Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Ancient Uyghurs Stone statues of Tarim Basin

At the end of the 19th and the first few decades of the 20th century,scientific and archaeological expeditions to the region along the Silk Road in East Turkestan led to the discovery of numerous Uyghur cave temples, monastery ruins, wall paintings, statues, frescoes, valuable manuscripts, documents and books. Members of the expedition from Great Britain, Sweden, Russia, Germany, France, Japan, and the United States were amazed by the treasure they found there, and soon detailed reports captured the attention on an interested public around the world. The relics of these rich Uyghur cultural remnants brought back by Sven Hedin of Sweden, Aurel Stein of Great Britain, Gruen Wedel and Albert von Lecoq from Germany, Paul Pelliot of France, Langdon Warner of the United States, and Count Ottani from Japan can be seen in the Museums of Berlin, London, Paris, Tokyo, Leningrad and even in the Museum of Central Asian Antiquities in New Delhi. The manuscripts, documents and the books discovered in Eastern Turkestan proved that the Uyghurs had a very high degree of civilization.

Source: Duldul601

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Second Excavation of Sunken Vessel 'Nanhai No. 1' begins

Thirteen professionals have arrived at the Maritime Silk Road Museum of Guangdong Province and are preparing for the second indoor trial excavation of the sunken vessel "Nanhai No. 1," according to announcement made by the museum on March 21. The excavation is expected to last for around one month.

The second trial excavation will be carried out on the bow and stern of the ship and will verify which end is indeed the bow and stern. According to sources, the excavation will further perfect the indoor underwater archaeological parameters and make preparations for the full excavation plan.

Bu Gong, a researcher from the Guangdong Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology (GPICRA) and the consultant for the second excavation, disclosed that the period of the 12th Five-Year Plan is a golden period for the full excavation of the sunken ship, but the first thing that must be done is to finish the plan for the full excavation. Therefore, the information acquired from this excavation will be very important.

Liu Zhiyuan, the vice director of the GPICRA's Underwater Department and the team leader of the second excavation, told the press that this excavation will be open to the public for the first time. Visitors at the museum will be able to watch the entire process of the archaeological excavation.

The first trial excavation of the "Nanhai No. 1" was conducted between Aug. 18 and Sept. 27 in 2009. The location of the first trial excavation was in the middle part of the ship where there were four square excavation units with an area of 4 square meters each. The first trial excavation uncovered more than 200 pieces of porcelain and met the expected targets.

The team of the documentary "Nanhai No. 1," formed by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage and China Central Television (CCTV), held a commencement ceremony at the Guangdong Maritime Silk Road Museum on March 20. The documentary will use HDTV equipment for the first time to record the entire shipwreck excavation process from discovery, salvage and protection of the latest trial archeological excavation.

The "Nanhai No.1," which sank during the Southern Song Dynasty, is 30.4 meters long and 9.8 meters wide. It is the earliest, largest and most intact ocean trade shipwreck that has been discovered in the world and contains a massive amount of historical information.

In April 2007, the salvage of the "Nanhai No.1" was officially initiated and the entire shipwreck was pulled out on Dec. 27 of the same year before being placed into the "crystal palace" of the Guangdong Maritime Silk Road Museum on Hailing Island of Yangjiang, Guangdong on Dec. 28. Archaeological experts said it will take at least five to 10 years to sort out the 60,000 to 80,000 antiques after opening the sunken cases in the shipwreck.

By Wang Hanlu, People's Daily Online

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Shipwreck exhibit stirs up storm at Smithsonian

Though they sit quietly beneath the waves, shipwrecks are a cause of much wrangling above the surface. The issue of underwater archaeology is clouded by concerns about treasure hunting, the safety of wrecks, and the sale of finds.

Author: Laura Allsop | Source: CNN [March 19, 2011]

A planned 2012 exhibition at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, featuring 9th century Chinese artifacts salvaged from a wreck in Indonesian waters in 1998 is at the center of the latest row.
Archaeologists within the institution -- and further afield -- are criticizing the curator's decision to mount the show and, in particular, questioning the nature of the original salvage.
Discovered off the coast of the island Belitung in the Java Sea by fishermen diving for sea cucumbers in 1998, the 9th century Arab dhow was a treasure trove of objects including glazed ceramics, and silver and gold wares.

The Indonesian government granted permission to a private German salvage company, Seabed Explorations GbR, to excavate the wreck using divers.
The collection of finds, which included 60,000 objects, was sold largely intact to Sentosa Leisure Group, a statutory board under the Singapore Ministry of Trade and Industry, for $32 million, according to the Smithsonian.
Julian Raby, director of the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian, where the exhibition is due to take place, said that the finds represent a highly significant discovery for historians, in particular showing the existence of a kind of maritime silk route between Iraq and China.

"The reality of this wreck, understanding the mixture of things that are involved -- it completely blows your mind," said Raby. Yet some scholars are unhappy about the show.
Paul Johnston, Curator of Maritime History at the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian, believes that the wreck was excavated too quickly. He said that it was done within just two short seasons -- one of which was just two months long -- and therefore without enough due diligence.
"I don't personally see how anyone could possibly recover 60,000 objects in just two seasons and claim that it's a scientific excavation," he said.
But in an email to CNN, Tilman Walterfang, of Seabed Explorations, wrote: "The (Indonesian) government dictated the pace of recovery (not us) because security for the artifacts and the team couldn't be guaranteed. It was a race against time, with the monsoon season approaching fast, and looters hovering both day and night."

Raby, for his part, defends the salvage company, saying that the objects were conserved to a high degree and that archaeologists were on hand to help with excavations. He also said that the world should celebrate the fact that the collection was sold intact, and not dispersed across the market.
While some looting did take place between seasons, he said, the majority of the wreck's artifacts are kept together.
The Belitung wreck highlights a broader dispute between the archaeological community and commercial excavators, which David Mearns, marine scientist and director of commercial salvage company Blue Water Recoveries, likens to "an open warfare."
"There is a group of academic archaeologists who for whatever reason don't want anything to be touched at all other than by themselves, and certainly not sold," he said, adding that often archaeologists are invited to take part in commercial excavations, but refuse on principle to participate.

"The real concern archaeologists have in regard to this exhibition is that a lot of people on the commercial side will be able to use this to justify their own activities," said Bruce Smith, Curator of North American Archaeology at the Smithsonian. He fears that it will open the door to what he calls "treasure hunters."
But both Seabed Explorations and Raby believe that a middle ground may be reached, that archaeologists and commercial enterprises can work together to excavate wrecks to the highest possible standards.
They say that wrecks are at risk of being looted by local divers and face damage wrought by the ocean itself. Archaeologists may not have the funding to reach a wreck in time, they say, but salvage companies do.

Still, Paul Johnston believes that where money is concerned, due diligence and proper scientific work can often be compromised. In his experience, which includes excavating wrecks in American waters, the vessels are more likely to be damaged by the actions of man than the ocean itself, he said. He maintains he has never had any trouble getting funding for a shipwreck excavation.
In an effort to clear a path through these thorny arguments, Raby of the Smithsonian is inviting some of the most eminent scholars in the field of underwater archaeology to discuss the issue at a conference set for the end of April.
"If we're looking to raise public and political consciousness about the importance of cultural heritage," he said, "then I think one has to ask whether diktat is better than dialogue."

Archaeological Excavations in Mongolia: Current Research

A Program on Central Asia Event featuring lectures by
Ursula Brosseder (Assistant Professor, University of Bonn, Pre- and Early Historical Archaeology) and
Jan Bemmann, Bonn University

Wednesday, April 06, 2011 3:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Seminar Room, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology
Fowler Museum at UCLA

Studies on the Xiongnu – The first Steppe Empire in Central Asia
By Ursula Brosseder, Bonn University

Recent research has contributed greatly to a more differentiated view on the first Steppe Empire in Central Asia. In this lecture I focus on the Elite as documented in the written and archaeological record. Since Elite burials are only typical for a later stage of the Xiongnu Empire I discuss the possible explanations for this phenomenon. The Elite is embedded in a network of communication throughout the Eurasian Steppes, which is not only shown by foreign prestige goods in their burials, such as Chinese chariots or Graeco-Bactrian textiles, but will be exemplified with Belt plaques.

