Friday, 31 December 2010

The Silk Road NHK Series from 1980

Camels plodding across the desert, and a sense of timelessness evoked by Kitaro's theme music…. NHK devoted 17 years to the planning, shooting and production of The Silk Road, which unearthed trade routes linking long-lost civilizations of East and West. A landmark in broadcasting history, this series told the story of the rise and fall of ancient civilizations.

Into the heart of China
The NHK Tokushu documentary series The Silk Road began on April 7, 1980. The program started with the memorable scene of a camel caravan crossing the desert against the setting sun. Kitaro's music imparted a sense of timelessness, and actor Ishizaka Koji's resonant narration began with the phrase, "The Silk Road begins in Chang'an and ends in Chang'an." NHK Tokushu broadcast this series over 10 years. It was the start of an epic televisual poem.
The first journey described in the series began in Chang'an (now Xi'an), at the eastern end of the ancient route. On 450,000 feet of film, the NHK crew recorded the path westward to the Pamir Heights at the Pakistan border and this material was edited to make 12 monthly broadcasts. The program gradually revealed how ancient Japan was influenced by the other cultures along the Silk Road.

Seven years in the planning
Back then, it was generally thought to be impossible for TV cameras to penetrate the remotest regions of the Silk Road. But seven years of planning and negotiation overcame the various obstacles.
In September 1972, an NHK director was in Beijing for the TV relay of Prime Minister Tanaka Kakuei's visit to China. The day after diplomatic relations between the two countries were restored, Chinese Premier Chou Enlai invited reporters to a reception at the Great Hall of the People. In a speech to them, the premier stated that China and Japan were no longer at war and asked for their support in introducing China to the rest of the world. He told them that this was their duty as journalists.
The director recalled how the Han and T'ang dynasties were eras of great cultural transfer to China, how China had accepted the cultures of many lands and made itself the most prosperous country. The Silk Road was the medium that made this phenomenon possible. He felt The Silk Road could be a TV program that responded to the hopes of the Chinese premier.

A broadcaster's dream
The executives of NHK's General Broadcasting Administration strongly supported this idea. Gaining access, however, was a problem. In a previous program, the camera crews for Legacy for the Future (1974-75) had not been able to enter the Silk Road region.
How were China's doors to be opened? Various negotiating routes were available, and the breakthrough came at the end of October 1978, with Deputy-Premier Deng Xiaoping's visit to Japan. The program director boarded the special train on which Deng was traveling and managed to talk to his secretary, passing on NHK's request to shoot scenes in the Silk Road region. On New Year's Eve, permission was granted and the enormous joint project began.
Seventeen years after the program was conceived, the project was completed. Writer Shiba Ryotaro described The Silk Road series as "the most fruitful Sino-Japanese cultural exchange in postwar history."

The Silk Road 01: Glories Of Ancient Chang An. Duration: 55:16
Begin your journey through China at the Great Wall and from there witness such sights as the incredible Clay Army, the amazing World's Largest Tomb and the fantastic Underground Murals of the Most Beautiful Princess Who Ever Lived.

The Silk Road 02: A Thousand Kilometers Beyond The Yellow River. Duration: 55:41
Leave Xi-an and cross the Yellow River on a goat-skin raft. Visit the giant Buddha at Bing-li-si, traverse the forbidding He-xi Corridor, stroll the streets of the citadel town of Zhang-ye, and visit the Nie-pan Buddha, already 200 years old when Marco Polo lived there in the fourteenth century.

The Silk Road 03: The Art Gallery in the Desert. Duration: 55:24
The Art Gallery in the Desert. Focuses on the famous Mogao caves at Dunhuang, which are indeed an art gallery of Buddhist art spanning centuries. Excellent closeups and sufficient analysis in a clear fashion to give some appreciation for the imagery and the changes in artistic style, reflecting the cultural exchange that took place on the Silk Road. It would have been valuable to have had more information on the treasure trove of manuscripts that the famous explorer Aurel Stein acquired at Dunhuang early in this century and took off to the British Library, although in several places the series shows photographs of what he discovered and items from other museum collections.

The Silk Road 04: The Dark Castle. Duration: 54:58
The Dark Castle. Includes a good sequence illustrating facets of travel via camel caravan along the Silk Road. Focus is on the ruins of the fortress-city of Karakhoto (one of the centers of the Xixia or Tangut state that flourished in the region just prior to the Mongol invasion of the thirteenth century), where the modern archaeological/film crew finds various artifacts including pieces of silk and written texts. This film would be quite appealing for younger students because it includes some dramatization of the semi-legendary events surrounding the conquest and destruction of Karakhoto by the armies of Chingis Khan.

The Silk Road 05: In Search of the Kingdom of Lou-Lan. Duration: 55:04
In Search of the Kingdom of Lou-Lan. Introduces the region just east of the Taklamakan Desert--with striking shots of the terrain. Has an interesting segment on the way in which Lake Lop Nor has "moved" historically and the explanations why. Various archaeological objects--coins, Roman beads, written texts--showing the international connections of the kingdom that flourished here nearly 2000 years ago. One of most interesting segments shows the excavation of some tombs, with the uncovering of mummified bodies.

The Silk Road 06: Across The Taklamakan Desert. Duration: 55:05
Across the Taklamakan Desert. Again a good sense of the varied geography, both physical and human, including a tour of a provincial oasis town and its market. Information on the main population of the area, the Uighurs, with interesting filming of such things as the making of the characteristic flat bread that is a staple of their diet. Then follows along the route of the famous explorer Stein to visit the ruins of Miran and Niya, now well out in desert, but at one time located on rivers and centers of sophisticated administration, economic and religious life. One sees, among other things, the wooden beams of a large "palace." Some of pictures taken from the artifacts removed to museums by Stein and others, including the mummified bodies of a couple, the silk robe that one of them was wrapped in, and the various objects of daily life that had been buried with them. [On these mummies, see the March 1996 National Geographic.] Clear evidence of the international ties of the Silk Road cities, with both western and Chinese artistic influences.

The Silk Road 07: Khotan-Oasis of Silk and Jade. Duration: 49:10
Khotan: Oasis of Silk and Jade. A camel caravan brings big chunks of jade down from the Kun-Lun Mountains south of the Taklamakan Desert. Comments on religious significance of jade in China; picture of spectacular suit of jade armor from a tomb. People searching for jade in a river; then the jade market in town. The silk industry--weaving and spinning. The famous tale of the "Silk Princess" who smuggled silkworms out of China and is depicted in one of paintings discovered by the archaeologist Aurel Stein. Expedition searches for that site in the desert (Dandan Oilik) but fails to locate it. Scenes of typical Uighur market day in Khotan, but Japanese film crew play the foolish tourists. A silk dance, with the female dancers carrying plates of cocoons. Visit to the local ice house in the heat of mid-summer. Some rather silly dialogue (When did you get the ice? In January? Oh, you mean in winter!) and a remarkable assertion that Uighurs have little furniture in their houses today because once (hundreds of years ago!) they were nomads. Other somewhat demeaning comments on Uighurs. Mosque scene with some 5000 worshippers on Friday--China as a bastion of freedom of religion today. A little about history of Khotan as a Buddhist center before the arrival of Islam in tenth century. Visits there by Xuanzang, the 7th century pilgrim, and by Marco Polo in the thirteenth century.

