Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Finding Ghengis

Trailer from documentary of one of the several searches for the tomb of Ghengis Khan, this one in 2009 (?)

Eighty percent of Asian men – from eastern China to central Asia – are said to have descended from Genghis Khan. Here, British explorer Mike Brown embarks on an arduous expedition to find the tomb of the legendary warrior, joined by a team of young Mongol adventurers eager to find the long-lost necropolis of the man who could potentially be their ancestor.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Excavating the Underground Trade in Buddhist Antiquities

Spoils of War: Excavating the Underground Trade in Buddhist Antiquities By Shahan Mufti
Shahan Mufti analyzes the growth of the Western market in antiquities from the ancient kingdom of Gandhara, which lies on the border between present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan, in the historical context of war looting, from Alexander the Great all the way through the Iraq War. Traveling from a Christie’s auction house in New York to Northwest Pakistan, Mufti meets with black-market antiquities dealers, discovers Gandharan relics to be a profitable trade for the Taliban, and learns how Western collectors and curators continue to turn a blind eye to recent histories of the ancient objects they acquire.
Christie’s just announced a Central Asian art auction. On the catalog cover for the auction that begins on March 22 is an emaciated Buddha, the iconic Gandharan relic on which Mufti’s piece ends. It is estimated to sell for as much as $6 million, which would represent a new record for art of its kind.

For more information, go to Harper's Magazine.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Afghanistan: the Greek legacy

Find out about the lasting legacy of Alexander the Great in Afghanistan today.
The exhibition Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World is at the British Museum until 3 July 2011.

From Venice to Xanadu: Marco Polo's Silk Road Adventure

From Venice to Xanadu: Marco Polo's Silk Road Adventure
by Dr. Paul M. Cobb
Wednesday, June 1, 2011, 6-8 PM
Penn Museum

“Great Adventures along the Silk Road” Lecture Series
From Venice to Xanadu: Marco Polo's Silk Road Adventure
Dr. Paul M. Cobb, Associate Professor, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, offers a look at Marco Polo, one of history's most famous medieval travelers, in this “Great Adventures” lecture.
Traveling as a young man from Italy to China, Marco Polo achieved great success at the court of the fearsome Mongol Khan.
This lecture examines how his many adventures on the Silk Road prepared him for his career in East Asia.
Admission: $10 at the door; $5 with advance registration; free for Penn Museum members with advance registration.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Role of Silk Road in Proximity of Thoughts

International Conference titled “Role of Silk Road in Proximity of Thoughts” was held in Paris on April 21, 2011

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Shipwrecked- Tang treasures and Monsoon Winds

Exhibition: Shipwrecked- Tang treasures and Monsoon Winds
February 17, 2011–July 31, 2011
ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore.

A mass of green-glazed storage jars found at the stern of the ship. Photo by M. Flecker.

The Discovery
In 1998, fishermen diving for sea cucumbers off the coast of Belitung, a small island in the Java Sea, discovered a mysterious mound rising above the flat seabed. It was found to consist of Chinese ceramics, twelve centuries old, the cargo of an ancient shipwreck. When the ship was recognized as an Arab dhow, scholars realized that this was the first physical proof of a maritime trade route between West Asia and China—and that Sinbad the Sailor might really have existed.

Ewers from the wreck are encrusted with coral growths.

The Cargo
The ship was originally loaded with about 70,000 individual Chinese ceramic pieces, from everyday bowls and jars to precious wine cups. Its huge cargo also included jars of spices, lead ingots, and a few spectacular objects in silver and gold.

Personal items from the ship—glass from West Asia, lacquer from China, amber and spices from Southeast Asia.

The Ship and Its Crew
From the way the Belitung ship was built we know it came from a Persian or Arabian port. But some of the objects found on board tell of an international crew of merchants, passengers, and seamen who undertook the long and dangerous voyage to China.

Bronze coins from the Tang
period were found on the ship.

Trade and Travel by Land and Sea
For centuries, merchants and pilgrims had journeyed between east and west overland on the famous Silk Road. But by the ninth century this route had become dangerous and many travelers, like the sailors of the Belitung ship, took instead to the sea.

A bowl from Abbasid Iraq (left) and a Chinese dish found on the wreck (right) share a color scheme and foliage motifs.

Asian Empires
Ninth-century Asia was dominated by the Tang Empire in the east and the Abbasid Empire in the west. The expanding sea trade between them aided the rise of Srivijaya, a maritime power that controlled the narrow sea lanes now dominated by modern Singapore.

