Monday, 31 January 2011

Lost Treasures of Afghanistan

National Geographic's Lost Treasures of Afghanistan

This film brings together different stories of heroism and bravery in war-torn Afghanistan.
Explore the Bamiyan Valley with archaeologist Dr. Tarzi as he digs for a long-forgotten monastery that houses the 1,000 foot Buddha in his ultimate quest to honor the Bamiyan people and their history. Also join Russian archaeologist Victor Sarianidi as he unveils and confirms whether gold treasures found underneath the Presidential palace were indeed the Bactrian Hoard treasure he helped discover and catalog two decades ago. And finally, listen to the different stories of brave Afghani artists and archivists as they recount how they went about protecting and preserving works of art and film archives from certain destruction by the Taliban.

On The Silk Road/ Michael Yamashita's Blog

From Michael Yamashita's Blog, January 20, 2011

Trying to tell a story with pictures is basically a hunting expedition. Before I leave for an assignment, I do my homework, research what I want to shoot, make up my shoot list and then head out for the hunt.

Let’s say I’m on the Silk Road and I need a shot of silk-making. I know from my research that there are three basic procedures involved – first, the silk worms are soaked, then a little of the thread from the worm is wound onto a spindle, and once on spindles, it’s stored away. I also know that the magazine is probably only going to run one or two frames of this process.

So I have two chances to convey the information about silk-making in an eye-grabbing, artistic way. Once I find my situation, I follow each subject, in each of the three stages, until I think I have something. Good pictures come from working the situation – the light, the composition, but you’re also always hoping – and looking – for something unexpected to happen. The wonderful thing about photography is that serendipity will make the frame. But you have to be prepared to be lucky.

For the frame below, I had been shooting this woman as she wound silk onto the spindle. Then suddenly, her grandson wanders into the frame and starts to help her. Suddenly, bango – I have a picture of something more than just the act of putting silk threads on a spindle. I have this human element that’s added something to what would otherwise have been just a demonstration or a document, and as a result, an entirely different picture.

In that same village, I was also shooting a falconer. Falcons were a big deal for my Marco Polo story, since falconry was the sport of Kublai Khan, who was Marco’s boss. He mentions the sport often in his book, so I knew I had to have a picture of it.

On this day, I’m shooting everything to do with falconry – the guy throwing the bird in the air, admiring it, petting it – all kinds of portraits of him and his bird. Then, just as with the silk-maker, another lucky moment arrives in the form of a half-naked kid who walks into the frame. Click, I get the picture. In the process of my making the picture, something occurs that elevates it, and I was there to witness it and put it on film. No manipulation, no set-up – I couldn’t even have imagined it – but then it happens.

Korea and the Silk Road

Korea and the Silk Road
a talk by Sarah Milledge Nelson (University of Denver)

Friday, February 4, 12pm – 1pm
11 Divinity Ave, Cambridge MA 02138 Peabody Museum Room 14A

The Korean peninsula was almost the Asian end of the “Silk Road,” nevertheless exotic objects from the Mediterranean world are found in Korean burials beginning in the first century BC. In studying how these objects came to be deposited in Korean burials, it becomes clear that object arrive in Korea by at least three different routes. The Steppe Route north of the Altai Mountains, the Silk Road through Xinjinag, and a Sea Route are all discussed, along with the objects that arrived in Korea from as far away as the Mediterranean world.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

China Yuan Dynasty 2 Kuan Note Sold for Over $180,000

Yuan Dynasty, 2 kuan cash note, ND (1335-1340), black text on grey mulberry bark paper, red seal top center, two strings of 10 cash coins at center.

This note was sold for HK$1,200,000 (US$154,025) plus buyer's premium at Spink's January 22, 2011 Hong Kong auction. The price including buyer's premium is HK$1,405,050 (US$180,349).

This Yuan Dynasty 2 Kuan (1335-1340) note predates the more well known Ming Dynasty 1 Kuan note by several decades.

The earliest paper money in the world was produced by the Tang Dynasty and the Sung Dynasty (618-1279) for the sake of practical expediency. These "flying cash" notes (called because they blew away in the wind!) were for local use, mainly in Szechuan, and could be converted into cash. Unfortunately, none of these earlier notes has survived. The practice of using paper money was continued by the Chin Dynasty (1115-1234) who established a paper currency bureau in Kaifeng. Later after the Mongol invasion of China, the Yuan Dynasty (1280-1368) carried on the practice of issuing "paper currency". But due to excessive printing, the value of this currency was severely diminished. Examples of the Yuan Dynasty notes are extremely rare and the condition tends to be poor. This note is exceptional for the type and is an important discovery.
Source:Some Interesting Facts About Paper Money

Site of the Yuan Dynasty Upper Capital at the Unesco World Heritage List?

To play video, click HERE.
As the competition by various cultural and natural attractions heats up to be listed as a World Cultural Heritage, two cases stand out as strong contenders. Yuannan province's Chengjiang fossils site, and the site of Inner Mongolia's Yuan Dynasty Upper Capital have both made application to UNESCO to make the coveted list in 2012. Let's find out what makes these sites so special.
Chengjiang Fossil Site has been hailed as an aggregation of ancient biological species. In July 1984, animal species from the Cambrian period around 530 million years ago were found here, as a testimony of the breakout of life during this period. Experts have extolled the site as an outstanding example of reflecting the evolution of life in the world's bio-sphere.
Site of the Yuan Dynasty Upper Capital, located in the Xilingol League of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, is where Ghinggis Khan's grandson Kublai Khan established the summer capital of the Yuan dynasty during the 13th and 14th century. It's the earliest Yuan dynasty capital and also prominent for its intact status. The layout testifies to the merging of Mongolia and Han cultures as it features characteristics of both nationalities.

Source: CCTV

Empires of the Indus

Empires of the Indus by Alice Albinia
John Murray Publishers
ISBN : 9780719560057
One of the largest rivers in the world, the Indus rises in the Tibetan mountains, flows west across northern India and south through Pakistan. For millennia it has been worshipped as a god; for centuries used as a tool of imperial expansion; today it is the cement of Pakistans fractious union. Five thousand years ago, a string of sophisticated cities grew and traded on its banks.In the ruins of these elaborate metropolises, Sanskrit-speaking nomads explored the river, extolling its virtues in Indias most ancient text, the Rig-Veda. During the past two thousand years a series of invaders – Alexander the Great, Afghan Sultans, the British Raj – made conquering the Indus valley their quixotic mission. For the people of the river, meanwhile, the Indus valley became a nodal point on the Silk Road, a centre of Sufi pilgrimage and the birthplace of Sikhism.Empires of the Indus follows the river upstream and back in time, taking the reader on a voyage through two thousand miles of geography and more than five millennia of history redolent with contemporary importance.

Read the following review by Kevin Rushby in The Guardian of July 26, 2008

Standing on top of a gigantic pinnacle of desiccated mud in northern Pakistan, I once tried to catch my first glimpse of the river Indus. There were, however, simply too many other pinnacles of desiccated mud between, a huge desert of vicious rain-ripped gulches and sun-baked rills. "When I was a boy," said an old villager who had accompanied me, "we walked down to the river through forests and often saw deer, even tigers, by the water's edge." He added grimly: "The river is dead now." At that moment I realised I was looking at a disaster of deforestation and drought, one that had occurred within living memory.

The Indus, it seems, is not the serene and unchanging waterway we would like it to be, but a troubled reflection of human problems. It is this turbulent history, entwined with a superlative travel narrative, that Alice Albinia takes as her subject: from the 4,500-year-old marvels of Mohenjo-daro to the bitter divisions of today. And a masterful study it is, if often a melancholic one, given the calamitous irrigation projects, the religious and ethnic rivalries, the sheer stupidity and ignorance that mean the river no longer even reaches the sea, but dies an ignominious death in the plains of Sindh.

