Sunday, 30 November 2014

Unearthed relics tell you the extravagant life of rulers

China 27 ~November 2014

These button-shaped golden ornaments with a ram's horn pattern unearthed from the tomb of Emperor Jing of the Han Dynasty on Mount Dayunshan. Emperor Jing of Han in 154 BC defeated principalities in the war later known as the Rebellion of the Seven States. He rewarded his son, Liu Fei, for his bravery in the war and gave him the title Jiangdu Wang (the king of the Jiangdu district, now in Jiangsu province). Jiangdu district became increasingly rich, capitalizing on its geographic location and natural condition. Liu enjoyed a lavish life and exotic treasures. The relics unearthed in Liu Fei's tomb on Mount Dayunshan reflect the extravagant court life of his time. [Photo/]

These relics once formed part of a jade beltThe belts leather decayedleaving a set of shell-shaped jade andtwo pieces of jade tablets edged with bronze.

These giltdeer-shaped lamps are 45 centimeters high.

This small solid object was used on the corner of a mat to keep the mat from curlingMats were placed on theground to be used as seatsas there were no chairs during the Han Dynastypeople just sat on the groundThemats have a tendency to move easily when people sit down or stand upSo four mat-weights named JiaYiBingDingrespectivelywhen placed on the top of the corners of a matwill prevent the mat from moving

The handle of an umbrella is lavishly decorated.

Lecture a.o. with Valerie Hansen about how the world looked around the year 1.000

In the Company of Scholars Lecture Series: “Circa 1000″
Lecture by Valerie Hansen, Mary Miller, and Anders Winroth
Given at Yale University on November 18, 2014
The first In the Company of Scholars lecture of the academic year will feature three faculty members discussing “Circa 1000,” a graduate course that looks at happenings worldwide at the turn of the 10th century.
Members of the Yale community are invited to attend the talk, which will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 18 at 4 p.m. in Rm. 119 of the Hall of Graduate Studies, 320 York St. A reception will follow. 
The lecture will also be livestreamed on Yale YouTube.
Valerie Hansen, Mary Miller, and Anders Winroth are team teaching "Circa 1000." Hansen, professor of history, is an expert on China; Miller, Sterling Professor of the History of Art, specializes in the art of the ancient New World; and Winroth, the Forst Family Professor of History, studies the history of medieval Europe.  
The course description for “Circa 1000” reads:
Anders Winroth, Mary Miller, and Valerie Hansen
"The world in the year 1000, when the different regions of the world participated in complex networks. Archaeological excavations reveal that the Vikings reached L'Anse aux Meadows, Canada, at roughly the same time that the Kitan people defeated China's Song dynasty and established a powerful empire stretching across the grasslands of Eurasia. Viking chieftains donned Chinese silks while Chinese princesses treasured Baltic amber among their jewelry. In what is now the American Southwest, the people of Chaco Canyon feasted on tropical chocolate, while the lords of Chichen Itza wore New Mexican turquoise—yet never knew the Huari lords of the central Andes. Islamic armies conquered territory in western China (modern Xinjiang). "

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Chinese ink paintings line the walls of ancient tomb

More news about the tomb of Han Xiu, a scholar and premie minister during the Tang Dynasty.
See also an earlier article, named " Precious fresco found in Tang tomb "
BEIJING, Nov. 23 (Xinhuanet) -- Legendary Chinese artist Han Huang is best known for the "The Painting of Five cows", one of ten most significant scroll paintings in Chinese history.
The tomb of Han's father, who was a scholar and prime minister during the Tang dynasty, was recently discovered in the suburbs of Xi'an. Inside it was a vast collection of exquisitely painted murals that is shedding new light on the life of someone who was often left in the shadow of his legendary son.
The tomb, belonged to Han Xiu, a writer and prime minister during the eighth century. Filled with a vast treasure trove of exquisite art, the works enclosed in the tomb fit the title of someone as powerful as Han Xiu. Archaeologists say one of the landscape murals marks the rise of Tang dynasty ink paintings.
"On the mural, there's rivers, mountains, a pavilion and the sun," said Liu Daiyun,scholar from Shanxi Institute of Archaeology. "Seen from the layout and the strokes, we can say landscape painting had achieved maturity during Tang dynasty. "
It was previously believed that Chinese ink painting didn't achieve maturity until the Northern Song dynasty some two hundred years later.
But this discovery has shown that the art form had reached maturity two centuries earlier than previously thought. Another mural inside the tomb, depicting singing and dancing scenes, also presents a vivid image of China's ancient art world.
"Normally, we found murals inside a tomb with only one band performing or one person dancing," Liu said. "But this time we've found two bands depicted on one mural, one female and one male band. And there's two people dancing opposite of each other. "
The beautifully arranged mural depicts a musical band comprised of different ethnic groups, including Han musicians and people from the western regions.
The scene symbolizes the rich exchanges between east and west, made possible by the Ancient Silk Road.
Archaeologists will be working hard to preserve the site and bring parts of it to museums, where it can be enjoyed by future generations.

