Thursday, 30 September 2010

The Old City of Khiva (Uzbekistan)

Visit of Khiva, Visite de Khiva
Khiva was the first site in Uzbekistan to be inscribed in the World Heritage List
Khiva is split into two parts. The outer town, called Dichan Kala, was formerly protected by a wall with 11 gates. The inner town, or Itchan Kala, is encircled by brick walls, whose foundations are believed to have been laid in the 10th century. Present-day crenellated walls date back to the late 17th century and attain the height of 10 meters.
The old town retains more than 50 historic monuments and 250 old houses, mostly dating from the 18th or the 19th centuries. Djuma Mosque, for instance, was established in the 10th century and rebuilt in 1788-89, although its celebrated hypostyle hall still retains 112 columns taken from ancient structures. (wikipedia)

Silk Princess Painting and Korean Roof Tile

This year on BBC Radio 4 is a series, A History of the World in 100 Objects.
From this series I chose 2 items:

- Silk Princess Painting and
- Korean Roof Tile

Silk Princess Painting

For the full story, press PLAY

Neil MacGregor has been exploring the world of the late 7th century, with objects from South America, Britain, Syria and Korea.
This painting on a wooden panel shows scenes from the Central Asian story of the Silk Princess. According to this legend, a Chinese princess smuggled the secret of how to make silk out of China and into the country of her new husband, the king of Khotan. As she was a princess the border guards did not dare search her. In this painting her elaborate headdress conceals the cocoons of the silk moth and the seeds of the mulberry tree.
This object is from the 4000 mile tangle of routes that has become known as the Silk Road - that great conduit of ideas, technologies, goods and beliefs that effectively linked the Pacific with the Mediterranean. His chosen object which lets him travel the ancient Silk Route is a fragile painting telling a story of "industrial espionage". It comes from the Buddhist kingdom of Khotan, now in Western China, and tells a powerful story about how the secrets of silk manufacture were passed along the fabled route. The cellist and composer Yo Yo Ma, who has long been fascinated by the Silk Road and who thinks of it as "the internet of antiquity", and the writer Colin Thubron consider the impact of the Silk Road - in reality and on the imagination.

In search of the silk princess
When handling the wooden panel with the depiction of the Silk Princess, one is surprised about its weight. Having been buried under the desert sands for well over a thousand years, any humidity has evaporated from the wooden panel and it has become extremely light. Apart from the loss of some colour pigments on its surface though, the lively and linear brushstrokes of the painter are still clear. Because wood was so precious along the Silk Road, most of the painted panels of this kind were painted on both sides with different scenes, although not this one.
What is interesting about this object panel is perhaps that it found its place in a Buddhist shrine and therefore had its place in a religious context. It is evidence for the close interaction between religion, ritual and daily life of Ancient Khotan along the Silk Road.
Furthermore, written sources and archaeological evidence prove that the production of silk and silk manufacture technology was invented in China about 4,000 years ago. Around the second millenium BC the precious material was produced for the Chinese aristocracy and must have had a similar status as ritual bronzes. Historians agree that the knowledge and technology of silk production gradually travelled westwards from China via the Silk Road to Byzantium and then to northern Europe. This happened around the sixth century, approximately at the time, when this panel was painted.

Korean Roof Tile

For the full story, press PLAY

The history of the world as told through one hundred objects at the British Museum in London. This week the museum's director, Neil MacGregor has been telling the story of the Silk Road (and beyond) towards the end of the 7th Century - with objects from South America, Syria, Britain and China.
Today he looks at what was happening in Korea at this moment in history, as it became a newly unified kingdom under the Silla state. The object that represents this moment is a roof tile with an intimidating face from a grand building in the new capital.

The face on this roof tile glares at the viewer. It was intended to scare away evil spirits from a building in the magnificent ancient capital city of Kyongju. Similar tiles were used earlier in China, but once introduced into the Korean peninsula, they reached a new height in popularity and artistry. This face most closely resembles that of a dragon, animals associated with water and hence appropriate as guardians to place on a wooden building always in danger of fire.

What was Korea's grandest city in ancient times?
This tile is from Kyongju, the capital of the Unified Silla dynasty of Korea. The city was famous for its wide streets laid out in a grid. All the houses, palaces and Buddhist temples had tiled roofs, a sign of wealth and sophistication. Decorated roof tiles started to become widespread around AD 688, when the small Korean kingdom of Silla, with help from China, conquered two other Korean kingdoms. This ushered in an age of prosperity and cultural unity in the Korean peninsula.

Keeping up with the Kims
Houses covered in roof tiles in the city of Kyongju in the eighth and ninth centuries would have been of higher status than those with thatched roofs.
Since the Silla dynasty (under the royal Kim family) had managed to unify the majority of the Korean peninsula with the help of Tang China, there was also no doubt a degree of emulation of China going on: Kyongju grew in size and splendour after it became the capital of the Unified Silla state rather than just the smaller Silla kingdom. Kyongju’s street grid layout was based on that of the Tang capital Chang-an, the biggest and most cosmopolitan city in the world in the eighth century, at the eastern end of the Silk Road. And there was a huge surge of interest in building projects in Kyongju at this time, with the construction of aristocratic mansions, garden villas and Buddhist temples, all adorned with tiled roofs.
All the aristocrats from the defeated areas of Korea were brought to Kyongju and no doubt wanted to create houses and estates in which they could preserve the lifestyle to which they were accustomed.
But why a monster mask? It is probably the case that this monster mask roof tile was also copying similar tiles from China, as these are known to exist.
The monster mask derived from the ancient Chinese taotie mask which appeared on ritual bronzes. But by the time it appeared on roof tiles it had transformed itself into a protective guardian, placed at the ends of the long ridge of the roof in order to scare off evil spirits. Placed at the highest and most prominent place on the roof, it could be seen for miles around and would stand out as a conspicuous sign of the wealth and high class of the owner of the building, as well as protecting the owners from harm.
So this moulded earthenware roof tile was functional as well as decorative, and a status symbol as well as good-looking: testimony to a highly developed level of Silla craftsmanship and a thriving economy in a capital city at the height of its prosperity.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

