Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Mandal- Mongolian Nomadic Culture

Shi_ix_xuree.jpg‎ (134KB, MIME type: image/jpeg) Source: National Film, Photographic and Sound Archives of Mongolia

Erdene_zuu_bas_relief.jpg‎ (147KB, MIME type: image/jpeg) Source: National Film, Photographic and Sound Archives of Mongolia

The MANDAL.CA website is dedicated to the investigation and promotion of nomadic culture and its potential role in building sustainable development models. Our major area of interest is traditional Mongolian nomadic culture—including both the indigenous nomadic civilization and the Buddhist structures that provided for its spiritual, artistic, literary, educational and scientific needs. This focus is reflected in our name, mandal, which means both "prosperity" and "mandala" in the Mongolian language, with the additional Sanskrit readings of "circle" and "community".

Well known Aurel Stein Photo Restored

Image by ralphrepo
Entitled: Masib, Ahmad, Haji, Abdullah, Kara-khoja outlaws at Panopa shelter huts, Panopa, Xinjiang, China [c1915] MA Stein [RESTORED] Usual spot and defect removal, tone and contrast adjustments, minor edge repair, with a sepia tone.

This is the original from IDP.BL.UK

Sir Marc Aurel Stein was arguably a duality in terms of Chinese history. On the one hand, he is the Hungarian archaeologist who brought world attention to the trove of undiscovered manuscripts in the famous Buddhist caves of Dunhuang. Knighted by the British government for his work, he was also a major contributor of the many things that we know about Central Asia and the history of the famed silk road. But on the other hand, he stole a heck of a lot of the stuff that he found. The majority of the best Central Asian items held by the British Museum were probably looted by Stein.
A large portion of Stein’s work and historic findings can be reviewed at the International Dunhuang Project, link HERE:…and several of his rare books are available for public access via high resolution scans held by Toyo Bunko, Link HERE:

From Stein’s own notes:
"Masib, Ahmad*, Haji, Abdullah, Kara-khoja outlaws at Panopa shelter huts.

Full-length portrait of the four men, standing in a line with rifles. ‘While halting for the night I had an interesting opportunity of becoming acquainted with a small party of well-armed outlaws from Kara-khoja of whose presence on this much-frequented mountain route I had already been warned at Jimasa… They were the ‘die-hard’ remnant of a large party of Kara-khoja cultivators, who having had a long-standing dispute over some lands with neighbours of Astana… had about six months before attacked and killed the Muhammadan Jisa, the local revenue official, whom they believed to have brought about the defeat of their rightful claims…
They were well armed with Mauser rifles, for since the revolution of 1911-12 it had become easy to purchase arms and ammunition from the Chinese garrison at Turfan… Since removing themselves to a region outside the Turfan command, the four heroes had remained wholly unmolested. They were now maintaining themselves in comparative comfort at Pa-no-p’a by the receipt of charitable gifts from sympathizing fellow Muslims and of blackmail from other wayfarers…
Ahmad’s wish to meet me again during my winter’s stay in Turfan was to be realised in a fashion rather different from that he had in mind; for, on returning from Urumchi in the first days of January, I was greeted by his shrivelled black head stuck up on a high pole outside the gate of the Yang-shahr of Turfan…’ (ii, 560, note). (I.A. Map 28, B1). Location: China; Pa-no-p’a; Xinjiang"

Source: DoGood

Monday, 29 November 2010

More Secrets of the Silk Road

Photo by Liêm Phó Nhòm. For more photo's from the Secrets of the Silk Road Exhibition, click HERE
Wood Coffin
c. 1800-1500BC
Excavated from Xiaohe (Little River)

In the summer of 1934, the Swedish archeologist, Folke Bergman, discovered an important Bronze Age burial ground in the desert about a hundred miles to the west of the fabled ruins of Kroraina (Uyghur: Krorän; Modern Standard Mandarin [MSM]: Loulan). This hillock-shaped cemetery came to be known as Ördek’s Necropolis, but is more precisely referred to as Small River Cemetery Number 5 (in MSM it is called “Xiaohe Mudi”). After Bergman in 1939 published a detailed report on his investigations at the cemetery, the site went unvisited for more than half a century until the year 2000, when it was rediscovered by a Chinese documentary crew using Global Positioning System instrumentation.
In the three seasons between 2002 and 2005, the Small River Cemetery has been extensively excavated, and an abundant amount of textiles, ornaments, implements, and other artifacts have been recovered. In addition, more than thirty well- preserved mummies, together with the coffins in which they were buried, were exhumed from the sandy necropolis. These latest findings match those of Bergman very closely, but multiply them greatly. Although it will take years to analyze all of the new materials, already we can draw some important inferences from them about the religious beliefs and practices of the community who buried their dead here. The recent excavations have also yielded rich resources for the study of the ethnic identity and cultural affiliations of the deceased. The present paper is the first technically oriented introduction in English to the surveys and excavations carried out by Uyghur and Chinese archeologists during the past five years.

Victor H. Mair
University of Pennsylvania

From: The Rediscovery and Complete Excavation of Ördek’s Necropolis

Chinese Archaeological Experts due in Kenya for Excavation

The Lamu Archipelago, in the upper right quadrant, is located in the Indian Ocean close to the northern coast of Kenya, to which it belongs. The islands lie between the towns of Lame and Kiunga, close to the border with Somalia.
The largest of the islands are Pate Island, Manda Island and Lamu Island. Smaller islands include Kiwayu, which lies in the Kiunga Marine National Reserve, and Manda Toto.

Chinese archaeological experts will arrive Kenya on Saturday to commence the 2.5 million U.S. dollars terrestrial excavation aimed at retrieving treasures on board a ship which sank off Pate Island some 600 years ago.