The Orkhon Valley, Mongolia: A Center of Several Medieval Steppe Empires
By Jan Bemmann, Bonn University

The Orkhon Valley is located in the heart of Mongolia, 370 km west of Ulanbaator. During many centuries the Orkhon Valley was the center of several steppe empires. The Old Turk tribes erected the famous memorials of Khöshöö Tsaidam, the Uighurs built their Capital Karabalgasun (Ordu balik), and the Mongols founded in this valley Karakorum, the first capital of the Great Mongol World Empire. Since the first archaeological expedition, leaded by Friedrich Wilhelm Radloff (1891), the research has focused on the two world famous capitals und memorial places alone. In a new research project headed by the University of Bonn started in Summer 2008 all monuments are registered in the Middle Orkhon Valley with a special focus on walled enclosures. In a systematically approach we use aerial photograph analysis, satellite images and surveys. We are using the latest technology for photogrammetric and geomagnetic measurements. A small drone (an unmanned air-vehicle called octocopter) was developed to photogrammetrically survey monuments. Based on the vertical images, digital surface models (DSM) and true ortho photo mosaics were derived. The DSM were textured with the images and converted in interactive 3D models. To enable precise magnetic prospections of large areas in the order of tens of hectares within passable time a new motorized measurement system was developed at the Institute of Photonic Technology (IPHT) in Jena, Germany. This is based on SQUIDs (Superconducting QUantum Interference Devices) – sensors, which provide highest magnetic field resolution also at fast movements over the ground. Astonishingly, most of the newly discovered walled enclosures date from the early Middle Ages, probably from the times of the Uighur Empire (744–840). In the Hinterland of Karabalgasun there are many contemporary settlement sites, cemeteries and production sites. It seems that the Uighurs used the whole Middle Orkhon Valley, whereas the Mongols used and settled more intensely in the Upper Orkhon Valley. A newly discovered Chinese inscription in a stone quarry in the Upper Orkhon Valley gives witness of building activities during the Kitan period.

For more information, click HERE

From the Steppes of Central Asia

Mongolian vertical script poem with drawing of Chinggis Khan in background.
A poem attributed to Chinggis Khan (1162-1227) that begins: "If my little body is tired - then let it be tired. But my great government - let it not unravel . . ." Reprinted with permission from A Pair Melody of the Stone Monument: An Anthology of Mongolian Poetry (Ulaanbaatar: Munkhiin Useg Publishing Company, 2006) copyright by G. Ayurzana, M. Saruul-Erdene, and D. Tsolmon. Mongolian Collection, Asian Division.

From the website of The Library of Congress / Asian Collections / 2007 Illustrated Guide

A new, dynamic force burst forth from the grasslands of Central Asia in the thirteenth century. After unifying the Mongolian-speaking tribes, Temujin took the name Chinggis Khan and led his renowned cavalry across northern China and Central Asia. The "Great Khan's" sons and grandsons continued the conquests, reaching into Europe and establishing Mongol rule over all of China following the collapse of the Southern Song in 1279. Chinggis' grandson Kublai ruled as the first emperor of the new Yuan dynasty.

With empire came literacy. The Mongolian writing system dates to the beginning of the 13th century when Chinggis Khan adopted the alphabet used by the Uighurs, who assisted the Mongols with civil administration. In turn, the Uighur alphabet came from the Sogdian script used by central Asian traders and can ultimately be traced back to Syriac, a writing system developed in the Fertile Crescent around the second century BC from the Aramaic alphabet.

In the thirteenth century, Tibetan Buddhism spread quickly through Mongolia and into China with imperial support. The Asian Division's classical Mongolian collection began in the early 20th century with the arrival of approximately eighty manuscripts and xylographs, about half of which are Buddhist religious texts. Others in the original collection are works of biography, history, medicine, language, and an episode of The Epic Poem of King Geser, printed in 1716 and one of the classics of Mongolian literature.

The classical Mongolian collection has expanded significantly in recent years. In 2006, through a special acquisitions fund, the Library purchased a collection of over 270 rare Mongolian and Tibetan manuscripts and block prints. Included are manuscript copies of the "Seven Jewel Sutras," written with seven different inks made from precious stones as well as sutras written in gold ink.

In addition, the Library holds compete reprint editions of the Mongolian Kanjur and Tanjur, the Tibetan Buddhist canons. The Library's Tanjur is a microfilm copy a 226-volume set of photocopy enlargements of the extremely rare Urga Tanjur. Considered to be a national treasure, the original manuscript of the Urga Tanjur is held by the Academy of Sciences in Ulaanbaatar.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

The ancient Art of understanding and appreciating Chinese Scroll Paintings.

Maxwell Hearn, the new head of Asian Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, demonstrates the ancient art of understanding and appreciating Chinese scroll paintings.

24 meter long Chinese handscroll sold at auction for € 22 mln

A giant 18th-century Chinese silk scroll painting of a military troop review has been sold at auction for more than euro22 million ($30.8 million), the highest auction price for a Chinese work in France.
The work, found in a Paris attic and sold in Toulouse by auctioneer Marc Labarbe, is one of a series of four works of 17th-century maneuvers that mobilized some 20,000 men.
A Hong Kong collector, who asked to remain anonymous, made the winning bid Saturday of euro22,057,000 after a ferocious bidding war with seven others.
The 24-meter-long (78.7 feet) horizontal scroll was painted around 1748 under Emperor Qianlong.
One of the four scrolls is in the Palace Museum of Beijing, and another was auctioned off in 2008 at Sotheby's in Hong Kong — for $67.86 million.

Piece of silk cloth belonging to the 2nd century AD discovered in Sri Lanka

Mar 14, 2011 Colombo:

The Archeological Department of Sri Lanka announced the discovery of a piece of silk cloth belonging to the second century AD.
The piece of silk cloth was excavated in an ancient Buddhist pagoda, Kotavehera Stupa at Daliwala in Rambukkana of Kegalle district.
Tests conducted by an Australian archeological expert has proven that the piece of cloth belonged to the second century, said the Archeological Commissioner General Dr. Senarath Dissanayake.
He pointed out that such ancient evidence had not been discovered even from India.
The discovery proves the use of silk in ancient Sri Lanka even though there were no reports of silk being manufactured in the country indicating that Sri Lanka was part of the ancient "Silk Road".
Several other artifacts were also discovered from the excavation site, where excavation commenced in 2001.

Recovered Afghan treasures at the British Museum

These coloured ivory inlays were looted from Kabul between 1992 and 1994, after which they remained lost until just last year.
The British Museum in London is now adding the fragments of intricately carved ivory to its Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World exhibition.

For more beautiful well known pictures of the Exhibition "Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World exhibition", click HERE

A Prince's Manuscript Unbound: Muhammed juki's Shahnamah

On view at Asia Society Museum, New York
February 9 through May 1, 2011

To visit the splendid website, click HERE

Asia Society Museum presents an exquisite fifteenth-century manuscript commissioned by the Timurid prince Muhammad Juki (1402–1444). This rarely exhibited volume, now in the collection of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, features more than thirty richly painted and illuminated miniatures that illustrate scenes from the Persian national epic, the Shahnamah (Book of Kings). This is the first time that the illustrations in the manuscript—recently unbound and conserved—have all been exhibited together.
Although it is not known when the epic was first illustrated, countless copies of this poem have been made through the ages. The intricately colored and gilded manuscript illustrations on view are among the finest examples of Persian painting.
Written by the Persian poet Firdausi (ca. 935–1026), the nearly 60,000 couplet poem is based on a history of the kings of Persia, depicting legendary accounts of the beginnings of civilization until the Arab Muslim conquest that ended Persian rule in the seventh century.
―This is one of the most superb Persian manuscripts of its day,‖ said Asia Society Museum Director and Vice President of Global Art Programs Melissa Chiu. ―The rich colors, striking compositions, and intricate detail make the work truly remarkable in the long tradition of miniature painting. It has been one thousand years since this story was
first written, and we are so pleased to celebrate this anniversary with a manuscript of such artistic and historical importance.‖
The exhibition is organized by Adriana Proser, Asia Society Museum’s John H. Foster Curator for Traditional Asian Art, in consultation with independent scholar Barbara Brend. The exhibition is accompanied by Brend’s book Muhammad Juki’s Shahnamah of Firdausi, published by the Royal Asiatic Society/Philip Wilson Publishers, 2010, the first complete study of the manuscript.