Albinia is a determined and observant traveller with a rare ability to find the right person and listen to their story. As her journey upriver winds through the geographic and cultural landmarks, she illuminates the history with her observations, linking past and present with delicious insights and ironies. At Jhok, for example, a dusty village in Sindh, she visits the shrine of the 18th-century mystic and proto-socialist Shah Inayat, a man whose message of simple love and equality so alarmed the Mughals that they had him bumped off. His descendants have become part of the system detested by their revered ancestor, raking in the money with the help of 300 landless peasants. Faced by the doughty Albinia with this rather uncomfortable truth, the Guardian of the Shrine tells her: "Shah Inayat is alive. Whatever Shah Inayat is saying, I am saying. I am Shah Inayat," inadvertently revealing, as she says, the continuity of ancient notions of reincarnation. "Seemingly irreconcilable ideas," she writes, "merge by the simple osmotic process of being in close contact with each other."

She starts her journey in Karachi among the untouchable Bhangi caste, who still clean the city's sewers, their pariah status and unsavoury job untouched by the trumpets of freedom and democracy blown at independence in 1947. Among them she learns the human cost of Partition, an arbitrary and foolish line of division that took no account of social divisions, themselves reflections of the topographic realities drawn by the river. With the Indus and its tributaries divided between belligerent nations, there was little chance of enlightened management of water resources, and the result is that Karachi, once a clean city washed daily, is now a festering sore barely kept alive by its lowliest residents, the sewage cleaners.

Travelling upstream by boat, she soon learns how bad that management has been - the water runs out and she has to abandon ship and take to buses. In a delta that has shrunk from 3,500 sq km to 250, she meets the Sheedis, descendants of the slaves taken from Africa to Asia by early Muslim traders. Regarded by other Pakistanis as jungli (wild) and jahil (ignorant), the Sheedis have learned to be ashamed of their remarkable heritage. Albinia's dedicated rooting out of their story is almost thwarted when she finally meets the man who knows most, the son of "Musaffir" Muhammad Siddiq, who wrote the only accounts of Sheedi history. The son's collection of Musaffir's books, she discovers, has been largely destroyed in a cyclone and the local library's copies eaten by mice. On top of that, the son, Bazmi, has suffered a stroke and can no longer speak, read or write. By candlelight Albinia sits down with his daughter and translates what little remains, piecing together an astonishing family story.

Musaffir was born in 1879, the son of an 86-year-old Zanzibari, Bilal, whose entire family was wiped out in a tribal war in the 1790s. Following that disaster he was sold into slavery and shipped to Muscat, and ended up in Sindh working for a stonemason. This man proved to be a kindly soul, educating Bilal and finding him an African wife. Years later, after 29 dead infants, a son was born, Musaffir. Helped by a Hindu nobleman and inspired by American abolitionists, he went on to write the history of the Sheedis. That should have assured him a place in the hearts of the million-strong Sheedis, but the modern-day community care little for such things, preferring to disguise their origins.

Further upriver, she finds the forgotten tombs of the Kalkhoras, rulers of Sindh in the 18th century who resisted the emerging power of the East India Company. Frescoes in the tombs record the colourful panoply of former lives: the river full of fish, the trees laden with birds and fruit, the people busy with hunting and domestic tasks. Neither the Kalkhoras nor their estates remain; the tombs lie unprotected and are slowly disintegrating. "In Europe," she observes, "such treasure would sustain an entire tourist industry. Here, they stand in a windswept desert, blown by the sand, visited only by the occasional porcupine."

Any traveller would be proud to have found such lost monuments, but for Albinia it is merely the start of something. Some of the frescoes show scenes based on the songs of the 18th-century poet Shah Abdul Latif, and soon she is at the man's shrine, experiencing the raw energy and exhilaration of a three-day festival. Here all of Pakistan's richly varied traditional culture is represented, with Hindus, Shias and Sunnis peacefully celebrating side by side. Even the Sheedis appear, jumping up and down to their mugarman drum. Like other passages in Empires of the Indus, this one manages to convey a message of beauty and hope in all the desiccated wastes, both physical and metaphysical.

There is much more here besides: tough journeying through Pashtun lands hidden inside a burka, fascinating diversions along the trail of Alexander the Great and finally a punishing mountain trek as she approaches the source deep in Tibet. The truly great achievement of this wonderful book is to reveal, unflinchingly and with panache, the rich and varied heritage of the Indus in all its appalling splendour.

· Kevin Rushby's Paradise: A History of the Idea That Rules the World is published by Robinson.

THE CRESCENT AND THE SUN Three Japanese in İstanbul Yamada Torajirô, Itô Chûta, Otani Kôzui

THE CRESCENT AND THE SUN Three Japanese in İstanbul Yamada Torajirô, Itô Chûta, Otani Kôzui

İstanbul Research Institute between the 16 October 2010 - 20 February 2011 welcomes a most interesting exhibition about three Japanese men: Yamada Torajirô (1866-1957), Itô Chutâ (1867-1954), and Ôtani Kôzui (1876-1948), these threemen visited İstanbul during the early stages of Turkish-Japanese relations. The endeavors and experiences of these three Japanese men in the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic inspired this exhibition.

Businessman and tea master Yamada, architect, professor, and the first Japanese architectural historian Itô, and Buddhist abbot and researcher Ôtani were three outstanding men who left their mark in Japan through their respective fields. Coincidentally enough, the three Japanese grew interested in the Ottoman Empire/Turkish Republic roughly around the same period, in late 19th to early 20th centuries, and left behind works that related their experiences in Turkey.

The exhibition is based on the views and experiences of these three Japanese men; through new finds, historic works, and documents, including objects from Japanese and İstanbul museums that are displayed for the first time, it conveys the Ottoman Empire and Turkey impressions of Japanese from the Meiji period. Through the adventures of these three Japanese men, the exhibition explores a multi-layered window of history that opens from İstanbul to the world.

To order the exhibition catalogue, click HERE

Saturday, 29 January 2011

IDP's 35th News Issue is out !

My favorite website by far is that of the IDP "International Dunhuang Project", started some years ago by some very enthusiastic members of the British Library and grown out to an icon for anybody interested in the Silk Road and its history
It issues on a regular basis a newsletter and this week the 35th News Issue is out!

Following the Tracks of a Tenth-Century Buddhist Pilgrim
A Technical Study of Portable Paintings from Cave 17 in US Collections
Turfan Forum on Old Languages of the Silk Road
Comment on IDP News 34
New Publications
IDP Worldwide News

Split Yuan painting "Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains" to be reunited

Play Video

Premier Wen Jiabao voiced his hope at the end of last year's NPC session, that the 14th century Yuan Dynasty painting "Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains" might at last be restored. The artwork is in two separate pieces, one held by the Chinese Mainland and the other by Taiwan. Now, after discussions and efforts contributed by both sides across the straits, the painting is about to be displayed in the Taipei Palace Museum in its entirety.
Representatives from the Zhejiang Provincial Museum and the Taipei Palace Museum signed the memo on Sunday. Both sides agreed that the ancient painting will be displayed in its entirety at an exhibition in the Taipei Palace Museum from June 1st to September 25th.
The exhibition marks the first time for the two parts to be reunited since they were torn apart and nearly destroyed 360 years ago. Part of the painting is housed at the Zhejiang Provincial Museum, while the other part is held at the Taipei Palace Museum.
Dwelling in the Fu Chun Mountains" was created by painter Huang Kungwang of the Yuan Dynasty. The ancient piece is considered to be the epitome of literati landscape painting, and has had an enormous influence on later eras.
The scroll depicts an idealized panorama of the Fu Chun Mountains, west of Hangzhou, to which Huang Kungwang returned in his later years following a long absence.
Source: CCTV

Related stories:
26-10-2010: Fuchun painting "reunited"
26-10-2010: Experts discuss ancient painting "Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains"
28-03-2010: China issues stamps to pay tribute to "Scenery of Fuchun Mountain"
25-01-2010: Copy of Huang Gongwang’s "Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains"

The Silk Road: A Photographic Journey by Michael Fairchild

Lecture: The Silk Road: A Photographic Journey
Where: Sachem Public Library, 150 Holbrook Rd, Holbrook, NY 11741
Date: February 22, 2011
Time: 2:00pm
The Silk Road: A Photographic Journey: Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2 p.m.: Professional photographer Michael Fairchild set out to document life along the ancient Silk Road in China. In this narrative high-definition presentation, he recreates the feeling of Marco Polo's epic 13th century voyage. Be transported to the ancient city of Xian with its terra cotta army, the Forbidden City in Beijing, the Buddhist treasures of the Mogao caves, and remote stretches of the Great Wall.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Was Genghis Khan history's greenest conqueror?