In ‘Saving Mes Aynak,’ a real-life Indiana Jones fights to protect Afghanistan’s Buddhist heritage

Brent Huffman, the director behind the new documentary “Saving Mes Aynak,” tells the story of one of Afghanistan’s archaeological treasures and discusses the threats it faces from a Chinese mining company.
In the dusty mountains about an hour outside of Kabul, Afghanistan, is a place that’s long been prized for what’s buried beneath: copper.
The site is called Mes Aynak, which means “little source of copper,” and contains an estimated $100 billion in deposits. But Mes Aynak is also home to the remains of a 2,000-year-old Buddhist city, as well as statues, paintings, figurines and other artifacts from the previous civilizations dating back some 5,000 years.
That rich archaeological heritage is now in jeopardy as a Chinese state-run mining company, which paid $3 billion for rights to mine the site in 2007, moves forward with plans to turn the site into an open pit mine next year. And that threat is the subject of a new documentary, “Saving Mes Aynak.”
“Basically, they will blow up the entire mountain range and they’ll have to destroy local villages, all of the archaeological remains, including this Bronze Age material,” says director Brent Huffman, who is spearheading a campaign to stop the mine from demolishing the site.
The story is told through of lens of Qadir Temori, the head of the Afghan archaeological department in Kabul. For Huffman, Temori is “this extremely passionate, almost like Hollywood-casting good looking, Indiana Jones type character, who’s really braving all of this risk and being very courageous, going against the Taliban, going against this Chinese mining company, going against the bureaucracy in the country to try to save essentially the cultural heritage of Afghanistan.”
“The heart of the film is really this story of Afghan archaeologists risking their lives.” Huffman said.
“Saving Mes Aynak” debuts this weekend in Amsterdam at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam.

Han Purple: A 2,800-year-old artificial pigment that quantum physicists are trying to understand

