Friday, 27 May 2011

The Silk Road in Late Antiquity

Peter Brown spoke on the Silk Road in Late Antiquity:: Politics, Trade, and Culture Contact between Rome and China, 300-700 CE at the Silk Road Symposium held at the Penn Museum on March 19, 2011.

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.

Peter Brown is the Philip and Beulah Rollins Professor of History and Director, Program in Hellenic Studies at Princeton University.

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East/West Diffusion of Domesticated Grains along the Inner Asian Mountain Corridor

Michael D. Frachetti spoke on the East/West Diffusion of Domesticated Grains along the Inner Asian Mountain Corridor at the Silk Road Symposium held at the Penn Museum held on March 19, 2011.

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.

Michael D. Frachetti is Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology, Washington University in St. Louis

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Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Samarkand in the Age of Tamerlane

Samarkand in the Age of Tamerlane (Timur Lang)
by Dr. Renata Holod

Old Samarkand- Afrasiyab was completely destroyed by the Mongol invasion of 1220. The centuries-old site stood abandoned. The new Timurid Samarkand arose in the surrounding gardens to become a model for early modern cities of western Asia.

Another lecture from the "Great Adventures along the Silk Road" series from the Penn Museum.
This lecture was held on March 2, 2011

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Nan'ao: Hub of maritime silk road

More than 2-thousand cultural relics have been recovered from the Nan'ao One, an ancient Chinese merchant ship that sunk off Guangdong Province more than 400 years ago. Paul Crowe takes a closer look at the salvage operation which resumed last month.
The shipwreck lay at the bottom of the South China Sea for more than 400 years before it was discovered by chance. A group of fishermen found it four years ago off Nan'ao island, a cluster of small islands off Guangdong Province.
The ship is 35 meters long and 8 meters wide, and is the first late Ming dynasty ship ever discovered.
Initial excavation work began in 2009, but suffered setbacks due to poor weather and sea conditions.
This year marks the fourth round of salvage operations.
Cui Yong, Team Leader of Nan'ao One Underwater Archeology Team said "The underwater relics are well preserved. We've found the cords we left last year are still intact, so we'll continue the work suspended last year."
About 2000 relics have been recovered since April 26th, when the operation began. Most of them are dishware such as plates, tins and bowls with exquisite graphics and paintings.
Out of nearly 3 million sunken ships in oceans around the world, the South China Sea has the most. It's estimated it has more than 2000 ancient ships.
The Underwater Archeology Center of China was set up in 1986, when the country felt the urgency of exploring the undersea world. After 20 years' development, archeologists from the agency have taken part in many underwater treasure explorations.
Cui Yong said "We're on a fast growing track, our workload may be the largest over past 20 years, we've been working in many coastal provinces and abroad. We're moving neck and neck with other countries technically. The integral salvage of Nan'ao No.1 is unprecedented, I think our country is taking the lead in this regard. "
This salvage of Nan'ao No.1, the best preserved sunken ship from the Ming dynasty, is expected to last until July. The relics from the vessel are valuable for the study of ancient porcelain production technologies and the country's ancient "Marine Silk Road", a passageway for ancient China to the outside world.

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The Search for Kublai Khan’s lost fleet: archaeological research at Bach Dang in Vietnam

The Search for Kublai Khan’s lost fleet: archaeological research at Bach Dang in Mark Staniforth

In recent years the Maritime Archaeology Program at Flinders University has developed a collaborative archaeological research project with the Vietnamese government’s Institute of Archaeology (IA) and the US based Institute for Nautical Archaeology.
View the Power Point Lecture and click HERE