The move is a solid gesture of the partnership that has existed between Kenya and China over the years and seeks to ravel the deep standing relationship between the two states, with the team expected to complete its work within six to eight weeks after the process commences.

The National Museums of Kenya (NMK) Director General, Farah Idle said the equipment to be used in the excavation exercise, are expected to be cleared at the port of Mombasa, before they are ferried to Lamu ahead of the exercise.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Lamu Cultural Festivals on Friday, Farah said the diving equipment including oxygen tanks, masks, suits among others, will arrive by Dec. 10-12 and the procedure commences. "The team has already done initial pilot diving, and has established how deep the waters are, general locality of the wreckage near Shanga village and other few logistical issues," Farah said.

He told Xinhua that the findings and any treasure found within the wreckage will be used for analysis while others may have to be taken back to China for further tests.

The official also revealed that the exercise, which is a Sino- Kenya joint archaeological project in Lamu Archipelago, signed between Chinese and Kenyan governments on April 24, 2007, will involve three experts from China, and two sea experts from Kenya, including one analyst. "The issue now at hand is if we shall be able to recover anything from the wreckage, but what remains a fact is that the Kenyan government will, at the end of it, have developed its capacity for Kenyans to carry out under water archaeology, which is the first ever," Farah said.

He added that Kenyans, will be able to be undertaking their own under water archaeology even when ships sink or when there is a maritime issue to be dealt with.

He however said the whole idea was to check the inside of the wreckage, float it if possible and conduct the research.

Already, the terrestrial excavation that was being undertaken at Mambrui in Malindi was complete, with the findings over the early settlers and some of the treasures expected to be handed over soon.

Sorce: Xinhua, November 27, 2010

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Han Great Wall discovered in Gansu

Archaeologists have discovered a new historic site of the Great Wall from the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD)'s section with a length of 24 kilometers in the desert areas in Jinta county, west of Gansu Province.
Deputy curator of the Jinta County Museum, Tao Yule, said the section was built with gravel and red willow wood and still takes on a clear appearance though being at age 2,000. Half of the wall remains intact; its highest part is two meters high and one meter wide.
With the new discovery, the total length of the Jinta county's section of the Great Wall now stretches 320 kilometers. A survey confirms the new section pertains to the Han Dynasty.
Jinta county is located in the middle of the Hexi Corridor, a historical route in Gansu Province. Besides the Han Great Wall section, there are also other discoveries, including 18 beacon towers and four defense platforms which make up the defense system of the wall.

Source: Global Times

For general photos of Great Wall in Gansu, click HERE

The Silk Road and Northeast China: Search for Buddhist Traces in Archaeology, Art, Manuscripts, and Stone Inscriptions

At the University of Hamburg is this Winter term a public lecture series about Buddism.
The lecture of November 16, 2010 was called: The Silk Road and Northeast China: Search for Buddhist Traces in Archaeology, Art, Manuscripts, and Stone Inscriptions.
Concept and Organisation of the series is by Dr. Barbara Schuler

Ein Forschungsprojekt in den Bergen Nord- Chinas

In der zweiten Hälfte des 6. Jh. begannen buddhistische Mönche in Nord-China, Passagen aus ihren heiligen Schriften, den Sutren, auf Berghängen in den gewachsenen Fels zu meißeln. Mit den monumentalen, vielfach schon von weitem sichtbaren Inschriften unter freiem Himmel verwandelten die Gläubigen ihre Heimat in ein Reich des Buddha.
Diese “land art” ist Gegenstand eines Forschungsprojektes der Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften. Der Vortrag wird die wichtigsten Berge vorstellen, den Berg Gangshan, wo in einer translatio loci der Ort vergegenwärtigt wird, an dem der Buddha gepredigt hat, den Berg Tieshan mit seiner Inschrift in Gestalt einer kolossalen, fünfzig Meter hohen Stele, und schließlich den heiligen Berg Taishan, wo in Nachbarschaft zu dem zweitausend Quadratmeter großen Diamantsutra in einer Art Dialog immer wieder neue Kommentare eingemeißelt wurden, durch die Jahrhunderte bis in unsere Tage.


GOLDEN KHAN by N.F. Karlins

From Artnet Magazine

"The World of Khubilai Khan: Chinese Art in the Yuan Dynasty" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is filled with treasures from museums around the world. Besides their beauty and rarity, they pose a question -- how monolithic is Chinese art?
At a time when China is espousing ethnic purity, this question has ramifications in the present day.
The exhibition begins with two stunning carved marble figures, each over ten feet tall, which were found in 1997. Both figures were probably part of an identical pair, placed leading the way to a tomb. One is Chinese in appearance, a "Civil Official," self-contained, with his robe falling into elegant pleats. The other, with bulbous features and gnarly-detailed battle dress with sword, a "Military Official," looks -- well, very different, yet they come from the same site dating to the Yuan (1271-1368).
The Mongol Genghis Khan’s grandson, Khubilai Khan, declared himself the head of the Yuan Dynasty in 1271. Under this scion of Mongol invaders, China was unified into a far-reaching empire for the first time since 907 CE. For more than 300 years, a series of nomadic invaders had swooped down from the northwest and captured and lived in what we now know as China.
China had become a smaller and smaller empire, plagued with internal problems while continuing to produce remarkable art. Militarily, it grew weaker as first the Khitan, who ruled as the Liao, and then the Jurchen, who ruled as the Jin, held sway over northern China. Other groups had carved out smaller areas. Finally, the Mongols arrived, spreading their hold over more and more territory.
Genghis Khan first incorporated every tribe on the Mongolian steppe under his control, learning and using their military expertise along with his own. Under his offspring, China’s shrunken Southern Song Dynasty finally succumbed to the Mongols.
Until recently, it was thought that Khubilai Khan, in settling down to rule his vast empire, had simply "gone Chinese," mirroring the Southern Song court to administer his holdings. But research and recent archeological finds, such as these marble statues, present an altered picture.
As much as the Mongols became Chinese, the Chinese became Mongols, and maybe that was not such a bad idea. The adaptations that occurred in the resulting blended culture are diligently traced in the more than 200 textiles, metalwork, ceramics, lacquer, scrolls, calligraphy, sculpture, architectural ornaments and other decorative works in "The World of Khubilai Khan."