Shipwrecked- Tang treasures and Monsoon Winds

Urban Explorers visited the exhibition at the ArtScience Museum in Singapore.

Read the article with lots of photos and click HERE

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Neil Schmid provides cultural insight about China's Silk Road

Article by Marlena Chertock in The Pendulum, the Elon's University's Student Newspaper
April 13, 2011

Nothing takes place without the influence of culture, according to Neil Schmid, professor at UNC-Greensboro and author of "The Silk Road: Discovering China's Religion and Art."
"If you only look at text, you'll have an incredibly skewed understanding of the world," he said in his presentation on campus Tuesday night.
"Text is edited by scholars. The visual is so much richer, subtle and nuanced than text could ever be."
Showing artwork and manuscripts found along the Silk Road, he said the Chinese empire is on one side of the Silk Road and the Mediterranean empire is on the other.
In many cases, the true purpose of the road is misunderstood.
Not only silk was sold along the trade routes. Peacock feathers, lap dogs, drugs, jasmine, sandalwood, flowers and other items were sold, Schmid said.
Countries and empires received national prestige through their expeditions, he said, often aiming to obtain items of the oldest antiquity.
Schmid's research in particular focuses on the Taklamakan Desert.
"In the bleak desert they found art, architecture, cemeteries and manuscripts," he said. "It doesn't look like much but under the sands they'd find some of the earliest Chinese documents."
Explorer Sven Hedin discovered mummies preserved in great condition in the desert. These mummies are a group of people of Indo-European descent who are not Chinese, Schmid said.
Their clothes are well-preserved and have been found to have plaid patterns similar to what would be found in Scotland, he said.
"This has the potential to upset the Chinese government, since they were found in China and are not Chinese," he said.
This group of people disappeared in the 4th cent. C.E.
50,000 manuscripts were found in 492 caves in the desert, he said.
The manuscripts were written for various reasons, ranging from prayers, menstrual cramps, a model letter about becoming too intoxicated and apologizing so others can copy the letter and an abandoned wife's letter to her husband. A phrase book in Khotanese was also found. It is a sort of transliteration of Chinese for the Buddhist monks, with simple phrases.
"People have problems and they try to deal with them," Schmid said.
Inside, the caves are completely covered in art and paintings depicting scenes of Buddhist paradise. The colors are still vibrant, he said.
"China doesn't have this type of artwork because of the destruction, attacks and wars and more recently the Cultural Revolution," he said.
Studying the Silk Road, archeology or the artifacts that are found in those areas provides insight, Schmid said.
"They give us a view of life in a really immediate way, in a way that's very human, that we can relate to," he said. "People live their lives in ways that are very similar to ours, in a different time and place. And once we realize that it doesn't seem so foreign. It provides insight to their lives and also ours."
Now, the site is open for tourists but may be shut down in the future, Schmid said. The humidity from the breath of tourists' can ruin the paintings.
There's a movement to digitize the manuscripts and caves. It may make these materials that have been stored in libraries and the caves accessible, he said. The International Dunhuang Project is the best online resource on the Silk Road, according to Schmid.

Dr. Ron Mellor - East Meets West: Encounters Along The Ancient "Silk Road"

On thursday, April 5, 2011 Dr. Ronald Mellor held a lecture "East Meets West: Encounters Along The Ancient 'Silk Road'" at Birmingham-Southern College.
Dr. Mellor, Phi Beta Kappa's guest speaker, is a Professor of History at UCLA and author of numerous books centering around ancient religion and Roman historiography.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Marco Polo: Silk Road to China / Lecture by Larry Bergreen

It had escaped my attention but on October 24, 2007 author Larry Bergreen gave this lecture at the Cambridge Forum.

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

Sunday, 3 April 2011

New edition of Marco Polo's Book

Marco Polo's Silk Road: The Art of the Journey - An Italian at the Court of Kublai Khan