About Mark Staniforth
Associate Professor Mark Staniforth has broad experience in historical archaeology, maritime archaeology and museums in a career that spans over twenty-five years. He was the State government maritime archaeologist for the Victoria Archaeological Survey in Victoria (1982-1987) and curator of maritime archaeology at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney (1987-1993). He has worked as a consultant for the Australian Commonwealth government (National Historic Shipwrecks Research Plan 1995), the Canadian federal government (advice on national shipwreck legislation), the NSW state government (Parramatta River Survey), for the Hobsons Bay Council in Victoria (pipeline watching brief) and for the Land Management Corporation (Port Adelaide Waterfront Redevelopment Project) Mark has conducted archaeological survey and excavation in all Australian states as well as overseas, both underwater and on land across a wide range of archaeological sites.
Mark is currently a professional member of ICOMOS. He has been the Chair of the NSW State government’s Maritime Archaeology Advisory Panel (MAAP) 1988-1993), the president of the Australasian Institute for Maritime Archaeology (AIMA 1985-87) and the Australian Association for Maritime History (AAMH 1998-2003). He has served for two terms on the Advisory Council on Underwater Archaeology (ACUA 2000-2008) including three years as deputy Chair (2001-2003) and three years as Chair (2004-2007).
Mark is currently an Adjunct Research Fellow with the Maritime Archaeology Program in the Department of Archaeology at Flinders University. He is the author of Material Culture and Consumer Society published by Plenum Press of New York in 2003. he is the editor (with Mike Nash in 2006) of Maritime Archaeology: Australian Approaches (Plenum Press. New York) and (with Mike Hyde in 2001) of Maritime Archaeology in Australia: A Reader (Southern Archaeology. Blackwood, SA.) He has published more than 70 publications in Australian and International journals in a thirty year career in maritime archaeology

Archaeological surveying and excavation at Dong Ma Ngua site in 2010

Archaeological surveying and excavation at Dong Ma Ngua site in 2010
by Jun Kimura, Research Associate, Institute of Nautical Archaeology at Texas A&M (PhD candidate, Maritime Archaeology Program, Flinders University)

Site: Dong Ma Ngua (DMN), Nam Hoa commune, Yen Hung district, Quang Ninh province
Date of the fieldwork: 15th April -8 May, 2010
Director of the excavation: Dr. Le Thi Lien, Institute of Archaeology (IA), Vietnamese Academy of Social Sciences
Advisors: Dr. Mark Starniforth, Associate Professor, Maritime Archaeology Program (MAP), Flinders University, Dr. James P. Delgado, Director, Institute of Nautical Archaeology (INA)
Texas A&M Participants: Ms. Nguyen Mai Huong, Kieu Dinh Son, Dr. Bui Thi Mai, Dr. Michel Girard, Charlotte Minh Ha Pham, Jun Kimura and Burton Britt Jane.
The excavation was sponsored by Quang Ninh Provincial Government.

Figure 1. There is a local area known as a Shipwreck Place by local people, suggest to conduct excavation to find ship remains.

This is a brief report on archaeological fieldwork conducted at the site of Dong Ma Ngua (DMN) located along Bach Dang River during 15th April -8 May in 2010. The excavation follows the 2009 season work by a project team from INA, MAP, IA that proceeded to a test excavation (Sasaki R & Kimura, J 2010a; 2010b). Besides the outcome of the fieldwork, this report includes a proposal for the next November/December Survey should target the implementation of survey on Ngon song Kenh” or “Kenh Riverhead”. The area has been reclaimed and hardly see on the map, yet it is used to be surrounded by the Duong Giang high ground and has been known as a part of Kenh River. The Kenh River is one of the three major channels that used to connect Bach Dang River and Chanh River, yet might have many small streams. There is a higher ground area locally called “Shipwreck place”, located along the border of the ancient Kenh River (Figure.1). This particular area is regarded as a relevant location where the team should proceed to an intensive survey by coring and using other remote sensing equipments. Based on some perspectives in this report, the survey in the next season aims at identifying targets and is expected to lead better understanding of the naval battle between the Yuan/Mongolian and Dai Viet.

Summary of the fieldwork
Figure 2. Dong Ma Ngua site. H1 trench in the right side and H4 is trench in the left side, divided by the string line. The stakes diagonally driven in different orientation. (Photo by Nguyen Mai Huong).