So what was new? For one thing, an emphasis on gold objects and gold textiles. Nomads had always loved gold. They prized small gold objects and clothing over less portable painting and sculpture. In Khubilai Khan’s new capital of Dadu, now Beijing, only the Khan and members of the elite wore cloth of gold, a special weave of silk with gold thread, with the gold showing on the front of the fabric. A swatch is visible near the entrance of the show and a larger one in the final small gallery, a mini-survey of gold textiles that’s a marvelous show all by itself.
At first only collars and cuffs of cloth of gold were worn, but eventually whole garments were fashioned from it. A robe with some of the intricate patterns still visible, even if the gold has disappeared, hints at how dramatic such a garment would have been when worn at court. More than half the court workshops were devoted to textiles, especially cloth of gold, and included skilled weavers, which Khubilai Khan had transported from other parts of his domain.
Gold belt plaques, jewelry, and serving vessels, including a spectacular dish in the form of four "ruyi," or ritual scepters, are among other lavish items on display that the Mongols used.
The Mongols took over most of the ways of the Song court, yet being pantheists, they needed a state religion with rituals and clergy to enhance the legitimacy of their reign. One of Khubilai Khan’s wives was a Tibetan Buddhist, so Tantric Buddhism was favored at court, but in accord with the Mongol tradition of allowing conquered peoples to worship as they desired, all religions were allowed. China would never again be as tolerant about religion.
Under the Mongols, the arts reflected this relaxed atmosphere. A seated Buddha in gilt bronze looks Indo-Himalayan, but has very large feet that probably mean the artist was Chinese. A large pile carpet with a prunus, or plum branch, an old Chinese motif, has pseudo-Kufic script around the edges, suggesting an Islamic connection. Other works are influenced by several branches of Buddhism, even Nestorian and Manichaean Christian pieces.
Painters made scrolls for both Daoists and Buddhists, often using the same imagery for both sets of clients. An especially lovely scroll in ink, color, and gold represents Beidou or the "Nine Stars of the Northern Dipper," which we would call the Big Dipper. Followers of either religion could have used it, as both venerated this constellation. Each of the nine stars is personified by a figure and holds a name plaque as they sashay through space.
The theater was the most popular of the arts during the Yuan. For the first time, all sorts of plays and skits were performed, with and without music. This would eventually result in the Beijing opera. A replica of a modal of a stage with five actors from the earlier Jin gives a good idea of what a Yuan theater would have looked like.
Another bit of stylish architecture is a "dragon’s snout" roof-ridge ornament. In glazed pottery that has retained its color, this more than six-feet-tall snarling beast illustrates the Yuan Dynasty development of these decorative creatures into dynamic, open-mouthed wonders. In general, a more realistic, three-dimensionality can be found during the Yuan.
Pottery figures of actors were popular, another manifestation of the increasing interest in three-dimensionality. And lacquer, with its deep carving, reached its zenith in this period.
Surface decoration also received fresh attention. Blue-and-white porcelain started during the Yuan with the arrival of cobalt blue from Iran as a result of increased trade. In turn, blue-and-white wares joined other ceramics as an export staple during the Yuan. Its popularity throughout the world led to increased exports, which the Mongols encouraged, although they don’t seem to have valued blue-and-white porcelain as much as foreigners. Excellent examples of blue-and-white ware include a jar showing a scene from a play in which a character drives a cart pulled by two frisky felines.
Porcelain with underglaze red also made its debut during the Yuan. Appearing first as a splash across the surface of a vessel, this copper-based red was soon tamed as another color to brush onto small, defined surface areas.
But the most important artistic development to begin during the Yuan resulted from the Mongols elimination of the state examination system as a way to achieve high office. Many of the intelligentsia could no longer earn civil or court offices. Some found other ways to get positions; others retreated into the countryside as Buddhist monks often did. Many turned to painting, setting the stage for the literati painters, the non-professional gentleman-scholars of the Ming, the next dynasty.
A key work in the development of the literati painters -- and a very beautiful one -- from the Yuan is Gong Kai’s poignant "Noble Horse," an ink painting with equally beautiful calligraphy by the artist. In his calligraphy the artist muses about his thin-ribbed creature, "who today laments over the bones of this noble steed," thereby referring to his own position as a left-over remnant of the Song.

There are many pictures of horses from the Yuan. The Mongols loved horses and so did the Chinese. But only the Chinese also saw them as symbols of intellectuals of all sorts, who would soon find other ways of celebrating their withdrawals, forced or elective, from public life.
The Metropolitan has rounded up a number of other important scrolls by Yuan painters and calligraphers. Don’t miss Zhao Mengfu’s paintings or his vigorous "fist-sized" calligraphy. Not being content with this accomplishment, the evolution of literati painting is treated in even more depth in a related exhibition pulled from the museum’s own collection in the China galleries. It’s called "The Yuan Revolution: Art and Dynastic Change." But save that show for another day.

There’s plenty to see in "The World of Khubilai Khan" first.

"The World of Khubilai Khan: Chinese Art in the Yuan Dynasty," Sept. 28, 2010-Jan. 2, 2011, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10028.