The silk road city of Samarkand

2002 Visit of / Visite de / Besuch von / Visita de / Chiamata di de Samarkande (ouzbekistan) / Samarkand (uzbekistan)

Samarkandの訪問 / زياره سمرقند / 访问萨马尔罕 / Samarkand의 방문

Samarkand (Greek: Marakanda) is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, prospering from its location on the (Silk Road) trade route between China and Europe. At times Samarkand has been the greatest city of Central Asia, and for much of its history it has been under Persian rule. Founded circa 700 BCE it was already the capital of the Sogdian satrapy under the Achaemenid dynasty of Persia when Alexander the Great conquered it in 329 BCE (see Afrasiab, Sogdiana). Under Sassanid Empire of Persia, Samarkand flourished and became one of the most important cities of the Persian empire.
Under Abbasid rule, the secret of papermaking was obtained from two Chinese prisoners from the Battle of Talas in 751, which led to the first paper mill in the Islamic world to be founded in Samarkand. The invention then spread to the rest of the Islamic world, and from there to Europe (either through Spain or through crusaders).
From the 6th to 13th centuries it grew larger and more populous than modern Samarkand and was controlled by the Western Turks, Arabs (who converted the area to Islam), Persian Samanids, Karakhan Turks, Seljuk Turks, Karakitay, and Khorezmshah before being sacked by the Mongols in 1220. A small part of the population survived, but Samarkand suffered at least another Mongol sack by Khan Baraq to get treasure he needed to pay an army with. The town took many decades to recover from these disasters.
In 1370, Timur the Lame (Tamerlane) decided to make Samarkand the capital of his projected world empire, which extended from India to Turkey. For the next 35 years, he built a new city, populating it with artisans and craftsmen from all of the places he had captured. Timur gained a reputation for wisdom and generosity, and Samarkand grew to become the center of the region of Transoxiana.
His grandson Ulugh Beg ruled the country for 40 years. In Samarkand, Ulugh Beg created a scientific school that united outstanding astronomers and mathematicians. He also ordered the construction of an observatory; it contained a gigantic but precision-made marble sextant with an arc length of 63 meters. Ulugh Beg is also founder of uzbek language and uzbek nation.
In the 16th century,Shaybanids moved their capital to Bukhara, and Samarkand went into decline. After an assault by the Persian warlord Nadir Shah, the city was abandoned in the 18th century.
In 1868, the city came under Russian rule, when the citadel was stormed by a force under Colonel A.K. Abramov (1836-1886). Shortly thereafter the small Russian garrison of 500 men were themselves besieged. The assault was led by Abdul Malik Tura, the rebellious elder son of the Bukharan Emir, together with the Bek of Shahrisabz, and the attack was beaten off with heavy losses. Abramov, now a general, became the first Governor of the Military Okrug which the Russians established along the course of the River Zeravshan, of which Samarkand was the administrative centre. It later became the capital of the Samarkand Oblast of Russian Turkestan, and grew in importance still further when the Trans-Caspian railway reached the city in 1888. It became the capital of the Uzbek SSR in 1925 before being replaced by Tashkent in 1930. (wikipedia)


The World of Khubilai Khan in the MET

Textile with Animals, Birds, and Flowers, late 12th–14th Century
Eastern Central Asia

The World of Khubilai Khan
Chinse art in the Yuan Dynasty

Metropolitan Museum of Art New York
September 28, 2010-January 2,2011

This exhibition covers the period from 1215, the year of Khubilai's birth, to 1368, the year of the fall of the Yuan dynasty in China founded by Khubilai Khan, and features every art form, including paintings, sculpture, gold and silver, textiles, ceramics, lacquer, and other decorative arts, religious and secular. The exhibition highlights new art forms and styles generated in China as a result of the unification of China under the Yuan dynasty and the massive influx of craftsmen from all over the vast Mongol empire—with reverberations in Italian art of the fourteenth century.

Bamboo slips of Han Dynasty unearthed

For the full story on video, click HERE

At a subway construction site in Changsha, the capital city of central China's Hunan Province, a surprising discovery caused quite a stir in archaeological circles. It was a stockpile of ancient records, or bamboo slips, of the Eastern Han Dynasty.
On Thursday, over ten thousand unearthed bamboo slips were transported to archaeology institutes for protection and research. These ancient records were originally buried about 6 meters underground. On many of them, the writing is still clear and they are rich in content. Each slip measures about 23 centimeters in length and 3 centimeters in width.
Prior to their excavation, relevant departments held many rounds of conferences to discuss how to best avoid damage. According to archaeologists, some of the contents document the public security situation during the ancient Eastern Han Dynasty, about 2000 years ago.
Archaeologists also say these bamboo slips have very high value, because current unearthed bamboo slips of Eastern Han Dynasty, especially in the beginning and middle period of this dynasty, are still very rare.