The fieldwork is divided into two periods, contributed by different members of the team. During the first fieldwork from 15 – 25 April, two Bench-marks (BM) were set around beside a fish pond known as the DMN site and excavation commenced. The second period of the fieldwork consisted of 10 days from 30 April to 8 May, and another two BMs during the last phase and small trenches are extensively opened around the fish pond. Throughout all this period, four permanent benchmarks (BM) were set. By the end of the fieldwork, four trenches (H1, 2, 3, 4) have been opened on the DMN site (Figure.2). They are located in the fish pond (dried) and measuring approximately 20 x 15m. Two additional test pits (TS1 & TS2) were opened at the rice fields around DMN to confirm the sediments in the surrounding area and to develop our understanding of the topographical features. As a result of the excavation in the fishpond (DMN), 55 stakes (plus two large wood pieces) were identified. Moreover, a large number of ceramic shreds were identified (possibly dating to after the 15th century, some seem to be earlier though, Dr. Le Thi Lien is currently analysing them). A small-square earthen coffin, likely to be dated to after the 17-18th century, was found in one of the two test trenches (TS1).
Archaeological works conducted in the trenches of the fishpond include sediments profile recording and stakes recording (detailed descriptions, measurements, photos). Small wood samples were also collected from all of these recorded stakes. By using a total station, the position of these stakes and a few important topographical features around the site, such as a concrete irrigation channels, BMs, fish ponds, waterways and high grounds were recorded. Photo mosaics of the exposed stakes in the trenches H3 and H4, showing the stakes concentration, were produced. Recovered artefacts vary, classified into shreds of ceramics, fragments of earthen tiles, pieces of bricks, remains of stakes, wooden remains, one corroded metal object, pieces of bone (likely from a mammal and a bird). All of them were numbered and some of the ceramic shards and the wooden elements were photographed.

The fieldwork conducted from April to May allowed us to inspect DMN in detailed level. Due to various limitations and to the nature of the excavation site that was initially chosen by the local authorities, the team did not extend the survey and excavation area. All the work contributed to a better understanding of the stakes‟ driven pattern, their use, and a clearer reconstruction of the past landscape was achieved. It is clearer that stakes have been intensively distributed in narrower area and limited space. Therefore, a simplification that stakes have located among natural barriers such as higher ground and river rock must be carefully reviewed. On the final day, preliminary results were presented at the authorities‟ meeting. Participants included the Director of the Institute of Archaeology in Hanoi, the Previous Minister of the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, the Representative of Regional Communist Party, officials from the District, the Province and of the Commune. The significance of this kind of meeting is to withdraw people‟s attention and raise public interest for wider support including preservation of recovered artefacts and relevant management of the site contributed by broader level of people.

Lê, Liên Thị 2005. "Báo cáo kêt Quả Khảo Sát Thám Sát: Bãi cọc Bạch Đảng Đỏng Vạn Muơi. (Report of the Archaeological Exploration and Excavation of the Bach Dang Stake Field in Dong Van Muoi)." Internal Report for the Institute of Archaeology, Hanoi.
Sasaki, R, & Kimura, J, 2010a 'A case study: Archaeological evidence of the Yuan/Mongolian invasions at Bach Dang river and Takashima', Introduction to Maritime archaeology and insight to its application in the Asia-Pacific Region, from IPPA 19th Congress, Hanoi.
Sasaki, R, & Kimura, J, 2010b 'The Bach Dang Battle Site Survey Project 2009', INA Annual, in print, Texas.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

The Ancient Southern Silk Road of China

Nanhai I and the Maritime Silk Road

Nanhai I and the Maritime Silk Road by Li Qingxin

This book talks ahout the excavation activities and salvage of Nanhai I —wrecked ship of the Song Dynasty period in Ancient China, and construction of the Maritime Silk Road Museum. In ancient times, there existed both the overland and maritime silk roads. Nanhai I is the oldest, largest, and well-preserved merchant ship of the Song Dynastyutilized for ocean trade so far and an impartant existing witness of the ancient Maritime Silk Road.

Source:China Scientific Books

Saturday, 21 May 2011

China's Tocharian mummies - Silent witnesses of a forgotten past

I've published about it before but with the recent big Silk Road Exhibitions it's good to watch again the NOVA documentary from 1998.