In the late 1290s Venetian merchant Marco Polo dictated an account of his own travels in north and south China (Cathay and Manji, in Polo's terminology) to a scribe with whom he shared a prison cell in Genoa. Despite the fact that there was still no printing in Europe, the book was a popular success (in manuscript). The Travels of Marco Polo can rightly be described as the founding adventure book of the modern world. With modern China today finally occupying its rightful place on the world stage, Polo's masterpiece remains a fascinating account of 'old China' from a highly observant foreign visitor. The original manuscripts have long been lost, but the English translations by William Marsden and Henry Yule, based on hybrid versions, are each regarded as having particular strengths - and this book presents a modernised abridgement of the most reliable passages. Consisting of nearly 150 individual chapters, this beautifully produced edition is perfect for dipping into as well as more serious study. Polo's travels through Arabia, Persia, Afghanistan, Central Asia and China remained unsurpassed in scope for centuries. His record of the manners, customs and beliefs of the diverse people he encountered are entertaining and unique. Polo was a forerunner of the great age of exploration. In his wake followed Columbus (who was inspired by Marco Polo's description of the riches of the Far East), Magellan and Vasco da Gama - and the world was changed forever.
About the Author
Marco Polo (c.1254-1324) was a Christian merchant from the Venetian Republic who learned about trading while his father and uncle travelled through Asia. In 1269 the brothers returned and met Marco for the first time. The three of them then embarked on a new journey to Asia, returning after more than two decades to find Venice at war. Marco was imprisoned in Genoa, whereupon he dictated his romantic-sounding stories to a cellmate. The popularity of his account is a rare example of a success in publishing before the age of printing

Longtime Curator “Travels” DMA’s Silk Road

Interview of Dr. Anne Bromberg, curator of the Dallas Museum of Art by Ashley Bruckbauer

Following her new installation in the third-floor galleries of objects that reflect transport along Eurasia’s Silk Road, “seasoned” curator Dr. Anne Bromberg sat down with us to discuss her fascinating career. A lifelong Dallasite—except for her years at Harvard getting her B.A. in anthropology and M.A. and Ph.D. in classical art and archaeology—Dr. Bromberg has been on the staff of the Dallas Museum of Art for more than forty years, first as a lecturer and docent trainer beginning in 1962, then as head of the education department, and currently as The Cecil and Ida Green Curator of Ancient and Asian Art. What’s more, she has led an inspired life, traveling extensively to little-known locales, researching and experiencing the cultures within her discipline.

How would you describe your job at the DMA?

AB: Most curatorial jobs involve trying to acquire art for the museum, organizing exhibitions and/or working on exhibitions that come to us from elsewhere, publishing, lecturing, working with volunteers, [and] cultivating donors. In terms of legwork, it’s going around and seeing dealers and other collections, visiting other museums, going to conferences, and giving lectures outside the museum.

You are in charge of a very diverse area of the Museum’s collections. What is your particular area of expertise?

AB: Classical art, meaning the art of ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, and all Asian art, but I’m mainly working with South Asian art.

How did you become interested in Asian art?

AB: One of the really outstanding teachers I had taught evolution in her biology courses, including historical geology, and I was really fascinated with historical geology and that got me into reading about archaeology. And I thought, this is what I want to do. A good teacher makes a difference. I’ve actually been interested in Asia for a long, long time. When I was an undergraduate, I was reading books on Zen Buddhism and haiku, the Ramayana, and things like that. Books stimulate your passion to go see these things in reality.

What are some of your favorite places you’ve traveled to?

AB: I think both my husband, Alan, and I would say the single favorite place we’ve been is Isfahan in Persia. Italy, of all the European countries, is easily the most seductive, and everybody I know who has been to India is dying to get back. We’ve been there so many times, and you feel like you’ve just scratched the surface.”

What is your favorite object within the ancient and Asian collections at the DMA? Within another collection?

AB: The Shiva Nataraja, because that image is the single most important iconic image in Hinduism generally, and many Hindus would agree with that. It is exceptionally beautiful both aesthetically and because it represents the loving quality of the god Shiva. South Indian Hindu poems describe worship as falling in love with the god, and our Shiva Nataraja is the embodiment of that Chola period poetry.

Brancusi’s Beginning of the World. because of my background, I personally have a strong response to pure geometric forms and classical idealism, and I’m certainly not alone in believing that the ancient Greeks would appreciate that classical, pure, and geometric vision of the beginning of the world.

Do you personally collect art? What types of objects are you most drawn to?

AB: Primarily we’ve collected what I would call third-world contemporary art—things that at the time were being made wherever—New Guinea, India, South America, Mexico, etc.

Why do you think it is important for people to study non-Western art?

AB: If you study non-Western art, you’ll learn what human beings create and why. If you stick only to your own civilization, you are much less likely to think about why these things are being made . . . or about a much more serious question to me, why do we call it art?

Describe your current project, an installation of objects from the DMA’s collections focusing on the Silk Road.