Source: CNTV.CN

The Mongols and the Armenians (1220-1335)

The Mongols and the Armenians (1220-1335)
Bayarsaikhan Dashdondog

In the thirteenth century, the Armenians of Greater Armenia and of the Armenian Kingdom in Cilicia were invaded by Mongol nomads of the Inner Asian steppe. The ensuing Mongol-Armenian relations were varied. The Greater Armenians became subjects of the Mongol Empire, whereas the Cilician Armenians, by entering into vassalage, became allies and furthered the Mongol conquests. In order to enhance our understanding of this turning point in medieval history, the effects of long distance military raids, missions, diplomacy, collaboration, administrative assistance and confrontation as well as the reasons for invading Greater Armenia and motives for establishing an alliance, are considered.

From: Brill's Inner Asian Library

Saturday, 25 September 2010

More about the Bezeklik Caves and Ryukoku University

On friday, the 17th I reported about the Bezeklik caves in 3D, a digital project from the Ryukoku University in Kyoto.
Anyone who missed this, here this movie is again because the movie and the coulours are absolutely stunning.

More details about this cave and the way it was reconstructed in 3D can be found at the Digital Archives Research Center of the Ryukoku University under Bezeklik

Genetics of the Silk Road Mummies

Genetics of the Silk Road Mummies [Exhibition] from HMNS on Vimeo.

At this moment runs the exhibition "Secrets of the Silk Road" at the Houston museum of Natural ScienceDuring the run of the exhibit a series of videos about this subject will be released.
This first video in the series uncovers the origins of the Silk Road mummies - it's not what you would expect! - through the latest research into their genetics.

Lecture:Prestigious Goods along the Silk Road

Prestigious Goods along the Silk Road? An Archaeological Perspective
A lecture by ARMIN SELBITSCHKA (assistant professor of Sinology, University of Munich)

Friday, October 01, 2010
2:00 PM - 4:00 PM

Asia Institute •
11377 Bunche Hall •
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1487

Friday, 24 September 2010

Great frescoes from Song Dynasty excavated

For the full story on video, click HERE

In July this year, an excavator accidentally dug out a grave from about a thousand years ago.
The site in Guiyang county is the biggest one with the most abundant frescoes ever found in Hunan Province.
The west and east side of the grave has frescoes of a black dragon and a white tiger.
Underneath, there are eighteen armed warriors each with a different facial expression. The vault chamber has frescoes of tree peony, double-bird and double-phoenix.
In front of the grave, there are frescoes of a master of ceremonies with seven female Taoists holding scepter boards.
The most special one is the "Fairy Children." It appears at the back of the grave in the fresco of "leading the soul to the heaven" with great Taoist culture embedded.
Researchers now know that the owner was a female, But her identity is still a mystery.
Source: CNTV

Monday, 20 September 2010

Merchant ship from Yuan period discovered in Shandong Province

People examine the ship wreckage on a construction site in Heze, east China's Shandong Province, Sept. 20, 2010. A 13-meter-long and five-meter-wide ancient ship was discovered last Friday on the construction site and identified as a merchant ship of China's Yuan Dynasty(1271-1368), according to a local historical relic expert. (Xinhua/Liu Xinzhong)

People examine the ship wreckage

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Silk Road Q&A with Curator Dirk van Tuerenhout

Last month on the website of the Houston Museum of Natural Science was an online Q&A with curator Dirk Van Tuerenhout on the new exhibition, Secrets of the Silk Road.
Visitors to this free event were able to ask Dirk questions about the mummies and other unique artifacts currently on display at HMNS.
This is a summary of the Q&A's.

Details of Mummies

How many mummies are in the show? How many mummies were found in this area?
There are two mummies in the exhibit. One is that of an adult woman. She lived around 1,800 – 1,500 BC and her remains were found in the Xiaohe (Small River) cemetery. The second mummy is that of an infant, sex unknown, who lived during the 8th century BC. This infant was found in Zaghunluq, several hundreds of miles removed from the Xiaohe location.
In their book, The Tarim Mummies, Mallory and Mair estimate that the number of known mummies is “on the order of 500” (pages 179-180).

What are the average length, height and weight of the mummies discovered?
This is a hard question to answer. A good example as to why this is so can be found at the museum: we have an adult woman and a child less than a year old. There is quite a difference in height in these two individuals. In terms of weight, I do not know if anyone has weighed them.

Life of Mummies
What languages do you think they might have spoken?
Interesting question, and difficult to answer. We should take note of the great number of languages that at one point were spoken and written in the Tarim and Turpan Basins. For example, when the Berlin Ethnological Museum unpacked the materials that they had excavated in the years 1902 – 1914 in the Tarim and Turpan Basins, they announced that they had evidence of 17 languages recorded in 24 different scripts (Mallory and Mair, The Tarim Mummies, p. 102).

Who first found the mummies, was any “looting” involved, and how many have been found so far?Knowledge of the cemeteries containing mummies goes back many centuries, as does evidence of looting. The latter activity has continued until today, sad to say. In terms of who first alerted the outside world to the existence of these mummies, there are European and American researchers who worked in the last decade of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th. People like Aurel Stein of the Smithsonian, and the Swedes Sven Hedin and Folke Bergman, just to name a few, explored these remote areas and encountered mummies. While they made note of their existence, they did not undertake scientific studies, partly because their initial research focus was a different one, and partly because of the logistics involved. Most often the mummies were excavated, photographed and then re-buried. In all we know of about 500 mummies. There must have been many thousands more that once lived and were buried.