The European Mummies Of China Someone who knows the past, is better able to understand the course of the present... Unbelievable documentary about the Tocharian mummies which have been excavated in North-Western China. Four thousand years ago, a community lived in the Tarim Basin -- in what is now the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of China -- in the heart of Asia. The Tarim Basin people thrived there for at least 1,500 years. There are indications that they survived as a culture even into the second century. Then they disappeared. Now their remains are being reclaimed from the sands, and the people of that extinct nation are challenging scientists and scholars to fathom who they may have been, and -- if an answer can be found -- where, in prehistory, they came from. According to sweeping physical evidence, they were not Chinese. They were not even Asian in the present day meaning of the word. They were Tocharians; a Caucasian people and, more importantly, Indo-European/Aryan. To see more, click HERE and HERE.

Ancient road, inscriptions found in central China province

ZHENGZHOU, May 20 (Xinhua)-- Archaeologists in central China's Henan Province said they have found an ancient road and several inscriptions near the Hanguguan Pass, a road used by trading caravans during China's dynastic period.
The relics were discovered on a cliff 200 meters east of the Guan Tower in the village of Dongguan, where part of the pass is located. About 100 meters of road were uncovered.
The inscriptions found were incomplete, but archaeologists were able to decipher characters indicating that they were created during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907).
Historians said since the road served as a passage to the ancient Silk Road, the new finds might qualify to be listed on the World Heritage List.
The Hanguguan Pass was originally built before the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) near the city of Lingbao.
During the Han Dynasty (202 BC - AD 220), the pass was relocated to nearby Xin'an County. It was militarily and economically significant at that time, as it linked Luoyang and Xi'an, two of China's ancient capitals.

Friday, 20 May 2011

The Xinjiang Textiles: More Corridors in the Goldmine

Another video of the renown Silk Road Symposium in the Penn Museum on March 19, 2011 by Elizabeth Wayland Barber
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.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Nestorians and Manichaeans on the South China Coast

Nestorians and Manichaeans on the South China Coast in the time of Marco Polo
A talk by SAM LIEU (Macquarie University)

This lecture was held on April 22, 2010 at the UCLA Center for Chinese Studies

This lecture is based on material finds of Christian (both Nestorian and Catholic) and Manichaean remains found at the port-city of Quanzhou which was famous under the name of Zayton in the time of Marco Polo as a great centre of foreign residents on the South China Coast.


Samuel N.C. Lieu is Professor of Ancient History at Macquarie University and has been one of the directors of the UNESCO-sponsored Corpus Fontium Manichaeorum project. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and current president of the International Association of Manichaean Studies. He has published extensively on the history of Manichaeism and on the religious and military history of the Late Antiquity.

To listen to the podcast of this lecture, click HERE

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Yamchun Fortress

At the end of the first millennium B.C. construction of strong fortresses began in the West Pamirs due to the threat of military attacks by neighbours. The first was the Yamchun fortress (near the present-day village of the same name, also known as Zamr-i-atash-parast or Kafir - qala) built in the 3rc* century B.C. on the right bank of the Panj River in the foothills of the Vakhan range. It stands on a cliff continually washed by tributaries of the Panj the Yamchun and Vikhut Rivers the steep banks of which are inaccessible the whole year round. The slope was used in planning the fortress.