The Silk Road 08: A Heat Wave Called Turfan. Duration48:46
A Heat Wave Called Turfan. Mud lake below sea level, excessive heat in summer with people sleeping in open air on roofs. Spectacular ruins of city of Gaochang (Kocho) with a fair amount on history and culture and some pictures of important artifacts including Manichaean and Nestorian paintings. Emphasis on cosmopolitan nature of the town. Impressive T'ang era fortress of Jiaohe (Yarkhoto) on a large plateau, but minimal comment on its history. Importance of grape harvest and raisins to the local economy; shows process of drying the raisins. The important Bezeklik Buddhist caves in nearby mountains, but talks as much about destruction by locals and foreign archaeologists as it does about content of paintings. One painting shows supposedly foreign ambassadors from more than a millenium ago. Interesting footage of the karez underground irrigation system including a walk through the channels. Overall, a lot of useful material in this film.

The Silk Road 09: Through the Tian Shan Mountains by Rail. Duration: 49:35
Through the Tian Shan Mountains by Rail. The 470 km. trip from Turfan to Korla, starting in the Gobi region, crossing the eastern Tien Shan and down into the northern Tarim Basin oases. Travel was at time railroad just completed (ca. 1980); much of footage and narrative is a paean to the benefits the railroad would bring to the indigenous peoples. Apart from lots of photos of the steam locomotive passing through sometimes stark landscape, also some good camel shots, since several taken along for the expedition to test how difficult camel travel over the mountain passes would have been for historic Silk Road travelers. Some interesting shots of T'ang era fortifications, especially at Iargo (?). Construction technique not packed earth layering but layering of rounded boulders with reed mats. Brief section on some 2500-year-old burials of nomads, with some elegant gold animal-style artifacts. Notes that even in 400 B.C. area had active E-W exchange. Brief music/dance performance in front of yurt of local Torft (? Oirot?) nomads. Tragedy of their Kalmuck ancestors in 18th century alluded to but not properly explained. At Yanqi (Karashahr) oasis on Kaigdu River, notes population is Hui Muslims, but when Xuanzang passed through in 7th century it had been Buddhist. Brief glimpse of Shi Koshing Buddhist cave complex in ruins; a few of sculpted artifacts.

The Silk Road 10: Journey Into Music: South Through the Tian Shan Mountains. Duration: 49:48
Journey Into Music: South Through the Tian Shan Mountains. From marshy 800 sq. mile lake through what film calls the most formidable pass in the southern Tien-Shan and on to Kucha, some 300 km. west of the pass. Some discussion of how important and cosmopolitan it had been in earlier centuries. Donkey cart "busses." Flourishing market today ("abundance of consumer goods in recent years" with nylon blouses the rage, not silk). Emphasizes fame of Kucha for its fruit and its music. Music theme throughout this film is one of its strengths: Harvest and threshing scenes and their songs, a cradle song, harvest festival with mashrab music and various traditional instruments such as dop, dotar, asatar. A tray dance, a performance of a traditional love song by an elderly woman accompanying herself on the long-necked lute, a wedding scene and its music. Interspersed is effort of Expedition to determine whether any of the instruments today are similar to ones that had come to Japan in earlier centuries via Silk Road and Kucha. Historic artifacts and paintings brought to bear--a painted box showing an "orchestra" which had been excavated in Buddhist ruins of Subashi Castle in 1903; paintings in Qumtura and Kizyl caves. In former find a 4-stringed instrument depicted which is like the Japanese lute (biwa), Tocharian inscriptions and images with Western features. In Kizyl Caves, largest such complex after Mogao in Dunhuang, the "Music Cave" (no. 38) with many images of angels (apsaras) playing instruments. One has a 5-string lute, the unique example of which in Japan being one in the 8th-century collection of the Sho-so-in. It seems to have traveled from India, via the Tarim Basin, and then East. Xuanzang quoted about the superiority of the instrumental music of Kucha. This film has a great deal of interest.

The Silk Road 11: Where Horses Fly Like the Wind. Duration: 49:14
Where Horses Fly Like the Wind. On the Kazakhs of the Northern Tien Shan (the narration notwithstanding, not to be confused with the Cossacks). Views of horses and sheep in mountain pastures. The oasis city of Hami, famous from early times for its melons. Interesting scene of salt production. At Hami, the "Silk Road" branches, one route going south of the Tien Shan to Turfan, Korla and Kucha; the other north to Lake Barkol. Han armies pursued Huns as far as Barkol. Interesting views of hospitality in a yurt, including ceremony of serving a sheep's head. Shows milking a mare, and discusses the importance of mare's milk in diet, but does not explain adequately processing of milk products. Interspersed with views of current nomadic life are historical references and quotations regarding the nomads from the early Chinese histories. Even in this region Han-era signal towers, which were manned by thousands of soldiers. Stress on fact that it was here the Han emperor sought the "heavenly horses" for his armies. Script errs in saying Chingis Khan led "Golden Horde" through here (Golden Horde is the common designation for the western part of the Mongol empire which came into being only after his death). Legend of Prince Mu meeting the Queen Mother of the West (Xi Wang Mu) in Tienshi Lake. Interesting footage of Kazakh wedding; several scenes with music. September market at L. Tsaidam when nomads begin to descend from their summer pastures. Stress on new prosperity, availability of manufactured goods, and ethnic diversity ("races"). Ends with problematic assertion that sedentary agriculturalists change, but way of life of nomads never does (=part of the "romance" of the Silk Road). The expedition unable to cross border into USSR near where Ili River enters Kazakhstan.

The Silk Road 12: Two Roads to the Pamirs. Duration:49:46
Two Roads to the Pamirs. 3700 km. from Chang-an to Kashgar--in old days a full year's journey. Kashgar's main mosque and celebration of end of Ramadan with thousands in square; music and dancing (for men only)."Tomb of the Fragrant Concubine" (Abakh Khoja Mausoleum), burial place of 17th and 18th century Naqshbandi Sufi rulers; legend of the Kashgari woman Xiangfei, who met tragic fate as emperor's concubine. School for non-Chinese--cute kids identify their ethnic groups in rogues' gallery lineup. Bazaar and craftsmen--lathe run by hand bow; beaten copper pots, making jewelry, musical instruments--continuation of tradition of Kashgar as commercial center. Marco Polo quoted on city. Modern truck caravan trade over Karakorum Highway to Gilgit in Pakistan--barter exchange with silk, ceramics, tea, tools, thermoses from China in exchange for dried fruit, nuts, nylon scarves, medicines. Dancing entertainment. 1300-yr.-old Buddhist caves on outskirts of city, the oldest in Xinjiang (narrator mis-speaks--200-300 BCE), but all despoiled now. Drive toward Pakistan with scenic views, nomadic herders; scene of yak caravan crossing glacier to illustrate difficulty of mountain travel. Old fort at Tashkurgan; Ptolemy cited for report from Greek merchants about "Stone Tower" (the film does not mention it likely was not the one here...). Xuanzang passed through here. Tajiks of region; an interesting Tajik village wedding with dancing. Ends on Khunjerab Pass, 4943 m.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Crescent Lake, 6 km's south of Dunhuang

There is a very nice site: with beautiful photo's and a good story.
Below is just an impression, a teaser but don't forget to go to the original!

For thousands of years pilgrims and traders on the Silk Road to the West have used the Crescent Lake oasis as a last stop off before they face the hardships of the Gobi Desert. Six kilometers from the city of Dunhuang the oasis has persevered throughout the millennia. However, it may now be reaching its Waterloo.
As well as an exit to the West, Dunhuang was for more than two thousand years a crucial entrance in to China. Travelers followed a string of oases, skirting around the unforgiving sands of the Gobi and Taklamakan Desert. In this fashion they would also avoid the ghosts and demons that were said to haunt the desert. It was said that the desert was so desolate and devoid of life that the bones of those who had died in it were used as signposts.