By Bryan Nelson in Mother Nature Network
The Mongol invasion scrubbed nearly 700 million tons of carbon from the atmosphere, according to surprising new research.

Genghis Khan's Mongol invasion in the 13th and 14th centuries was so vast that it may have been the first instance in history of a single culture causing man-made climate change, according to new research out of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology, reports

Unlike modern day climate change, however, the Mongol invasion cooled the planet, effectively scrubbing around 700 million tons of carbon from the atmosphere.

So how did Genghis Khan, one of history's cruelest conquerors, earn such a glowing environmental report card? The reality may be a bit difficult for today's environmentalists to stomach, but Khan did it the same way he built his empire — with a high body count.

Over the course of the century and a half run of the Mongol Empire, about 22 percent of the world's total land area had been conquered and an estimated 40 million people were slaughtered by the horse-driven, bow-wielding hordes. Depopulation over such a large swathe of land meant that countless numbers of cultivated fields eventually returned to forests.

In other words, one effect of Genghis Khan's unrelenting invasion was widespread reforestation, and the re-growth of those forests meant that more carbon could be absorbed from the atmosphere.

"It's a common misconception that the human impact on climate began with the large-scale burning of coal and oil in the industrial era," said Julia Pongratz, who headed the Carnegie Institution research project. "Actually, humans started to influence the environment thousands of years ago by changing the vegetation cover of the Earth's landscapes when we cleared forests for agriculture."

Pongratz's study, which was completed with the help of her Carnegie colleague Ken Caldeira, as well as with German colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, measured the carbon impact of a number of historical events besides just the Mongol invasion, including the Black Death in Europe, the fall of China's Ming Dynasty and the conquest of the Americas.

What all of these events share in common is the widespread return of forests after a period of massive depopulation, but the longevity of the Mongol invasion made it stand out as having the biggest impact on the world's climate.

"We found that during the short events such as the Black Death and the Ming Dynasty collapse, the forest re-growth wasn't enough to overcome the emissions from decaying material in the soil," explained Pongratz. "But during the longer-lasting ones like the Mongol invasion ... there was enough time for the forests to re-grow and absorb significant amounts of carbon."

The 700 million tons of carbon absorbed as a result of the Mongol invasions roughly equals the amount of carbon global society now produces annually from gasoline.

Though Genghis Khan's legacy as one of the world's cruelest conquerors isn't likely to change because of the unintended "green" consequences of his invasions, Pongratz hopes that her research can lead to land-use changes that someday might alter how future historians rate our environmental impact.

"Based on the knowledge we have gained from the past, we are now in a position to make land-use decisions that will diminish our impact on climate and the carbon cycle. We cannot ignore the knowledge we have gained," she said.

For the original press release from the Carnegie Institution of Science, click HERE.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011


(From Wikipedia)

The Jiaohe Ruins is an ancient Chinese archaeological site found in the Yarnaz Valley, 10 km west of the city of Turpan, Xinjiang province, China. Both the Nara National Cultural Properties Research Institute and the Xinjiang Cultural Relics Bureau have been cooperating in a joint venture to preserve the ruins of the site since 1992.

The Hou Hanshu says:
"The king of Nearer Jushi [Turfan]1 lives in the town of Jiaohe [Yarkhoto, 20 li west of Turfan]. A river divides into two and surrounds the town, which is why it is called Jiaohe ['River Junction']."
Lionel Giles has recorded the following names for Ruoqiang Town (with his Wade-Giles forms of the Chinese names substituted with pinyin):
Jiaohe, ancient capital of Turfan[Han].
Jushi Qianwangting (Anterior Royal Court of Jushi) [Later Han]
Gaochang Jun [Jin]
Xi Zhou [Tang]
Yarkhoto [modern name].

One of the earliest settlers of this area is the Indo-European speaking Tocharians, who had populated the Tarim and Turfan basins no later than 1800 BC. From the years 108 BC to 450 AD the city of Jiaohe was the capital of the Anterior Jushi Kingdom (simplified Chinese: 车师; traditional Chinese: 車師), concurrent with the Han Dynasty, Jin Dynasty, and Southern and Northern Dynasties in China.
It was an important site along the Silk Road trade route leading west, and was adjacent to the Korla and Karasahr kingdoms to the west. From 450 AD until 640 AD it became Jiao prefecture in the Tang Dynasty, and in 640 AD it was made the seat of the new Jiaohe County. From 640 AD until 658 AD it was also the seat of the Protector General of the Western Regions, the highest level military post of a Chinese military commander posted in the west. Since the beginning of the 9th century it had become Jiaohe prefecture of the Uyghur Khaganate, until their kingdom was conquered by the Kyrgyz soon after in the year 840.
The city was built on a large islet (1650 m in length, 300 m wide at its widest point) in the middle of a river which formed natural defenses, which would explain why the city lacked any sort of walls. Instead, steep cliffs more than 30 metres high on all sides of the river acted as natural walls. The layout of the city had eastern and western residential districts, while the northern district was reserved for Buddhist sites of temples and stupas. Along with this there are notable graveyards and the ruins of a large government office in the southern part of the eastern district.
It was finally abandoned after its destruction during an invasion by the Mongols led by Genghis Khan in the 13th century.
The site was partially excavated in the 1950s and has been protected by the PRC government since 1961. There are now attempts to protect this site and other Silk Route city ruins. The Silk Route is applying for listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

(Both videos by the Penn Museum)

Jiaohe Buddhist Monastery

The Penn Museum’s Own Piece of the Silk Road

By GABRIELLE NIU | Published: JANUARY 25, 2011
During the height of the Silk Road and the bright beginnings of the Tang dynasty, China was ruled by one Emperor Tang Taizong. Taizong’s rule is remembered for its economic prosperity, cultural richness and cosmopolitanism, as well as for its unprecedented expansion of Chinese borders into the Western Xinjiang Regions. At the end of his life, he constructed for himself a grand tomb, the Zhaoling Mausoleum, about 52 miles from present-day Xi’an in China’s Shaanxi province. Outside the sacrificial altar of his tomb, Taizong commissioned the sculpture of six of his favorite steeds in bas-relief. The Chinese Rotunda at the Penn Museum houses two of these sculptures depicting horses named Autumn Dew and Curly. (Penn Museum’s Head Conservator, Lynn Grant, documented their recent CONSERVATION on the Penn Museum Blog.)

East Asian Cultures and Languages graduate student, Sarah Laursen, speaks below on the history and significance of the museum’s noble steeds.

Secrets of the Silk Road: Tang Taizong's Noble Steeds from Penn Museum on Vimeo.

Also, the Penn Museum’s Chief of Staff Jim Mathieu and Senior Registrar Dr. Xiuqin Zhou recently visited the Zhouling Mausoleum themselves. Watch the video below for a short tour of the site where the Taizong’s noble steeds once stood.

For further reading, Dr. Zhou also published this paper about the Zhaoling Mausoleum in Professor Victor Mair’s series of Sino Platonic Papers.

- Gabrielle Niu

Monday, 24 January 2011

Sneak Peek with the Penn Museum's Exhibits Department

Secrets of the Silk Road: Sneak Peek with the Penn Museum's Exhibits Department from Penn Museum on Vimeo.

