Monday, 26 July 2010

The search for the tomb of Ghengis Khan

Bronze Age Burial Mound Found!

For the most exciting archeology project of this year, go to:

From time to time, people in charge of large internet-based projects request the help of the general public to assist in their work. Think SETI@home and Galaxy Zoo. Currently, there is another project with which you can help, supported by National Geographic Digital Media. It is called “Field Expedition: Mongolia — Valley of the Khans Project.” This project is a huge archaeological survey of parts of Mongolia, looking for the tomb of Genghis Khan and other Mongolian cultural heritage sites. Wired’s own Gadget Lab wrote about this project last year.

Genghis Khan’s tomb has never been found because of some fascinating historical factors which you can read about on the project’s website. By combining the use of high tech tools and crowdsourcing, their small team of explorers, led by Albert Lin, turns into a team of thousands working together to identify possible tomb locations. This is done by having the general public studying satellite images and identifying the features we see. There’s no way the small team would have enough time to search the entire area themselves, so our help is invaluable. It’s amazing how helpful we can be without being experts on satellite imagery. It’s very easy to spot rivers and roads, and pretty intuitive to spot modern structures, such as yurts, and signs of ancient or buried structures, such as burial mounds or odd land patterns. Then, combining this information with real-time data and maps, the expedition gets a clearer picture of the different areas of Mongolia.

One reason why the explorer team is using satellite imagery techniques is to minimize the amount of digging that is done, which preserves Mongolia’s land and protects the cultural history. By studying the land from above, one can see subtle differences in terrain, perhaps areas that have settled in unusual ways. As possible heritage sites are located, people on the ground can investigate further. Explorer Albert Lin and his team will be investigating the tagged items, without digging any holes. Top Mongolian scholars are also participating in the process.

Perhaps this noninvasive way of performing archaeology is the new way of things. The use of technology such as satellite imagery, other tools and the help of the general internet public could be applied to similar projects in the future. Some of the other new technologies used in this project include unmanned aerial vehicles, three dimensional virtual reality and ground penetrating radar.

To join in on this adventure-from-home, visit the website for Field Expedition: Mongolia — Valley of the Khans Project. Label a few satellite photos in your spare time. You can do a test marking on the site, but if you want your marks to count, you need to register and be logged in. Registration is easy, though: they just ask for a user name, email address and password. As you begin marking images, you’re in a training phase. I think they want to make sure your marking the images correctly, so the first several serve as a tutorial. As you mark more images in the training, you are told what you did right and what you missed. You’re only looking for roads, rivers, modern structures and ancient structures, and anything else that is interesting but you can’t identify can be marked as “other.”

Once you’re done with training, you reach the Novice 1 rank. The site then shares with you what other people have identified in the photos. It will also tell you if you’re the first to view an image. The more images you mark, the higher your rank. I’m guessing that if enough people think that a site has some significance and is worth checking out, especially if many people of high rank identified the same spot, it will be a good spot for the explorers to check out on the ground. Not every image has something to mark, however, and sometimes it can take a while for an image to display. So it is a great activity to do while doing something else.

Whether you participate in this project as a fun exercise, use it to teach your kids about satellite photos and what the Earth looks like from above or to assist the explorer team in their hunt for the tomb of Genghis Khan, it’s a fascinating way to spend some time over the next couple of weeks. The team will be in the field for most of July, so mark those images soon! Be careful, though: this activity is highly addictive. You may find that you end up spending much more time on this project than you had planned. Give it a try!

African quest for sunken ship of mighty armada of Zheng He

Chinese archaeologists' African quest for sunken ship of Ming admiral.
Search for remains of armada which came to grief on a pioneering voyage to Kenya 600 years ago

It's another chapter in the now familiar story of China's economic embrace of Africa. Except that this one begins nearly 600 years ago.

A team of 11 Chinese archaeologists will arrive in Kenya tomorrow to begin the search for an ancient shipwreck and other evidence of commerce with China dating back to the early 15th century. The three-year, £2m joint project will centre around the tourist towns of Lamu and Malindi and should shed light on a largely unknown part of both countries' histories.

The sunken ship is believed to have been part of a mighty armada commanded by Ming dynasty admiral Zheng He, who reached Malindi in 1418. According to Kenyan lore, reportedly backed by recent DNA testing, a handful of survivors swum ashore. After killing a python that had been plaguing a village, they were allowed to stay and marry local women, creating a community of African-Chinese whose descendants still live in the area.

A likely shipwreck site has been identified near Lamu island, according to Idle Farah, director general of the National Museums of Kenya, which is working on the archaeology project with its Chinese equivalent and Peking University.