About Muhammad Juki’s Shahnamah
Prince Juki’s Shahnamah was produced in the 1440s in Herat, the fifteenth-century capital of the Timurid empire located in present-day Afghanistan. When Babur, a later descendant of the Timurids, founded the Mughal dynasty in Northern India in 1526, the manuscript was taken there, where it remained until the eighteenth century. It later entered British hands as a gift to the Marquess of Hastings, Governor General of India. Presented to the Royal Asiatic Society by Lt. Col. C.J. Doyle in 1834, the manuscript is thought to have been a parting gift to him from Lord Hastings on leaving India. It bears the seals of Mughal emperors Babur, Humayun, Jahangir and Awrangzib, as well as the seal and an autographed note by Shah Jahan.
Juki’s Shahnamah boasts sumptuous colors, striking compositions and elegant calligraphy. The manuscript contains thirty-two miniatures created by several different hands as well as two pages of intricate textual illumination, all of which are on view in the exhibition. As is typical in court painting from Iran in this period, the influence of both native and foreign traditions is seen in the style of the illustrations. For example, landscape elements derived from Chinese painting appear in the stylized rock and mountain formations, while Chinese influence is also found in the depiction of clouds and flames.

Timurid patronage
Iran and much of Central Asia were ruled by the Timurid empire from 1363–1506. The Timurids, who were great patrons of the arts, presided over an empire that stretched from Anatolia to India at its height. They supported important architectural projects and the production of decorative arts and, under their patronage, Persian painting was elevated to a major form of artistic expression. Their reign is still considered as the time when Persian book arts reached their height. Prince Juki was a grandson of Timur and the seventh son of Shah Rukh. This manuscript is the only work he is known to have commissioned. It was left unfinished when he died; indeed, its later pages show some signs that additional planned pictures were sacrificed in the endeavor to finish before his passing.

Archaeologists find Ming Dynasty mummy in China

Road workers have stumbled upon a well-preserved, 700-year-old mummy while expanding a street in the Chinese city of Taizhou, in Jiangsu Province.

Experts say the body belongs to a high-ranking woman from the Ming Dynasty whose features have remained in excellent condition, Xinhua reported.
The mummy was found along with two wooden coffins buried two meters below the road surface, and the remarkable condition of her skin, hair, eyelashes and face amazed archeologists of the nearby Museum of Taizhou who visited the body after she was found.
The mummified woman is 1.5 meters tall wearing traditional Ming dynasty costume and a ring on her right hand.
Her coffin also contained relics such as bones, ceramics and ancient writings.
This is the latest discovery of well-preserved mummies in the area. Five similar findings were reported between 1979 and 2008.
According to Director of the Museum of Taizhou Wang Weiyin, the mummy's clothes are mostly made of silk, with a little cotton, two materials which are very hard to preserve.
Archeologists are trying to use the mummy to find out more about mummifying techniques during the Ming Dynasty which is known as an era of great economic growth and cultural splendor.
It was during the same period that the Forbidden City was built and the Great Wall of China was restored.

From National Geographic
With eyebrows, hair, and skin still intact after more than 600 years, a remarkably preserved Chinese "wet mummy" remains bundled in her quilt after centuries in a flooded coffin.
Removed from her wooden casket on March 1, the body had been found in a tomb accidentally uncovered by roadbuilders near the city of Taizhou.
"Wet mummies survive so well because of the anaerobic conditions of their burials," said archaeologist Victor Mair. That is, water unusually void of oxygen inhibits bacteria that would normally break down a body.
Unlike ancient Egyptian mummies, the corpse—likely from the Ming dynasty (1368 to 1644)—was probably preserved only accidentally, said Mair, of the University of Pennsylvania.
"I don't know of any evidence that Chinese ever intentionally mummified their deceased," he said. "Whoever happened to encounter the right environment might become a preserved corpse."

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Private visits to the Penn and the Marina Bay Sands

For lazy explorers there is always an alternative way to to visit our favorite museums: Youtube !!

First we start with the visit of Scott to the Silk Road exhibition at the Penn Museum.

With Ariff we make a tour through the new Marina Bay Sands Museum in Singapore where we have a look a.o. at the exhibitions of: Genghis Khan- Shipwrecked - Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds- Travelling the Silk Road.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

New Catalogues of Sanskrit Manuscripts on IDP

New transliterations of the British Library's Sanskrit fragments by leading scholars in the field have just been put online on the IDP website. Go to the catalogue search page to browse the transliterations. This work is the result of a collaborative project, headed by Professor Seishi Karashima, between IDP and the International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology in Tokyo. The manuscripts have been digitized by IDP, so the transliterations may now be viewed alongside high-quality colour images.

The image shown above is IOL San 664, a fragment of the Ratnaketuparivarta.

Secrets of the Silk Road Symposium today at the Penn's

Today is the Secrets of the Silk Road Symposium at the Penn Museum

Reconfiguring the Silk Road: New Research on East-West Exchange in Antiquity Saturday, March 19, 2011 University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology


David W. Anthony
Abstract - Horseback Riding and Bronze Age Pastoralism in the Eurasian Steppes
The people who populated the Tarim Basin during the Bronze Age initially came from the west, and brought with them pastoral herding economies that had been evolving for 3000 years before the oldest of the Tarim ‘mummies’ was buried. This paper reviews the evidence for the development of pastoral herding economies in the Eurasian steppes before and during the Bronze Age. Pastoralism spread from west to east, arriving in the western Altai in the mid-fourth millennium BC. By the time that pastoral populations spread into the Tarim, perhaps in the late third millennium BC, a variety of very different kinds of pastoral economies had evolved in the mountains and steppes to the west.

Elizabeth Wayland Barber
Abstract - The Xinjiang Textiles: More Corridors in the Goldmine
The textiles in the "mummy" exhibit touring the USA display a far more interesting array of techniques than the information available in advance indicated. This talk offers further description, analysis, and historical placement both of some remarkable masterpieces and of some pieces that give more insight into early practices for making cloth and clothing. One is impressed again by how much we have lost elsewhere-by how rare and informative these textiles are within the Eurasian archaeological record.

Peter Brown
Abstract - The Silk Road in Late Antiquity: Politics, Trade, and Culture Contact between Rome and China, 300-700 CE
This is a study of the modes of political and cultural communication which led to a rare level of "intervisibility" between the various societies and states along the Silk Road in the Late Antique period (roughly 300-700 CE). It will examine the cultural meanings of the objects which passed along the Silk Road as examples of a form of "archaic globalization". It ends by examining the meaning to contemporaries of the deliberate hybridization of objects taken from distant lands that were put on display in their respective societies. It is this bricolage of objects, to create spaces that were perceived both as local and non-local, which accounts for the passing of cultural and artistic influences along the kingdoms of the Silk Road from Byzantium to China in the Late Antique period.