The Penn Museum’s Exhibits Department has been developing the interactive features for the Secrets of the Silk Road exhibition opening February 5th! Watch this video for a sneak peek into the exhibition and click HERE to see photos of the department at work.

Dorothy King's PHDIVA about the Silk Road Exhibition

One of my favorite bloggers, Dorothy King reminds all of her readers about the present Silk Road exhibition at the Penn Museum and adds a piece about the beautiful Sampul Tapistry plus an article from the Independent of August 2006!

Someone kindly left details in a comment, and this upcoming exhibition looks fascinating - I wish I could go. The Chinese have generously lent many items including some of the 'red haired' mummies and the piece of embroidered trousers with a centaur that I blogger about in 2006.

(From 2006)
Greeks in the East
The Sampul Tapestry was found in what is now western China. The warrior depicted looks Greek, and the centaur in the background is also a motif of Greek art. It was found in a mass grave in the Tarim Basin dating to around 200 BC. Many bodies buried in the region look more Caucasian than oriental, and the Sampul deceased were probably from the West via Bactria.

The theory in the article below is highly dubious, and started as "TV history". There were Europeans in Afghanistan after the conquests of Alexander the Great. I seem to remember that when he went there he found Greeks already in the region - descendents of mercenaries who had worked for the Persians. I'll post soon on my better theory about the Mummies, but for now take this and any other of Mair and Barber's theories with a large bag of salt.

Tartan is not just Celtic or just any other nonsense textile expert Barber is often attributed as claiming. A Hellenistic sculpture from Halicarnassus (now in the British Museum, published by Peter Higgs) has a 'tartan' pattern incised into the marble drapery. A piece of 'tartan' fabric has also been excavated. In fact tartan is the easiest pattern to weave, so one of the most popular in many societies. Madras check from Madras (now Chennai, India) is a form of 'tartan'.

From the Independent:
28 August 2006 11:49

A meeting of civilisations: The mystery of China's celtic mummies

The discovery of European corpses thousands of miles away suggests a hitherto unknown connection between East and West in the Bronze Age. Clifford Coonan reports from Urumqi

Solid as a warrior of the Caledonii tribe, the man's hair is reddish brown flecked with grey, framing high cheekbones, a long nose, full lips and a ginger beard. When he lived three thousand years ago, he stood six feet tall, and was buried wearing a red twill tunic and tartan leggings. He looks like a Bronze Age European. In fact, he's every inch a Celt. Even his DNA says so.

But this is no early Celt from central Scotland. This is the mummified corpse of Cherchen Man, unearthed from the scorched sands of the Taklamakan Desert in the far-flung region of Xinjiang in western China, and now housed in a new museum in the provincial capital of Urumqi. In the language spoken by the local Uighur people in Xinjiang, "Taklamakan" means: "You come in and never come out."

The extraordinary thing is that Cherchen Man was found - with the mummies of three women and a baby - in a burial site thousands of miles to the east of where the Celts established their biggest settlements in France and the British Isles.

DNA testing confirms that he and hundreds of other mummies found in Xinjiang's Tarim Basin are of European origin. We don't know how he got there, what brought him there, or how long he and his kind lived there for. But, as the desert's name suggests, it is certain that he never came out.

His discovery provides an unexpected connection between east and west and some valuable clues to early European history.

One of the women who shared a tomb with Cherchen Man has light brown hair which looks as if it was brushed and braided for her funeral only yesterday. Her face is painted with curling designs, and her striking red burial gown has lost none of its lustre during the three millenniums that this tall, fine-featured woman has been lying beneath the sand of the Northern Silk Road.

The bodies are far better preserved than the Egyptian mummies, and it is sad to see the infants on display; to see how the baby was wrapped in a beautiful brown cloth tied with red and blue cord, then a blue stone placed on each eye. Beside it was a baby's milk bottle with a teat, made from a sheep's udder.

Based on the mummy, the museum has reconstructed what Cherchen Man would have looked like and how he lived. The similarities to the traditional Bronze Age Celts are uncanny, and analysis has shown that the weave of the cloth is the same as that of those found on the bodies of salt miners in Austria from 1300BC.

The burial sites of Cherchen Man and his fellow people were marked with stone structures that look like dolmens from Britain, ringed by round-faced, Celtic figures, or standing stones. Among their icons were figures reminiscent of the sheela-na-gigs, wild females who flaunted their bodies and can still be found in mediaeval churches in Britain. A female mummy wears a long, conical hat which has to be a witch or a wizard's hat. Or a druid's, perhaps? The wooden combs they used to fan their tresses are familiar to students of ancient Celtic art.

At their peak, around 300BC, the influence of the Celts stretched from Ireland in the west to the south of Spain and across to Italy's Po Valley, and probably extended to parts of Poland and Ukraine and the central plain of Turkey in the east. These mummies seem to suggest, however, that the Celts penetrated well into central Asia, nearly making it as far as Tibet.

The Celts gradually infiltrated Britain between about 500 and 100BC. There was probably never anything like an organised Celtic invasion: they arrived at different times, and are considered a group of peoples loosely connected by similar language, religion, and cultural expression.

The eastern Celts spoke a now-dead language called Tocharian, which is related to Celtic languages and part of the Indo-European group. They seem to have been a peaceful folk, as there are few weapons among the Cherchen find and there is little evidence of a caste system.

Even older than the Cherchen find is that of the 4,000-year-old Loulan Beauty, who has long flowing fair hair and is one of a number of mummies discovered near the town of Loulan. One of these mummies was an eight-year-old child wrapped in a piece of patterned wool cloth, closed with bone pegs.

The Loulan Beauty's features are Nordic. She was 45 when she died, and was buried with a basket of food for the next life, including domesticated wheat, combs and a feather.

The Taklamakan desert has given up hundreds of desiccated corpses in the past 25 years, and archaeologists say the discoveries in the Tarim Basin are some of the most significant finds in the past quarter of a century.

"From around 1800BC, the earliest mummies in the Tarim Basin were exclusively Caucausoid, or Europoid," says Professor Victor Mair of Pennsylvania University, who has been captivated by the mummies since he spotted them partially obscured in a back room in the old museum in 1988. "He looked like my brother Dave sleeping there, and that's what really got me. Lying there with his eyes closed," Professor Mair said.

It's a subject that exercises him and he has gone to extraordinary lengths, dodging difficult political issues, to gain further knowledge of these remarkable people.

East Asian migrants arrived in the eastern portions of the Tarim Basin about 3,000 years ago, Professor Mair says, while the Uighur peoples arrived after the collapse of the Orkon Uighur Kingdom, based in modern-day Mongolia, around the year 842.

A believer in the "inter-relatedness of all human communities", Professor Mair resists attempts to impose a theory of a single people arriving in Xinjiang, and believes rather that the early Europeans headed in different directions, some travelling west to become the Celts in Britain and Ireland, others taking a northern route to become the Germanic tribes, and then another offshoot heading east and ending up in Xinjiang.

This section of the ancient Silk Road is one of the world's most barren precincts. You are further away from the sea here than at any other place, and you can feel it. This where China tests its nuclear weapons. Labour camps are scattered all around - who would try to escape? But the remoteness has worked to the archaeologists' advantage. The ancient corpses have avoided decay because the Tarim Basin is so dry, with alkaline soils. Scientists have been able to glean information about many aspects of our Bronze Age forebears from the mummies, from their physical make-up to information about how they buried their dead, what tools they used and what clothes they wore.

In her book The Mummies of Urumchi, the textile expert Elizabeth Wayland Barber examines the tartan-style cloth, and reckons it can be traced back to Anatolia and the Caucasus, the steppe area north of the Black Sea. Her theory is that this group divided, starting in the Caucasus and then splitting, one group going west and another east.

Even though they have been dead for thousands of years, every perfectly preserved fibre of the mummies' make-up has been relentlessly politicised.