N.F. Karlins is a New York art historian and critic.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Ancient Glass Research along the Silk Road

edited by Gan Fuxi (Chinese Academy of Sciences & Fudan University, China), Robert Brill (The Corning Museum of Glass, USA), & Tian Shouyun (Chinese Academy of Sciences, China)

Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Origin and Evolution of Ancient Chinese Glass

The Silk Road is a main artery connecting Europe and Asia for political, economical, cultural and technical exchange in antiquity, and glass is one of the earliest artificial materials to be invented. Studying the origin and evolution of ancient glass along the Silk Road is thus significant for understanding the development and exchange of culture and technology between China and abroad.

This book, for the first time, traces the origin, evolution and spreading of ancient Chinese glass technology. It collects a wealth of data contributed by Chinese and foreign experts regarding the history and background, visual characteristics and chemical compositions of the unearthed ancient glasses from along the Northern (Oasis) Silk Road, especially from the Xinjiang Province (known as the “Western Region” in ancient times). The book presents new results of the studies on ancient glasses along the Southern and Sea Silk Roads, and discusses the influence of the Silk Road on ancient Chinese glass technology and art.

Origin and Evolution of Ancient Chinese Glass (F-X Gan)
The Silk Road and Ancient Chinese Glass (F-X Gan)
Glass and Bead Trade on the Asian Sea (I Lee)
Ancient Lead-Silicate Glasses and Glazes of Central Asia (A A Abdurazakov)
On the Glass Origins in Ancient China from the Relationship Between Glassmaking and Metallurgy (W Qian)
The Inspiration of the Silk Road for Chinese Glass Art (C Lu)
Chemical Composition Analyses of Early Glasses of Different Historical Periods Found in Xinjiang, China (Q-H Li et al.)
Ancient Glass in the Grassland of Inner Mongolia (X-Y Huang)
Study of the Ancient Glasses Found in Chongqing (B Ma et al.)
and other papers

Dynastic Renaissance Art and Culture of the Southern Song

New exhibition!
Dynastic Renaissance
Art and Culture of the Southern Song
at the NPM (National Palace Museum in Taipei
from October 8 till December 26, 2010

The Southern Song portion of the Song dynasty, lasting for 153 years (from 1127 to 1279), was a crucial period in the history of China’s cultural development. The Southern Song court not only promoted itself as inheriting the line of orthodox rule by reinvigorating traditional rules of rites and music, it also helped breathe life into literary trends of the Jiangnan area in the south, attaching great importance to education in Confucian studies, converging Buddhist and Daoist thought, and firmly establishing Zhu Xi as representing the Confucian orthodoxy in the study of the Classics. Furthermore, the court successfully encouraged various forms of economic development, to such an extent that agriculture expanded, commerce thrived, handicrafts blossomed, and foreign trade flourished at this time. Economic prosperity helped drive the winds of change in art and culture as well. All forms of literary expression reveal in one way or another fulfillment of the Way as well as the scholarly pursuit of ease and naturalness. Cultivated scholars were fond of connoisseurship and collecting objects of culture and refinement, paying particular attention to expressions of taste in life. In terms of painting and calligraphy as well as arts and crafts, guidance from the imperial family, new geographic and climatic conditions of the area, and changes in humanistic trends all helped to yield unique and highly artistic qualities in both content and form that had a profound influence on developments in later art.

Today, objects surviving from the Southern Song are not only artworks of immense aesthetic value, they also serve as ideal evidence to explain cultural modes of the period. To present a complete overview of Southern Song art and culture, the displays in this exhibition feature a large number of precious artifacts of the period from the National Palace Museum collection. Painting and calligraphy, for example, include examples of imperial calligraphy, the works of court artists, scholar-official painting and calligraphy, and calligraphy by famous sages, important officials, and Buddhist and Daoist figures. The antiquities feature Guan (Official) porcelains, Duan inkstones, jade carvings, and bronze mirrors. And along with numerous Song editions of rare books, this exhibit consists of more than 300 works in all. In addition, the National Palace Museum has arranged for loans of Southern Song artifacts from more than ten other institutions and individuals, including the Tokyo National Museum and Kyoto National Museum in Japan as well as the Shanghai Museum, Liaoning Provincial Museum, Zhejiang Provincial Museum, and Fujian Museum in China, providing a full presentation of the innovations and achievements in Southern Song art and culture

The exhibit is scheduled to run from October 8 to December 26, 2010. The numerous works of painting and calligraphy, antiquities, and rare books are being displayed in ten galleries on the first and second floors of the Museum’s main exhibit building. The four sections of the exhibit (“Cultural Invigoration,” “Artistic Innovation,” “Life Aesthetics,” and “Transmission and Fusion”) help explain how the Southern Song promoted, respectively, the notion of continuing the orthodox line of rule, innovative artistic tastes, aesthetic ideas in the Jiangnan area, and various directions in regional exchange and transmission in cultural circles through painting and calligraphy, arts and crafts, and books and publishing. In doing so, the rich and unique forms and content of Southern Song art and culture are revealed for all to study and appreciate.

For the website of the exhibition, click HERE

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Explore sacred sites, ancient wonders and religious places of the world at www.sacred-destinations.com

Nearly every culture in human history has sought to honor the divine, the mysterious, the supernatural, or the extraordinary in some way. Most often this happens at sacred sites - special places where the physical world seems to meet the spiritual world. These might be awe-inspiring natural places, sites connected to a god, a saint or a hero, places where miracles occurred, or special buildings consecrated for worship or ritual.

Sacred sites remain spiritually meaningful to millions today and the ancient practice of pilgrimage is as popular as ever. But you don't have to be a believer to recognize that holy places, religious architecture, and sacred art are some of the most beautiful and interesting sights you'll encounter in your travels.