Michael D. Frachetti
Abstract - Seeds for the Soul: East/West Diffusion of Domesticated Grains along the Inner Asian Mountain Corridor.
Inner Asia has commonly been conceived as a region of Nomadic societies surrounded by agricultural civilizations throughout Antiquity. Societies of China, SW Asia, and Eastern Europe each developed agriculture in the Neolithic, while the earliest evidence for agriculture from the Eurasian steppe shows it was not a major part of local economies until the Iron Age (c. 700 BC). Newly discovered botanical evidence of ancient domesticated wheat and millet at the site of Begash in Kazakhstan, however, show that mobile pastoralists of the steppe had access to domesticated grains already by 2300 BC and that they were likely essential to the diffusion of wheat into China, as well as millet into SW Asia and Europe in the mid-3rd millennium BC. Currently, Begash provides the only directly dated botanical evidence of these crisscrossed channels of interaction. Whatsmore, the seeds from Begash were found in a ritual cremation context rather than domestic hearths. This fact may suggest that the earliest transmission of domesticated grains between China and SW Asia was sparked by ideological, rather than economic forces. This paper describes the earliest known evidence of wheat in the Eurasian steppes and explores the extent of ritual use of domesticated grains from China to SW Asia, across the Inner Asian mountains.

Philip L. Kohl
Philip L. Kohl is Professor of Anthropology and the Kathryn W. Davis Professor of Slavic Studies at Wellesley College. He has conducted fieldwork in Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Daghestan, Russia. Author of over 140 publications, his most recent book is The Making of Bronze Age Eurasia (Cambridge, 2007), a study of societies of Bronze Age Western Eurasia as evidenced in the archaeological record. Dr. Kohl will handle the question/answer session and discussion at the conclusion of the symposium.

Victor H. Mair
Abstract - The Northern Cemetery: Epigone or Progenitor of Small River Cemetery No. 5?
Although it was only excavated in 2002–2005, Small River Cemetery No. 5 (SRC5; also called Xiaohe Mudi and Ördek’s Necropolis) is already well known, both to archaeologists and to the general public. A clearly related site, called simply the Northern Cemetery (Beifang Mudi), has been discovered even more recently approximately 600 km to the southwest. The resemblances to SRC5 are so close that there can be no mistaking their consanguinity, although the Northern Cemetery is thought to be slightly earlier than SRC5. The puzzle that remains to be solved, however, is how these two closely related sites, which are so far apart on the map, came to resemble each other so nearly. Since the people of both SRC5 and the Northern Cemetery seem to have entered the Tarim Basin with their cattle, ovicaprids (goats and sheep), and wheat—all of which were domesticated in Southwest Asia thousands of years earlier—a great deal more research is necessary to determine whether the people of these two sites embarked from a common staging ground and separately went their own ways, or whether one of the two groups sprang from the other. The purpose of this paper is to explore these various possibilities in a provisional fashion. Considering the fact that we do not yet have even a preliminary archaeological report for the Northern Cemetery, merely sketchy and informal descriptions by those who have been there, this is all that can be done for the present moment. Perhaps our tentative discussion will encourage a timely excavation and publication of the findings.

J.P. Mallory
Abstract - Indo-European Dispersals and the Eurasian Steppe
J P Mallory Contacts between Europe and China that bridged the Eurasian steppelands are part of a larger story of the dispersal of the Indo-European languages that were carried to Ireland (Celtic) in the west and the western frontiers of China (Tokharian, Iranian) in the east. Reviewing some of the problems of these expansions 15 years ago, the author suggested that it was convenient to discuss the expansions in terms of several fault lines – the Dnieper, the Ural and Central Asia. The Dnieper is critical for resolving issues concerning the different models of Indo-European origins and more recent research forces us to reconsider the nature of the Dnieper as a cultural border. Recent research has also suggested that we need to reconsider the eastern periphery of the Indo-European world and how it relates to its western neighbors.

Joseph G. Manning
Abstract - At the Limits: Long Distance Trade in the Time of Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic Kings
This brief paper will examine the “pre-history” of the silk road. Although many histories of the silk road proper begin with the first century AD and the interaction between the Roman and Han empires, the story of the road begins earlier, and must begin with an outline of east west trading patterns in the Achaemenid Persian empire and the consequences of Alexander the Great’s campaigns in the East. This paper tells that story. We begin with the Persians and Alexander’s conquest of the Persian empire, and then continue into the second century BC, when a higher volume of trade was pulled into the Mediterranean by the demand from the great cities of Alexandria, Antioch and Rome. The story of the silk road is really about the cultural and economic impact of long-distance trade between China and the Mediterranean world, India and China via India and the Red Sea began in the second century BC.

Colin Renfrew
Abstract - Before Silk: Unsolved Mysteries of the Silk Road
The extent of contact between east (China) and west (Europe and Western Asia) in the prehistoric period has been much debated but remains little understood. In 1921 John Gunnar Anderson’s excavations at Yangshao in Henan province led him to interpret the painted neolithic pottery found there as derived from that of neolithic Greece, a suggestion discounted by most subsequent scholars. Yet the genetics of the millet found in the neolithic of China and of eastern Europe leads archaeobotanists today to suggest a single source. The origins of copper and bronze metallurgy are likewise debated, and the mechanisms of transmission from the west of the horse-drawn chariots seen in burials of the late Shang dynasty are still open to question. Xinjiang province, with its remarkable preservation and its many insights from the second and first millennia BC offers tantalising clues, not least the Tarim "mummies" with their wonderfully preserved clothing and their western appearance. The presence there in the eighth century AD of the Tocharian language, the easternmost in the Indo-European language family, has led to intriguing speculations. These will be critically addressed. It will be argued that we are the dawn of a new era in the archaeology of prehistoric Eurasia, with the Silk Road offering challenges to many long-held ideas.

Richard Hodges
(Williams Director, Penn Museum), C. Brian Rose (Deputy Director, Penn Museum; Curator-in-Charge of the Mediterranean Section, Penn Museum; James B. Pritchard Professor of Archaeology, University of Pennsylvania), and Nancy Steinhardt (Curator, Asian Section, Penn Museum; Professor of East Asian Art, Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Pennsylvania) will also participate in the Symposium.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

The Lost Treasure of Ahmad Shah Durrani

Travel writer and explorer, Tahir Shah heads off to Afghanistan on a quest to find the hidden treasure of Ahmad Shah Durrani, the world's largest treasure estimated at over $500 billion in today's currency. Following the clues in a notebook, left by his ancestors, he teams up with a young Afghan archeologist and attempts to solve the mystery of the gold of Ahmad Shah.
Unfortunately this documentary is in German.
To get the feeling what's it all about if you don't master the German language, look at the following video:

This unique film sees travel writer and documentary maker Tahir Shah journey to the heart of Afghanistan on a personal odyssey to find the greatest lost treasure in human history –that of Ahmad Shah Durrani, first king of Afghanistan.

Following a series of clues passed down through his ancestors, Tahir seeks out an ancient cave complex concealed somewhere in Afghanistan. It is here that he hopes to find Ahmad Shah Durrani’s treasure –worth an estimated $500 billion in today’s money. His task will not be easy: travelling through such demanding terrain is an arduous experience at the best of times, but today, with Taliban positions dotted throughout the country, Afghanistan is one of the most perilous places on earth. Tahir, however, is undeterred: “The chance of locating the immense treasure helps me put up with the ever-present danger,” he says.

The treasure originates from Mughal India. Durrani was a general in the service of the Persian emperor who sacked Delhi in 1739. Having forced the treasury open and loaded its contents onto a vast caravan, the emperor was assassinated. Durrani took control of the caravan and led it to Afghanistan, where he was crowned king in 1747. Amongst the treasure was the Kohinoor diamond, a stone which now sits in the crown jewels at the Tower of London, but the rest remains hidden.

Using a notebook written by his grandfather 70 years ago during his own search for the treasure, Tahir sets out on his quest. After just one day in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, he is optimistic: “Searching for the treasure is, at least in part, a euphemism for finding Afghanistan,” he explains. “The treasure has brought me home.” But the country’s complex bureaucracy provides some problems: Tahir is told that his search is illegal and is threatened with arrest. Luckily, he is able to draw on the influence of a local ambassador –an old family friend –and can continue his journey.