What is the fortification-looking area in the slide show, and where is it located? Are those the remains of boats around it?The fortification-looking area is in fact a cemetery. What looks like a palisade is a series of wooden poles found marking the cemetery. A coffin often used in this cemetery is one called a “boat coffin,’ because of its apparent similarity with a small boat. They never served as a boat, as one can easily observe when looking at a boat coffin currently on display at the museum.

Were there writings in tomb objects? Tokens of religious or religion?
Texts were found in the tombs dating to the period when the Silk Road was in existence ( 138 BC – 1368 AD). We now of 17 languages written in 24 different scripts; most of the evidence for these comes from funerary contexts. However, the mummies on display at the museum are prehistoric, date to the period before the Silk Road opened up. They were not found with “letters in their pockets.”

What weapons were found? Composite bows?
The period covered by the exhibit is quite extensive, going from 1,800 BC through the 14th century. References to and information about weapons abound during these three millennia. For example, arrows and arrow heads have been found in various cemeteries, including Xiaohe and Kucha. As far as the presence of composite bows is concerned, I came across a paper by Andrew Hall and Jack Farrell originally published in The Society of Archer-Antiquaries, #51, 2008, pp. 89-98. It discusses composite bows found in the Tarim basin. (You can find an online version of this paper here). Composite bows have also been linked with Subeshi.

What are the materials of the clothing and ropes made of?
Clothing ranges from woolen cloaks, fur boots, to silk robes. I do not have reliable information on the ropes.

How close is the clothing to Celtic clothing of the same period?
Here is a passage from Mallory and Mair, The Tarim Mummies, that you will find interesting (pp. 217 – 219):
“Although dating to the same period as Zaghunluq, the cemetery at Qizilchoqa to the northeast near Hami yielded different weaves for which far-reaching historical connections have been suggested. The precise date of the Qizilchoqa cemetery is problematic: the initial dates place it at about 1200 BC, contemporary with the later period of the Yanbulaq culture, but a new radiocarbon date of c. 800 – 530 BC suggests that it belongs to the later Tort Erik (Sidaogou) culture. The abundant evidence for dress here revealed a variety of clothes, including woolen robes with colored belt bands and fur coats (the fur turned inside) with integrated gloves, which fastened with wooden buttons. But our main story lies with the woolen textiles.

Irene Good made a detailed examination of a textile fragment (15 cm by 19 cm – 6 in by 4 in) from the site. The main here was normal diagonal twill, but the decoration involved the production of plaid, the same type of decorative technique one might expect on a Scottish tartan. This involved the wide and narrow color strips on both the warp and the weft and here the colors employed were threads of blue, white and brown, each thread made up of some 30 to 40 fibers. The white and brown thread are natural the blue thread is dyed. This small strip of cloth has been invested with heavy historical implications.

The earliest twills known derive from the region between Turkey and the Caucasus where they were dated to the late 4th – 3rd millennium BC, and they are found in abundance from the late 2nd millennium BC in Europe, particularly at the site of Hallstatt. Here miners left residues of their clothing (and, occasionally, themselves) in the protective environment of Austrian salt mines. As the Hallstatt culture occupied a territory which classical authors would associate with Celts only a few centuries later, it is generally presumed that the miners here (and the warriors and others buried in the neighboring cemetery) were also Celts or proto-Celts. The easternmost finds of twill, dating from the centuries around 1000 BC (or somewhat later), are the fragment from Qizilchoqa and many others like it from the same cemetery (some very Scottish looking); true twills are unknown in China until well into the 1st millennium AD. The Qizilchoqa twill is virtually identical to the textile fragments recovered from Hallstatt with respect to both style and technique (hence one of the arguments employed by the tabloid press for placing kilted Celts in the Tarim Basin). We are not talking simply of the diffusion of a particular weaving and color pattern. As Elizabeth barber writes: “the regular combination of plaids and twills in the same cloth and the similar play of wides and narrows in the plaids moves us into a border zone where it’s harder to imagine the sum total as accidental.” There is also a similarity in the weight of the cloth. Of course there are differences between the Hallstatt and the Qizilchoqa materials, for example, Hallstatt employed only two colors while the Qizilchoqa plaids used from three to six colors. In addition, there are even differences among the Tarim plaids. Irene Good has noted that the weaving traditions of Zaghunluq and Qizilchoqa are themselves considerably different even though they both ate to the period before the middle of the first millennium BC. The Qizilchoqa (Hami) fragment appears to derive from a hairy rather than a wooly fleece and would seem to come from a different breed of sheep than that found at Zaghunluq; there are also differences in the crafting of the cloth, e.g. the Zaghunluq twill involved hopping over three stems of the warp rather than the more typical two as found at Qizilchoqa. In weighing the similarities between the European and East Central Asian material, Barber concludes that the two are related yet also makes it clear that neither is derived from the other. How do we connect the two textile traditions?