Sacred Destinations is an ecumenical guide to more than 1,250 sacred sites, holy places, pilgrimage destinations, religious architecture and sacred art in over 60 countries around the world. In addition to richly illustrated articles, there are photo galleries containing over 24,000 high-quality images plus detailed maps and lots of practical travel information.

Click HERE to see an example (from the Mogao Caves)


From the International Dunhuang Project Video Channel: Mazar Tagh

IDP UK's Video Channel released in August 2010 an issue about Mazar Tagh.

Over a century ago the Hungarian scholar Marc Aurel Stein set out on what was to be his first of four expeditions to Chinese Central Asia. He was in search of ancient civilisations, almost forgotten to history yet with ruins which could potentially provide archaeological evidence of the rich cultural mix engendered by the opening of the international trade routes across Eurasia the Silk Road. Steins expeditions and finds exceeded his expectations: he uncovered hundreds of archaeological sites, discovering over 50,000 artefacts. He also mapped his journey and the sites and took over 5,000 photographs, recording the sites, people he encountered, everyday life, officials and the changing landscape. In November 2008 members of a joint project between IDP and the Xinjiang Institute of Archaeology in China (XJIA), retraced Stein's footsteps to retake his site photographs a hundred years on.

Read more about the IDP Field Trip? Click HERE

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

From the International Dunhuang Project Video Channel: : Kharakhoto

IDP UK's Video Channel released in August 2010 an issue about Kharakhoto

Kharakhoto meaning 'Black City' was a Tangut city in Etsin-gol delta, Gansu Province. Aurel Stein visited Kharakhoto in May 1914. In September 2008 and using Stein's maps and original photos IDP staff re-photographed the ancient fortress city.

For more information on Kharakhoto, click HERE

Dunhuang: Mogao Cave 249 (敦煌: 莫高窟 249)

The ancient man-made Mogao Caves along China's silk road contain over 1,000 years' worth of invaluable buddhist painting and sculpture. Not only does this cave (#249) stand out because the murals contain some of the earliest depictions of Ashura, Fujin and Raijin, but in #249 they are all depicted together for perhaps the first time in history (for example, there are two very similar Raijin depictions in Cave #285, but no images of Ashura or Fujin are found in those murals). Doubtless, the sculptural inspiration for the physiology and attributes of some of Japan's most well known Buddhist dieties (found at the Kofukuji and the Sanjusangendo) can be traced back to these very caves, thousands of miles and centuries away from Kyoto and Nara.

Archeologists unearth ancient sunken ship from Yuan Dynasty

Archeologists inspect a newly excavated sunken ship of ancient China's Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368) in Heze of east China's Shandong Province, Nov. 23, 2010. Archeologists in Shandong on Tuesday announced that they have discovered an ancient sunken ship of the Yuan Dynasty at a building site in Heze. The wooden ship, with 21 meters in length, 5 meters in width and 1.8 meters in height, contains 10 cabins. Some 110 precious antiques and porcelains have also been discovered in and around the ship.

A porcelain of ancient China's Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368) is displayed after it was excavated

Source : People's Daily Online

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Discover Islamic Art at the Virtual Museum

At the invitation of the Museum With No Frontiers, 14 countries from around the Mediterranean and the European Union have agreed to collaborate on producing a virtual museum on the Internet that explores Islamic art and material culture in the Mediterranean region.
This collaboration brings together a representative selection of Islamic objects, monuments and historical sites from Portugal, Spain and Italy on the northern shores of the Mediterranean; Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt on the southern shores; and Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Syria and Turkey on the eastern coast.

Curious? Go straight to the Virtual Museum, you won't be disappointed!

Like the other great traditions of world art, Islamic art is both instantly recognisable and extremely diverse in its forms. Broadly defined, Islamic art is art produced under the aegis of Islamic culture. Some of its manifestations, such as mosques and illuminated Qur’ans, are specifically religious, but many other examples of ‘Islamic’ art, from 8th-century Syrian wall paintings to 18th-century Moroccan pottery, are secular and reflect the taste and lives of the people for whom they were made.

Following the 7th-century Muslim conquest of the lands of the southern and eastern Mediterranean rim, barriers to trade and to the exchange of ideas crumbled, and the ground was prepared for the development of new artistic styles. The building blocks and unifying elements of Islamic art – Arabic script, geometric designs and the type of decorative scroll called the arabesque – were incorporated in the ornament of architecture, the book arts and metalwork, ceramics and textiles. Throughout the history of Islamic art the central importance of the word, geometry and the natural world has not diminished.

Because of the vast landscape of the Islamic world, very few people can hope to experience all of the magnificent buildings and museums that exemplify or contain Islamic art. For this reason modern electronic media offer an exciting new opportunity for the inquisitive to explore Islamic art. Beyond simply presenting monuments and exemplary works of art, the Internet can make connections across continents and seas between the arts of different regions and periods of Islamic history.

At the invitation of the Museum With No Frontiers, 14 countries from around the Mediterranean and the European Union have agreed to collaborate on producing a virtual museum on the Internet that explores Islamic art and material culture in the Mediterranean region. This collaboration brings together a representative selection of Islamic objects, monuments and historical sites from Portugal, Spain and Italy on the northern shores of the Mediterranean; Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt on the southern shores; and Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Syria and Turkey on the eastern coast. Relevant Islamic collections from museums in Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom complete the virtual museum’s collections. All these artefacts, monuments and sites cover the various Islamic dynasties and cultures of the Mediterranean region spanning some 1,280 years from 634 when the Muslim Arab armies first entered the Levant, to the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the 20th century. Although the Islamic world and its artistic traditions stretch from Kashghar in China to Dakar in Senegal, this project is focusing on the countries surrounding the Mediterranean basin to tell the story of Islamic art. Two practical factors determine this choice. The first is a financial one: that being the generosity of the European Union, which is funding this project through its Euromed Heritage programme. The second factor is historical: that being the position of the Mediterranean at the centre stage of Islamic history, and the interdependence of its shores economically and culturally throughout this history. The consortium’s objectives are to bring together these inter-related collections, monuments and sites, exploiting the wealth of scholarship within the participating institutions. The exploration of the history and art of Islam in the Mediterranean aims to create a more complete knowledge of the historical relationship between Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, and to make this information accessible to the general public in the countries represented in the consortium and beyond. The consortium’s aim is to promote deeper understanding between the peoples of Europe and their Muslim communities and the Islamic world on their doorsteps, and ultimately to celebrate the contribution of Islamic civilisation to world culture and art.