He heads north to the Balkh province to visit the Shrine of Ali –a huge temple covered in elaborate decorations. These decorations, Tahir explains, make up a geometric system that represents a complex code. “It’s a system of ciphers that can have innumerable levels,” he says. Any number of interpretations can be read from the patterns but, having studied them for a week, Tahir’s grandfather was led south to a lost Buddhist monastery. It is here that Tahir travels next, and is amazed to find an ancient cave complex where monks once lived. “I’m almost lost for words!” he exclaims: this is just this sort of network that might house the treasure.

Having returned to Kabul to pick up a hoopoe bird from a market to bring him good luck, Tahir decides to fly to Herat in the west of the country. Carrying his new companion in a cage, he heads for a hill on the north side of the city, from which point he can see the five towers of Mussalla. His grandfather believed that these ancient buildings served as a sort of primitive compass, pointing towards the treasure. However, hours of studying the code on the base of the towers leaves Tahir with no more ideas as to the location of the caves.

It is not until he enlists the help of Reza, an young Afghan archaeologist, that Tahir begins to make real progress. Reza knows a great deal about the Buddhist history of the country and is able to lead Tahir to the mountains of central Afghanistan where, he is sure, Durrani’s treasure once passed. But getting to the Bamyan valley is fraught with danger: three German journalists were shot dead by bandits there two days ago.

Following a tense day of driving through what is known locally as ‘bloodbath alley’, Tahir and his team make it to the Bamyan valley. “Now,” says Tahir, “we just have to find the treasure caves!” But he may have more to contend with than just the search for the caves: noting that his guide is unwilling to speak of the treasure to any of the locals, Tahir fears that Reza may be hiding something from him. Having come so near, is Tahir destined to fail in his quest?

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Chinese Porcelain in North-east India

From World of Chinse Porcelain
By Aprajita Sharma

Chinese porcelain was one of the most important and popular items of trade between China and India from about 8th century till 18th century. Porcelain is a ceramic ware constituted of two main ingredients i.e. kaolin and petuntse, a felspathic material from decomposed granite. It is a unique pottery, originated in China. The word porcelain came out from the word porcellana which was actually used by the traveller Marco Polo in writing of his journey to the Court of Kublai Khan. He used this word to describe certain wares he saw in the process of their manufacture.

Porcelain fires at temperature from about 1,280˚ C upward and is generally covered with felspathic glaze. When fired it is very hard, normally white in colour, vitrified and has a transparent shine like a cowrie shell. It is found in different varieties having decorative motifs and Chinese inscriptions.

During excavations and explorations in India, porcelain has been reported at many coastal regions as well as on the important land routes between India and China. It is traced at a number of states in India which are Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Delhi, Diu and Daman, Goa, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Some noteworthy sites are Ambari in Assam, Arikamedu in Pondicherry, Barabari fort in Cuttack, Champaner in Gujarat, Chaul in Maharashtra, Kotapattanam in Andhra Pradesh, Kotla Firozshah complex in Delhi, Old Goa, Palaiya-Kayal in Kerala, Periyapattinam in Tamil Nadu, etc. These sites revealed some famous varieties of Chinese ceramics such as under-glazed blue and white porcelain and celadon in large quantity. Discoveries of porcelain on such a large scale prove that India was a great market for Chinese ceramics.

All over India, porcelain has been found during explorations and excavations, but due to paucity of exploratory works in North-eastern part of India, evidences of porcelain are meagre in the region. The land route connecting North-east region of India to China via Mynamar is worth exploratory. Specifically Assam region was marked as a trading station on the ‘Silk Road’. In the records of Bhaskar Varman and Yuan Chwang, references of eastern route from Assam to China via Upper Mynamar are mentioned. This Assam-Mynamar route to China has been mentioned in the 8th century CE in the Chinese work of Kia-tan. The route from Guwahati to Pagan in Mynamar was continued for a long time as it is also mentioned by Buddhagupta, an Indian Buddhist monk in 16th century, in his biography.

On the basis of travelogues and literary records, the North-eastern region is regarded important amongst the potential areas as far as Chinese trade is concerned. The area has not been thoroughly explored so far. Sites like Ambari in Assam, Sekta in Manipur and Nakshaparvat in Arunachal Pradesh have yielded blue and white porcelain and celadon ware. Recently in Manipur an accidental discovery of a wooden coffin has yielded Chinese blue and white under-glazed porcelain as well as their imitations. Among the finds of porcelain from the coffin, one bowl of Chinese blue and white porcelain has typical 16th century decoration of the prancing deer in a landscape with moon.

Celadon and glazed ware from Ambari, Guwahati

Chinese blue and white porcelain from Sekta, Manipur

Chinese blue and white porcelain from Manipur

As the area is located on such a strategic position, it is important to explore the region and porcelain finds from the region to locate trading stations on the trade route. The study of Chinese porcelain would be of immense help not only to locate ancient trade route but also help to fill missing historical links. Hence, thorough study of the region is must.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

China maps out protection plan for Dunhuang grottoes

Mogao Grottoes now has 735 grottoes,ranked as a UNESCO world cultural heritage site in 1987 more than 2,000 colored statues, and 45,000 square meters of frescos. (Xinhua File Photo)

LANZHOU, March 15 (Xinhua) -- China published a plan on Tuesday for the protection of Mogao Grottoes, one of the country's three major Buddhist art treasures, in Dunhuang city of China's northwest Gansu province.
The document, which took eight years to complete, was endorsed by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage before coming into effect Tuesday, said Fan Jinshi, curator of the Dunhuang Academy.
It was drafted by Chinese heritage preservation experts, with the help of specialists from the United States and Australia, he said.
The document has designated a 1,344-square km conservation area for heritage and environment protection.
"It's aimed at preserving and sustaining the treasures," said Chen Tongbin, head of the Institute of Architectural History under China Architecture Design and Research Group.
Chen and his colleagues began drafting the plan in 2003, shortly after a regional law was passed for the better protection of all underground relics, sites of historical interest and the natural environment around the Mogao Grottoes.
The Mogao Grottoes, or the Ancient Caves of 1,000 Buddhas, were listed in 1987 by the United Nations' Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization as China's first world heritage site.


Silk Road will cross Romanian Territory

Taking part in Ashgabat-the capital of Turkmenistan- at a debate on the new destiny of Silk Road- professor Dr. Anton Caragea , director of Institute of International Relations and Economic Cooperation had announced the Romanian openness in taking part in a cultural resurrection project of the universal patrimony of Silk Road.
Besides Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, Romania will get involved by simultaneous hosting this year a large cultural show in Bucharest, show destined to rekindle the values and beauties of Silk Road.

The Silk Road is linking Romania to Korea and China

The Silk Road was connecting Korea and China to Europe, transporting goods, ideas and cultural values but also economical treasures and unifying peoples and civilizations. The Romanian presence in this trans-continental endeavor was enthusiastically greeted by Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan as a modern resurrection of Silk Road, without Romania contribution this being uncompleted.
The Bucharest Exhibition will reconstruct the treasures of Silk Road in a large exposition offering to visitors the opportunity to see the fabulous specific yurts and typical Central Asia housing on Silk Road and from fantastic Bukhara rugs to Turkmen carpets that are recreating the memories of 1001 Nights Oriental tales . Also lights and sounds and travel documentary will recreate for the visitors the magic atmosphere of the treasures of Silk Road.

Source: The institute of Relations and Economic Cooperation of Romania

Paradise Found : Islamic Architecture and Arts

FFH: “Renowned art commentator Waldemar Januszczak makes an epic journey of discovery across the Muslim world, revealing awe-inspiring architecture and art objects that evoke the history of Islam. Along the way he meets local historians and experts—as well as an array of weavers, calligraphers, potters, and jewelers—who contribute their knowledge of this fascinating art-historical field. The result is a stimulating introduction to a set of globally significant aesthetic traditions.