Yamchun fortress unapproachable turrets
It was built in a triangle shape with its base pointing into the valley, and consisted of three parts a citadel, a bastion and the barracks surrounded with walls and strengthened by rectangular towers and two squares, each of which was also surrounded by high walls, fortified with 36 rectangular and oval towers with embrasures (portholes). In case of attack a huge number of people could hide inside the fortress. The walls have no foundations and they are made of machine-tiled stones on a solid clay base.
The total height of the walls is about 3m and the width about 1.5m. There are portholes in the walls at various heights: the height and width of them ranges from 30-55 cm, and the distance between them is 1.5-2.5m. The portholes get wider from he outside. There are 2 sets of fortress walls, one inside the other. The outer wall, up to 2m thick, is either made entirely of stones, or of stones in the lower part and unbaked bricks in the upper part. The inner wall is similar to outside one, but is only 50-60cm thick.
It also has crack portholes directed inside the fortress The distance between the outer and inner walls is about 2m. When constructing the walls the builders interlay-ered the stones with thin beams to make the walls firmer in places, and today one cannot help but admire the skills of the ancients who made the walls and towers earthquake-proof. All the walls are connected by a chain of towers equipped with thin portholes about 1m high and approximately 30cm wide, arranged like a chessboard in a staggered order with a few layers covered with slightly-angled tiles to allow marksmen in the fortress to defend the Panj valley from several sides.
It also has crack portholes directed inside the fortress. The distance between the outer and inner walls is about 2m. When constructing the walls the builders interlay-ered the stones with thin beams to make the walls firmer in places, and today one cannot help but admire the skills of the ancients who made the walls and towers earthquake-proof. All the walls are connected by a chain of towers equipped with thin portholes about 1m high and approximately 30cm wide, arranged like a chessboard in a staggered order with a few layers covered with slightly-angled tiles to allow marksmen in the fortress to defend the Panj valley from several sides.

Yamchun fortress
The towers are about 3.5-4m in diameter, the walls are 1-1.5m thick, and the distance between the portholes is 2-5m. The towers were constructed with stones with occasional clay grout and in some places covered by clay plaster. The upper side of some of the towers is made of baked bricks.
Most of the towers are equipped with portholes pointing outwards as well as inwards, and even inside the inter-wall corridors and compartments, which considerably increases the defensive capability of the towers and, hence, the fortress. Thus, defenders of the fortress were always able to attack enemies from the rear if the outer line of defence was broken through.
Stones for constructing the fortress (there are hundreds of thousands of them) must have been brought from various remote areas, since there were metamor-phic rock, granite and slate rocks, biotite pieces and other forms of mica.
The size of the fortress is striking. This powerful structure was of the greatest importance for the area. Defending against approaches from every side, it was a strategically placed and well-built complex that allowed
the supervision of people and shipment flows from the Pamirs to ancient Bactria (Tahoriston), India and Iran and back.
However, some aspects of the fortress are puzzling: the Panj valley, with a 2.5-3km wide river floodplain next to the fortress, is absolutely flat, and the Panj flows down not against the northern but the southern slope of the mountain. How could ancient people shoot into the valley with arrows - which were most likely the main weaponry at that time - during enemy attacks? An arrow's range is not very long. Perhaps the Panj River at one time ran closer to the right-bank slope, even propping it up. This question remains unanswered.
Today one can reach the fortress by vehicle. From the main road, coming from Ishkashim, you need to turn left towards Tuggoz village, and then continue 5-6km up along a rather steep village road to Yamchun village, which is located beside the main road on the mountain slope.
There is a hot radon spring 1-2km from the fortress. Medicinal water wells up from under the mountain at a temperature of 40-42°C. The water is useful for treatment of gastro-intestinal, liver, gall-bladder, joint, bone, musculoskeletal, urological and gynaecological disorders. There is a sanitarium half a kilometre from the spring where one can stay overnight.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Indo-European Dispersals and the Eurasian Steppe

Lecture during the Secrets of the Silk Road Symposium in the Penn Museum on March 19, 2011
Indo-European Dispersals and the Eurasian Steppe
By 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.

Before Silk: Unsolved Mysteries of the Silk Road

Lecture during the Secrets of the Silk Road Symposium in the Penn Museum on March 19, 2011
Before Silk: Unsolved Mysteries of the Silk Road
By Colin Renfrew

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.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Xuanzang on view in Nanjing

A skull relic of Master Xuanzang is displayed at the Master Xuanzang Memorial Hall of Linggu Temple in Nanjing, east China's Jiangsu Province, April 23, 2011. A skull relic purported to be that of Master Xuanzang was open to the public here Saturday. The display of the skull relic lasts until May 17, 2011. Master Xuanzang (A.D. 602-664) was a famous Chinese Buddhist monk, scholar and translator who travelled to India to study Buddhism and brought back volumes of Buddhist scriptures in the early Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907). (Xinhua/Sun Can)

Eminent ancient monk's remains for public worship in east China

NANJING, April 24 (Xinhua) -- Remains believed to be part of the skull of Xuanzang, an eminent monk in ancient China, are available for public worship in east China's Jiangsu Province.
The remains, known as sariras in Buddhism, are believed to be those of the parietal bone of Xuanzang after cremation, who adventured to India to seek Buddhist sutras more than 1,000 years ago.
The sariras made their first public appearance Saturday in Linggu Temple in Nanjing City, the provincial capital, since they were moved here in 1974.