"The voyages of the Portuguese and the Arabs to our coasts have long been documented," Farah told the Guardian. "Now, by examining this shipwreck, we hope to clarify with clear evidence the first contact between China and east Africa."

The project forms part of a recent effort by the Chinese government to celebrate the achievements of Zheng, a Muslim whose ships sailed the Indian and Pacific Oceans many decades before the exploits of more celebrated European explorers such as Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama. Starting in 1405, Zheng made seven journeys, taking in south-east Asia, India, the Middle East and Africa, in fleets of up to 300 huge ships with nearly 30,000 sailors in total, according to Chinese records.

On his voyages, Zheng dished out gifts from the Chinese emperor, including gold, porcelain and silk. In return, he brought home ivory, myrrh, zebras and camels. But it was a giraffe that caused the biggest stir. The animal is known to have been a gift from the Sultan of Malindi, on Kenya's northern coast, but theories vary as to how exactly it got to China. One account suggests that the giraffe was taken from the ruler of Bengal — who himself had received it as a gift from the Sultan — and that it inspired Zheng to visit Kenya a few years later.

Herman Kiriama, Kenya's head of coastal archeology, said the joint archeological team will this week try to locate the Sultan's original village, which is though to be around Mambrui village, outside Malindi, where Ming porcelain has been discovered. In late August, the project will move underwater, with the arrival of specialist maritime archeologists from China.

"Though we have not located the shipwreck yet, we have good indications of where it might have gone down," said Kiriama.

The team's confidence in finding the sunken ship is bolstered by work done in the run-up to the 600th anniversary of Zheng's first voyage. As part of the 2005 celebration, in which the Beijing government sought to present Zheng as a sort of maritime goodwill ambassador – a portrayal disputed by some scholars who point to his use of military force – China sent a team of scholars to Lamu.

In Siyu village they conducted DNA tests on a Swahili family whose oral history and hints of Chinese facial features led them to believe they were descendants of Zheng's shipwrecked sailors. The tests reportedly showed evidence of Chinese ancestry and a 19-year-old woman called Mwamaka Shirafu was given a full scholarship to study traditional medicine in China, where she remains.


Sunday, 11 July 2010

The Friends of Dunhuang

I mentioned the site The Friends of Dunhuang earlier.

New is a recent article in the June issue of National Geographic and the Newsletter of The Friends of Dunhuang (which actually is from 2008) with a.o a very interesting article about the new visitor centre.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

New book on Dunhuang Caves

Read at the Blog of The International Dunhuang Project:
The Caves of Dunhuang, authored by Fan Jinshi, Director of the Dunhuang Academy, and translated and edited by Susan Whitfield of IDP, has recently been published by Scala. The book provides a detailed description of 50 caves at Mogao and other sites near Dunhuang. The forthcoming edition of IDP News will have details of a discount for readers.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Tao, Another Way of Being

Just missed this!!!

Galeries nationales, Grand Palais, Paris
31 March 2010 – 5 July 2010

An exhibition organised by the Réunion des Musées Nationaux and the Musée des Arts Asiatiques Guimet.

Interested in all forms of creation and particularly open to the great civilisations, the Galeries nationales, in conjunction with the Musée des Arts Asiatiques Guimet, are preparing Europe’s first great exhibition on Taoism. Tao, Another Way of Beingwill introduce a western public to a mode of thought and conception of mankind in the universe which are fundamentally foreign to them. Certainly, many have already heard of Taoism, or yin and yang with its elegant graphic symbol, or the open air gymnastics and breathing exercises known as qi gong. But despite its charm, Taoism remains obscure. The topics explored in this exhibition will give visitors an opportunity to understand the philosophical, poetic, religious and scientific approaches which make Taoism “another way of being”, whose ultimate aim is akin to the search for a harmonious, durable rapport between man and the universe.

With an array of 250 works – painting, sculpture, ceramics, bronze and textiles – the exhibition traces the expression of Taoism over the centuries through a few founding themes and presents the most beautiful items from the Musée Guimet, and other collections in Europe, the United States and Taiwan in an unusual, transversal display. Often unfamiliar or used out of their proper context, these works take on their full meaning in the exhibition.

Taoism is not a religion in the usual sense, that is, subservient to a single god and creator, but more simply a life style, a state of mind which accepts many different attitudes and schools.
Taoism is a mode of thought which exalts life and gambles on the happiness of beings on earth and beyond. It supports its theories with the image of the radiant joy that illuminates the saint from within and beams out to all beings.
The philosophical foundations of Taoism were already laid in Chinese society long before “religious Taoism” developed in the late 2nd century AD. It was structured like a real religion, with a pantheon, sacred texts, a priesthood, organised parishes, temples and followers.