Friday, 11 March 2011

Secrets of the Cave II: The “Library Cave”

By Sam van Schaik

The “Library Cave” is the second part of the series "Secrets of the Cave.
The first part was called "Sacred Waste" and was published on December 13, 2010

The really frustrating thing about the discovery of the Dunhuang cave, source of the earliest Tibetan manuscripts, is that nobody recorded what it looked like when it was reopened after some 900 years. Aurel Stein — who didn’t discover the cave, but was the first person on the scene to record what he saw, wrote:
Mixed up with these disarranged leaves, Chinese and Tibetan rolls, and portions of large Tibetan Pothis, there were found convolutes of miscellaneous Chinese papers, written on detached sheets. The utter confusion prevailing in these bundles and their careless fastening, often without an outer cloth cover, clearly showed that no trouble had been taken to preserve the materials in whatever kind of arrangement they might have originally been found.
Stein himself contributed to the problem. He had to negotiate with the Chinese monk Wang Yuanlu, who had discovered the sealed cave and was wary of the foreigner’s motivations. So Stein did not press Wang for access to the cave himself. Instead, Wang climbed inside and handed manuscripts out, and Stein (and his Chinese assistant) examined them in the larger space of Cave 16 (as you can see in the picture above). So, we have no archeological record of how the manuscripts were arranged in the cave before it was sealed, and this is one reason why nobody has yet been able to agree why the manuscripts were put in there in the first place.
* * *
When Stein wrote about his discovery of a cave full of manuscripts at Dunhuang, he called it a “monastic library” but I don’t think he really considered this very seriously, and he didn’t offer any theories about why a Buddhist monastery would place its whole library in a cave. Then, later on, when scholars looked more closely at the manuscripts which had monastic library stamps, they saw that they came from a variety of different monasteries. Why would that be?
Well, it could all be down to a monk called Daozhen, a member of the Sanjie monastery. In the year 934, he spent some time in his monastery’s library, and noticed how poorly stocked it was. Filled with religious enthusiasm, he vowed to make it better:
I will go carefully through the cartons and storehouses of all the families, seeking after sold and decayed scriptural texts. I will gather them in the monastery, repair and patch them from beginning to end, and pass them down the ages. Their light will beautify the gate of mystery for ten thousand generations and one thousand autumns.*
As Stephen Teiser has pointed out, Daozhen was no ordinary monk, but a member of one of the ruling families of Dunhuang, with plenty of connections to the wealthy laity. So it would not have been difficult for him to approach them for manuscripts which they no longer needed. Another scholar, Rong Xinjiang made the leap to arguing that the fruits of Daozhen’s labours are the contents of the Dunhuang cave itself.

As he promised in his vow, Daozhen collected unwanted fragmentary or duplicate manuscripts, and used them to fill gaps in the Sanjie monastery’s library, or to repair incomplete works in that library. Thus according to Rong, the existence of so many incomplete manuscripts in the Dunhuang cave is due to Daozhen’s efforts in collecting manuscripts from elsewhere. Rong also pointed out that many of the manuscripts are not actually incomplete, and seem to have been originally stored in the cave in neatly catalogued bundles.
Then in the early 11th century, Rong argues, the entire library of the Sanjie monastery was moved over to the Dunhuang cave and sealed. Why? Probably for its own safety, for fear of the Islamic armies who were threatening the Silk Route cities to the west. Thus for Rong, the contents of the Dunhuang cave represent a complete monastic library, rather than a variety of libraries and personal collections.
* * *
Rong’s theory is thorough and well-argued, and many have found it very convincing. You can read it yourself, in English translation, online: see the link below. But it is not actually conclusive. Shortly after Rong published his theory, another scholar (Dohi Yoshikazu) attacked it, arguing that only about 200 manuscripts can be shown to come from Sanjie monastery, which is a tiny fraction of the thousands of manuscripts from the cave. Nor is there any evidence that this monastery was near the caves (most if not all were several miles away in the nearby town). He also pointed out that another monastery in Dunhuang (Baoen), was inspecting and restocking its library at the end of the tenth century. So Sanjie was hardly a unique case.
Ultimately, I don’t think that Rong’s argument is necessarily wrong. It’s more that he presents it as a rebuttal of all other theories, especially that of what he calls “the sacred waste school.” When we don’t have command of all the historical facts, it doesn’t seem very wise to identify oneself with one particular theory to the exclusion of all others. Even if we accept that the Sanjie library really was sealed up in the Dunhuang cave, does that mean that it couldn’t also have been a repository for other pious deposits as well? And if we see something in Rong’s theory that this library was put in the cave to save it from non-Buddhist invaders, do we have to give up the possibility that people placed manuscripts in the cave at other times and for other reasons? I don’t think we do.
* * *
Dohi Yoshikazu. 1996. “Tonko isho fūhei no nazo wo megutte” 敦煌遺書封閉の謎をめぐって. Rekishi to chiri: Sekaishi no kenkyū 486: 32–33.
Rong Xinjiang. 2000. “The Nature of the Dunhuang Library Cave and the Reasons for its Sealing.” In Cahiers d’Extrême-Asie 11: 247–275. Online version here.
Stein, M. Aurel. 1921. Serindia: Detailed Report of Explorations in Central Asia and Westernmost China. 5 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (quotation above from vol.II, p.811)
Teiser, Stephen. 1994. The Scripture on the Ten Kings and the Making of Purgatory in Medieval Chinese Buddhism. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.
* * *
1. Photo showing Cave 16 and the manuscripts piled up for Stein to examine near the entrance to Cave 17, the “library cave”.
2. The manuscript Or.8210/S.5663, which was commissioned by Daozhen.
* * *
* This is part of the colophon to the National Library of China manuscript Xin 新 329. The translation is from Teiser 1994. Daozhen’s commissioning of manuscripts is

Dali Shaxi ancient town

Shaxi Town. Photo courtesy of

Shaxi Town, one of the world's 100 most endangered sites listed by the World Monuments Fund is a place where you can breathe in fresh air around-the-clock.

The ancient village in Yunnan Province is located in the southeastern part of a nature reserve where the Jin Sha, Lantsang and Nu Jiang rivers converge.

Shaxi's agreeable climate, beautiful natural scenery and rich natural resources make it a place where the temperature is never too high or too low, and the water is greenish-blue and bluish-green.

Shaxi is also a village with a long history that can be traced back to the Spring and Autumn period and the Warring States period (770 BC-221BC).

Shaxi town was built on the remains of an ancient market town and was once an active trade stop on the Southern Silk Road that connected southwest China's hinterland with Southeast Asia and on to Europe, which is actually older than the more famous Silk Road (in the North), predating it by at least 300 years.

Stone Treasure Mountain and the Friday Market are the two most popular tourist attractions in Shaxi Town. Stone Treasure Mountain, a fantastic nature reserve and religious site that was designated as one of the first officially protected sites by China in 1982. There are numerous temples and grottoes as well as some fantastic views there. Going up to the temple there are some families of monkeys that sometimes turn very aggressive with visitors, although tourists have reported only minor injuries.

But if you have never seen what an ancient Chinese market looks like, your curiosity will be satisfied if you go to Shaxi. The Friday Market is located on the main road in Sideng. Just follow the crowd. As the last remaining market town on the ancient Tea & Horse Caravan Trail, Shaxi still hosts the local market every Friday.

The Bai ethnic people from all the villages in Shaxi Valley and the Yi people from the surrounding mountains come here to trade everything from fresh produce to supplies and horses.

Minority women dress in colorful traditional costumes, and men will often lead pack mules to carry supplies back to their mountain villages, much like in the days of the Tea & Horse Caravan Trail hundreds of years ago.

