righthand) column, and two or three in the second (lefthand) column.
The standard form of the first character in the seal inscription is uncertain.
The standard Khitan form of the second character  looks like the simplifed form of the Chinese character 來 (来) lái "come", but is probably unrelated. It is a commonly occuring character in memorial inscriptions, but its meaning and reading are uncertain. It is possibly used to transliterate the Chinese character 都 , as in the collocation  which Liu Fengzhu 劉鳳翥 equates with the official title 都尉 dōu wèi "Commandant" (Epitaph for Yelü Qi line 6). Sun Bojun 孫伯君 equates the collocation  that occurs in several inscriptions as the official titles 御史 yù shǐ "Commissioner" and 都統 dū tǒng "Commander-in-Chief" ("蒙古國肯特省契丹大字刻石考釋"; Shije Minzu 世界民族 2006.4: 44–52), which seems unlikely to me as single Khitan large characters are not normally used to transliterate polysyllabic Chinese words.
The third character is  *fu is commonly used to transliterate Chinese characters pronounced fu (see Seals A2 and A5). In this context it probably corresponds to the Chinese character 府  "prefecture", and if the preceding character  does correspond to the Chinese character 都  then the only possible reading for the first three characters of the seal is Yōudū fǔ 幽都府 "Youdu Prefecture", which was the name of the prefecture for the Southern Capital (modern Beijing) between 938 and 1012.
The final two characters are  *-un doro "seal of ..." (之印). The genitive particle  is written oddly, with the two dot-strokes joined together, and an anomalous extra horizontal line at the top. This may just be an unusual way of writing the character, with an extra couple of lines to fill up space, but given that Seal A7 has the same strokes before the genitive particle as well, but at the bottom of the preceding column, it seems more likely that that in this case the top part of the second column is a ligature of an unidentified Khitan character and .



Seal A7


The seal inscription comprises five Khitan large characters in two columns, three characters in the first (righthand) column, and two in the second (lefthand) column.
The first character of the inscription is probably the same as the first character of Seal A6, although they are not identical. The second character, , is the same as the second character of Seal A6. The third character is not  *fu, as in Seal A6, but it is very similar to the anomalous strokes at the top of the second column of Seal A6. This character might be the title of an official, and could be written as  in the standard style of Khitan large script, although no such character is known.
The final two characters are  *-un doro "seal of ..." (之印), so the inscription on this seal is nearly identical to that on Seal A6, just missing the character  *fu.



B. Other Seals

The seals below are a mixed bunch whose defining feature is just that they are not typical ninefold seal script official seals, although most of them still have the appearance of being official seals. The inscriptions on theses seals are not easy to read, and it is not certain that they are all written in the Khitan large script.


Seal B1

Wen Wu 文物 1983.08 p.82.

Found at : Balin Youqi, Inner Mongolia (内蒙古自治區巴林右旗) in 1973.
Present Location : Chifeng Museum (赤峰市博物館).

The seal inscription appears to consist of eight characters in two columns (four characters in each column). The characters are written in seal script calligraphy, but not the convoluted ninefold seal script form. The inscription can be identified as being in the Khitan large script as the 3rd and 7th characters are the Khitan large script genitive particle  *-un. However, the other characters are not easily identifiable, and the last character (following the second genitive particle) is not the standard Khitan large character for "seal", so the inscription does not read "Seal of ...".



Seal B2

Wen Wu 文物 1983.09 p.70.

Found at : Jianchang, Liaoning (遼寧省建昌縣) in 1980.

The seal inscription appears to consist of six characters in two columns (three characters in each column). The characters are written in a rather loose ninefold seal script calligraphy, not typical of the formal ninefold seal script calligraphy of the A seals. Moreover, none of the characters are the same as those used in the A seals.



Seal B3

Liaoling Shike Jilu 遼陵石刻集錄 vol.5.

The seal inscription appears to consist of six characters in two columns (three characters in each column). The characters are written in a seal script calligraphy, although not the ninefold seal script calligraphy of the A seals.



Seal B4

Wen Wu 文物 1984.09 p.83.

Found at : Gaixian, Liaoning (遼寧省蓋縣) in 1972.
Present Location : Liaoning Provincial Museum, Shenyang

The inscription on this seal is in a seal script calligraphy. It has been identified as a Khitan small script seal, but I am not convinced of this.



Seal B5

Zeno Oriental Coins Database #36834

Found at : Site of the Liao Upper Capital (上京) at Balin Zuoqi, Inner Mongolia (内蒙古自治區巴林左旗) in 1975.
Present Location : Toqto Museum (托克托市博物館)

This is a pottery seal, which is very unusual as official seals are normally made of bronze. The inscription on the seal is in ninefold seal script calligraphy, but it is very hard to identify any characters or even determine how many characters there are meant to be. It does not look at all like any other Khitan large script seal inscription I have seen, and if it were not for its provenience I would doubt that it was a Khitan seal at all.



Seal B6

Mirror image of the seal face


There are a huge number and variety of fake Khitan-inscribed coins and artefacts for sale on the internet and through Chinese auction houses, so I am naturally reluctant to include in this post random seals that I have found on the internet. However Seals B6 and B7 are very different from the typical fake Khitan objects that can be found on the internet, and I think it is possible that they are genuine. They are very similar in appearance, and if they are genuine I suspect they must have been found together (as is normal with Chinese auctions, no provenance is provided, and we are left to guess that they are either modern forgeries or were robbed from a tomb).
The seal inscription comprises six Khitan large script characters in two columns (three characters per column), in a rather uncouth seal script calligraphy. The third character is  (also written ) "big". The fifth and sixth characters are  *-un doro "seal of ...".



Seal B7

Mirror image of the seal face


The seal inscription comprises six Khitan large script characters in two columns (three characters per column), in a similar seal script calligraphy as Seal B6. The third character is  *fu, the fourth character is  "big". The last character could be a badly written form of the character  *doro "seal", although it is not preceded by a genitive particle as is normally the case.



Table of Khitan Ninefold Seal Script Characters

Seal Character GlyphsStandard FormMeaning
"Seal" *doro (Chinese 印). This character has also been normalized as  in academic studies, but that character form does not occur in memorial inscriptions.
Genitive particle *-un (Chinese 之) for stems ending in -u or -w.
Used to transcribe Chinese characters pronounced fu, including 府, 夫, 父, 副, 傅.
Possibly used to transcribe the Chinese character 都 .
"Six" (Chinese 六).
Variant form of  (see below).
"Division" or "group" (Chinese 院), as in the collocation 六院 "six divisions" or "six groups".
Possibly corresponds to the Chinese character 都  in official titles.
Second element in a collocation that may be an unknown Khitan word for Liao or an epithet specifically refering to the Khitan state.
Possibly transliterates Chinese 幽 yōu.