Detail of a mural from an Eastern Han tomb with artificial pigment

Han purple is an artificial pigment created by the Chinese over 2,500 years ago, which was used in wall paintings and to decorate the famous terracotta warriors, as well as ceramics, metal ware, and jewelry. The pigment is a technological wonder, made through a complex process of grinding up raw materials in precise proportions and heating to incredible temperatures. So intricate was the process, that it was not reconstructed again until 1992, when chemists were finally able to identify its composition. But this was just the beginning. According to a news report on, research since then has discovered amazing properties of Han purple, including the ability to emit powerful rays of light in the near-infrared range, as well as being able to collapse three dimensions down to two under the right conditions.
The production of Han purple, otherwise known as Chinese purple, dates back as far as 800 BC, however it appears that it was not used in art until the Qin and Han dynasties (221 BC – 220 AD), when it was applied to the world famous terracotta warriors, as well as ceramics and other items. 
“Prior to the nineteenth century, when modern production methods made synthetic pigments common, there were only hugely expensive purple dyes, a couple of uncommon purplish minerals, and mixtures of red and blue, but no true purple pigment – except during a few hundred years in ancient China,” writes Samir S. Patel in ‘Purple Reign: How ancient Chinese chemists added color to the Emperor’s army’.
For an unknown reason, Han purple disappeared entirely from use after 220 AD, and was never seen again until its rediscovery by modern chemists in the 1990s.
Traces of Han purple can still be seen on many of the terracotta warriors
Traces of Han purple can still be seen on many of the terracotta warriors (
The Synthesis of Han Purple
Unlike natural dyes, such as Tyrian purple (from c. 1500 BC), which are organic compounds and typically made from plants or animals, like the murex snail, Han purple was a synthetic pigment made from inorganic materials.
Only two other man-made blue or purple pigments are known to have existed in the ancient world – Maya blue (from c. 800 AD), made from a heated mixture of indigo and white clay, and Egyptian blue, which was used throughout the Mediterranean and the Near and Middle East from 3,600 BC to the end of the Roman Empire. [Read similar: Egyptian Blue – The Oldest Known Artificial Pigment].
Scientist Elisabeth FitzHugh, a conservator at the Smithsonian, was the first to identify the complex synthetic compound that makes up Han purple – barium copper silicate, a compound that differs from Egyptian blue only through its use of barium instead of calcium.
"Egyptian blue" tripodic beaker
"Egyptian blue" tripodic beaker (Wikimedia). The composition of Han purple differs from Egyptian blue only in the use of barium instead of calcium. 
The similarities between Han purple and Egyptian blue led some early researchers to conclude that the Chinese may have learned to make the pigment from the Egyptians. However, this theory has been largely discounted as Egyptian blue was not found further East than Persia.
“There is no clear reason why the Chinese, if they had learned the Egyptian formula, would have replaced calcium with barium, which necessitates increasing the firing temperature by 100 degrees or more,” writes Patel.
So how exactly did the Chinese stumble upon the intricate formula to make Han purple, which involved combining silica (sand) with copper and barium in precise proportions and heating to about 850-1000 °C? A team of Stanford physicists published a paper in the Journal of Archaeological Science (summary here), which proposes that Han purple was a by-product of the glass-making process, as both glass and the purple pigment contain silica and barium. writes that barium makes glass shinier and cloudy, which means this pigment could be the work of early alchemists trying to synthesize white jade.
Fluorescent properties
Since its composition was first discovered, scientists have continued to investigate this unique pigment. Researchers at the British Museum discovered that, when exposed to a simple LED flashlight, Han purple emits powerful rays of light in the near-infrared range. According to their study, published in the journal Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry, the Han purple pigments show up with startling clarity under the right conditions, meaning that even faint traces of the color, which are invisible to the naked eye, can be seen with infrared sensors.
A Western Han ceramic bowl from Hebei or Hanan province
A Western Han ceramic bowl from Hebei or Hanan province (Avery Brundage Collection,, which contains traces of Han purple. The purple pigment becomes strongly fluorescent under infrared sensors (right). 
Han Purple and the collapsing of dimensions 
The fluorescent properties of Han purple were not the only surprise. Quantum physicists from Stanford, Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Institute for Solid State Physics (University of Tokyo) reported that when Han purple is exposed to extreme cold and a high magnetic field, the chemical structure of the pigment enters a new state called the quantum critical point, in which three-dimension material ‘loses’ a dimension.
"We have shown, for the first time, that the collective behavior in a bulk three-dimensional material can actually occur in just two dimensions," Ian Fisher, an assistant professor of applied physics at Stanford said in the Stanford Report. "Low dimensionality is a key ingredient in many exotic theories that purport to account for various poorly understood phenomena, including high-temperature superconductivity, but until now there were no clear examples of 'dimensional reduction' in real materials."
The scientists have proposed that this effect is due to the fact that the components of  barium copper silicate are arranged like layers of tiles, so they don't stack up neatly. Each layers' tiles are slightly out of sync with the layer below them. This may frustrate the wave and force it to go two dimensional.
The researchers have said the discovery may help understand the required properties of new materials, including more exotic superconductors.
The strange collapsing of dimensions may be due to the mismatched layers of its components
The strange collapsing of dimensions may be due to the mismatched layers of its components. (John D. Griffin, Michael W. Davidson, Sara Vetteth and Suchitra E. Sebastian, Stanford)   
Fisher said, “Han Purple was first synthesized over 2500 years ago, but we have only recently discovered how exotic its magnetic behavior is. It makes you wonder what other materials are out there that we haven't yet even begun to explore."
Featured image: Detail of a mural from an Eastern Han tomb (25 – 220 AD) at Zhucun, Luoyang, Henan province. The painting utilizes Han purple and Han blue pigment (Wikipedia).