The received wisdom in China says that two hundred years before the birth of Christ, China's emperor Wu Di sent an ambassador to the west to establish an alliance against the marauding Huns, then based in Mongolia. The route across Asia that the emissary, Zhang Qian, took eventually became the Silk Road to Europe. Hundreds of years later Marco Polo came, and the opening up of China began.

The very thought that Caucasians were settled in a part of China thousands of years before Wu Di's early contacts with the west and Marco Polo's travels has enormous political ramifications. And that these Europeans should have been in restive Xinjiang hundreds of years before East Asians is explosive.

The Chinese historian Ji Xianlin, writing a preface to Ancient Corpses of Xinjiang by the Chinese archaeologist Wang Binghua, translated by Professor Mair, says China "supported and admired" research by foreign experts into the mummies. "However, within China a small group of ethnic separatists have taken advantage of this opportunity to stir up trouble and are acting like buffoons. Some of them have even styled themselves the descendants of these ancient 'white people' with the aim of dividing the motherland. But these perverse acts will not succeed," Ji wrote.

Many Uighurs consider the Han Chinese as invaders. The territory was annexed by China in 1955, and the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region established, and there have been numerous incidents of unrest over the years. In 1997 in the northern city of Yining there were riots by Muslim separatists and Chinese security forces cracked down, with nine deaths. There are occasional outbursts, and the region remains very heavily policed.

Not surprisingly, the government has been slow to publicise these valuable historical finds for fear of fuelling separatist currents in Xinjiang.

The Loulan Beauty, for example, was claimed by the Uighurs as their symbol in song and image, although genetic testing now shows that she was in fact European.

Professor Mair acknowledges that the political dimension to all this has made his work difficult, but says that the research shows that the people of Xinjiang are a dizzying mixture. "They tend to mix as you enter the Han Dynasty. By that time the East Asian component is very noticeable," he says. "Modern DNA and ancient DNA show that Uighurs, Kazaks, Kyrgyzs, the peoples of central Asia are all mixed Caucasian and East Asian. The modern and ancient DNA tell the same story," he says.

Altogether there are 400 mummies in various degrees of desiccation and decomposition, including the prominent Han Chinese warrior Zhang Xiong and other Uighur mummies, and thousands of skulls. The mummies will keep the scientists busy for a long time. Only a handful of the better-preserved ones are on display in the impressive new Xinjiang museum. Work began in 1999, but was stopped in 2002 after a corruption scandal and the jailing of a former director for involvement in the theft of antiques.

The museum finally opened on the 50th anniversary of China's annexation of the restive region, and the mummies are housed in glass display cases (which were sealed with what looked like Sellotape) in a multi-media wing.

In the same room are the much more recent Han mummies - equally interesting, but rendering the display confusing, as it groups all the mummies closely together. Which makes sound political sense.

This political correctness continues in another section of the museum dedicated to the achievements of the Chinese revolution, and boasts artefacts from the Anti-Japanese War (1931-1945).

Best preserved of all the corpses is Yingpan Man, known as the Handsome Man, a 2,000-year-old Caucasian mummy discovered in 1995. He had a gold foil death mask - a Greek tradition - covering his blond, bearded face, and wore elaborate golden embroidered red and maroon wool garments with images of fighting Greeks or Romans. The hemp mask is painted with a soft smile and the thin moustache of a dandy. Currently on display at a museum in Tokyo, the handsome Yingpan man was two metres tall (six feet six inches), and pushing 30 when he died. His head rests on a pillow in the shape of a crowing cockerel.

Korea and the Silk Road

Early Korea Project - Lectures on Early Korea & East Asian Archaeology Seminar
February 4, 2011 - 12:00pm - 1:30pm
People Involved:
Dr. Sarah Milledge Nelson, John Evans Distinguished Professor Emerita, Department of Anthropology, University of Denver
Contact Person: Mark Byington
Contact Phone: 617-496-3403
Sponsored by: Northeast Asian History Foundation
Room 14A, Peabody Museum, 11 Divinity Avenue
Cambridge, Massachusetts
United States
This talk is co-sponsored by the East Asian Archaeology Seminar, Department of Anthropology, Harvard University, and the Early Korea Project, Korea Institute, Harvard University.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Secrets of the Cave I: “Sacred Waste”

From from Sam van Schaik

The Tibetan manuscripts from the sealed cave in Dunhuang are still the earliest that we have (along with those from the Tibetan forts in the Taklamakan desert). So, some readers might be surprised to hear that there is absolutely no agreement about why they were put in the cave, and why it was sealed up. Our failure to answer these questions remains deeply problematic. How much can we say for sure about these sources for Tibetan culture and history if we don’t know these basic facts about the reasons they have survived to this day?
Marc Aurel Stein was the first archeologist to reach the caves and gain access to the manuscripts. (He did not however, discover them; that honour goes to the Chinese monk Wang Yuanlu.) In his immense reports of his expedition, Serindia, he speculates about why the manuscripts were placed in Cave 17 (the number he gave the manuscript cave). He suggested that they were essentially discarded manuscripts, which nobody needed anymore, but could not be destroyed because of their sacred, Buddhist content. They were, in his influential phrase, “sacred waste”.
This idea was widely accepted by Dunhuang scholars like Akira Fujieda, and many still argue for it. In China it has a name: feiqi shuo, the “waste theory.” I’ve always found it a bit unsatisfactory as an explanation. For one thing, it doesn’t easily explain all the non-religious manuscripts in the cave, or the many beautiful and complete manuscripts (and paintings too). It seems a bit naive about the complexities of material culture. And most of all, this apparently pragmatic explanation doesn’t really engage with Buddhist ritual practice.
* * *
Actually, Stein himself had a more nuanced view (he usually did). In Serindia he mentioned that some of the bundles of manuscripts looked as if they had been picked up and deposited in the cave as a religious (or as he put it, “superstitious”) act. This touches on a truth that the phrase “sacred waste” does not — that the act of depositing manuscripts can itself be a religious act. But what kind of religious act might lie behind depositing manuscripts in a cave?
As well as scraps and fragments, the cave contains hundreds of complete copies of the same sutra.We know that many of these were copied for patrons, from a single copy of the Lotus Sutra for a nun mourning the loss of her mother, to hundreds of copies of the Sutra of Aparamitayus to ensure the long life of the Tibetan emperor. Apart from the merit generated by the writing of these manuscripts, they had no other use. Placing them in the cave was the final act in a ritual process. This has been put nicely by John Keischnik in his book on Buddhism and material culture:
In this context, the prodigious store of copies of the Diamond Sutra at Dunhuang, virtually identical in content and originally belonging to only a few monastic libraries, begins to make sense: for the most part these are “receipts” for merit-giving transactions, rather than scriptures that were read.
This also explains the presence of Buddhist paintings, many of them in good condition, in the cave. The pictures of donors that are often found at the bottom of these paintings show that they too were commissioned, painted, and finally deposited, in the process of creating and dedicating merit.

Now, what if all the Buddhist manuscripts deposited in the cave (not just the sutras explicitly copied to generate merit) had a ritual function? This struck me a few years ago when I read Richard Salomon’s thoughts on the oldest Buddhist manuscripts in the world: the Kharosthi scrolls.
It can be safely assumed that the manuscripts in question, regardless of their specific character or condition, were understood and treated as relics. The status of their written representations of the words of the Buddha as dharma-relics, functionally equivalent to bodily relics of the Buddha or other Buddhist venerables, is widely acknowledged in the Buddhist tradition. Thus, the essential motivation for interring manuscripts is obvious; it was a form of relic dedication.
Of course, the Kharosthi manuscripts are not the Dunhuang manuscripts (as far as we can tell, the former seem to have been buried in the foundations of a monastery). Still, this way of looking at the Dunhuang manuscripts makes me doubtful of the highly pragmatic explanations of the “sacred waste” theory, like Akira Fujieda’s idea that the manuscripts were disposed of once printing was introduced to Dunhuang. Or Fang Guangchang’s theory that they were taken out of local monasteries after a large-scale inventory project.
So, if the phrase “sacred waste” brings to mind some kind of fancy landfill site, understanding the manuscripts as relics might bring us closer to the world of the Buddhist monks of Dunhuang. If the manuscripts were “functionally equivalent” to the body of the Buddha, every time someone deposited a manuscript in the cave it was a ritual act, pregnant with symbolism, and operating in the system of merit creation and dedication. Even if we don’t chuck out the waste theory, this seems worth keeping in mind.