Imagine the pleasure, then, of the travelers as they reached Crescent Lake. Locals say that it takes the shape of the eye of a beautiful woman, lucid, clear and seductive. Yet the very existence of the beautiful desert oasis of Crescent Lake is threatened.
Over the last thirty years the water has dropped at least twenty five feet. This is as a result of two things – the local farmers have redirected the water to feed their crops. Secondly the population of Dunhuang has more than doubled in that period. A desperate attempt to feed the lake from an artificial aqueduct failed (due to pollutants) and so each year the lake slowly shrinks a little more.
A fragile desert hydrology, stable for thousands of years is now overstressed and the wonderful place that is Crescent Lake is feeling the strain. This ecological crisis is due purely to human impact – much more water than the area can sustain is being used. However, there may be a human solution to this manmade disaster.

The issue has been compounded by the fact that western China is the country’s poorest region and the drive towards economic development at all costs left the local people with little choice. There is no industry as such in Dunhuang – what manufacturer would set up in the middle of a desert after all? What that meant was that the local industry already in place was forced to expand – and that industry is agriculture.
The Dang River which flowed past the city and was what inspired the original settlers to live there has been dammed. That was a few decades ago and certainly, the yield of the local farms improved. However with that improvement came the inevitable human arrivals to assist with further expansion. More people meant more demand for water and so the underground water table inevitably began to drop.
In a desperate attempt to stave off disaster local officials have brought in a new, strict policy. It is known as the Three Forbids. No new wells are allowed, no additional farmland may be irrigated and new migrants are prohibited. The first two forbids rather than the last are the most punitive to locals as more than ninety percent of the water goes to agriculture.
The key to retaining the oasis will be in the reduction of water consumption. Despite the tourism that the Crescent Lake attracts the amount of glacial melt from the distant Qilian Mountains that feeds the Dang River has not changed for many centuries. If the Three Forbids is rigorously enforced then perhaps the Crescent Lake will be enjoyed by many generations to come.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

High tech regenerates antiques

To watch video, click HERE.

And here's a great example of some of that archeology know-how... As you know, most antiques go through big changes when they stay buried underground for hundreds or thousands of years. But thanks to some technological advancements, scientists are now able to restore their original shape and luster. Let's watch an ancient army come back to life.
The world famous terracotta warriors from the mausoleum of Emperor Qinshihuang used to be painted with colors all over. But only remnants of the painting remains when they were dug up. So they were "invited" into the labs, and it's there that experts finally make necessary repair to give back their "coats".
A full-size model of one of the caves in Dunhuang has been set up in the Capital Museum and become its biggest magnet for visitors.
Wu Jian, Archaeologist, said, "We have digitally scanned the original cave and made a map on the computer. Then we recreated the cave here in strict accordance to the map. Now Beijing residents don't have to travel far to see the Dunhuang fresco."
The exhibition also displays China's first cultural relics conservation mobile laboratory. It provides emergency treatment to the most fragile antiques, such as silk, as soon as they are excavated.


Friday, 24 December 2010

Field Expedition: Mongolia

The video, accompanying the Expedition " Valley of the Khans Project"

Albert Yu-Min Lin at TED about the Valley of the Khans Project

Dr. Albert Yu-Min Lin, Emerging Technology Enabled Explorer for the National Geographic Society - Featured TEDxMidAtlantic 2010 Speaker. Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Dr. Albert Yu-Min Lin is a Research Scientist at the University of California, San Diego and an Emerging Explorer of the National Geographic Society in the field of technology enabled exploration.

He founded and co-Directs the UC San Diego, National Geographic Engineers for Exploration Program and currently leads a major international effort known as the Valley of the Khans Project. He is a research scientist at the Center for Interdisciplinary Science in Art, Architecture and Archaeology (CISA3) within the California Institute of Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) at UC San DIego.As Principal Investigator of the Valley of the Khans Project, a non-invasive technology based search for the tomb of Genghis Khan, Dr. Lin has lead multiple high-tech expeditions deep into the most remote parts of the world, developed innovative platforms for remote sensing and co-innovated massive data analysis through crowdsourcing and web based public participation. The goal of this effort, to enable international protection of a sacred region of Mongolia through non-destructive investigation, has earned him recognition as National Geographic Adventure Magazine’s “2010 Readers Choice Adventurer of the Year” and a Fellow National of the prestigious Explorers Club.Dr. Lin is an avid rock climber, surfer, mountaineer, photographer, sailor, and traveler. His Chinese name (Yu-Min) roughly translates to “Citizen of the Universe”.

You can find out more about Lin at

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Largest Yuan dynasty Blue and white porcelain exhibition held in Beijing


Blue and white porcelains of the Yuan dynasty are known to be rare. In fact, there are only about one hundred whole Yuan dynasty blue and white porcelains in all of China, but there are plenty of porcelain fragments. Now, you can see some of these rare beauties for yourself at Beijing Rong Art Center.
This exhibition provides a real treat for blue and white porcelain lovers. One reason is because it's the largest exhibition of porcelains in China so far.
Over five hundred porcelain pieces and repaired samples are on display. The items include Yuan dynasty blue and white porcelain samples such as "The Painting of Journey to the West" and "The West Chamber". There's also "Cool Cave", which recalls a story of a lady who waited 18 years for her husband's return from military service in the Tang dynasty.
Blue and white porcelains of the Yuan dynasty are known to be rare. In fact, there are only about one hundred whole Yuan dynasty blue and white porcelains in all of China, but there are plenty of porcelain fragments. Now, you can see some of these rare beauties for yourself at Beijing Rong Art Center.

Some of those samples are being shown for the first time, providing abundant material for research. Much of the attention is being poured on some very thin and exquisite porcelains.
Wang Liying, Researcher of the Palace Museum, said, "The porcelain body is very thin and transparent. The painting is done in fine lines, yet they flow very smoothly. It provides another research angle for the Yuan blue and white porcelains."
At the exhibition, the blue and white porcelains that have been classified within a specific era provide insights into Yuan dynasty history. Yuan blue and white porcelains are a perfect combination of Han, Mongolian and Islamic cultures. But the number of these porcelains existing in the world is only about 3 hundred. Thus they are very precious to researchers.

Zhang Pusheng, Researcher of Nanjing Museum, said, "The porcelains have historical marks on them, which may help us to learn, to conduct studies and even to do scientific tests on them. They are the best teachers of history."
This exhibition tries to present the original style and features of blue and white porcelains from the Yuan dynasty. It will conclude on December 26th.

Source: CNTV.CN

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

New artifacts from the Silk Road

Belt buckle found in Karashar in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China.

Several art institutions have featured artifacts found along the Silk Road, but in a new exhibition at the National Museum of Korea visitors will be able to take a virtual stroll along one of the ancient routes. They are guided by a travelogue written by a Buddhist monk named Hyecho, who lived during the Silla Dynasty (57 B.C. to 935).
The exhibition, entitled “The Silk Road and Dunhuang: A Trip through the Western Region with Hyecho,” runs until April 3 and features around 220 artifacts from 10 museums in China’s Xinjiang Uighur and Ningxia Hui Autonomous Regions and Gansu Province, which lie along the Silk Road.
One of the highlights of the exhibition is “Memoir of the Pilgrimage to the Five Kingdoms of India,” which is being shown in Korea for the first time.
The work, on a three-month loan from the National Library of France, is an ancient scroll written by Hyecho circa 727. In it, he documents his four-year journey along the Silk Road.
The travelogue was found by French archaeologist Paul Pelliot in 1908 in the Dunhuang Grotto in China.
The Silk Road was a trade route connecting Asia and Europe, serving as a vital link for cultural exchange between Eastern and Western civilizations.
This exhibition focuses on the route east of the Pamir Plateau in Central Asia, which is the one followed by the monk Hyecho.