Source:China Daily, March 11, 2011

The story behind a photo shoot of the Silk Road Exhibition

This is from the blog of Sabina Lousie Pierce

I got a call from one of the editors at the NY Times arts section assigning me the “Secrets of the Silk Road” exhibit at the University of Pennsylvania’s archeology and anthropology museum.. The shoot was set up for Saturday but was quickly changed to Friday afternoon after the museum said it had to be Friday.. Luckily my afternoon was free so I jumped in my car and headed over.. I had been wanting to see the exhibit anyway. . I was greeted by the pr lady and we wandered through the exhibit.. It was a delight and eye candy for a photojournalist.. They had just opened the doors to the public and I found a few feet from the first mummy a mother and her daughter looking at the program with a walk with the time line of the silk road in the background.. I quickly adjusted my camera to the dim light and shot a few frames. after asking them for their names and explaining who I was I headed on looking and reading and photographing as I went.. I spent over an hour shooting and came away with many choice photographs.. after a quick edit, I fixed up 19 photos, captioned them and sent them up to the Times. On Sunday I went on the website by chance in the afternoon see the most recent updates coming out of the middle east when what did I see front in center of the website but one of my photos. It was one of my favourites, of that same little girl looking at a princess mummy… a few hours later a slide show popped up.. I liked every one of the photos they picked, but there was one or two that I really liked that were missing.. I’m gonna post them here so they will at least get a little light! plus a link to the page and the slideshow.. so you can judge for yourself. all in all a memorable shoot and a bit of education too.

For more of my work check out

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Hirayama Ikuo and the Preservation of Buddhist Heritage

The exhibition, "Hirayama Ikuo and the Preservation of Buddhist Heritage" was recently held at the Tokyo National Museum.
This exhibition honors Hirayama Ikuo's outstanding contribution to the preservation of cultural heritage, and seeks to renew awareness of the value of heritage preservation as well as highlight challenges being faced in the field. Works on exhibit include many of the Buddhist sculptures and wall paintings which captivated Hirayama, and which originated in and around India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and Cambodia, marking the trail of Buddhism's traversal across Asia.

An excellent blogpost of this exhibition can be found at " Through the Sapphire Sky"

"Sanwei Mountain, Dunhuang"(left), "Mingsha Sand Dune, Dunhuang"(right)
By Hirayama Ikuo, 1985, Narukawa Art Museum, Lake Ashi, Hakone, Kanagawa

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Secrets of Silk Science

From the Penn Museum Blog
By Gabrielle Niu
March 8, 2011

It is said that that the Chinese closely and successfully guarded the secrets of silk production until a Chinese princess was sent to marry the king of the Taklamakan Desert oasis, Khotan. As the story goes, this princess carried to her new kingdom silkworm cocoons hidden in her gowns and destroyed the Chinese monopoly on silk production. Today, scientists are still baffled as to how silkworms and, more interestingly, spiders produce their extremely flexible yet resilient strands of silk.

Researchers are exploring new applications for silk. (Picture by Bryce Vickmark for The New York Times)

The article, The Reinvention of Silk, published in the New York Times, reports that researchers are investigating the formation and composition of silk in order to further explore radical applications of a fiber which has been in use for millenia. From blood vessel grafts to films that store medicines at room temperature for long periods of time, research is being conducted on new and powerful uses for silk in the medical and industrial fields. It is nice to know that the Secrets of the Silk Road’s eponymous luxury fabric still holds many secrets.

Steppe Empires and Silk Roads: Historical Sources on the World of Genghis Khan

Steppe Empires and Silk Roads: Historical Sources on the World of Genghis Khan
By George Lane (Editor)

Covering over 500 years of history of Greater Iran and the Mongol Empire, approximately 1000 CE until 1500 CE, the encyclopedia provides a thorough introduction to the primary and secondary resources of this period of Asian history, for students and scholars alike. Collected together in an easy-to-use encyclopedia format, entries on the people, places, and politics of the period bring this region to life. Using primary and secondary resources to trace medieval Central Asian history through time, the author shows readers how our understanding of this history has developed over time, and what differing views still exist among scholars today. Entries included in this title are: Rashid al-Din; Arghun Khan; Armenia; Astrology; Baghdad; Cathay; Feasting in the Yuan Court; Kabul; Medicine; Mongols; Old Man of the Mountains; Marco Polo; Rumi; Saljuqs; Saracens; Sufis; Tatars; Tehran; Timur; and, more.

GEORGE LANE teaches in the Department of History, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He contributed to The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Daily Life (Greenwood, 2004), and is the author of Ghengis Khan and Mongol Rule (Greenwood, 2004) and Early Mongol Rule in 13th Century Iran (2003).

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

The Giant Buddhas of Bamiyan

The Giant Buddhas of Bamiyan Safeguarding the Remains
By Michael Petzet

Die Publikation präsentiert die bisherigen Arbeitsergebnisse bei der Sicherung der Reste der weltberühmten Buddhaskulpturen von Bamiyan, die 2001 von den Taliban gesprengt wurden. Seit 2002 hat sich ein Team von ICOMOS Deutschland in Zusammenarbeit mit der RWTH Aachen und der TU München um die Bergung und Dokumentation der Fragmente dieser im 6./7. Jahrhundert n. Chr. entstandenen Hauptwerke der Gandhara-Epoche bemüht. Die Veröffentlichung zeigt die bei dieser spektakulären Rettungsmaßnahme entwickelten Konservierungsmethoden und eröffnet neue Perspektiven für die Fortführung der bisher im Rahmen der Kulturhilfe für Afghanistan vom Auswärtigen Amt geförderten Maßnahme. Es handelt sich um ein weltweit beachtetes Projekt, das auch in technischen Fragen der Konservierung Maßstäbe setzt und außerordentliche Ergebnisse gebracht hat.
Mit der Darstellung der jahrelangen Arbeit des ICOMOS-Teams in Bamiyan in Form der nun vorliegenden Publikation wird das Ziel verfolgt, neue Perspektiven für die notwendige Fortführung der Maßnahme zu eröffnen, mögliche Konservierungskonzepte (Anastylose oder Rekonstruktion?) zu entwickeln und auch im Sinn des internationalen Erfahrungsaustauschs neue Methoden der Erfassung (Dokumentation von Tausenden von Fragmenten) und Sicherung (Felssicherung, Steinkonservierung) vorzustellen.

1. Auflage 2009, 284 Seiten, englisch, 490 Abbildungen, broschiert, 21.0 x 29.7 cm, Euro 19.80, ISBN 978-3-930388-55-4

Ancient Arab Shipwreck Yields Secrets of Ninth-Century Trade

Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
A monumental ewer with incised floral lozenges and clouds, ca. 825.

Article in the New York Times
Published: March 7, 2011

SINGAPORE — For more than a decade, archaeologists and historians have been studying the contents of a ninth-century Arab dhow that was discovered in 1998 off Indonesia’s Belitung Island. The sea-cucumber divers who found the wreck had no idea it eventually would be considered one of the most important maritime discoveries of the late 20th century.
The dhow was carrying a rich cargo — 60,000 ceramic pieces and an array of gold and silver works — and its discovery has confirmed how significant trade was along a maritime silk road between Tang Dynasty China and Abbasid Iraq. It also has revealed how China was mass-producing trade goods even then and customizing them to suit the tastes of clients in West Asia.

“Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds,” at the new, lotus-shaped ArtScience Museum designed by Moshe Safdie, presents items from the Belitung wreck. Curated by the Asian Civilisations Museum here and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Smithsonian Institution in Washington, the show is expected to travel to museums around the world over the next five to six years.
“This exhibition tells us a story about an extraordinary moment in globalization,” said Julian Raby, director of the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. “It brings to life the tale of Sinbad sailing to China to make his fortune. It shows us that the world in the ninth century was not as fragmented as we assumed. There were two great export powers: the Tang in the east and the Abbasid based in Baghdad.”
Until the Belitung find, historians had thought that Tang China traded primarily through the land routes of Central Asia, mainly on the Silk Road. Ancient records told of Persian fleets sailing the Southeast Asian seas but no wrecks had been found, until the Belitung dhow. Its cargo confirmed that a huge volume of trade was taking place along a maritime route, said Heidi Tan, a curator at the Asian Civilisations Museum and a co-curator of the exhibition.