Elizabeth Barber has deduced that the twill plaid recovered from the northern Tarim may be placed within the context of Indo-European migrations. As we have already recounted, one of the most popular theories of Indo-European origins would locate their homeland in the steppelands encompassing Ukraine and southern Russia, a region which would have been in direct contact with the Caucasus whence we obtain some of our earliest evidence for twills. In this model, the earliest Indo-Europeans would have known plaid and carried it west into central and western Europe where it would later emerge among the Celts of the Hallstatt culture; it would also have been carried eastward across the steppe where it would have been introduced by Indo-Europeans, here identified as the Tocharians, into the Tarim Basin.”

How do you keep the mummies preserved while they are on display?
We maintain a constant temperature and humidity within the museum and the exhibit hall.

Are these mummies considered to be the best preserved in the world? Even better than the Egyptian mummies?They are among the best preserved mummies in the world. This makes them stand out, not only for this reason, but also because these individuals were mummified by nature rather than by human agency.

What role did the climate play in preservation?
Climate and the environment were the main reasons some of the remains became mummies. The best preserved mummies tend to be dressed very warmly. This has led archaeologists to suggest that these individuals died in the winter. Their bodies would then have been freeze-dried first, then cooked and parched during the summer. If any moisture was left in the bodies, that would have been removed by the minerals present in the desert. The rivers descending from the mountains carry lots of minerals.

Were both the Y chromosome and Mitochondrial DNA analyses done on the male mummies?My understanding is that they were not. mtDNA analysis allows one to retrace the lineage of the individual studied through the maternal line. While it would connect a male to his female ancestors, it would not provide a link with his descendants, since none would have inherited his mtDNA.

Is the baby linked by DNA to the woman?
The baby is about 1000 years younger and was buried in a cemetery about 250 – 300 miles away from that where the woman was found. They were not immediate family. They could be distant relatives like you and I would be.

Have studies been done to determine where the mummies were born or grew up? Are they all considered to have been born and raised where they were found?
That type of study is referred to as isotopic analysis and it can tell us where a person grew up. To the best of my knowledge this has not been done yet on these mummies.

Has any testing been done in the region to determine if the Y chromosome markers from the male mummies are present in the living population?
In paper published in early 2010, we find that Y chromosome research was carried out of seven male individuals from the Xiaohe cemetery. The paper is available online in open access format at the time of writing this reply. (Go here.)
The researchers state (p. 6): “The Y chromosome haplogroup of the seven males were all assigned to haplogroup R1a1a through screening the Y-SNPs at M89, M9, M45, M173 and M198 successively. Haplogroup R1a1a is widely distributed in Eurasia: it is mainly found in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, South Asia, Siberia, ancient Siberia, but rare in East Asia.”
In other words, the Y chromosomes found in the Xiaohe mummies were compared with those found in contemporary male populations world-wide. I do not know if in that sample, males from the Tarim Basin were included.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

The new issue (2010) from the Silk Road Journal

The new issue (Number 8) from The Silk Road Foundation is out. The best journal in its field.
The full table of contents follows below. Have a read.

From the editor's desktop

Images from Ancient Iran: Selected Treasures from the National Museum in Tehran. A photographic essay.

Ancient Uighur Mausolea Discovered in Mongolia,

by Ayudai Ochir, Tserendorj Odbaatar, Batsuuri Ankhbayar, and Lhagwasüren Erdenebold.

The archaeology of Uighur period sites in Mongolia (8th-9th centuries) is advancing rapidly. The article describes the results of excavations at several Uighur cemeteries, which feature structures known as durvuljin and where burials are often in chamber tombs, at least one of which to date contains some mural paintings.

The Hydraulic Systems in Turfan (Xinjiang),
by Arnaud Bertrand

The irrigation systems in oases along the Silk Road are a subject of great interest. For the important Turfan oasis, there have been misunderstandings about the introduction of the system of underground karez (qanat) channels to tap the ground water coming from the neighboring mountains. The “hydraulic specialists” employed various techniques and drew upon the local excavation and construction experience in developing the karez, which was hardly an original invention of the region.

New Evidence about Composite Bows and their Arrows in Inner Asia,

by Michaela R. Reisinger

Well-preserved remains of bows and their arrows from recent excavations of Xiongnu burials in western Mongolia expand our knowledge of the construction and use of these weapons. The article is illustrated with many photographs and drawings of the finds and charts comparing them with finds from other locations in Inner Asia.

An Experiment in Studying the Felt Carpet from Noyon uul by the Method of Polypolarization,
by V. E. Kulikov, E. Iu. Mednikova, Iu. I. Elikhina, and S. S. Miniaev

A new method of illumination which great enhances image quality in micro-photography has enabled the authors to determine with some certainty that the famous felt carpet from Noyon uul barrow no. 6 was created using camel hair.

The Old Curiosity Shop in Khotan,
by Daniel C. Waugh and Ursula Sims-Williams

Photographs taken by the British Consul at Kashgar, Clarmont P. Skrine, when visiting Khotan in 1922 help document the activities of one of the key local purveyors of antiquities, Badruddin Khan. The article provides an overview of the Khotan antiquities trade in the period, identifies the current locations of the material Skrine photographed, and focuses on the Skrine Collection now housed in the British Museum and British Libraries. The descriptive review of the manuscripts in the collection provides examples of how such material came to be divided amongst several repositories and cautions users not to make undocumented assumptions about provenance.

Nomads and Settlement: New Perspectives in the Archaeology of Mongolia,
by Daniel C. Waugh

Older misunderstandings about the role of settlements in the life of Inner Asian pastoralists are now being challenged by a great deal of new archaeological data. The article reviews a broad range of work on settlement sites in “greater Mongolia” (that is, the territory of the current republic and adjoining areas in Russia and China).