“Memoir of the Pilgrimage to the Five Kingdoms of India” by the Buddhist monk Hyecho

Stepping into the exhibition hall, visitors are greeted by a large screen playing a video that shows the Silk Road as it is today. It also shows the places where the artifacts in the exhibition were found so visitors can trace their path as they move through the galleries.
“We wanted to give people the proper background information before they proceed through the exhibit,” Choe Kwang-shik, the exhibition director, said on Friday as he guided a group of reporters through the exhibition.

The exhibition has four sections: “Cities of the Silk Road,” “Silk Road Life and Culture,” “Dunhuang and the Memoir of the Pilgrimage to the Five Kingdoms of India,” and “The Road Leads East.”
The first section, “Cities of the Silk Road,” gives visitors an overview of life along the Silk Road.
The second section shows some of the silk produced along the route.
“The silk cloths have mostly deteriorated because of their age. It’s very difficult to find silk that keeps its own color and texture,” Choe said. “So we can only imagine how beautiful and detailed the patterns and colors of the silk were based on pictures painted during that period.”
Hyecho’s travelogue is displayed in the third section, along with a model of the grotto where the document was found.
Along with the model of the Dunhuang Grotto, the exhibition also features a model of the oldest grotto in Dunhuang.

*The exhibition runs until April 3 at the National Museum of Korea. Museum hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays and from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sundays and holidays. The museum is closed on Mondays and Jan. 1. The exhibition is free of charge. Go to Ichon Station, line No. 4, exit 2. For details, call (02) 2077-9000, or visit

Source: Korea Joongang Daily

Hyecho, Korea’s First Cosmopolitan Who Opened the Way to the World

“I shall travel to the land of Buddha”

Hyecho, a Buddhist monk from the Silla Period, is commonly perceived as Korea’s first cosmopolitan who opened the way to the world we know today. Hyecho was born a monk in 704 during the unified Silla period. At an early age, he moved to Guangzhou, China, where he studied Esoteric Buddhism under Vajrabodhi (금강지 金剛智), an Indian Buddhist monk and Esoteric Buddhist teacher in Tang China. Under the guidance of Vajrabodhi, the forefather of Esoteric Buddhism, Hyecho carried out extensive scholarly research concerning Buddhist scriptures. In 774, Hyecho was appointed to hold a ritual for rain during severe droughts at the order of the Emperor of Tang China, which gives rise to the assumption that Hyecho was highly praised by the Chinese for his intellectual capacity and achievements.

It is presumed that Venerable Hyecho set out for India in 723 in an attempt to follow the footsteps of his master and to better learn the Buddhist doctrine in the land of the Buddha. Leaving Guangzhou, Hyecho first arrived in East India by ship, and throughout his four years of stay abroad, Hyecho not only travelled through India but also the countries bordering on Western China. During his journey, Hyecho wrote a travelogue called “Wang ocheonchukguk jeon” (왕오천축국전 往五天竺國傳) or "Memoir of the pilgrimage to the five kingdoms of India." Hyecho’s account of his travel to ancient India is regarded as one of the best travel journals in the world, along with Marco Polo’s “The Travels of Marco Polo” (also known as “Il Milione”), Odoric of Pordenone’s “The Travels of Friar Odoric,” and Ibn Battuta’s “The Travels of Ibn Battuta” (also known as “Rihla “ or “The Journey”).

“Wang Ocheonchukguk Jeon” ("Memoir of the Pilgrimage to the Five Kingdoms of India”)
The manuscript of Hyecho’s “Wang ocheonchukguk jeon,” the oldest of the world’s best four travel journals, contains roughly 6,000 classical Chinese characters in 227 lines, with more than 160 characters damaged and worn away. The journal, long thought to be lost for many years, was rediscovered by Paul Pelliot, a French explorer and archaeologist, who bought it from the Dunhuang grotto on the Silk Road in China in 1908.

The surviving record of Hyecho’s account of his journey is not the original version, but is a copy of an abridged version consisting of three volumes. While the copy is missing the entire content of Volume I as well as the latter part of Volume III, the surviving record nevertheless vividly reveals important details of Hyecho’s journey. Hyecho’s “Wang ocheonchukguk jeon” is perceived as the only existing historical travel journal that provides extensive information about cultural, political, and economic customs of ancient India during the 8th Century. In addition, Hyecho depicts information on the extent to which Hinayana Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism were being adopted in the Indian kingdoms at the time, along with technical information including starting place, destination, time required to travel to certain cities, exact location and the size of the places he visited. According to the travelogue, Hyecho visited the Indian Kingdom of Magadha after arriving in Eastern India by ship. He then travelled to Kusinagar and Varanasi, cities located in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, and continued his journey northward, where he visited Lumbini and Kashmir. Hyecho left India by travelling west via Karasahr, which was ancient town on the Silk Road. It is assumed that Hyecho faced his death in 787 at the age of 83 in Tang China.

The work of Hyecho, the first overseas travelogue written by a Korean, offers a full account of a long journey that lasted four years spanning 9,000 kilometers in distance by ship, and 11,000 kilometers by land. To this day, Hyecho’s work is praised as a valuable archeological and anthropological reference for its unprecedentedly comprehensive scope and depth that reveals boundless ambition of Korea’s first true cosmopolitan.

Source: KBS World

For an extensive study of this travel account, download the article by Professor Yang Han-Sung of Hanyang University from 1969 in the Archives of the Korea Journal.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Hyech’o's Travel Diary comes to Korea

From Wang Kon's Weblog

One of the main cultural stories this year was certainly the return of treasures to the homeland: Japan promised to return some court ritual books (uigwe), while France has promised to return… more ritual books! In the case of France – French troops looted the books in 1866 during a brief raid on Kanghwa island – it is a “permanently renewable” five year loan, so not a complete restitution. Other temporary cultural visitors were the Buddhist paintings from the Koryo period on display in the National Museum this autumn, and now we get to see the famous travel diary written by the monk Hyecho, who went to China at a young age and from there traveled to India; after returning to China, he wrote the diary in 727 – it was discovered in the library cave of Dunhuang in 1908 by…the French scholar Pelliot! It is now on loan from the Bibliotheque Nationale for an exhbition on ‘Dunhuang and the Silk Road’ at the National Museum of Korea. Hyech’o's voyage will serve as a kind of read thread to connect the other objects found along the silk road. According to the museum website (oddly, the English site has better information than the Korean site – and it is well written! I also noticed during my last visit that the quality of English explanations has vastly improved – finally!):

The museum borrowed a total of 214 relics from 12 foreign institutions for the exhibition. These are comprised of the following: Wang ocheonchukguk jeon kept by the National Library of France (Bibliotheque nationale de France) and those kept by ten institutions in China, which include the National Museum of China, the Uygur Autonomous Region of Sinkiang, Kansu Province, and the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region of China.