It was the later development of Confucianism, then the intrusion of Buddhism, combined with other historic events, which prevented Europeans from seeing the religious and cultural importance of Taoism in China. The reprinting and distribution of the sacred texts of the Taoist canon in 1926, at a time when it seemed doomed to disappear, launched a major effort of translation, analysis and interpretation which brought Taoism back into the concert of the world’s religions.

Curated by
Catherine Delacour, chief curator, Musée National des Arts Asiatiques Guimet, Paris

Monday, 5 July 2010

"Along the River During the Qingming Festival" goes digital

The long scroll has been converted into a three-dimensional image on a digital screen measuring one hundred meters by six meters. (Photo source: CNSphoto

BEIJING, June 25 (Xinhuanet) -- The song dynasty painting "Along the River During the Qingming Festival" is the "piece de resistance" of Chinese art.
As an artistic creation, the piece has been revered, and court artists of subsequent dynasties have made several re-interpretive replicas. Now, the Palace Museum has created a digital version of the giant scroll.
The long scroll has been converted into a three-dimensional image on a digital screen measuring one hundred meters by six meters.

The river in the picture appears to be flowing. People and cattle seem to be standing next to audiences. Ten times the original size, the digital version of the painting has special sound and lighting effects that change constantly.
Visitors who view the work are able to virtually travel in time to the prosperous capital of the Northern Song Dynasty, Bianliang, or today's Kaifeng city in central China's Henan Province, which is depicted in the painting.

Li Ji, deputy director of Palace Museum, said, "It takes a great effort for the experts to decipher the work's meaning, not to mention ordinary people. Digital technology allows an easy access for the general public to comprehend the masterpiece."

The entire piece was painted in hand scroll format and the content reveals the lifestyle of all levels of the society from rich to poor as well as different economic activities in rural areas and the city.
The painting is famous because of its geometrically accurate images of boats, bridges, shops, scenery and characters.

To get a better idea, watch next video which was made inside the Chinese pavillion of the Shanghai World Expo on next youtube video:

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Admiral Zheng He's tomb is empty

Admiral Zheng He's tomb is empty

An unconfirmed story, so far...
A recently excavated tomb in Nanjing, China has been confirmed to be the grave of Zheng He, a eunuch from the early Ming Dynasty who led historic voyages to Southeast Asia and eastern Africa.

The tomb was discovered accidentally on June 18, by workers at a construction site near Zutang Mountain that also holds the tombs of many other Ming Dynasty eunuchs, the Yangtse Evening News reported.

The tomb, which is 8.5-metre long and 4-metre wide, was built with blue bricks that archaeologists said were only used in structures belonging to dignitaries during the time of Zheng He.

However, Zheng He's remains were not found in the tomb.

Experts believed the remains were not placed there because of the long distance between Nanjing and India, where he died during a visit in 1433. It was also believed that Zheng He was "buried" in the sea during his last voyage.

Born in 1371, Admiral Zheng He - whose name is also spelled Cheng Ho - was from the Hui ethnic group that are Muslims.

He was an excellent navigator and diplomat in the Ming Dynasty who had led the royal fleet to southeast Asia including Malacca during the Malay Sultanate in the 14th century.

Legend has that Admiral Zheng He also led the voyage to send a Ming princess, Hang Li Po, to marry Sultan Manshur Shah as a mark of friendship between China and Malacca.

The princess's entourage of 500 sons of ministers and a few hundred handmaidens eventually settled down and married the locals. Their descendants are known today as Baba (male) and Nyonya (female).


Before this news from June 26, 2010, his grave was restored/ recostructed in 1985.

Zheng He (1371-1435), or Cheng Ho, is arguably China's most famous navigator. Starting from the beginning of the 15th Century, he traveled to the West seven times. For 28 years, he traveled more than 50,000km and visited over 30 countries, including Singapore. Zheng He died in the tenth year of the reign of the Ming emperor Xuande (1435) and was buried in the southern outskirts of Bull's Head Hill (Niushou) in Nanjing.

In 1985, during the 580th anniversary of Zheng He's voyage, his tomb was restored. The new tomb was built on the site of the original tomb in Nanjing and reconstructed according to the customs of Islamic teachings, as Zheng He was a Muslim.

At the entrance to the tomb is a Ming-style structure, which houses the memorial hall. Inside are paintings of the man himself and his navigation maps. To get to the tomb, there are newly laid stone platforms and steps. The stairway consists of 28 stone steps divided into four sections with each section having seven steps. This represents Zheng He's seven journeys to the West. The Arabic words "Allah (God) is great" are inscribed on top of the tomb.

Zhenghe constructed many wooden ships, some of which are the largest in the history, in Nanjing. Three of the shipyards still exist today.