Book notices

For the full pdf text of The Silk Road, Vol. 8 (2010), click here.

Friday, 17 September 2010

The Bezeklik caves in 3D and in Second Life

Thanks to: The Ryu Koku University of Kyoto - for their courage and effort to bring all the 15 panels in 3D and recreate its original appearance.

Bezeklik Caves are modeled in Second Life. The wall paintings are from Le Coq, Chotscho, Dietrich Reimer (Ernst Vohsen), 1913. See the Web site of Digital Silk Road, Digital Archive of Toyo Bunko Rare Books at and for more information

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Terracotta army emerges in its true colors

German experts who specialize in restoring historical artifacts minutely examine a bronze waterfowl sculpture, excavated from the Mausoleum of Qin Shihuang, at Shaanxi Archaeological Institute in Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi province, in this file photo.(Source: China Daily)

This article is from the China daily of September 9, 2010

China-Germany alliance has helped keep the glow on warriors' cheeks.
The earth in the ancient city of Xi'an continues to astound archaeologists.
When excavation work to find more terracotta relics restarted for the third time last year in Xi'an, archaeologists admitted they did not expect to make any groundbreaking discoveries.
Researchers suggested that the No 1 pit, the largest of the three that surround the tomb of China's first emperor Qin Shihuang (259-210 BC), was in a worse condition than the other two and not likely to offer rich pickings.
However, the experts were more than happy to be proven wrong.
Along with the more than 114 broken figures unearthed since digging resumed in June last year, the discovery of three "suitcases" made of a silk-like fabric has offered clues on the textile industry during the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC).
Arguably the starkest images to come from the dig, though, have been those of archaeologists dusting off the painted faces of newly discovered terracotta warriors.
"It was a pleasant surprise," said Xu Weihong, who is leading the excavation of the 200-square-meter-site, at the Museum of the Terracotta Warriors and Horses of Qin Shihuang in Shaanxi province. "We found some painted in pink, red, white and lilac."
The colors better highlight the expression on the figures' faces and could prove invaluable to the study of ancient China.And thanks to new technology developed in cooperation with a German institute, technicians on the scene were able to preserve the relics in their original painted colors - something that was unthinkable during the previous two digs.
The first, which lasted from 1978 until 1984, resulted in the discovery of 1,087 clay relics. However, after being exposed to air, they all quickly lost their color and turned an oxidized gray. (A second dig started in 1985 but halted a year later due to technical reasons.)
"When the excavation started, mold caused by moisture began to spread in the pits," said Wu Yongqi, director of the terracotta museum, which was officially opened on Oct 1, 1979. "When we wiped the mold off the surface dried out."
As the relics were cleaned on-site, experts found that the exposed paint would curl and fall off due to water loss.
Enter experts from Germany's Bavarian Administration of Cultural Heritage and Rome-Germanic Central Museum Mainz, who in 1989 joined forces with Shaanxi to research and develop new techniques to better protect the province's bounty of relics.

"One of the most important programs was the protection of newly unearthed terracotta figures," said Liu Yunhui, deputy director of Shaanxi cultural heritage bureau.
Susanne Greiff, head of the China-German heritage protection program at the Mainz museum, said the province was carefully chosen for the partner program for its wealth of history.
"Shaanxi is as large as the area of the former Federal Republic of Germany (prior to reunification in 1990) and its capital used to be the power center of 13 Chinese dynasties," she said. "Therefore, it has thousands of ancient tombs."
Despite the huge number of historic sites, at the time there was no modern relics restoration agency in the province or anywhere else in the country. The situation was critical, said Greiff.
Experts from both countries quickly set to work on establishing one, resulting in the Shaanxi Archaeological Institute's heritage protection and research laboratory in 1991.
Two decades later, many of the problems experienced in preserving and restoring ancient artifacts have been solved."In the last 15 years, I have been to Germany six times for training, staying there for three to six months each time," said Rong Bo, an archaeologist at the terracotta museum in Xi'an. "I learned a lot of things about heritage restoration and protection from our German colleagues."
Rong is among more than 100 specialists from Shaanxi who have received technical training in Germany, as well as in France, Italy, Japan and the United States. They have gone on to form the backbone of the province's heritage protection mission.
Work on preventing the terracotta warriors' paint from peeling began in earnest in 1990. Researchers examined the structure, distribution and patterns on pottery relics and were able to devise the chemicals and applications needed to preserve the color.
After several trials, the technique was first used during an excavation of the No 2 pit at the Qin Shihuang museum in 1997. It involves newly unearthed relics being treated at the scene with anti-wrinkle and reinforcing agents before they are wrapped in plastic film and relocated to a laboratory.
The method was so successful that in 2004 it was awarded second prize in the National Prize for Progress in Science and Technology.
Eight integral terracotta warriors have already been fully protected thanks to the technique, as well as a number of broken clay pieces carrying rich designs, said Ma Shengtao, deputy director of conservation and preservation at the Xi'an museum.
International cooperation in science for heritage protection has been credited with helping to raise China's overall technology level and making its excavation techniques and heritage protection the envy of the world.
"Our protective technology was poor and backwards before the Sino-German program," said Yang Junchang, general engineer and director of heritage protection and research at the Shaanxi Archaeological Institute.
The institute, which was established in 1958 and is the largest of its kind in the country, has excavated more than 10,000 ancient tombs. However, for a long time, protecting relics was a major concern.
"We unearthed some silk from a tomb once and the relics were completely destroyed minutes later as we had no proper way of dealing with them," said Yang.
With help from the Rome-Germanic Central Museum Mainz, which is renowned for its heritage restoration and protection, the institute built its own heritage protection and research laboratory (later renamed the protection and research department).
Today, the department has laboratories specializing in metal and ceramics, fresco restoration and textiles. It also has an archaeological site emergency team.