Author: Sam van Schaik

Monday, 17 January 2011

China and Inner Asia (1,000-200 BC): Interactions that changed China

The Oxford Centre for Asian Archaeology, Art and Culture, based in Oxford University’s School of Archaeology, has received its first major research award since its launch in October last year.
The project, led by Dame Jessica Rawson, Professor of Chinese Art and Archaeology at the University of Oxford, will look at how the early Chinese societies made use of different foreign materials and technologies. Researchers will track how the Chinese, with their highly organised, relatively dense population, were able to react fast and on a large scale.
Bright red carnelian beads found in tombs of the early Chinese states (circa 850-650BC) are telling signs of major interactions between the Chinese elite of the day and the peoples further west in present-day Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Siberia. Nearest comparisons are fine beads found in Iraq and other areas of the Middle East in tombs of the third and second millennium BC.
Carnelian beads are not the only materials that the Chinese borrowed and then copied and developed in their own contexts. Faience beads, typical of Western Asia and not China, have been found in Chinese tombs alongside the carnelian and a new fashion for gold developed at the same time.
The project will focus on the continuous interactions between the highly populated Yellow River basin and the more marginal areas to the north and west of China. These sparsely inhabited areas were essential bridges between the early Chinese and the metal-rich Altai and Ural Mountains.
Extravagant use of bronze for casting food and wine vessels, the hundreds of chariots surviving in tombs and large scale iron foundries demonstrate the power of the Chinese to exploit innovation.
Professor Rawson said: ‘An understanding of these factors will enable a fuller appreciation of the ways in which China’s physical environment and geographical position have in the past affected and will continue today to affect, not only its technological, but also its social development.’
The research team, led by Professor Rawson, will follow the trail taken thousands of years ago to see how materials and technologies reached the Yellow River across the steppes and deserts of Eurasia.
The Oxford team, together with researchers from the University of Science and Technology in Beijing, will examine exciting recent finds housed in provincial museums and at archaeological sites in China, Iraq, Iran and Central Asia as well as in the British Museum, London, to establish what the Chinese have borrowed and how they refashioned what they had gained from their Asian and Middle Eastern neighbours.

The photo is from the Beijing World Art Museum as well as the following details:
Gold, agate, and carnelian
L. 50 cm; W. 1.5 cm
Ur (Iraq). VIII Expedition, 1929-30. PG 1846, Burial C
Early Dynastic III
31-17-67 (U. 15312)
This is a set of arbitrarily strung beads from a non-royal burial (PG 1846) in the Royal Cemetery. It consists of twenty-five beads, nine hollow gold balls, eleven long double conoid carnelian beads, four diamond shaped agate beads, and one date-shaped bead made of limestone.
These beads were found near a body in a wooden coffin, the least disturbed of three burials in the plundered PG 1846. Along with these beads, Burial C wore two plain gold fillets, a small gold lunate earring in one ear, and two silver bracelets. Based on the jewelry, as well as a copper axe and knife found in the coffin, Burial C was probably that of a male.
The long carnelian beads that dominate this reconstruction attest to the contacts that existed between southern Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley, known as Meluhha in cuneiform records, during the 3rd millennium BCE. Recent studies of long carnelian beads from Ur indicate that some were produced in the Indus Valley and traded as finished products, while others were probably made in southern Mesopotamia by migrant Indus craftsmen. These “Meluhhans” produced carnelian beads using their own raw materials, distinctive hard stone drills and drilling techniques. The drilling process sometimes took several days for longer beads, and the skill involved in their production would likely have made these long carnelian beads valuable pieces of jewelry.
The large number of carnelian beads at Ur, including in the tomb of Puabi (PG 800), has led to suggestions that some of the Ur’s royalty might have been Indus princesses.
Author: Aubrey Baadsgaard

Kenoyer, J.M.
1997 “Trade and Technology of the Indus Valley: New Insights from Harappa, Pakistan.” World Archaeology 29, pp. 262-80.
1998 Ancient Cities of the Indus Valley Civilization. Karachi and Islamabad.
Parpola, S. A. Parpola, and R.H. Brunswig Jr.
1977 “The Meluhha Village: Evidence of Acculturation of Harappan Traders in Late Third Millennium Mesopotamia.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 20, pp. 129-65.
Woolley, C.L.
1934 The Royal Cemetery, Ur Excavations, vol. 2. London and Philadelphia.

Launch of Oxford Centre for Asian Archaeology, Art and Culture

20 october 2010

Oxford University is to launch a new centre to study the archaeological and cultural heritage of Asia.

On 21 October, the Oxford Centre for Asian Archaeology, Art and Culture, based in the University’s School of Archaeology, will officially open to become the only Asia-specialist centre of archaeological research and teaching in Europe.

Although Asia has some of the world’s richest archaeological and artistic forms of heritage, surprisingly little is known or taught about this period in Britain.

Research and teaching will encompass all areas of Asia and cover the Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age) through to the historical period.

Asia celebrates a huge diversity of cultures but less research has been conducted into how the different cultures are related. The new Centre will look at how the cultural influences, both within the region and in the wider world beyond, might be connected. The research will not only draw on archaeology but also other disciplines, such as anthropology, art history, linguistics, molecular genetics, the earth sciences and geography.

As from October 2011 the Centre will offer a new Asia-specific Master’s degree stream and new courses in the Archaeology of Asia, Chinese Archaeology and in the Palaeolithic of Asia.

Centre Co-director Professor Chris Gosden said: ‘Asian archaeology and heritage studies are enormously important for understanding how the modern world was shaped, and there is a growing need for world-class expertise in this area. The Oxford Centre for Asian Archaeology, Art and Culture has been developed to support research and training in various areas of Asian archaeology and heritage studies, and to offer opportunities for scholarly discussion, networking and collaboration.’

One of the Centre’s main aims is to increase the School’s academic links with Asian institutions in order to support major research programmes and encourage further research collaborations and student exchanges.

The Centre will also seek to work with scholars specialising in this field at institutions elsewhere around the world. Researchers at the School of Archaeology already have field projects in China, India, Japan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam.

To mark the Centre’s launch on 21 October, Dame Jessica Rawson will give a public lecture entitled ‘From Steppe Road to Silk Road: Inner Asia’s Interaction with and impact on China, 2000 BC – AD 1000’. Professor Rawson, Professor of Chinese Art and Archaeology, is to be affiliated to the School of Archaeology and the Centre, increasing its capacity in Chinese art and archaeology. Professor Rawson’s research covers a wide range, and her current project focuses on the Zhou dynasty (1045-221 BC) and China’s early interaction with Inner Asia. She has served as Keeper of the Department of Oriental Antiquities at the British Museum and Warden of Merton College. Professor Rawson is a Fellow of the British Academy and was made a Dame of the British Empire for services to oriental studies in 2002.

The three Co-Directors of the Centre are Professor Chris Gosden, Professor Mark Pollard and Dr Michael Petraglia. Dr Michael Petraglia was recently appointed to the School of Archaeology, in part because of his active field projects in India. These include an international study of the impact of the colossal Toba volcanic eruption (in what is now Indonesia) 74,000 years ago. His most recent research findings of Stone Age tools suggest that humans migrated out of Africa 70,000 – 80,000 years ago, earlier than previously thought.

Also instrumental in the launch of the new Centre is Dr Nicole Boivin. Dr Boivin has conducted research in South Asia for 15 years and is the Director of the the SEALINKS Project, a new international project funded through a prestigious €1.2 million Starting Grant from the European Research Council. The Sealinks project is exploring the origins and development of early seafaring activity and long-distance trade in the Indian Ocean, including some of the earliest evidence for globalisation.