Kucha and the Silk Road

Organizer Sonya Lee of art history and East Asian languages and cultures in USC College gives opening remarks at the Kucha symposium. Photo credit Kristine Tanton.

USC College hosts inaugural event for an international consortium advancing the study of the ancient Kucha Kingdom and the Silk Road.

Scholars from the United States and Europe met at USC recently to discuss topics related to Kucha, an ancient Buddhist kingdom along the Silk Road.
Located in what is now the westernmost part of China, Kucha was once a major center of Buddhism and a trading hub in Central Asia. Kucha’s later history was intertwined with the dissemination of Islam and the great game of empire building across the region.
The Nov. 13 symposium was organized by Sonya Lee, assistant professor of art history and East Asian languages and cultures in USC College, with support from the Fisher Museum of Art International Museum Institute at USC; the Visual Culture in the Ancient World Initiative; East Asian Studies Center; and the Center for Religion and Civic Culture.
Panelists discussed the visual culture of Buddhist cave temples in Kucha, and addressed the place of Kucha in world history in premodern and modern times. The audience included students and faculty from USC and other institutions in the greater Los Angeles area. Moderators were Lee and UCLA’s Lothar von Falkenhausen.
Participants included Angela Howard of Rutgers University who spoke about the visual language of meditation in the pictorial decoration of Kucha caves. Neil Schmid of University of North Carolina at Greensboro offered a case study of the Ksitigarbha and paths of the rebirth motif in Kumtura Cave 75. Lilla Russell-Smith of Asian Art Museum of Berlin, Germany, introduced the audience to her research on her museum’s Kucha artifacts.
Other participants were Valerie Hansen of Yale University who analyzed the history of Kucha Kingdom in terms of religious, linguistic, political and economic developments. Adele di Ruocco, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures in the College, discussed the historical significance of Russian imperial expeditions along the Silk Road.
Bruce Zuckerman, professor of religion and linguistics in the College, gave a presentation on the use of the latest computer imagining technologies for the study of wall paintings from Kucha.
The symposium was the inaugural event for the Kucha Research and Database Project, an international consortium based at Yale University and supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The goal of the collaboration is to advance the study of Kucha through a series of conferences and scholarly publications, as well as the development of a digital database to document pertinent cave-temples sites in China, and artifacts now in overseas collections.
Among the participating institutions in the consortium are USC, UCLA, Yale, Asian Art Museum of Berlin, Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and Kucha Academy of Xinjiang, China. The next event related to the Kucha project is the visit of two scholars from Kucha Academy of Xinjiang to USC in January.

For more information, click HERE

Monday, 22 November 2010

Photo's from the HMNS Exhibition

From the HMNS Website:
"Strikingly well-preserved mummies, tall in stature and fair in complexion, have lain in the parched Tarim Basin of western China for 3,800 years. Wearing Western-influenced textiles and possessing surprising technologies and customs, the identity of these extraordinary people is a mystery!

This historic exhibition of 150 objects drawn from the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region Museum and the Xinjiang Institute of Archaeology in Urumqi, China reveals surprising details about the people who lived along the ancient Silk Road. For the first time ever, three of the more than 100 Caucasian mummies found and preserved in the western China’s inhospitable desert sands are being presented in the United States. An impressive array of objects are included in the exhibition to represent the full extent of the Silk Road, where lavish goods, technologies and ideas between East and West were adopted and exchanged."

** These photo's were made by Cyberload.This was a special opportunity for Flickr photographers. Photography is NOT allowed during this exhibit. **

The Beauty of Xioahe, 1800 - 1500 BC


Curly Hatted Kneeling Warrior

Stone Mask


Working Hard

I'm putting my foot down!

Oxhead, 1800 - 1500 BC

The Beauty of Xioahe, 1800 - 1500 BC

Infant mummy, 8th century BC

Wooden Boat

Metal Bowl with Face

Wooden Boxes

Pretty Dancer with Bird

Bearded Man

Textile Shoes

Walk like a... Chinese man?

Trappings of Yingpan Man. 3rd - 4th century

Textile Printing Detail

Red & Blue Garment

Stone Hammer

Feathered Arrows

Wooden Oar Detail

Shoes with Embroidered Characters, 4th century

Gold Mask, 5th - 6th century. The mask is made from two pieces of gold foil soldered together and joined with rivets. The eyebrows, eyes and beard are made with inlaid rubies.

The Journey of Maps and Images on the Silk Road

The Journey of Maps and Images on the Silk Road
by Philippe Foret and Andreas Kaplony

This book covers new ground on the diffusion and transmission of geographical knowledge that occurred at critical junctures in the long history of the Silk Road. Much of twentieth-century scholarship on the Silk Road examined the ancient archaeological objects and medieval historical records found within each cultural area, while the consequences of long-distance interaction across Eurasia remained poorly studied. Here ample attention is given to the journeys that notions and objects undertook to transmit spatial values to other civilizations. In retracing the steps of four major circuits right across the many civilizations that shared the Silk Road, "The Journey of Maps and Images on the Silk Road" traces the ways in which maps and images surmounted spatial, historical and cultural divisions.