AB: The Silk Road installation is something that has interested me for a long time. We do have a lot of artwork that really displays the meaning of the Silk Road, which tied Eurasia together for millennia. So I was delighted when I got a space where I could show the ties between the Mediterranean world and Asia.

The Silk Road is an ancient transcontinental network of trade routes that spread across Eurasia from the Mediterranean to China and Japan. The phenomenon of the Silk Road is constantly studied and has recently been featured in museum exhibitions around the world. The new installation, organized by Dr. Bromberg, addresses six themes related to the Silk Road, including the development of cities and trade, the importance of animals to early societies, and the spread of religions. The installation presents well-known DMA favorites, such as the Javanese Ganesha and the bust of a man from Palmyra, and new works from several local private collections. Opening this weekend, come see the new installation on Level 3 the next time you visit the DMA.

Ashley Bruckbauer is the McDermott Intern for Programs and Resources for Teachers at the Dallas Museum of Art and Madelyn Strubelt is the McDermott Curatorial Intern of Ancient and Asian Art at the Dallas Museum of Art.

Surveying the Silk Road: East/West Contacts Along the Route in Ancient Times

Surveying the Silk Road: East/West Contacts Along the Route in Ancient Times
Dallas Museum of Art
Thursday, April 21, 2011
7:30 p.m.
Included in general admission to the Museum; DMA members FREE
Reservations recommended; reserve your seat online or by phone at 214-922-1818.

Join distinguished scholar and author Elizabeth Wayland Barber to explore the Silk Road, the collection of trade routes where luxurious goods, technologies, and ideas were exchanged between East and West. For almost three thousand years, the Silk Road created important paths for traders, merchants, and pilgrims between China and India, the Persian Empire, and Mediterranean countries.

The Silk Road in the Dallas Museum of Art

New Silk Road Installation of from Eurasia On View in the Museum’s Third Floor Galleries
The fabled Silk Road was a network of trade routes that crossed Eurasia from China and Japan to Europe and the Mediterranean world. Sea routes led across the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the Arabian Sea between the Near East and eastern Asia. A significant stretch went from Afghanistan into India, tying together Persia, central Asia, and the Indian subcontinent.

The lifeblood of the Silk Road was trade in valuable goods, ranging from Chinese silk, for which the route was named, to inventions like gunpowder and printing, to spices, perfumes, medicines, glassware, gold, silver, and rare jewels like rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and lapis lazuli. All the great religions of Eurasia traveled along the Silk Road. A variety of works in the Dallas Museum of Art’s collections illustrate how this great route of communications developed. Curated by Dr. Anne Bromberg, The Cecil and Ida Green Curator of Ancient and Asian Art at the DMA, The Silk Road features more than 90 works including the carved limestone Bust of man from Palmyra and the stone sculpture from the 14th century Ganesha. Other highlights include an important loan from Southern Methodist University, the Japanese Karura Gigaku mask and works from local collectors. For more about Dr. Bromberg, Uncrated recently sat down with the Museum’s longtime curator for a Q&A.

Dr. Bromberg will lead a gallery talk Art and the Silk Road on Wednesday April 27 at 12:15 p.m. and Elizabeth Wayland Barber, scholar and author, will explore the Silk Road in The Boshell Family Lecture Series on Archaeology on Thursday, April 21 at 7:30 p.m. For updated programming information, please visit please visit our Programs page.

Images from left to right: Japan, Karura Gigaku mask, c. 700-900, dry lacquer, Mary McCord/Edyth Renshaw Collection on the Perfoming Arts, Jerry Bywaters Special Collections, Hamon Arts Library, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas; Syria: Palmyra, Bust of a man, Mid to late 2nd century A.D., carved limestone, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of David T. Owsley via the Alvin and Lucy Owsley Foundation and the Alconda-Owsley Foundation in honor of Fred M. Penn; Java, Majapahit Empire, Indonesia, Ganesha, A.D. 14th century, stone, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Art Association Purchase.