The new Centre has been supported by a gift from an anonymous donor to enable the creation of a new post of Assistant Director. The financial support will also pay for a research seminar series, conferences and workshops, and researcher and student exchanges.

Secrets of the Silk Road Special Program / Religions Along the Silk Road

On November 13, 2010 at the Penn Museum was an interesting program:
Secrets of the Silk Road Special Program / Religions Along the Silk Road
The renowned "Silk Road"-subject of a major new exhibition from China opening at the Penn Museum in February 2011- is known for the travelers and trade goods that moved great distances between the east and the west. Aspects of culture were also transferred, including knowledge and practice of various religions. This program features four short lectures by Penn scholars, followed by an open discussion on the role of Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, and Judaism, and their impact, along the Silk Road.

Paul Cobb, Penn Associate Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations

Justin McDaniel, Penn Associate Professor Dept. of Religious Studies

Christianity and Judaism
Annette Reed, Penn Assistant Professor Dept. of Religious Studies

Judith Lerner, Visiting Research Scholar Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (NYU)

Following the missing lectures:

Christianity and Judaism
by Annette Reed, Penn Assistant Professor Dept. of Religious Studies

by Justin McDaniel, Penn Associate Professor Dept. of Religious Studies

by Paul Cobb, Penn Associate Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Zoroastrianism along the Silk Road, Lecture by Judith Lerner

On November 13, 2010 Judith Lerner, visiting Research Scholar Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (NYU) gave a lecture at the Penn Museum "Zoroastrianism along the Silk Road".

New app for the iPhone for the exhibition Passion for Perfection

For me new in the field of exhibitions, a brand new app for the Iphone relating to the Exhibition Passion for Perfection in Amsterdam.
Works splendid and both are beautiful on the Iphone screen!

The app will introduce you to some of the exhibition highlights. You'll also get a glimpse behind the scenes with footage of the exhibition being installed to Siebe Tettero's spectacular design. Including a brief overview of the exhibition concept from Tettero himself.

You can also listen to collector Prof. Nasser D. Khalili himself speak passionately and knowledgably about some of his personal favourites.

Download the app in the App Store now (DNK Khalili)

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Gandhari Manuscripts: the Discovery of Writing in Ancient South Asia

Center for east Asian Studies- Stanford University
Thursday , February 24, 2011, 7.30- 9.30 PM

in the Silk Road Lecture Series

Gandhari Manuscripts: the Discovery of Writing in Ancient South Asia
by Stefan Baum
Shinjo Ito Postdoctoral Fellow in Buddhist Studies, U.C. Berkeley

Between the fourth century BCE and the third century CE, the ancient region of Gandhara (modern Pakistan and Afghanistan) witnessed the encounter of a succession of cultures: first it was part of the Achaemenid empire; after Alexander's conquests, Greek colonies interacted with Bactrian and Indian populations; and from the first century BCE, Scythian and Parthian kingdoms and the Ku?ana empire ruled over the region. Gandharan art with its fusion of Greek and Buddhist elements has long stood as a testament to this encounter, but until recently much less was known about the literary culture of ancient Gandhara: a number of short inscriptions and one single birch?bark manuscript (found near Khotan on the Southern Silk Road) appeared to be the only surviving remains of Gandhari literature.
The picture changed radically fifteen years ago, when a cache of twenty?eight Gandhari scrolls was discovered in an inscribed clay pot and acquired by the British Library. This initial find was followed by a long series of further manuscript discoveries, and more than eighty birch - bark scrolls and numerous manuscript fragments on birch bark and palm leaf have now come to light. The study of this manuscript corpus by an international group of scholars has revealed a broad range of Buddhist and non - Buddhist genres: sutras, verse collections, commentaries, Mahayana sutras and monastic codes, as well as a treatise on statecraft and a legal document, ranging in date from the first century BCE to the third or fourth century CE.
This lecture will first present and overview of the new manuscript discoveries and of the research that is being carried out on them. It will then then address the question of the origins of writing and of written literature in Gandhara by a close examination of the manuscript formats and scribal habits of the Gandhari manuscripts, combined with a study of the stylistic features of those texts that were composed in Gandhara. In conclusion, the lecture will discuss the transition from the local writing culture based on Gandhari language, Kharosthi script and the scroll format to the transregional model of Sanskrit, Brahmi script and the pothi format.

Constructing “Secrets of the Silk Road”

From the Penn Museum Blog

The sands of the Taklamakan Desert are forming at the Penn Museum! See how the Xiaohe burial grounds are being transported to the Secrets of the Silk Road exhibition.

Behind the Scenes of "Secrets of the Silk Road" from Penn Museum on Vimeo.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Passion for Perfection - Islamic art from the Khali - Preview 2

Until 17 April 2011 at De Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam

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

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

More at


Xuanzang and the Silk Road Pt. 3

From the Penn Museum Blog
By STEPHEN LANG | Published: DECEMBER 17, 2010

The iconography of Xuanzang, and its history, is quite fascinating. Bearing the typical shaved head of a Buddhist monk, Xuanzang is depicted in our painting with a large backpack of sutras, a canopy over his head (with a hanging incense burner) and holding a scroll in his left hand and a fly wisk in his right. The backpack has an opening at the top so you can actually see the sides of the scrolls that he has collected (presumably to bring back to China). These scrolls represent only a fraction of the material he would have collected while traveling in India. What is curious is the use of rolled scrolls to represent Indian Buddhist texts. The actual texts would have almost certainly been palm leaf manuscripts with sanskrit characters inscribed into the leaf. In an article in the journal “T’ang Studies”, Professor Victor Mair speculates that at some point the iconography of itinerant storytellers, who used pictures scrolls to to teach Buddhism along the Silk Road, must have been mapped onto depictions of Xuanzang! This explains why instead of flat, palm leaf manuscripts, he has the large backpack of scrolls. Additionally the fly whisk and incense burner are both props often utilized by these picture storytellers. One almost wonders why we can attribute the figure to Xuanzang at all!

There is one way. Next to Xuanzang is the demon Jinja Taishou 深沙大将. Depicted with red skin, elephant-headed pants, a skull necklace, and holding a snake, Jinja Taishou supposedly appeared to Xuanzang in a dream and helped him find his way through Central Asia while en route to India. Legend tells that Xuanzang helped convert him to Buddhism and so he therefore appears opposite him in this painting. His presence lends credence to the assertion that this monk is indeed Xuanzang. The full explanation of Jinja Taishou’s iconography, however, remains elusive to me at this point. I hope to find out more in the future. (for starters, why is there a child’s face on his belly?)

In the next post I hope to talk a little bit about my visit to Yakushiji Temple which came about because of a courier trip to Nara. I went seeking a similar statue to one we loaned to the Nara National Museum but ended up face-to-face with a beautiful pagoda dedicated in Xuanzang’s memory!

For more information about Xuanzang and the Silk Road read also THIS and THAT

Thursday, 13 January 2011

China and Kenya joint excavation project on islands

To play video, click Video: KENYAN ISLAND SECRETS CCTV News - CNTV English

The latest information about the search in Kenya for artefacts and descendants from the time of Zhang He.

Archeologists from both China and Kenya are joining forces in a large scale excavation project on islands off the coast of Kenya. Recently a team of Chinese experts were dispatched to the area, signaling the beginning of a 3-year research commitment.
The largest three islands of the Lamu Archipelago are namely the Pate Island, Manda Island and the Lamu Island. Archeologists first paid a visit to the town of Pate, which was founded by refugees from Oman in the 8th century. Buildings and houses built with coral reef are seen everywhere. The locals say the principal parts of many of the constructions were created in the 13th century.
With the guidance of the local Pate Museum staff, Chinese archeologists came to the beach nearby, where they've discovered debris of blue and white Chinese porcelains.
In the town of Siyu, an ancient mausoleum captured the attention of Chinese archeologists.
Unfortunately written materials detailing the tomb owner's social status and activities are hard to find.
The local people proclaim they are Chinese descendants. Is this claim true and where did all the porcelain wares in her tomb come from? Chinese archeologists and their Kenyan peers have pledged to reveal the truth.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Taizing horses and the Silk Road

SSR_TaizongHorsesV.1 from Penn Museum on Vimeo.