The book is from 2008 ( I seem to have missed it) and following is a good comment on the book by Hervé Regnauld.

La Route de la soie est un faisceau d’itinéraires qui reliaient la Chine et la Mongolie à la Méditerranée en passant soit par l’Inde et le Golfe Persique, soit par l’Iran, soit par le Nord de la mer Caspienne et la mer Noire. Cet ensemble de routes, mis en place dès le 2e siècle avant Jc, a fonctionné au moins jusqu’au 18e siècle. Au cours de ces deux millénaires une période se détache en tant qu’âge d’or, la fin du Moyen Âge occidental et le début de la Renaissance.

Toutes sortes de marchandises étaient transportées : nourriture, tissus, métaux, objets finis et utilitaires, objets précieux et, en particulier, des livres, des images et des cartes. L’ouvrage The Journey of Maps and Images on the Silk Road traite de cet aspect original et méconnu de l’activité sur la Route de la soie : les cartes, les images en tant que marchandises échangées, et non pas, comme on pourrait s’y attendre de manière classique, en tant que guides pour se retrouver le long d’un cheminement compliqué.

Philippe Forêt et Andréas Kaplony, qui ont rassemblé les communications présentées lors d’un symposium tenu à Zurich, abordent donc une problématique nouvelle, celle de la possibilité de diffusion d’une culture par le biais des cartes qu’elle produit. Les auteurs montrent par exemple que les cartes chinoises sont, avec leurs idéogrammes et leurs codes graphiques, totalement incompréhensibles pour un Turc, dont les cartes, calligraphiées en alphabet arabe, sont également incompréhensibles pour un Grec. Cependant ces cartes véhiculent un savoir qui peut être mobilisé, approprié et réutilisé sans que l’on ait besoin de déchiffrer chaque inscription, chaque mot (le plus souvent un toponyme). Il existe donc une connaissance qui ne passe pas par la maîtrise d’un alphabet et qui peut se diffuser d’une culture à l’autre au cours d’échanges commerciaux et de trajets transcontinentaux. Plus fondamentalement, ce qui est interrogé dans cet ouvrage est donc le « statut de l’image scientifique » et ses relations avec la « transmission d’un savoir géographique » dans des aires culturelles distinctes. La particularité de ces cartes dont on ne sait pas toujours lire les légendes est qu’elles transmettent un savoir qui n’est pas de l’ordre de l’écrit.

L’ouvrage est construit selon un plan historique et géographique à la fois, c’est-à-dire par « régions », en commençant par la plus ancienne. La première partie de l’ouvrage est consacrée à « The Buddhist Road » : trois communications exposent, illustrations en couleurs à l’appui, les données iconographiques datant de la dynastie Han et de l’Empire bouddhiste du Kuchan (entre les actuels Singkiang et Afghanistan). Les cartes, qui sont parfois des fresques dans des grottes, représentent des itinéraires de pèlerinage et ne sont pas toujours transportables. Cependant elles sont copiées ; elles circulent sous cette forme et diffusent une certaine idéologie de l’espace, qui intègre des schèmes taoïstes (quatre points cardinaux et un centre) et des influences bouddhiques (une stratification de mondes successifs suivant les réincarnations possibles). L’espace est donc contrôlé depuis un centre et hiérarchisé selon une direction verticale. Le type de perspective utilisé par les cartographes chinois (dit « parallèle orthogonale ») permet de représenter côte à côte des lieux (des bâtiments) disjoints et de placer au-dessus, ou au-dessous, des mondes différents. Lorsque de telles cartes sont connues dans l’Empire romain (vers 130 après Jc, semble-t-il) elles sont immédiatement comprises en tant que description d’une structure spatiale bien que leur contenu informatif (écrit avec des idéogrammes) reste indéchiffré.

La seconde partie traite de « The Mongol Road », avec trois communications. Les cartes de cette époque (5-13e siècles) sont sur papier et commencent à avoir des coordonnées orthogonales (proches de ce que sont aujourd’hui latitude et longitude). Elles décrivent moins des lieux que les distances entre eux et servent à l’établissement de taxes, non seulement sur les parcelles agricoles mais aussi sur les espaces construits. Lorsque de telles cartes arrivent en Iran, elles sont totalement incomprises : « There is no indication that Chinese and Iranian cartographers and builders shared any vocabulary or spatial representation » (p. 93). Assez curieusement, ce qui se transmet le plus facilement par le truchement de ces cartes sont les horoscopes, dessinés sous la forme de diagrammes carrés à l’emplacement des lieux les plus importants. Une communication explique comment les horoscopes occidentaux sont profondément influencés par ceux que les Mongols inscrivent sur leurs cartes.

La partie suivante de l’ouvrage présente les cartes islamiques du domaine de la Route de la soie. Les communications à ce sujet sont surprenantes : elles indiquent qu’il n’existe aucune carte « islamique » qui ait une échelle ni des coordonnées angulaires pour les régions que la Route de la soie traverse. Il semble que la précision géométrique des cartographes arabes, turcs, iraniens ait ignoré certains espaces. En revanche, il existe de nombreuses cartes qui inventorient avec minutie les aires occupées par les locuteurs de tel ou tel langage. La Route de la soie a probablement été un enjeu en termes de diffusion de la langue du Coran et de l’autorité de l’Empire turc. Cartographier les langues locales, c’est rendre compte d’une diversité, mais c’est aussi informer les fonctionnaires turcs du langage dans lequel ils devront faire traduire les décisions politiques qu’ils sont chargés d’appliquer. Ces cartes auraient donc eu une fonction administrative et n’auraient pas été destinées à indiquer des itinéraires. Ce sont des inventaires des populations que les Turcs sont amenés à contrôler ou à côtoyer.