For more information, click HERE

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Silk Road Trivia

Ten Thousand Arm Avalokitesvara (Souvenir Postage Stamp Sheet)

Text found on stamp: 1996 - 20, 500分, CHINA, T, 敦煌壁画, 元 . 千手观音.
Designer: Wu Jiankun; Ren Yu

Located on the west edge of the Hexi Corridor in western Gansu, China, Dunhuang Grottoes, always known as a "Buddhist art treasury", is one of the country's largest ancient grotto group, a key cultural relics unit under State protection. The Dunhuang Grottoes in a broad sense include the Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes, the Xi Qianfodong Grottoes, Yulin Grottoes in Ansi, Qianfodong Grottoes in Shuikouxia, which are usually referred to as Mogao Grottoes. The Mogao Grottoes were inaugurated in the 2nd year of Jian Yuan of the early Qin Dynasty (AD 366), but the earliest grottoes extant were dug during the sixteen Kingdoms of Bei Ling (421 to 439 AD). The construction of the grottoes continued in dynasties including Northern Wei (386-534), Western Wei (535-556), Northern Zhou (557-581), Sui, Tang, Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (907-960), Song, Western Xia (1038-1227) and Yuan. The number of grottoes extant totaled 492, and the murals within the grottoes cover an area of about 45,000 square meters; besides there are 2,400 clay sculptures in the Dunhuang Grottoes.

What the Dunhuang murals mainly depict fall into four categories: The Jing Bian, stories illustrating Buddhist scripture; The Ben Sheng story, the previous incarnation life stories of Sakyamuni (the founder of Buddhism); The Buddha, arhat and little Qianfo; and the portraits (with real names )of those who had contributed to the construction of the grottoes or offered sacrifices to the Buddhas. The murals in Northern Wei period, representatives of the early style murals, were drawn in bold and vigorous lines, which looked natural and flowing. However, most lines have already peeled off, and the colors, faded, The mural style in the Sui Dynasty became smooth and vivid, with rich and yet soft colors, The Dunhuang mural art reached its climax in the Tang Dynasty, when lines became thicker and smoother, colors ,richer and more sophisticated. Generally the murals were magnificent, picturing vast ranging subjects. The murals in the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms and early Song Dynasties followed Tang, with natural folk art styles. And in the Yuan Dynasty, murals were painted with dark and gloomy, and seldom red colors. The wet mural style in slight ink and wash made the murals look mysterious.

The Dunhuang murals, the representatives of Chinese arts in the 4th to 13th centuries, have provided many precious materials for the research materials for the research of the history of Buddhist art.

Book Trailer - Song of the Silk Road - by Mingmei Yip

A young woman finds adventure and romance on the legendary Silk Road of China along the treacherous Taklamakan Desert and in the lofty Mountains of Heaven lured by three million dollars promised by an aunt she did not know existed. Through adventures natural and supernatural she is pursued by the younger man who will be her true love. Learn more about this author HERE. Learn more about this book HERE.

Secrets of the Cave III: The Cave of Monk Wu

From: written by Sam van Schaik

Once upon a time, there was a monk called Hongbian. He was Chinese, but he grew up in a city ruled by the Tibetan empire. So, like everybody else in the city, he wore Tibetan clothes, and learned to read and write the Tibetan language. Because he was from the wealthy Wu family, he quickly rose in the ranks, eventually becoming one of the most senior monks in Dunhuang. This brought him in contact with orders that came from the emperor of Tibet himself.
More than once, the Tibetan emperor commanded that the city of Dunhuang should make hundreds of copies of Buddhist sutras in Tibetan. The copying of these sutras was a massive undertaking, almost turning the whole city into a scriptorium — on which, see my previous posts HERE. Hundreds of (mostly Chinese) scribes copied the sacred Tibetan syllables onto loose-leaf pecha pages and scrolls. The result was a series of monumental volumes of the Perfection of Wisdom sutra, and many hundreds of scrolls of the Sutra of Aparamitayus (the manuscript Pelliot tibetain 999 links Hongbian to the latter).
Many of these mass-produced sutras still exist today, because quite a few of them were placed in the Dunhuang cave. In an exciting new development, scholars investigating the recently opened libraries of Central Tibetan monasteries (including Drepung) have found more volumes of the same sutras, which seem to have been shipped there from Dunhuang. We know this because the colophons contain the names of the same Dunhuang-based scribal teams.
So Hongbian’s home was one of the major scriptoria of the Tibetan Empire. He was still there when the Tibetan rulers were kicked out of Dunhuang in 848. A few years later, he rose to the eminent position of the head of the Buddhist sangha in the whole of Hexi (basically modern Gansu province). Around the same time, he (and other wealthy relatives) paid for the excavation of a large cave shrine in the Dunhuang cave site. It was actually the third cave that he had commissioned, and all three now formed three stories of a cave temple.