Mr. Raby said: “The size of the find gives us a sense of two things: a sense of China as a country already producing things on an industrialized scale and also a China that is no longer producing ceramics to bury.” He was referring to the production of burial pottery like camels and horses, which was banned in the late eighth century. “Instead, kilns looked for other markets and they started producing tableware and they built an export market.”
The first part of the exhibition provides historical context and traces the discovery, recovery and conservation of the salvaged cargo. But it is the second part of the show, where row upon row of similar bowls are displayed, that underscores the importance and size of the find — though only 450 of the 60,000 objects are on display.
Stacked in the dhow, hundreds of tall stoneware jars each held more than a hundred nested Changsha bowls — named after the Changsha kilns in Hunan where they were produced. Of the thousands of hand-painted pieces, almost all carry one of a few set patterns, but these were copied by many hands, resulting in an impression of huge variety.
Not all of the ceramics were mass-produced. Among the most interesting pieces in the exhibition is an extremely rare dish, one of three found in the wreck, with floral lozenge motifs surrounded by sprigs of foliage. They are believed to be the earliest known complete Chinese blue-and-white ceramics.

Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
A dish with a painted floral lozenge motif, ca. 825.

Ms. Tan, the curator, said: “It demonstrates that the Chinese potters were already experimenting with imported cobalt blue from Iraq, which they applied as underglaze painted decoration, some 500 years earlier than the famous blue and white porcelain of the 14th century.” At the time of the dhow’s discovery, cobalt-blue pigments had been found only in the Middle East, not yet in China, said Alan Chong, director of the Asian Civilisations Museum.
Aside from the rare ceramics, the haul also contained gold and silver objects, some of which Mr. Raby of the Smithsonian described as “of the very best quality you can see, clearly of imperial quality,” adding, “so we believe these were possible diplomatic gifts.”
The form and decorative motifs of an octagonal gold cup — musicians and dancers with long hair and billowing robes — suggest Central Asian metal wares. Mr. Raby said it was believed to be the largest known such gold cup from Tang China, even upstaging, he added, one of the great treasures of Tang gold and silver work: the so-called Hejiacun Hoard, found in what had been one of the southern suburbs of the Tang capital of Xi’an.
The rarity of the cup and its unusual style have puzzled researchers, Mr. Raby said: Why was it aboard the dhow and who owned it? But he said the dhow’s entire cargo raises myriad questions.
A replica of a Hejiacun cup can be seen in a parallel show, “Traveling the Silk Road: Ancient Pathway to the Modern World,” which is at the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands and is running through March 27. It takes viewers back to the heyday of the Silk Road, when Genghis Khan and his descendants restored order in the 13th century along the loose networks of trade routes that had become too dangerous for merchants. The museum is also showing “Genghis Khan: The Exhibition” until April 10.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Early Buddhist Transmission and Trade Networks: Mobility and Exchange within and beyond the Northwestern Borderlands of South Asia

Early Buddhist Transmission and Trade Networks: Mobility
and Exchange within and beyond the Northwestern Borderlands of South
Asia. Dynamics in the History of Religion, vol. 2. Leiden; Boston,
Brill: 2011. ISSN 1878-8106; ISBN 978 90 04 18159 5

This exploration of early paths for Buddhist transmission within and beyond South Asia retraces the footsteps of monks, merchants, and other agents of cross-cultural exchange. A reassessment of literary, epigraphic, and archaeological sources reveals hisorical contexts for the growth of the Buddhist saṅgha from approximately the 5th century BCE to the end of the first millennium CE. Patterns of dynamic Buddhist mobility were closely linked to transregional trade networks extending to the northwestern borderlands and joined to Central Asian silk routes by capillary routes through transit zones in the upper Indus and Tarim Basin. By examining material conditions for Buddhist establishments at nodes along these routes, this book challenges models of gradual diffusion and develops alternative explanations for successful Buddhist movement.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction: Road Map for Travelers
Models for the Movement of Buddhism
Merit, Merchants, and the Buddhist Sagha
Sources and Methods for the study of Buddhist Transmission
Outline of Destinations

Chapter 2: Historical Contexts for the Emergence and Transmission of
Buddhism within South Asia

Initial Phases of the Establishment of Early Indian Buddhist
Legacy of the Mauryans: Aśoka as Dharmarāja
Migrations, Material Exchanges, and Cross-Cultural Transmission in
Northwestern Contact Zones
Saka Migrants and Mediators between Central Asia and South Asia
Dynamics of Mobility during the Kuāa Period
Shifting Networks of Political Power and Institutional Patronage during
the Gupta Period
Cross-Cultural Transmission between South Asia and Central Asia, ca.
500-100 CE

Chapter 3: Trade Networks in Ancient South Asia
Northern Route (Uttarāpatha)
Southern Route (Dakiāpatha)
Seaports and Maritime Routes across the Indian Ocean

Chapter 4: Old Roads in the Northwestern Borderlands
Environmental Conditions for Buddhist Transmission in Gandhāra
Gandhāran Material and Literary Cultures
Gandhāran Nodes and Networks
Routes of Buddhist Missionaries and Pilgrims to and from Gandhāra
Domestication of Gandharan Buddhism

Chapter 5: Capillary Routes of the Upper Indus
Geography, Economy, and Capillary Routes in a High Altitude
Graffiti, Petroglyphs, and Pilgrims
Enigma of an Absence of Archaeological Evidence and Manifestations
of Buddhist Presence

Chapter 6: Long-Distance Transmission to Central Asian Silk Routes and

Silk Routes of Eastern Central Asia
Long-distance Transmission Reconsidered

Chapter 7: Conclusions: Alternative Paths and Paradigms of Buddhist

Catalysts for the Formation and Expansion of the Buddhist Sagha
Changing Paradigms for Buddhist Transmission within and beyond South

The Horse That Leaps Through Clouds

The horse that leaps through clouds, A Tale of Espionage, the Silk Road and the Rise of Modern China
By Eric Enno Tamm

Two epic journeys along the Silk Road, past and present, offer a riveting and cautionary tale about the breathtaking rise of China On July 6, 1906, Baron Gustaf Mannerheim boarded the midnight train from St. Petersburg, charged by Czar Nicholas ii to secretly collect intelligence on the Qing Dynasty's sweeping reforms that were radically transforming China. The last czarist agent in the so-called Great Game, Mannerheim chronicled almost every facet of China's modernization, from education reform and foreign investment to Tibet's struggle for independence. On July 6, 2006, writer Eric Enno Tamm boards that same train, intent on following in Mannerheim's footsteps. Initially banned from China, Tamm devises a cover and retraces Mannerheim's route across the Silk Road, discovering both eerie similarities and seismic differences between the Middle Kingdoms of today and a century ago. Along the way, Tamm offers piercing insights into China's past that raise troubling questions about its future. Can the Communist Party truly open China to the outside world yet keep Western ideas such as democracy and freedom at bay, just as Qing officials mistakenly believed? What can reform during the late Qing Dynasty teach us about the spectacular transformation of China today? "Study the past if you would divine the future," wrote Confucius. Tamm's quest turns out to be a cautionary tale.

"Following in the footsteps of Baron Carl Gustav Mannerheim, the last Tsarist spy in the so-called Great Game, Tamm has written a grand sweep of a narrative. It combines a long and arduous physical journey—9 months and 17,000 kilometers from St. Petersburg across the Tibetan Plateau and the Gobi desert to Beijing—with the revelations of high stakes history—espionage in virtually unknown territory in the early years of the twentieth century. At its core, this is a journey into the soul of the Middle Kingdom, and the roots of modern China. Full of wild characters, harsh geography, and historical surprise, Tamm's journey reveals him to be at once an intrepid adventurer, fine writer, and discerning historian. Altogether a wonderful book." ---—Wade Davis

“TAMM's account of his journey has tremendous scope and panache. He unearths what has happened to these regions in the intervening 100 years and his ghost companion, Mannerheim, proves useful as a baseline from which to gauge the changes. TAMM's themes are the vanishing of languages and ways of life, environmental depredation, China's colonization of the hinterlands and, finally, the prospects for its political development...THE HORSE THAT LEAPS THROUGH CLOUDS is a serious, generous and enlightening introduction to this huge and infrequently travelled part of the world.” -- VANCOUVER SUN --Vancouver Sun
"A sophisticated journalist indeed, Mr. TAMM gathers observations like gemstones." --Diplomat & International Canada
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