La dernière partie de l’ouvrage concerne « The Mediterranean Road » et s’interroge en particulier sur l’importance de l’iconographie d’origine asiatique dans la conception des portulans catalans. Cette partie est très factuelle : elle constate l’existence de « décors » asiatiques sur ces cartes mais n’explique pas la raison de leur présence.

La conclusion du livre pose des enjeux épistémologiques très intéressants. Une culture peut se diffuser par des images. Un savoir scientifique peut aussi se répandre par le biais d’images. Une carte peut être prise pour une image plutôt que pour un recueil « scientifique » d’informations. L’Occident a parfois tendance (selon les auteurs) à voir dans les images venues d’autres aires culturelles une forme de science moins noble que ne le serait un texte académique. L’exemple des cartes qui circulent, en tant que marchandises, le long des itinéraires de la Route de la soie, incite à réfléchir davantage, et avec plus de nuances, sur ces points. Un problème est posé par le fait qu’il n’existe aucun autre exemple connu de telle circulation. Lorsque les occidentaux ont abordé par bateaux des rivages nouveaux (en Amérique, en Océanie) ils n’ont pas trouvé de cartes sur place. Lorsqu’ils sont arrivés par la mer au Japon, ils n’ont pas davantage trouvé de cartes « marines ». Les cartes « terrestres » qui circulent le long de la Route de la soie peuvent donc être considérées comme un fait singulier jamais reproduit par ailleurs : des cartes circulent et valent, en tant qu’images, à la fois comme source de décor et comme information scientifique. La réflexion scientifique qui les aborde doit donc s’attacher à comprendre comment un savoir géographique se transmet en dehors du texte et du récit. Comment un savoir géographique peut-il s’interpréter comme image ? De façon plus générale, le problème posé est celui du statut de l’image comme vecteur de connaissances dans la transmission scientifique entre cultures qui ne se lisent pas les unes les autres, faute d’un alphabet commun. L’ouvrage ne répond pas à toutes ces questions de façon également approfondie. À vrai dire, il laisse la plupart d’entre elles comme des ouvertures à exploiter dans de futures recherches.

L’ouvrage se termine donc sur un constat et un vœu : il se pose comme une introduction à des études plus précises, plus vastes dans leur aire géographique et leur étendue chronologique. De la part des auteurs cette modestie est lucide : ils savent que le corpus qu’ils étudient est incomplet et pas nécessairement représentatif de l’ensemble des cartes ayant été, à un moment ou à un autre, échangées sur la Route de la soie. Elle est aussi très humble parce que leur ouvrage est véritablement remarquable. Certaines communications sont, certes, moins denses que d’autres, certains développements moins argumentés, mais, dans l’ensemble, le champ exploré est totalement nouveau et les informations données sont utiles, claires, faciles à consulter. C’est presque une base de données iconographique. L’index des lieux mentionnés sur les cartes est très complet, les bibliographies sont riches, un appendice donne les équivalents des toponymes dans plusieurs langues… Le travail d’érudition est énorme.

Cet ouvrage est donc un moment fort dans la constitution d’un corpus de données qui permettront une réflexion sur les relations entre l’interculturalité et les objets graphiques qui la rendent visible.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Exhibition "The Eagle and the Dragon" in Rome

Qin-Han dynasties and the Roman Empire, between East and West

The two Empires: the Eagle and the Dragon

For the first time, this extraordinary exhibition will allow visitors to compare two of the most important empires in the history of the world: the Roman Empire and the Chinese Qin and Han dynasties from the second century B.C. to the second century A.D.
Four prestigious venues, Beijing, Luoyang, Milan and Rome, for a first-ever project, which is the result of a number of years of cooperation between the highest Italian and Chinese institutions, the Ministero per I Beni e le Attività Culturali of the Republic of Italy and the corresponding State Administration for Cultural Heritage of the People’s Republic of China. This initiative intends to confirm the shared objectives, strategies, and methods that characterize the missions of the government institutions of the two countries with regard to the conservation, promotion, and enhancement of their cultural heritages. The project provides for the first stage to take place in Beijing (30th of July- 7th of October), at the city’s World Art Museum, from the end of July to the middle of October 2009, as part of the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the foundation of the People’s Republic of China. After that, the exhibition will move to Luoyang, during the period from November 2009 to February 2010, and arrive at the end of March/April 2010 in Milan, where it will remain until the end of July/August 2010 and finally it will be hosted in Rome from September 2010 to January 2011.

The aim of the exhibition is to compare for the first time at such a high level – through the unique juxtaposition of extraordinary masterpieces from the two empires – their respective social and intellectual structures, as well as their political and economic environments, and in particular their contribution to humanity and the legacies of both of them to the civilizations of the East and the West.

Having had a role of absolute and undisputed importance in antiquity, both the Qin and Han dynasties and the Roman Empire laid the foundations of political and social structures that are still efficacious today, with rules capable of strongly influencing the history of the following centuries. The aim is thus to enable visitors to make a comparison which – even though it never took place concretely and directly in history – is extremely fascinating and interesting in its apparent impossibility, and to show, in fact, how, in completely distinct historical and geographical conditions, two great cultures created achievements that were sometimes totally different and sometimes similar, or different in their external forms, but similar in their functional structures. In spite of the geographical distance, in effect, the two civilizations developed in parallel, and their greatness influenced the course of world history as no other people have ever succeeded in doing.

The exhibition is at the Palazzo Venezia in Rome from the 19th November until 9th January, except for Mondays, Christmas Day and New Years Day.