This exhibition is arranged in a way that follows the path of Hyecho’s travel in the early 8th century. Hyecho, a Silla Buddhist priest, was the first Korean to travel and keep a record of the Silk Road. He arrived in an eastern region of India in a boat and made a pilgrimage to Buddhist eight holy sites. Then, he traveled to the west, Central Asia and returned to Changan 장안 (now Xian) in China through the Pamir Mountains 파미르 고원, Saiwik 서역, and Dunhuang 둔황. Saiwik, which corresponds to the present day Uygur Autonomous Region of Sinkiang 신장위구르자치구, used to be a crucial part of the Silk Road that linked Rome with Changan.

I suppose the exhibition will also use items from the Otani collection – the legacy of a Japanese baron who was one of those adventurers in the ‘great game’ for treasures of the Silk Road. After liberation, his collection was left behind in Korea and is now part of the National Museum. Oddly, this is one area where Korea could become the defendant in a case of cultural reconstitution: since most come from areas along the silk road now occupied by China, China could lay claim to most of these collections. Apparently it is holding back, but it is claiming something else: Koguryo murals that were looted from Ji’an between 1997-2000 (one of them pictured above). The tomb raiders were caught, and apparently executed, but according to their statements, the murals were sent to South Korea. Apparently this was the subject of a recent MBC program (MBC 수첩), and the Chinese must have seen the program, because they have now asked the Cultural Heritage Bureau to cooperate in returning the murals. So why these objects and not the Otani collection? According to the cynical interpretation of this commenter, because most of the Otani collection comes from Turfan in the Uighur region, and China is not keen in giving the Uighurs any incentive for cultural pride in these items. Not so sure about that; you could argue the same for the Korean minority living in Northeastern China… moreover, I am not sure if the Muslim Uighur would be interested in this Buddhist heritage. It seems simply a case of following through a criminal investigation into the people who ordered the theft or received the stolen goods.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Interview with Prof.Nasser D.Khalili/ Exhibition Passion for Perfectiom, Amsterdam

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Top 100 Stories of 2010: At No 89: Chinese Pompeii Unearthed

Ceramic tiles with characters meaning "long life," found intact.
Courtesy the Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archeology

In 2003 Chinese archaeologists began excavating piles of tiles and bricks in Sanyangzhuang, a rural town located in the central plain of China. What they found exceeded their wildest expectations: an entire immaculately preserved village dating back more than 2,000 years to the Han Dynasty. The site consists of four walled houses—each the residence of an extended family—surrounded by wells, toilets, ponds, and trees.
In July, archaeologist Tristram Kidder of Washington University in St. Louis and his Chinese colleagues discovered evidence of even older agricultural fields beneath the excavated houses and a larger buried town about two miles away. “If these are preserved in the same way the houses are, it would really turn out to be a staggering development,” Kidder says.
The 2003 find was buried intact by 28 inches of flood sediments, which formed a protective layer over the village. Kidder thinks a massive late-summer flood of the Yellow River hit so quickly that people left behind everything, from large grinding stones to tiny coins. In addition, impressions of mulberry leaves, considered a sign of silkworm production, were found, indicating that Sanyangzhuang was one of the places where the Silk Road began.

From the Washington University in St.Louis/May 24, 2010
An anthropologist at Washington University in St. Louis is helping to reveal for the first time a snapshot of rural life in China during the Han Dynasty.
The rural farming village of Sanyangzhuang was flooded by silt-heavy water from the Yellow River around 2,000 years ago.
Working with Chinese colleagues, T.R. Kidder, PhD, professor and chair of anthropology in Arts & Sciences, is working to excavate the site, which offers a exceptionally well-preserved view of daily life in Western China more than 2,000 years ago.
The research was presented at the Society for American Archeology meeting in St. Louis in April and highlighted this month in Science, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
“It’s an amazing find,” Kidder says of the site, which was discovered in 2003. “We are literally sitting on a gold mine of archeology that is untapped.”
What researchers find fascinating and surprising, says Kidder, is that the town, though located in a remote section of the Han Dynasty kingdom, appears quite well off.
Exploration has revealed tiled roofs, compounds with brick foundations, eight-meter deep wells lined with bricks, toilets, cart and human foot tracks, roads and trees.
An impression of a mulberry leaf, a sign of silk cultivation, found at the Sanyangzhuang site/Courtesy the Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archeology

An abundance of metal tools, including plow shares, have been found, as well as grinding stones and coins. Also found are fossilized impressions of mulberry leaves, which researchers see as a sign of silk cultivation.
“One could make the argument that this is where the Silk Road began,” Kidder says.
Kidder believes the site could be substantially larger than currently is known. The flood of sediment that buried the town also covered an area of more than 1,800 square kilometers.
Excavation has revealed two more buried communities beneath Sanyangzhuang. “This sedimentary archive goes to all the way back to the Pleistocene Era,” says Kidder, who has experience digging in silt-laden sites near the Mississippi River.
“We have a text written in dirt of environmental change through time that’s associated with the flooding of the Yellow River and its environmental relationships. We have an opportunity to examine an entire landscape dating from the Han and periods before,” he says.
Excavated remains of a wall near the site could reveal a walled town, which still is buried in the silt.

More about the ancient sunken ship from the Yuan Dynasty - IV - 14 December 2010

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Today we continue our report on the salvage work of the sunken vessel in Heze of east China's Shandong Province. A total of 117 ancient items have been brought up and sorted out. So, what's the next step in the preservation of these relics? Let's find out.
Of the 117 unearthed pieces, 45 bigger items have been cleaned and moved into the Heze Museum for exhibition. The other 72 pieces were transported into the warehouse of the museum for further preservation.
Most have gone through special treatment in order to protect them from exposure to the outside environment. Two wooden antiques dating to the Yuan Dynasty are soaked in water to prevent them from dehydrating.
The next huge challenge faced by experts is to repair these artifacts. No archeological discovery of this size has come up in Heze before, so the lack of high-end technology and experienced professionals are big obstacles for the project. To meet this challenge, the Heze Museum has contacted top-notch archeologists from home and abroad seeking their help.

Judging from both the number and quality of the salvaged relics, archeologists have described the Heze sunken vessel as a treasure ship. The local government of Shandong will apply to have the discovery listed as one of the ten major archeological discoveries in China in 2010.

Source: CNTV

Friday, 17 December 2010

Journey to the Western Regions with Hyecho


Silk Road and Dunhuang:
Journey to the Western Regions with Hyecho

National Museum of Korea, Seoul
2010-12-17 2011-04-03

The Silk Road was an extensive network of routes that linked Asia with Europe, facilitating exchange between vastly different civilizations. Satin and chinaware produced in China were carried to Europe via the Silk Road, and Buddhism, which originated in India, also spread eastward via this road.

The museum borrowed a total of 214 relics from 12 foreign institutions for the exhibition. These are comprised of the following: Wang ocheonchukguk jeon kept by the National Library of France (Bibliotheque nationale de France) and those kept by ten institutions in China, which include the National Museum of China, the Uygur Autonomous Region of Sinkiang, Kansu Province, and the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region of China.

This exhibition is arranged in a way that follows the path of Hyecho’s travel in the early 8th century. Hyecho, a Silla Buddhist priest, was the first Korean to travel and keep a record of the Silk Road. He arrived in an eastern region of India in a boat and made a pilgrimage to Buddhist eight holy sites. Then, he traveled to the west, Central Asia and returned to Changan 장안 (now Xian) in China through the Pamir Mountains 파미르 고원, Saiwik 서역, and Dunhuang 둔황. Saiwik, which corresponds to the present day Uygur Autonomous Region of Sinkiang 신장위구르자치구, used to be a crucial part of the Silk Road that linked Rome with Changan.