This large new cave (now known as Cave 16) contained a small antechamber (Cave 17). It might have been a meditation retreat. Perhaps it was just for the storage of supplies. In any case, after Hongbian’s death in 862, it was converted into a memorial shrine with a statue of the revered monk in meditation, perhaps with his ashes beneath the statue. An inscribed stone recording his achievements was also placed in the cave. Over the next hundred years, Cave 17 later came to be filled to bursting with manuscripts, and Hongbian’s statue was taken out and put in the cave above.
* * *
Going over this story of how Cave 17 came into being, it is surprising how little it features in the explanations for the manuscript hoard that we have looked at so far. This might be (as Yoshiro Imaeda suggested in a recent article) because the Tibetan aspect of the cave has been neglected. This might be because Dunhuang has been dominated by Sinologists, derspite the fact that the Tibetan manuscripts are nearly as numerous as the Chinese.
What about those massive volumes of Tibetan Perfection of Wisdom sutras found in the cave? These have been of so little interest to Chinese scholars in the 20th century that most of them remain in the stores of the Dunhuang city museum, only recently coming to the attention of a new generation of Chinese and Tibetan scholars. Yet they might be the key to understanding the manuscript hoard. And what about the collection of letters (in Tibetan) addressed to Hongbian? These represent Hongbian’s official responsibilities, and they may have been interred in the cave at the same time as the statue and stone inscription, or some years later. Here’s a detail from a letter addressed to “Khenpo Hongpen”:

So, were the first batch of manuscripts placed in the cave those that belonged to Hongbian himself? These could have been the ‘seed’ for future deposits of manuscripts, until the function of the cave gradually changed into a repository for manuscripts. Perhaps another early batch of manuscripts was deposited after the death of another famous figure from Dunhuang, the Lotsapa* (translator) Chodrup, whose Chinese name was Facheng, and whose family (like Hongbian’s) was Wu. This monk was a contemporary of Hongbian, who also worked during the last decades of Tibetan rule in Dunhuang, translating Chinese texts into Tibetan at the order of the Tibetan emperor. He was also involved in the mass-production of Tibetan Perfection of Wisdom sutras, as a senior editor. In the Dunhuang cave, we find nice copies of Chodrup’s finished translations as well as working notes that may even be in his own handwriting.
Is this a pattern? First Hongbian’s manuscripts are deposited, then a few years later those of his relative Facheng/Chodrup. And then, on the same model, the manuscripts and paintings collected by other monks, once they had passed away. I don’t want to overstate this, but even the pious monk Daozhen (who we talked about in the last post) might be part of this pattern. If Daozhen’s personal manuscript collection was interred after his death, this would also account for the evidence that Rong used for his idea that the cave represented the collection of a single monastery.
* * *
I don’t want to argue for a “funerary deposit” theory to displace the “sacred waste” and “monastic library” theories. After all, human life is organic and messy and rarely reducible to single explanations. Over 150 years, our cave went through several incarnations: storage closet (perhaps), funerary shrine, manuscript repository. The man who built the cave died, a statue of him was placed inside it, and then his letters and books, and those of other people too, and then so many manuscripts that his statue had to be taken upstairs. Other people, born long after the cave was first made, came and performed rituals there, and more manuscripts were deposited, until the cave was filled to the brim. And then it was closed, and then…
What I’m trying to say is, it’s probably better for us to think of this cave in terms of “multiple uses” rather than single, conclusive theories. But let’s always keep Hongbian in the picture. Nowadays, his statue has been put back in the cave, and he sits in meditation under the shade of the tree that was painted on the wall behind him over a thousand years ago. It seems right that Hongbian himself should also return to the centre of our discussion of the manuscripts in the cave.
* * *
This post could not have been written without this superb article by Yoshiro Imaeda, in which he does not put forward a new theory about the manuscript cave, but sensitively reviews what has been written in the past, especially in the light of the Tibetan manuscripts:
Yoshiro Imaeda. 2008. “The Provenance and Character of the Dunhuang Documents.” Memoirs of the Toyo Bunko 66: 81–102. (download here.)
This article is also worth reading (and is available on JSTOR):
Ma Shichang. 1995. “Buddhist Cave-Temples and the Cao Family at Mogao Ku, Dunhuang.” World Archaeology 27.2: 303-317.
And for those who read Chinese:
Ma Shichang. 1978. “Guanyu Dunhuang cangjingdong de jige wenti” 關於敦煌藏經洞的幾個問題. Wenwu 12: 21-33, 20.
* * *
1. Hongbian’s statue, back in Cave 17.
2. Pelliot tibétain 1200, a letter addressed to Hongbian.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Two interesting rereleases from the Sino-Platonic Papers Series