Past experience

For the last 20 years, Chinese and German experts have focused on relics from the Qin Dynasty and Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), with the first joint program the restoration of those taken for the underground palace at the Famen Temple.
Historians say the temple, which is about 120 kilometers from Xi'an in Fufeng county, was originally built in the 2nd century and was adorned with Buddha's bone during the Tang era.
The underground palace was only found in 1986 during a rebuilding project and many rare artifacts have since been recovered.
"The relics in the palace were placed in the underground palace before the year 1113 and many of them were damaged by the air and water that had leaked in," said Han Wei, former director of Shaanxi Archaeological Institute. "The major restoration for these damaged relics was done by German experts."
Sebastian Pechtold, who was on the German team, said more attention was paid to reproducing the original appearance of the relics rather than just making them visually beautiful.
"We couldn't just take Western methods and use them on Chinese relics," he said. "We had to consider the different materials and processes of manufacture before repairing the relics," said Greiff at the Mainz museum.
As the painting technology and processes of a mural found in a tomb of the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD 25-220) are far different from those used in ancient Rome and Egypt, so too are the techniques to restore them.
"We often met with new difficulties during our joint restorations," added Greiff, "which means we are constantly revising our plans, adding new programs and developing new tools."
One of the recent achievements of the China-Germany partnership is the restoration of a broken phoenix coronet, which belonged to Li Chui, a Tang princess who died in AD 736.
"The coronet was completely smashed when it was unearthed (in 2003), so we packed it in plaster and brought it back to the lab," said engineer Yang Junchang. "After careful preparation and research, about 10 Chinese and Germen experts worked for two years to repair it."
Materials used in the coronet were gold, silver, copper and iron, and it was also decorated with agate, pearls, amber, turquoise, glass and mother of pearl inlay. The surface was studded with gold beads that could only be seen clearly under a microscope.
"The coronet weighs 800 kilograms, is 42 centimeters tall and has exquisite workmanship," added Yang. "It is the only Tang Dynasty coronet that has ever been successfully repaired in the world."

Source: China Daily(Ma Lie)

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Big noses, curly hair on empress's coffin suggests deep cultural exchange on Silk Road

XI'AN, Sept. 14 (Xinhua) -- Chinese archeologists have found new evidence of international cultural exchange on the ancient Silk Road.
Four European-looking warriors and lion-like beasts are engraved on an empress's 1,200-year-old stone coffin that was unearthed in Shaanxi Province, in northwestern China.
The warriors on the four reliefs had deep-set eyes, curly hair and over-sized noses -- physical characteristics Chinese typically associate with Europeans.
The 27-tonne Tang Dynasty (618-907) sarcophagus contained empress Wu Huifei (699-737), Ge Chengyong, a noted expert on Silk Road studies, said Tuesday.
Ge said one of the warriors was very much like Zues, the "father of gods and men" in Greek mythology.
The coffin was also engraved with deer, tigers and goats.
"It's noteworthy that goats signify tragedy in Greek mythology. The word 'tragedy' itself means 'song of the man-goat singer'," he said.
He said the tragic element coincides with the empress's unhappy life: several of her children died young and she herself lived constantly in fear.
Ge said the exotic sarcophagus is rare for China, where ancient coffins almost always had Buddhist-themed reliefs and murals depicting harmony, happiness and peace.
The elements of Greek mythology on Empress Wu Huifei's coffin suggest cross-cultural exchange was common in Chang'an, capital of the Tang Dynasty, located in today's Xi'an, he said. "There could have even been clergymen from Western countries serving in the Tang imperial court."
Wu Huifei was Emperor Xuanzong's favorite concubine and was posthumously known as Empress Zhenshun, meaning "the virtuous and serene empress."
Her sarcophagus - 4 meters long, 2 meters wide and 2 meters high - was stolen from her tomb in the southern suburbs of Xi'an in 2006.
Police said it was then smuggled out of China and sold to a businessman in the United States for 1 million U.S. dollars.
It returned to China in April and has been housed at the Shaanxi History Museum from June.


Special about this is that obviously nobody had noticed this earlier as this coffin is not a new discovery but it was stolen.
The following photo's from the Times of India from the ShaanxiHistory Museum in Xi'an are too small to give any details.

XI AN, CHINA - JUNE 17: The relief of maiden figures on the sarcophagus of Tang empress Wu Huifei (AD 699-737) is seen at Shaanxi History Museum on June 17, 2010 in Xi'an, Shaanxi province of China. The 27-ton stone coffin of Tang empress Wu Huifei (AD 699-737) arrived at the Shaanxi History Museum on Thursday, four years after it was smuggled out of the country. The sarcophagus is 4 meters long, 2 meters wide and 2 meters high, featuring flowers and maiden figures in relief. Robbers stole it from Wu's tomb in the southern suburbs of Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi province, in 2006.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

John Man – In search of Genghis’s grave: A close call on Holy Mountain

This is a short story written by John Man which does not reveal new information but nevertheless shows how special John Man is as a story teller.