The exhibition serves as an occasion to finally introduce the valuable ancient record, Wang ocheonchukguk jeon (Record of Travels in Five Indian Regions) to the general public for the first time since its publication 1,283 years ago. It is a travel journal written by Hyecho in 727. The book was discovered by the French archaeologist Paul Pelliot in Dunhuang in 1908, and currently kept by the National Library of France.

Other valuable relics brought back from the places Hyecho visited are also presented, such as Kashgar, an oasis town east of the Taklamakan Desert, the Chinese garrison town of Lulan, and the section of the Silk Road in China that connects Dunhuang with Changan. Furthermore, the Mogao Caves 막고굴 in Dunhuang has been perfectly replicated in the exhibition hall to help visitors experience the grandiose and beautiful works of art. The Mogao Caves have captured people’s attention with their gorgeous statues and murals of Buddha, and Grotto No.17 is the place where the book Wang ocheonchukguk jeon was found.

Section 1 Regions of the Silk Road

Gold roundel Decorated with a Tiger, 5th-3rd century BCE, Gold, D 5.2cm

Comb Bag, 1st-4th century, Wool, L 9.6cm

Section 2 Life and Culture of the Silk Road

Figurine of a Female Dancer, ca. 633-688, Wood, H 35.8cm, Astana, Turpan

Glass Earring painted with a Human Face, 2nd-5th century, Glass, L 1.05cm

Pottery Figurine of a Western Figure, 7th-10th century, H 29cm, Changan

Long Sleeved Silk Garment, 2nd-5th century, Silk, 54x153cm

Section 3 Dunhuang and Wang Ocheonchukguk jeon

Dunhuang Caves (Mogao Caves)

Grotto No.16 and Dunhuang Documents

Entrance of Grotto No.17 (* It was found in the Grotto No.16.)

Wang ocheonchukguk jeon (Record of Travels in Five Indian Regions),
Grotto No.17, 8th century, 42x358 cm

Section 4 Connected Road to the East

Bronze Belt-buckle Depicting a Tiger Biting Sheep, 5th-3rd century BCE,
Copper, 8x4.5 cm

Clay Burial Guard, 7th century, Color on Clay, H 85cm

Corner Pillar, 8th-9th century, Silla, Stone, H 73.6cm

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Preview: Passion for Perfection - Islamic art from the Khali

New York Times: "A globally renowned collection of Islamic art is on view at De Nieuwe Kerk (Dam, International Exhibition Centre, Gravenstraat 17; 31-20-626-8168; through April 17. Assembled by Prof. Nasser D. Khalili, a well-known scholar and benefactor, it includes over 500 objects, among them illuminated Korans and manuscripts, paintings, gold, jewels, textiles, ceramics, glassware, lacquerware, metalwork and wood carvings.

"The exhibit shows that Islamic art is a masterly expression not of a single national culture or civilization," said Vincent Boele, curator of exhibitions for the museum, "but of many peoples joined by Islam for more than 1,400 years."

More at

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World

Next spring, the British Museum will showcase treasures from Afghanistan’s National Museum in Kabul. Here, curator St John Simpson discusses the exhibition.

“Although the Afghanistan exhibition doesn’t open until March 2011, we recently had a briefing for members of the press, which gave us an opportunity to introduce the incredible objects that will eventually go on show.

In the exhibition title we describe Afghanistan as the crossroads of the ancient world and I think that the 200 objects spanning 3,000 years will show exactly why that’s an appropriate description.

Its geographical position – on the edge of central Asia with India and China beyond to the east and Iran, the Middle East and the numerous cultures of the Mediterranean and the rest of Europe to the west – means Afghanistan was criss-crossed by ancient trade routes.

In many ways then, as now, it was a hub and meeting place for diverse cultures and neighbours, both near and distant, over thousands of years.

In the modern world it’s all too easy to think of Afghanistan solely as a place of conflict – and indeed the objects that will feature in the exhibition tell that story as well – but taking the long view we can see in the rich materials and ornate craftsmanship of these objects a far broader story.

Afghanistan has always been part of a complex network of cultures that doesn’t really take account of contemporary political boundaries. Long-distance travel and globalisation may seem like relatively new inventions, but the ancient world was much more connected than many of us may think. I hope we can help bring this inter-connectedness out in the exhibition.

One of the pieces on loan from the National Museum in Kabul illustrates this point particularly well: a pendant from the Tillya Tepe hoard found in the north-west of the country.

It features inlays of gold and turquoise. Two dragon-like beasts in the design suggest to some the influence of Chinese art but to others represent the heavenly horses of the Ferghana valley of neighbouring Central Asia.

The pendant also includes lapis lazuli, a type of blue stone only found in Afghanistan but coveted in the wider world for thousands of years. It crops up in the jewellery of ancient Egypt, the art of the ancient near east and as far afield as the art of the Italian Renaissance.

The fact that we nearly lost many of these stunning objects and signposts to the past to the events of Afghanistan’s recent history underlines how precious they are as well as the fragility of cultural heritage.”

Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World is at the British Museum from 3 March to 3 July 2011.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Jami‘ al-Tawarikh written by Rashid al-Din in 1314–131 on tour in Amsterdam

Exhibition Passion for Perfection
Islamic art from the Khalili Collections
11 December 2010 to 17 April 2011
De Nieuwe Kerk, Dam Square, Amsterdam

Passion for Perfection presents a selection of some 500 masterpieces from Professor Nasser D. Khalili’s famous collection of Islamic art. From 11 December 2010 to 17 April 2011, richly illuminated Qur’ans and manuscripts, paintings, gold jewellery, carpets, textiles, ceramics, glassware, lacquerware, metalwork, and stone and wood carvings will be on display in De Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam.

These works of art are of great historical significance and reflect the refinement and grandeur of Islamic art. This art is not exclusively religious in terms of content and function: many of the items are secular, intended for use in everyday life. Besides geometric motifs, arabesques and elegant scrolls, representations of human figures and animals also play a role. Because the artistic vocabulary of Islamic art is shaped to some extent by the spirit and doctrines of the Muslim faith, the art on display in the exhibition does not represent any single country or civilisation. Passion for Perfection illustrates the virtuoso expression of peoples who have been linked by Islam for over 1,400 years.

Passion for Perfection

Friday, 10 December 2010

Introduction to the Silk Road by Nancy Steinhardt

Penn Museum's 2010-2011 monthly lecture/reception series explores all the adventures the Silk Road has to offer, from mummies to Marco Polo to military warfare to the Black Death. In this first program, "Great Sites on the Silk Road," Dr. Nancy Steinhardt, Professor of East Asian Art and the Museum's Curator of Chinese Art, will introduce the Silk Road in relation to the exhibition Secrets of the Silk Road opening February 5, showing some routes, early travelers, major sites, key monuments, and some most extraordinary discoveries.

Find out more about the Secrets of the Silk Road exhibition at

Thursday, 9 December 2010

The Tarim Basin Mummies by Victor Mair

November 3, 2010
Mummies of the Tarim Basin
by Dr. Victor H. Mair
Dr Victor H. Mair, Curatorial Consultant for "Secrets of the Silk Road," and co-author, The Tarim Mummies, discusses the ongoing discovery of these extraordinary mummies, what we have learned-and what remains to be uncovered.