Another excellent short video (5 min 20) about the Silk Road in the light of the upcoming exhibition.

Victor Mair introduces Secrets of the Silk Road Exhibition

Dr. Victor Mair, Contributing Curator, introduces the landmark exhibition Secrets of the Silk Road coming to Penn Museum February 5, 2011.

Short Version 1.06 Min.

Secrets of the Silk Road from Penn Museum on Vimeo.

Long Version 5.04 Min.

SSR_Mair_InterviewV.1 from Penn Museum on Vimeo.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

International DunHuang Project now also in Korea

A congratulatory message from Lynne Brindley, Chief Executive of the British Library for the launch of IDP Korea in December 2010.
IDP Korea

Thursday, 6 January 2011

New Virtual Afghan Culture Museum

This virtual museum will function as a kind of multimedia encyclopaedia of Afghan civilization.With two primary aims:
* To help Afghanistan reclaim its own history, and the dignity of its rich tapestry of civilizations. This will especially appeal to Afghan youth, offering keys to their identity, their pride of heritage, and their desire to rebuild their own future.
*To enable a much larger public to discover one of humanity's most ancient civilizations, and its contribution to human history. This will be the only major museum which has no specific physical location.
The educational aspect will also be emphasized, with commentaries available in four languages : English, French, Dari, and Pashto.
It is a museum which will always be open, and accessible from anywhere.

There will be 12 pavilions, each pavilion will have between 8 and 10 thematic galleries, each object will have 3 access levels : a short description, an encyclopedic one,and an academic one, the third one. Each object will be contextualized geographically, ethnographically, historically with a comparative with Europe and the Far East.
It will be in four languages, Afghan Persian, Pashto, which are the most spoken languages in Afghanistan and of course French and English.
The approach will be absolutly multi media, which means photos, videos, sounds, music, a.s.o., will be in the museum, interactive, user friendly, which what this technology offers : the possibility "to dig" into more complex content and for the persons who are not familiar with museum there will be guides, but not usual museum guides, art lovers, and of course a contemporary pavilion, to show the rebirth of the rich cultural life in Afghanistan, which is not designed yet.

Curious? Visit the site by clicking HERE

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Religions Along the Silk Road

The renowned "Silk Road" is known for the travelers and trade goods that moved great distances between the east and the west. Aspects of culture were also transferred, including knowledge and practice of various religions. This program features four short lectures by Penn scholars, followed by an open discussion on the role of Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, and Judaism, and their impact, along the Silk Road. Find out more about the landmark exhibition Secrets of the Silk Road at

‘Xanadu in New York’

From the New York Review of Books

‘Xanadu in New York’
JANUARY 13, 2011
J.C.Y. Watt, reply by Eliot Weinberger

Xanadu in New York from the December 23, 2010 issue

To the Editors:

Reading Eliot Weinberger’s piece [“Xanadu in New York,” NYR, December 23, 2010] on the Metropolitan Museum’s exhibition “The World of Khubilai Khan: Chinese Art in the Yuan Dynasty” brings to mind an Englishman a long time ago who, when taken to a fine Chinese restaurant in Hong Kong, could not wait to show off his sophisticated knowledge of Chinese cuisine and ordered egg Fuyung and sweet-and-sour pork.

Normally, writing like Mr. Weinberger’s should best be ignored, except that it has appeared in The New York Review, which normally publishes articles that can be taken seriously. I shall comment on only one of the authoritative-sounding and misleading statements that pepper Mr. Weinberger’s piece. He says that (presumably commenting on the Mongol period) “artistic influence mainly moved west, where Chinese forms and techniques were transformative in Persian art.” One of the main themes underlying the exhibition is the pervasive influence of the arts of the Iranian world on Chinese art in the Mongol-Yuan period (thirteenth to fourteenth centuries). Evidence of this stares you in the face everywhere in the exhibition, and should be obvious to someone who makes grand statements on East–West artistic exchange.

One of the first exhibits is a portrait of Empress Chabi, wife of Khubilai, wearing a robe bordered by strips of cloth of gold on which are images of heads of a bird. Next to this portrait is a piece of cloth of gold displaying a pattern incorporating griffins, the heads of which appear on Chabi’s dress. The cloths of gold used for imperial robes in the time of Khubilai and Chabi were woven in China by craftsmen originally from Central Asia. This is a clear case of the transfer of both the patterning and the technique of a particular weave from the Eastern Iranian world. Perhaps Mr. Weinberger would care to provide proof that the griffin is a Chinese animal and that the lampas weave (for the cloth of gold) originated in China. And perhaps Mr. Weinberger can also tell us what Chinese technique was transmitted west that transformed “Persian art.”

May I suggest that The New York Review stay within the sphere of American and European literature and politics, if you would so casually assign someone, anyone, to report on an exhibition organized by a group of curators and scholars who do know something about the subject? You know there are plenty of American scholars who also know the subject in depth and could have done a more responsible job of appraising and reviewing the exhibition.

J.C.Y. Watt
Chairman, Department of Asian Art
Metropolitan Museum of Art
New York City

Eliot Weinberger replies:
If the “influence of the arts of the Iranian world” is “pervasive,” “obvious,” and “everywhere in the exhibition,” it is not apparent in the paintings, sculptures, calligraphy, prints, architectural details, ceramics, metal, lacquer, and jade pieces that fill the galleries. Nor do any of the contributors to the catalog—including Mr. Watt in a thirty-page essay on the decorative arts—mention any Iranian presence in these arts. Indeed, as Mr. Watt himself writes in the introduction, “the new influences coming into China during the Yuan period are relatively slight.” I take him at his (previous) word.

The one exception—and the only example he cites here—is textiles, particularly the cloth of gold, which Mr. Watt, in the catalog, calls “the most innovative art form introduced in China in the Yuan period.” There were so many marvelous things in the exhibition, I did not discuss textiles in my review. But I fail to see how this exception disproves my utterly unoriginal passing remark that artistic influence mainly moved from east to west. In that regard, Mr. Watt’s challenge for me to demonstrate the Chinese influence on Iranian art is puzzling. This was a major theme in an earlier exhibition at the Met, “The Legacy of Genghis Khan,” and the long essay in that catalog by the cocurator, Linda Komaroff, provides scores of examples.

Mr. Watt’s letter raises the question of whether an unrefined nobody, an “anyone”—the type who orders the wrong thing in a restaurant—should be permitted to review an exhibition organized by an expert such as himself. The few paragraphs in my review that evidently uncorked Mr. Watt’s disdain required no specialized knowledge. I noted that “The World of Khubilai Khan: Chinese Art in the Yuan Dynasty” was a collection of wonderful objects that had little or nothing to do with Khubilai Khan—as Mr. Watt himself admits in the introduction—and that many of them were not even from the Yuan Dynasty.

As an ordinary reader, I found the catalog unhelpful. In his introduction, as in his letter, Mr. Watt made hyperbolic and sometimes contradictory claims that struck me as untrustworthy because they were neither repeated nor elaborated upon by the other contributors. Some of the other essays were equally confusing; some had a tendency to wander at length into other historical periods where the writer seemed more comfortable. All glossed over the fact that the Mongols were among the worst—perhaps, relative to the population, the worst—mass murderers in history, and that they had only a tangential relation to much of the Chinese art produced under their reign.

The book sorely needed the kind of general historical background that, for example, the great Mongol scholar (and curiously absent) Morris Rossabi provided for the catalog to the earlier Genghis Khan show. To write my review, I fled to sources that seemed more reliable, but perhaps they too were sweet-and-sour pork eaters.