Samarkand is a city in Uzbekistan, in Central Asia. Geographically located at the midpoint along the Silk Road, between Asia and Europe, the city enjoyed many years of prosperity during ancient times. The city was the then capital of the Sogdian Kingdom where people from the East and the West met for trade and to exchange philosophies, business and the arts.
In 1965, a new mural was discovered in the Afrasiab Hills where an old palace was located. This wall painting was presumed by historians to have been produced during the reign of King Barhuman in the year 655 during the Sogdian Kingdom. It has attracted global and academic attention as the painting shows a group of people that seem to be foreign ambassadors. Historians suggested that two of them on the right of the west wall seemed to be from the Goguryeo Kingdom (37 B.C.-A.D. 668), sparking heated debate on the history of international relationships across Asia in ancient times.
It has commonly been believed that Goguryeo's ancient international relations were limited to East Asia, that is, to mostly Japan and China. It has also commonly been thought impossible for Goguryeo to establish diplomatic relations with a nation in Central Asia that is as far as 5,000 kilometers away. Discovery of this wall mural, however, offers researchers the chance to re-evaluate the global ties that connected ancient Goguryeo to the world.
The two figures, thought to be from Goguryeo, share two things in common concerning their garments that were typically worn by ancient Koreans: a hat with a feather and a sword with a round pommel at the tip. President Kim Hak-jun of the Northeast Asian History Foundation said, “Most historians believe that Yeon Gaesomun (603-666), a powerful diplomat and generalissimo from Goguryeo, might have sent envoys to the Sogdian Kingdom in order to keep Tang Dynasty (618-907), a rival country, in check."
Recently, this wall painting was brought back to life in cooperation with the Northeast Asian History Foundation and the Afrasiab Museum in Samarkand. The historic artwork is now on display, starting December 23, in the Central Asian Room on the third floor of the National Museum of Korea in Yongsan-gu District, Seoul.
Since discovery of the mural in 1965, the painting has been poorly cared for over many years. Hearing the news, the Northeast Asian History foundation decided to do something to save it. They signed an agreement with the Afrasiab Museum in 2013 and started the joint restoration and preservation project.
Director Samaridin Mustafakulov of the Afrasiab Museum said, "This mural is a historic record that shows the political, economic and social atmosphere of ancient times. It proves that merchants from Asia, including Japan and Tang Dynasty China, brought their products along the Silk Road and through to Rome.” He expressed his gratitude to Korea’s support that, "enabled the ancient heritage item to be copied and digitally restored."
The mural was restored with the use of a couple of cutting-edge devices, such as a digital stereoscopic microscope, an infra-red analyzer and by using near-infrared spectroscopy. The original wall painting was first photographed at life size to create high-resolution images. The microscope and spectroscopy were used to check some parts that couldn't be seen with the bare eyes. A total of two replicas were produced, and the two organizations decided to store one each.
President Kim said, “Visitors to the exhibition will be touched by the feeling that they are part of ancient history. This will lay the foundation to have a comprehensive look at the nation’s origins, roots and our ancient systems of trade.”
An informational video about the restoration has been translated into five languages, including Korean, Uzbek, Russia, English and French. It will be played at the museum starting in February.
By Wi Tack-whan, Lee Seung-ah
Korea.net Staff Writers