The exhibition Secrets of the Silk Road explores the history of the vast desert landscape of the Tarim Basin, located in Western China, and the mystery of the peoples who lived there. Located at the crossroads between East and West, oasis towns within the Tarim Basin were key way stations for anyone traveling on the legendary Silk Road. Extraordinarily well-preserved human remains found at these sites reveal ancient people of unknown descent. Caucasian in appearance, these mummies challenge long-held beliefs about the history of the area, and early human migration. The material excavated suggests the area was active for thousands of years, with diverse languages, lifestyles, religions, and cultures present. This exhibit provides a chance to investigate this captivating material to begin to uncover some of the secrets of the Silk Road. Dr Victor H. Mair, Curatorial Consultant for "Secrets of the Silk Road," and co-author, The Tarim Mummies, discusses the ongoing discovery of these extraordinary mummies, what we have learned-and what remains to be uncovered.

Find out more about Secrets of the Silk Road, opening February 5, 2011 at the Penn Museum at

Song Dynasty guqin sold at auction for € 15,5 million

To watch video, click HERE

The Song Shi Jian Yi imperial guqin, which is an ancient string instrument made during the Song Emperor Huizong's reign and has the imperial inscription of the Emperor Qianlong of the Qing dynasty, was auctioned off for 137 million yuan after intense bidding during an autumn auction hosted by Beijing Poly International Auction Company on Dec. 5, setting a new world auction record for ancient musical instruments.

The guqin is increasingly popular on the auction market. On Nov. 15, the "Yu Shu Tang" guqin, which was made in the late Ming dynasty and once played by the Emperor Qianlong before being stored in the Confucius mansion, was sold for 58 million yuan.
Collectors showed great interest in the Song dynasty guqin during the night auction hosted on Dec. 5. The guqin, which had an estimated price of 20 to 30 million yuan and a starting price of 16 million yuan, was finally bought by a collector for 137 million yuan after dozens of bidding rounds.
Ms. Wu, who represents the Auction Market Department of Beijing Poly International Auction Company, said that this was the first time that the auction price for a domestic guqin topped 100 million yuan. It set a world auction record for not only guqins but also all musical instruments.
The "Song Shi Jian Yi" guqin was made for the royal family in Dongjing (modern-day Kaifeng), capital of the Northern Song Dynasty, in 1120. It is praised as "a rare treasure in the heavenly palace." It is a standard guqin, with its upper board made of the Chinese parasol tree Firmiana simplex and its bottom board made of Catalpa ovate. Lacquer from the Chinese lacquer tree was applied to the surface of the guqin, mixed with deer antler powder, gold and silver grains, and cinnabar. The guqin is large and long, and is half-moon shaped inwards or outwards in several parts.
Beijing Poly International Auction Company said that the guqin was handed down and kept in the Hall of Ten Thousand Guqins in the Imperial Storehouse in the late Northern Song Dynasty. It was also persevered well in the following dynasties. The Qianlong Emperor of the Qing Dynasty asked a craftsman to carve an inscription on the guqin.
It was later lost from the Old Summer Palace and secretly kept by Zhang Lianfang in his storehouse named "Jiaoye Shanfang" in Beijing in the late Qing Dynasty. Fan Boyan, a well-known guqin player in Shanghai, spent a large amount of money buying the guqin and kept it until now.

Source: CCTV

Monday, 6 December 2010

No Romans needed to explain Chinese blondes

Every few years a story crops up about “European-looking” people in northwest China who claim to be of Roman origin. A “lost legion” so to speak. I’ll admit that I found the stories interesting, amusing, if implausible, years ago. But now it’s just getting ridiculous. This is almost like the “vanishing blonde” meme which always pops right back up. First, let’s quote from The Daily Mail,* DNA tests show Chinese villagers with green eyes could be descendants of lost Roman legion:

For years the residents of the remote north western Chinese village of Liqian have believed they were special.

Many of the villagers have Western characteristics including green eyes and blonde hair leading some experts to suggest that they may be the descendants of a lost Roman legion that settled in the area.

Now DNA testing of the villagers has shown that almost two thirds of them are of Caucasian origin.

The results lend weigh to the theory that the founding of Liqian may be linked to the legend of the missing army of Roman general Marcus Crassus.

In 53BC, after Crassus was defeated by the Parthians and beheaded near what is now Iran, stories persisted that 145 Romans were captured and wandered the region for years.

As part of their strategy Romans also hired troops wherever they had conquered and so many Roman legions were made up not of native Romans, but of conquered men from the local area who were then given training.

Let’s start from the end. The last paragraph indicates a total ignorance of the nature of military recruitment during the late Republic. In the year 110 BC the Roman army was composed of propertied peasants. These were men of moderate means, but means nonetheless. They fought for the Republic because it was their duty as citizens. They were the Republic. Due to a series of catastrophes the Roman army had to institute the Marian reforms in 107 BC. Men with no means, and who had to be supplied with arms by the Republic, joined the military. This was the first step toward the professionalization of the Roman legions, which naturally resulted in a greater loyalty of these men to their leaders and their unit than the Republic. Without the Marian reforms Sulla may never have marched on Rome. By 400 AD the legions were predominantly German in origin, and supplemented with “federates,” who were barbarian allies (though alliances were always subject to change). But in 53 BC this had not happened yet. The legions who marched with Crassus would have been Roman, with newly citizen Italian allies in the wake of the Social War. The legions of the Julio-Claudians were probably still mostly Italian, a century after Crassus (service in the legions, as opposed to the auxiliaries, was limited to citizens, who were concentrated among Italians). So that objection does not hold.

But really, do we need the Roman hypothesis? Those big blonde Romans? Here’s one section of the piece: “Archaeologists discovered that one of the tombs was for someone who was around six foot tall.” Because of issues of nutrition the Roman soldiers were notoriously short relative to the Celts and Germans (who had more meat and milk in their diet). Perhaps they had the potential for greater height, which they realized in the nutritional surfeit of…China?

Anyway, there’s a straightforward explanation for the “Chinese Romans”: they’re out of the same population mix, roughly, as the Uyghurs. Before the year 1000 AD much of what is today Xinjiang was dominated by peoples with a European physical appearance. Today we call them Tocharians, and they spoke a range of extinct Indo-European dialects. It seems likely that there was also an Iranian element. The archaeology is rather patchy. Though there were city-based Indo-Europeans, it is clear that some of them were nomadic, and were among the amorphous tribes that the ancient Chinese referred to as the “Rong and Di.” The Yuezhi and Wusun were two mobile groups who left China in the historical period and are recorded in the traditional annals.
Meanwhile, between 500 AD and 1000 AD the Indo-European substrate of the Tarim basin was absorbed by Turkic groups coming from Mongolia. They imposed their language on the older residents, but genetically assimilated them. The modern Uyghurs are a clear hybrid population. In the papers published on the Uyghurs they shake out as about a 50/50 West/East Eurasian mix. But the DODECAD ANCESTRY PROJECT has them in the sample, and here’s how they break down by a finer grain:

Uyghurs are the third population from the bottom. Below them are the Yakut and Chinese. The Yakut are the northernmost Turkic people, and the Turkic element which settled in Xinjiang and assimilated the Tocharians was from the north. The Chinese-like element may simply be that the proto-Uyghurs were already admixed with the Han populations, or, that that element has a geography-conditional cline where the Yakuts are at an extreme. In any case, the other components of Uyghur ancestry are not East Asian. Like many European popualtions the Uyghurs have a West Asian and Northern European aspect, but they lack the South European ancestry. This is important, because it is dominant in both the Tuscans and North Italians. If the “Roman Chinese” are genuinely Roman, they will have this specific southwest European ancestry, which will put them at a distinction from the Uyghurs.
As it is, I don’t think that’s what’s going on. On the order of 4,000 years ago the domestication of the horse allowed for the expansion of Indo-European populations from east-central Eurasia across the steppe. Eventually they they also percolated into the underpopulated zones between the taiga and the highlands around the Himalayan massif. I believe that these were the groups which introduced nomadism and agriculture to the Tarim basin, and their genetic and cultural impact was a function of the fact that they simply demographically swamped the few hunter-gatherers who were indigenous to the region.
In the period between 1000 BC and 1000 AD the flow of people reversed. The expansion of the Han north and west, and the rise of a powerful integrated state which could bully, and could also be extorted, changed the dynamics on the steppe and in the oasis cities beyond. The vast swaths of Central Asia which were Indo-European in speech became Altaic in speech. But many of these populations absorbed the Indo-European groups, and came out genetically admixed. A clear residual of West Eurasian admixture can also be found among peoples who presumably never interacted much with Indo-Europeans, such as the Mongols, though at lower levels.
The villagers of Liqian are a different part of the story. Clearly substantial numbers of “barbarians” were assimilated into a Han identity on the northern frontier. In the case of tribes such as the Xianbei and Khitan they even did the assimilating themselves, through top-down sinicizing edits. In areas like Gansu these elements contribute a greater proportion of the ancestry, and just as the Uyghur are Turkic speaking, and yet have equal portions of West and East Eurasian ancestry, so the people of Liqian are Chinese speaking, and have equal portions of West and East Eurasian ancestry.
I find it curious that the piece above didn’t mention Uyghurs at all. No idea if politics was involved, but I won’t be surprised if I get some angry Han and Uyghur comments because of what I’m saying here (I’m not totally clear what these sorts of commenters are angry about really, they’re usually pretty inchoate).

By: Razib Khan in Discover

Addendum: East and West Eurasian ancestry seems pretty equitably distributed among the Uyghurs. But the number of genes which code for racially salient traits are far smaller than the total set which can be used to estimate ancestry. So within a large enough population allelic combinations across loci will segregate so that some individuals exhibit a “pure” ancestral phenotype. What colloquially might be termed a “throwback.” This little boy comes strikingly close.
* I am aware of the reputation of this newspaper. Nevertheless, it’s being picked up by the international press and some blogs, so I’m going to address it

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Ancient Mongolian Tomb holds skeleton of Western Man

This man's remains lie close to the tomb of an especially high-ranking Xiongnu man whom he may have served in some way
Prof. Kyung-yong Kim, et al.

The remains of a 2,000-year-old skeleton found in eastern Mongolia reveal a man of multi-ethnic heritage.
By Bruce Bower, Science News
Wed Feb 3, 2010

* DNA analysis of 2,000-year-old bones found in eastern Mongolia reveal a man of Western heritage.
* At the time, the vast territory in and around Mongolia included ethnically and linguistically diverse nomadic tribes.
* Two other skeletons found at the site show genetic links to people living in northeastern Asia.

Dead men can indeed tell tales, but they speak in a whispered double helix.
Consider an older gentleman whose skeleton lay in one of more than 200 tombs recently excavated at a 2,000-year-old cemetery in eastern Mongolia, near China's northern border. DNA extracted from this man's bones pegs him as a descendant of Europeans or western Asians. Yet he still assumed a prominent position in ancient Mongolia's Xiongnu Empire, say geneticist Kyung-Yong Kim of Chung-Ang University in Seoul, South Korea, and his colleagues.
On the basis of previous excavations and descriptions in ancient Chinese texts, researchers suspect that the Xiongnu Empire -- which ruled a vast territory in and around Mongolia from 209 B.C. to A.D. 93 -- included ethnically and linguistically diverse nomadic tribes. The Xiongnu Empire once ruled the major trading route known as the Asian Silk Road, opening it to both Western and Chinese influences.
Researchers have yet to pin down the language spoken by Xiongnu rulers and political elites, says archaeologist David Anthony of Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y. But the new genetic evidence shows that the 2,000-year-old man "was multi-ethnic, like the Xiongnu polity itself," Anthony remarks.
This long-dead individual possessed a set of genetic mutations on his Y chromosome, which is inherited from paternal ancestors, that commonly appears today among male speakers of Indo-European languages in eastern Europe, central Asia and northern India, Kim's team reports in an upcoming American Journal of Physical Anthropology. The same man displayed a pattern of mitochondrial DNA mutations, inherited from maternal ancestors, characteristic of speakers of modern Indo-European languages in central Asia, the researchers say.
"We don't know if this 60- to 70-year-old man reached Mongolia on his own or if his family had already lived there for many generations," says study co-author Charles Brenner, a DNA analyst based in Oakland, Calif.
Two other skeletons from the Xiongnu cemetery in Duurlig Nars show genetic links to people who live in northeastern Asia, according to Kim's team. Other team members include Kijeong Kim of Chung-Ang University, Eregzen Gelegdorj of the National Museum of Mongolia in Ulaanbaatar and Eun-Jeong Chang of the National Museum of Korea in Seoul.
The Duurlig Nars man's genetic signature supports the idea that Indo-European migrations to northeastern Asia started before 2,000 years ago. This notion is plausible, but not confirmed, says geneticist Peter Underhill of Stanford University. Further investigations of Y chromosome mutation frequencies in modern populations will allow for a more precise tracing of the Duurlig Nars man's geographic roots, Underhill predicts.
Scholars have long sought to trace the origin and spread of related languages now found in Europe, India and other parts of Asia. One hypothesis holds that Indo-European languages proliferated via several waves of expansion and conquest by nomads known as Kurgans who had domesticated horses and thus could travel long distances. In this scenario, Kurgans left a homeland north of the Black Sea, in what's now Russia, around 6,400 years ago.
Another view holds that farmers from ancient Turkey spread Indo-European tongues as they swallowed up one parcel of land after another, beginning around 9,000 years ago.
Since 1978, discoveries of 2,400- to 4,000-year-old mummified corpses with European features in northwestern China, not far from Mongolia, have fueled the Kurgan hypothesis (SN: 2/25/95, p. 120). Remains of large wheels found with these blond-haired individuals raise the controversial possibility that these foreigners introduced carts and chariots to the Chinese.
Add to those discoveries a report in the September 2009 Human Genetics. Geneticist Christine Keyser of the University of Strasbourg in France and her colleagues found that nine of 26 skeletons previously excavated at 11 Kurgan sites in northeastern Russia possess a Y chromosome mutation pattern thought to mark the eastward expansion of early Indo-Europeans. That same genetic signature characterizes the Duurlig Nars man.
By 2,000 years ago, the easternmost Indo-European languages were probably spoken in northwestern China, Anthony holds. So an Indo-European speaker could have aligned himself with Xiongnu political big shots and earned an eternal resting place in an elite Xiongnu cemetery, in his opinion.
Kim agrees. The Duurlig Nars man's tomb lies close to the tomb of an especially high-ranking Xiongnu man whom he may have served in some way, he suggests.
Kim's group plans to extract and study DNA from additional Duurlig Nars skeletons. For now, Anthony remarks, "this new study from Mongolia is important because it adds one more point of light to a largely dark prehistoric sky."

Source: Discovery News