China finds oldest gelatine adhesive in the Xiaohe Cemetery

URUMQI, Nov. 28 (Xinjiang) -- Scientists have identified China's oldest adhesive, in the form of gelatine, from a 3,500-year-old ritual staff in a tomb complex known for its well-preserved mummies in Xinjiang, northwest China.
The translucent yellow adhesive was found on a wooden staff inlaid with bone sculpture in the Xiaohe Cemetery in Taklamakan Desert, said Yang Yimin, associate professor with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Scientific analysis later identified the adhesive as gelatine made from cattle. It was also the earliest known evidence of gelatine use in China, Yang said.
Gelatine can be manufactured by cooking animal bones, skins and tendons and has been commonly used as glue. Prior to the discovery, its use in China dates back to the Han Dynasty (202 BC - 220 AD).
Experts said China's ancient glue is prone to decomposition, posing difficulties for conducting analysis, but the dry climate in Xiaohe Cemetery has helped preserve the substance.
The Xiaohe cemetery, 175 km west of the ancient city of Loulan, was first explored by Folke Bergman, a Swedish archaeologist in 1934. The massive burial site, with over 300 graves, is best known for its many mummies preserved in ship-shaped coffins.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Cosmopolitanism in the Tang Dynasty: A Chinese Ceramic Figure of a Sogdian Wine- Merchant

This monograph investigates a Tang-dynasty (618–907) fifteen-inch-high, white porcelaneous figure of a Sogdian wine-merchant that is one of the most remarkable examples of Chinese mortuary sculpture to come to light in recent years. Only six Tang porcelaneous figures have been located during this investigation, and no documented analogous tomb figures appear to have been published to date. However, this figure—which is in the collection of Alexandra Munroe and Robert Rosenkranz—clearly belongs to a small, cohesive group of Chinese ceramic figures depicting foreign wine-merchants that can be attributed to the early Tang period.

The study shows that the figure’s relationship to a very small group of analogous tomb figures substantiates the attribution of “early Tang dynasty, ca. 625–75” assigned to this piece. It also considers hu ren, a term that by the Tang dynasty had come to refer specifically to those non-Chinese people with origins in the “Western Regions,” especially the Sogdians. These hu ren, or non-Han Westerners, are portrayed in the art of the Tang dynasty as having curly hair, heavy beards, a prominent nose, and deep-set eyes. Recent archaeological findings have verified the identification of the Rosenkranz, Croës, and Cernuschi ceramic figures, as well as the Duan Boyang head, as ethnic Sogdians, an Eastern Iranian people whose home, Sogdiana, lay in a region that encompasses today’s Uzbekistan and part of Tajikistan.
The book also delves into the construction of the figures and the head, taking into consideration the fact that the nature of China’s clays dictated the development of both its high-fired porcelaneous wares and low-fired earthenwares. The history of both ceramic types is helpfully summarized.

The history of Chinese mortuary furnishings, known as mingqi, is also discussed; these were manufactured for the afterlife. This study traces the evolution from the human sacrificial victims that were placed in Chinese tombs to meet the needs of the dead during the Shang dynasty (ca. 1600–ca. 1046 BC) to surrogate Tang-dynasty mingqi porcelaneous figures of Western wine-merchants.

The study then examines the various decorative motifs on the Rosenkranz figure and its analogous examples—tasseled streamers issuing from an ornamental disk, the makara, pearled roundel, monster-mask, five-petaled palmette, and the dragon set in a pearled roundel. These are traced both chronologically and geographically to their origins. Most of these ornamental motifs can be found in the West. They were passed along a large and complex system of cultural interaction and exchange that can be traced from ancient Egypt and Greece until they eventually reached China. At the same time, most of these ornamental elements can be directly or indirectly associated with the Buddhist religion, which originated in India and came to northern China from India by way of Central Asia.

The most remarkable feature of this Rosenkranz figure is its porcelaneous body. As opposed to the literally thousands of known Tang-dynasty earthenware tomb sculptures, only six Tang porcelaneous figures have come to light during this study. This paucity of porcelaneous tomb figures is not surprising, which makes this study all the more unqiue.

Cosmopolitanism in the Tang Dynasty will be valuable to art historians, particularly specialists in the history of Chinese ceramics; to scholars investigating Chinese mortuary practices; to medieval historians; as well as to others whose interests lie in China and the West, and in the Silk-Road trade that connected these two different worlds.

Rayy: from its Origins to the Mongol Invasion