Xuanzang (602 AD - 664 AD) of the Tang Dynasty pilgrimaged to India, the birthplace of Buddhism, totally on foot to seek Buddhist sutras. He later translated them into Chinese, paving ways for Buddhism's spread in China.
The treasured sariras were preserved in a 138-cm-tall pagoda made of the rare and expensive nanmu, or Phoebe sheareri, also known as "the emperor's wood" in ancient China.

Visitors will have the chance to worship the relics till May 17.

China under Tibetan rule

We’ve become accustomed to thinking Tibet in terms of its present status, subsumed by China, so it’s interesting to consider the time when Tibet was an occupying force in parts of China. It’s fairly well-known that the Tibetan army was once a very effective war machine that even got as far as occupying the Chinese capital in 763. But what was it like to be a person of Chinese background living under Tibetan occupation?

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Traveling the Silk Road: Ancient Pathway to the Modern World

Traveling the Silk Road: Ancient Pathway to the Modern World
By Mark Norell, Denise Patry Leidy and the American Museum of Natural History

An elegantly, lavishly illustrated history of the legendary Silk Road and the cultural pathway it blazed for the modern world.
Spanning centuries of history, this engrossing book--created in conjunction with the world-famous American Museum of Natural History--takes an epic journey to major stops in China, Uzbekistan, Iraq, and beyond. Not only did people from many lands trade their goods along this incredible network of routes, they also exchanged their languages, religions, art, and technology in what can be seen as man's first engagement in globalization.

Mark Norrell is curator and chair for the division of paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History. He earned his PhD from Yale University prior to coming to the museum. His recent books include Discovering Dinosaurs (1995), A Nest of Dinosaurs (2000), Unearthing the Dragon (2005), and the coffee table book The Dinosaur Hunters: The Extraordinary Story of the Men and Women Who Discovered Prehistoric Life, published with co-author Lowell Dingus in 2008. Dr. Norrell lives in New York City.
Denise Leidy is curator for the department of Asian Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. She received her Masters degree and Ph.D. from Columbia University and has traveled widely on the Silk Road. She published The Art of Buddhism: An Introduction to Its History and Meaning last year and has also written a new catalogue of the Chinese Buddhist and Daoist sculpture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She curated an exhibition on Khubilai Khan and the Mongols in China that opened in November 2010. Dr. Leidy lives in New York City.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Artists Rachel Sager and Todd Thompson in Dunhuang (August 2005)

Artists Rachel Sager and Todd Thompson returned from Dunhuang, China in August 2005. They completed and exhibited a series of original paintings inspired by their travel experiences in time for the November 2005 Art Exhibit.

Podcast: Archaeological Excavations in Mongolia: Current Research

Recently, the podcast of the meeting Archaeological Excavations in Mongolia: Current Research on April 6 , 2011 at UCLA has been published.

To listen, click HERE

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

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.

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

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.

Sponsors: Asia Institute, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology

The Buddhist Heritage of Pakistan: Art of Gandhara

Exhibition, announced by the Asia Society Museum in New York (new dates to be announced shortly)

The Buddhist Heritage of Pakistan: Art of Gandhara

Asia Society Museum presents an exhibition of spectacular Buddhist sculptures, architectural reliefs and works of gold and bronze from the Gandhara region of Pakistan, most never exhibited before in the United States. The Buddhist Heritage of Pakistan: Art of Gandhara reveals the complex cultural influences—from Scytho-Parthian to Greco-Roman traditions—that fed the extraordinary artistic production of this region from the first century BCE through fifth century C.E.