In the January 2011 issue of the Sino-Platonic Papers two interesting rereleases from October 1988 resp. May 2004

The New Old Mummies from Eastern Central Asia: Ancestors of the Tocharian Knights Depicted on the Buddhist Murals? Some Circumstantial Evidence
By: Ulf Jaeger GronaulWestfalen, Germany

Since the leading archeologist of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Wang Binghua of Uriimchi, and his Uyghur colleagues have discovered and excavated Bronze Age and Early Iron Age European-Caucasoid mummies at Qizilchoqa near Qumul (Hami) and other parts of the region starting in 1978, these mummies came to the attention of Prof. Dr. Victor Mair of the University of Pennsylvania. Two decades have passed since that time, but at the beginning of the nineties Prof. Mair initiated a major, cooperative research project centering on themummies and their culture. As a result, an international group of scholars is now working on these sensational finds. Already it is clear that larger parts of the early history of China,of the ancient Silk Roads, and even of Eurasia have to be written completely anew. At thepresent moment, it is not certain what this new picture of Eurasia's early history / prehistory will look like. For this reason, many scholars and students of archeology and history met at the University of Pennsylvania for an international congress (April 19th - 21st, 1996) to discuss the results of their studies..................................

The Secret History of the Mongols and Western Literature
By: John J. Emerson

Of all the peoples of the world, the Mongols of Chinggis Qan are among the strangest to Western civilization - a warlike Asian people without agriculture, cities, or writing. However, three episodes in the Secret History of the Mongols can be matched with comparable episodes in western literature. The significance of this kind of cultural comparison is uncertain; perhaps here I am merely using my anecdotes as a convenient literary hook on which to hang,my reflections on the relationship between the peoples of the steppe and those of Western Europe. I call these three stories "The Rainstone", "The Proud Princesses", and "The Jealous Bloodbrother".......................................

The Silk Road in Houston

Houston Public Library and the Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China in Houston present: The Silk Road
April 1 – May 31, 2011
Central Library | 500 McKinney, 77002 Houston, Texas

The world-renowned ancient Silk Road is an extensive network of trade routes connecting Asia and Europe and a channel of cultural dialogue between the East and the West. It serves as a conduit for the spread of cultures, ideas and religions. It has witnessed frequent and friendly exchanges between China and other foreign countries and their peoples.

There are several ancient "Silk Roads" within China’s territory, including the Silk Road in Desert, the Silk Road on the Prairies, the Silk Road across Mountains and Canyons and the Maritime Silk Road. This exhibition focuses on the western part of the Silk Road in China, which demonstrates many of the ruins of Buddhist grottoes and temples along the Silk Road winding through the Gobi Deserts, oasis and grasslands, as well as sectors of the Great Wall, pavilions, beacon towers, castles and posts that have gone through the vicissitudes of history.

Those historical sites and ruins set on the Silk Road like brilliant pearls, the lifestyle and customs of the people living there for generations are also displayed to show the cultural glamour of the Silk Road. This exhibition on the Silk Road in China aims to carry on the immortal memories and great hopes of humanity. The exchange and mutual interaction between Chinese and foreign cultures not only made Chinese culture what it is today, but also enriched the cultural diversity of the world. We hope the exchange of cultures, ideas and emotions among people in different parts of the world will become more and more dynamic in the new century and the ancient Silk Road will continue to grow and prosper in a modern way.

Silk Road Mummies back in China

Legacies of the Silk Road: Cultural Relics Unearthed in Xinjiang” is on display.

The exhibition’s highlights include the “Loulan Beauty,” a female mummy discovered in the historical Loulan City in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in 1980, the “Beauty of Xiaohe,” another female mummy discovered at the Xiaohe Cemetery in the Tarim Basin in 2003, and a 2,800-year-old male mummy in Qiemo, Xinjiang.
Thought to have lived 3,800 years ago, the “Loulan Beauty” has distinct Caucasian features: pale skin, light hair, big eyes, deep eye sockets, a steep nose bridge, and a pointed jaw.
The exhibition also features more than 140 exhibits, which offer insight into the long and diverse cultural heritage of the ancient Silk Road.
These include an array of well-preserved clothing, textiles, wooden and bone implements, coins and documents. Along with gem-encrusted gold vessels, masks, jewelry, accessories and other objects, and even preserved food, such as wonton and flower-shaped snacks, the collection reflects the diversity of the Silk Road trade, with strong Mediterranean influences as well as goods from ancient China.