John Man is a historian and travel writer with a special interest in Mongolia and China.His Genghis Khan: Life, Death and Resurrection has become an international bestseller. He is also the author of Alpha Beta on the roots of the Roman alphabet, The Gutenberg Revolution on the origins and impact of printing, Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, Kublai Khan, The Terracotta Army, The Great Wall and The leadership Secrets of Genghis Khan. He recently climbed the sacred mountain in Mongolia on which Genghis is supposedly buried. This adventure is included in the new edition of Genghis Khan: Life, Death and Resurrection, due out early in 2011.

For the full article of this climb of the Burkhan Khaldun in search of Genghis's grave, go to the site of Random House India.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

An actual database of important Silk Road links by Joseph Adler

So far the best and most extensive database of relevant Silk Road links is Silk Road Links by Joseph Adler.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

From Xanadu to Dadu: The World of Khubilai Khan (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

From Xanadu to Dadu: The World of Khubilai Khan (Metropolitan Museum of Art
by James C. Y. Watt
James C. Y. Watt is the Brooke Russell Astor Chairman of the Department of Asian Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This is the book that accompanies the exhibition that will start on September 28.

In 1215, the year Khubilai Khan (1215-1294) was born, the Mongols made their first major incursion into North China and initiated a period of extraordinary creativity in the arts that was encouraged by the confluence of many cultures and ethnic groups. This period lasted approximately 150 years and had its greatest flowering in the Yuan dynasty, founded by Khubilai in 1271 and lasting until 1368. Xanadu to Dadu is a groundbreaking study of the art and culture produced at this time by the Chinese and by the highly skilled craftsmen from Western and Central Asia, who were selected for their abilities and brought together in Northern Chinese workshops, where they exchanged ideas, styles, and art forms. The works they produced created a new art style that would influence the arts of China in all subsequent periods. In the 11 essays included in this volume, art historians discuss the origins of new art forms, daily life in Yuan China, in particular at the imperial court and in the capital cities of Xanadu (Shangdu) and Dadu (Beijing), and the impact on the arts of the religions practised at this time, including Buddhism, Daoism, Christianity, Manichaeism, Hinduism, and Islam. The essays are accompanied by beautifully reproduced colour illustrations of artworks from Chinese and international collections.

Conservation of Ancient Sites on the Silk Road

Conservation of Ancient Sites on the Silk Road
Edited by Neville Agnew
Getty Conservation Institute
530 pages, 9 x 11 inches
210 color and 200 b/w illustrations, 2 maps
ISBN 978-1-60606-013-1
paper, $89.00

The Mogao grottoes, a World Heritage Site near Dunhuang in western China, are located along the ancient caravan routes—collectively known as the Silk Road—that once linked China with the West. Founded by Buddhist monks in the late fourth century, Mogao grew gradually over the following millennium, as monks, local rulers, and travelers carved hundreds of cave temples into a mile-long rock cliff and adorned them with vibrant murals portraying Buddhist scripture, Silk Road rulers, and detailed scenes of everyday life.

The sixty-five papers from the Second International Conference on the Conservation of Grotto Sites address such topics as the principles and practices of wall paintings conservation; site and visitor management; scientific research, particularly in the environmental and geotechnical aspects of conservation; and relevant historical and art historical research.

Neville Agnew is senior principal project specialist at the Getty Conservation Institute and has led its initiative in China since it began in 1989. He is the author of numerous publications including (with two coauthors) Cave Temples of Mogao: Art and History on the Silk Road and the editor of the proceedings of the first international conference on the conservation of grotto sites, published in 1997.

The first volume of symposium proceedings, Conservation of Ancient Sites on the Silk Road is available as a PDF file at:

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Ancient secret hidden in Roof Tiles

From the Mongolia Field Expedition Blog by Dr. Fredrik Hiebert (August 26, 2010)

Being in Mongolia was an amazing experience and it seemed that history was hidden everywhere beneath our feet. We surveyed in some wildly rugged areas, crossed raging rivers, climbed stony mountains above the tree line and experienced the reality of the steppe environment with the summer blazing heat during the day and the cold at night.

What I find fascinating is that people have lived for centuries and even created flourishing civilizations in these extreme conditions.

Some of our best finds were in the most unexpected places. This is what I think is exceptional about being in Mongolia.

Right now I am working on the digital architectural data that we have collected from a couple of ancient cities on the steppe. I combine information from satellite images, geophysical data and basic walking over the sites. These cities appear to have huge rectangular exterior mudbrick walls, surprisingly similar to archaeological remains that I have excavated thousands of miles west in the fabled cities Central Asia that Genghis Khan conquered. Could it be that that Genghis' conquests were actually ways that technologies and traditions spread?

I am also in the process of photographing and drawing the ceramic tiles found on the surface of some of the sites that you helped us find. Sometimes I wonder what an ancient Mongol nomad was doing with roof tiles in the mountains. If they were ceramics or personal goods, I could imagine that they were just trade goods, but these were clearly parts of buildings used by the people living in these rugged areas.
Such archaeological finds indicate the vast distances that were known by people in the past. They were connected to Central Asia without the benefit of the airplanes, trains, and trucks ubiquitous of modern civilization. They lived in regions that we today think of a being difficult, but they obviously survived and thrived in an interconnected world that we are just beginning to understand.