At its height, Gandhara—whose center was situated in present-day Peshawar in northwest Pakistan—encompassed Bamiyan in Afghanistan, Bactria, the Hindu Kush, and the Punjab region of northwest India.

Buddhism reached Gandhara as early as the third century B.C.E., and began to flourish in the first century C.E. as Silk Road trade and cross-cultural connections from the Mediterranean to China fostered its spread.

The majority of works in the exhibition are on loan from the National Museum in Karachi and Central Museum in Lahore. Comparative works are included from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Asia Society Museum, and private collections. The display is organized by Adriana Proser, Asia Society Museum's John H. Foster Curator for Traditional Asian Art.

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully-illustrated catalogue published by Asia Society in association with the Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik in Bonn, Germany. The book includes essays by scholars Christian Luczanits and Michael Jansen.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Chang'an: The Starting Point of the Silk Road and East-West Exchange Lectures and Film Screenings

The following program complements the Penn Museum’s ongoing Secrets of the Silk Road exhibition and interactive experience, which features replicas of the Tarim Basin mummies and related artifacts through June 5, 2011.

In partnership with the Penn Museum, Xi'an’s Daming Palace Foundation is sending a delegation to America to share new archaeological discoveries and scholarly research on the Silk Road. The main topics for presentation will include the development of the Silk Road during the Han and Tang Dynasties, the latest archaeological discoveries in Xi’an, and activities relating to UNESCO-sponsored World Heritage.

This lecture will be held in the Rainey Auditorium. Admission is open to the public with free admission.


5:00 pm Remarks by Mr. He Jianchao, the Representative of Da Ming Palace Foundation

5:10 pm Daming Palace National Heritage Park by Ms. Wu Chun

5:20 pm Han and Tang Chang'an - The Starting Point of the Silk Road by Mr. Wang Youqun

6:00 pm Sogdian People in China by Mr. Yang Junkai

Film Screenings from the Qujiang Film Investment Group

7:10 pm "Legend of the Daming Palace" (70 minutes)

9:35 pm CCTV's new large-scale TV documentary "The New Silk Road” (20 minutes)

Source: Events Calendar Penn Museum

Seminar day on the Christian library from Turfan and the ‘mother church’ in Mesopotamia

Between 1902-1914 the German Turfan Expedition unearthed a library at the monastery site of Bulayïq in Turfan (north-west China) that yielded over 1000 Syriac, Christian Sogdian and Christian Uighur manuscript fragments written in the Syriac script. This wealth of material was brought to Berlin where it was preserved in various locations. Since April 2008, this remarkable collection has been catalogued by an AHRC-funded project, The Christian Library from Turfan.

SATURDAY 28th MAY 2011 at The Khalili Lecture Theatre
SCHOOL of ORIENTAL and AFRICAN STUDIES Thornhaugh St., Russell Square London WC1H 0XG


Morning Session. [10.30 A.M. –1.00 P.M.]
Dr. Erica C D Hunter (SOAS) Syriac prayer-amulets from Turfan.
Prof. Peter Zieme (Berlin) Old Uighur Christian texts between Turfan and Kharakhoto.
Dr. Mark Dickens (SOAS) Biblical texts from Turfan: Psalters and lectionaries.
Prof. Nicholas Sims-Williams FBA (SOAS) The contribution of Christian Sogdian texts to Syriac literature.

Afternoon Session. [2.00 – 4.30 P.M.]
His Grace, Mar Awa, bishop of the Assyrian Church of the East, California, USA will deliver the keynote address:
The importance and impact of the liturgical texts from Turfan on liturgy today.

This address will be followed by discussions and presentations from the various Christian communities in London.

Download full details and a registration form from:

You can also register and pay on-line at

For further details e-mail:

Source: IDP blog

Series about the Dunhuand Magao Caves

Excellent series of videos about the Dunhuang Mogao Caves, each ca 10 minutes, collected by Daibusshi on

Dunhuang: Mogao Cave 465 (敦煌: 莫高窟 465)

Dunhuang: Mogao Cave 428 (敦煌: 莫高窟 428)

Dunhuang: Mogao Cave 427 (敦煌: 莫高窟 427)