Dates: Through July 15, 2011
Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Venue: New Shenzhen Museum, Block A, Civic Center, Futian District (福田区市民中心A区深圳博物馆新馆)
Metro: Shi Min Zhong Xin Station (Civic Center Station 市民中心站), Exit C(Newman Huo)

Mummies highlight Silk Road legacy
THE greatest discovery in the long history of Loulan city in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is undoubtedly the female mummy discovered in 1980. Perfectly preserved, delicate in appearance and with fine skin, the relic has earned the nickname “Loulan Beauty” since its discovery.
Thought to have lived 3,800 years ago, the “Loulan Beauty” has distinct Caucasian features: pale, supple skin, light hair, big eyes, deep eye sockets, steep nose bridge, and a pointed jaw.
Along with the “Beauty of Xiaohe,” another female mummy discovered in Xinjiang, and a 2,800-year-old Qiemo male mummy, the “Loulan Beauty” is now being displayed at exhibition “Legacies of the Silk Road: Cultural Relics Unearthed in Xinjiang” at Shenzhen Museum through July 15.
Scientific testing and research has shown that the “Loulan Beauty” died at about age 45. She was buried with a basket of food in preparation for the next life, including domesticated wheat, combs and a feather. When she was discovered, she was in a typical earthen platform, with branches and reeds covering the top of her tomb.
Currently, she is 1.57 meters tall and weighs 10.1 kilograms. She is wearing an Arab robe, sheepskin and fur boots. Her brown hair is over 30 centimeters long, contained in her pointed terai decorated with several feathers.
With graceful eyelashes, long flaxen hair and a serene expression, the “Beauty of Xiaohe” seems to have just nodded off, although she last closed her eyes more than 3,550 years ago.
She is 1.50 meters in height and wears a fine felt hat and fashionable leather boots. Around her waist is a white woolen string skirt, and she is shrouded in a bulky woolen cloak with tassels.
When she was discovered, she was covered with ephedra branches and grains of wheat. The presence of ephedra, a mildly psychoactive medicinal plant used by numerous Central Eurasian peoples, suggests that she was being conveyed to the spirit world.
The female mummy was found at the Xiaohe Cemetery in 2003, one of hundreds of spectacularly preserved mummies buried in the desert sands of the vast Tarim Basin in far western Xinjiang.The Xiaohe Cemetery, 175 kilometers west of the ancient city of Loulan, is located on the ancient Silk Road, once a booming trade route traversing the Asian continent. The cemetery is the oldest archaeological site with human remains discovered in the Tarim Basin.
The burial ground, with 167 graves, was first explored by Folke Bergman, a Swedish archaeologist in 1934. But it “disappeared” until the Xinjiang Archaeological Institute rediscovered it in 2000. In addition to the mummies, the exhibition features more than 140 exhibits, which offer insight into the long and diverse cultural heritage of the ancient Silk Road.
These include an array of well-preserved clothing, textiles, wooden and bone implements, coins and documents. Along with gem-encrusted gold vessels, masks, jewelry, accessories and other objects, and even preserved foodsThe discovery of these mummies along the Silk Road has helped scholars better understand the settlement of ancient Central Asia and has opened up a window to understanding the very early exchange of important technologies, life-improving inventions, and ideas and customs-including what may be the world’s first sunglasses-being practiced in the inhospitable lands of the Tarim Basin where East meets West.
The Silk Road, which scholars date from China’s Han Dynasty in the late second century BC to about AD 1400, was aptly named because of the vast amounts of silk and other merchandise: spices, gold, precious metals and stones, ivory, glass, exotic animals, furs, ceramics, jade, lacquer, iron and plants-which were carried back and forth between East and West.
Many goods were bartered for others along the route, and objects often changed hands several times. Artifacts in the exhibition both span the 1,500-year period of the famous route, and, in the case of the mummy and other excavated relics, pre-date the historical Silk Road.
The exhibition is organized jointly by the Bureau of Cultural Relics of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Regions and Shenzhen Museum.

Dates: Through July 15, 2011
Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Closed Monday
Add: The new exhibition hall of Shenzhen Museum, Block A, Shenzhen Citizens’ Center , Futian District (福田区市民中心A区深圳博物馆新馆)
Metro: Shi Min Zhong Xin Station (Citizens’ Center Station 市民中心站)