Thursday, 30 June 2011

Women of the Conquest Dynasties: Gender and Identity in Liao and Jin China

Women of the Conquest Dynasties: Gender and Identity in Liao and Jin China

by Linda Cooke Johnson

Hardcover: 280 pages
Publisher: University of Hawaii Press (June 30, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0824834046

China’s historical women warriors hailed from the northeast (Manchuria) during the Liao (907–1125) and Jin (1115–1234) dynasties. Celebrated in the Liao History, they were “unprecedented.” They rode horseback astride, were good at hunting and shooting, and took part in military battles. Several empresses—and one famous bandit chief—led armies against the enemy Song state. Women of the Conquest Dynasties represents a groundbreaking effort to survey the customs and lives of these women from the Kitan and Jurchen tribes who maintained their native traditions of horsemanship, militancy, and sexual independence while excelling in writing poetry and prose and earning praise for their Buddhist piety and Confucian ethics. Although much work has been devoted in the last few years to Chinese women of various periods, this is the first volume to incorporate recent archaeological discoveries and information drawn from Liao and Jin paintings as well as literary sources and standard historical accounts.

Mongolia | Chingis Rides West | Silk Road City of Otrār

From Don Croner's blog"Don Croner's World Wide Wanderers" from June 16, 2011

Mongolia | Chingis Rides West | Silk Road City of Otrār

Before you read Don's blog, have a look at the Unesco video "Project for the preservation and restoration of the ancient city of Otrar".

Today there is no city known as Otrār, and very few people have even heard of the Otrār which flourished back at the beginning of the thirteen century. The scattered ruins of this once-sizable metropolis which still do exist turn up on the itineraries of only the most determined tourists who venture into what is now southern Kazakhstan. Yet when the Mongol-Sponsored Caravan of 450 Muslim Traders turned up at its gates in 1218 it was one of the most famous trade centers in Inner Asia and renowned for its arts and crafts and the intellectual accomplishments of its citizens. The caravan men were no doubt looking forward to resting in the city’s well-appointed caravanserais and refreshing themselves in its famous bathhouses. Little did they know that the events which soon overwhelmed them would, in the words of nineteenth-century Orientalist E. G. Browne, trigger:
. . . a catastrophe which, though probably quite unforeseen, even on the very eve of its incidence, changed the face of the world, set in motion forces which are still effective, and inflicted more suffering on the human race than any other event in the world’s history which records are preserved to us; I mean the Mongol Invasion.
Browne, who translated into English many of the thirteen-century documents which recorded the Mongol irruption, may from the vantage point of the twenty-first century sound overwrought here, but his appraisal did contain a kernel of truth. The events which followed in the wake of the calamity at Otrār did rock all of Inner Asia, led to the fall of at least two empires, and inflicted on the entire Islamic geosphere a blow from which some might argue it has never fully recovered.

Otrār was located on the north bank of the middle stretches of the Syr Darya River (the Jaxartes of Classical Antiquity) near its confluence with the Arys River, about 105 miles northwest of the current-day city of Shymkent in Kazakhstan. It was situated just west of the so-called Zhetysu, or Seven Rivers, Region, an area which included the watersheds of the Talas, Ili, Chu, and other rivers in eastern current-day Kazakhstan and western China (Xinjiang Province) which flowed into either Lake Alakol or Lake Balkash or petered out into the barren desert-steppes to the west. Much later this area would become known as Semireche, Russian for “Seven Rivers”. As one geographer points out, “Semireche is an area where sedentaries and nomads have met at various points in history—coexisting, overlapping, or competing—because it lends itself to both ways of life . . .”

Otrār’s location on the boundaries of vast Kazakh Steppe to the north and the fertile valleys of Transoxiana to the south made it natural entrepôt for trade between these two divergent cultures. It was also at the nexus of several east-west trending Silk Road trading. One branch of the Silk Road went east along the Arys to Taraz and Balasagun (current-day Tolmak in Kyrgystan). From here a southern branch went on over the Tian Shan Mountains to Aksu (in current-day Xinjiang Province, China), on the Silk Road route that ran along the northern side of the vast Tarim Basin and on through the Gansu Corridor into northern China. From Balasagun a northern branch proceeded up the valley of the Ili River and over the spurs of the Borohogo Shan Range to the Zungarian Basin on the north side of the Tian Shan. From here routes went to both Mongolia and China. Another route followed the Syr Darya to Shash (modern-day Tashkent) and then versed southwest to Merv (Mary) in current-day Turkmenistan and Nishapur in what was in the thirteen century known as Khorasan, now western Iran. From here various routes continued on the Mediterranean. The road west from Otrār followed the Syr Darya to the Aral Sea before continuing on to the Caspian Steppe Straddling The Volga River. From the old city of Xacitarxan on the Volga, just upstream from Modern-Day Astrakhan, branches led north up the Volga into Kievan Russia and east to the Black Sea, where land and water routes continued on to Istanbul, the main western terminus of the Silk Road. On this vast network of trade routes moved a wealth of various fabrics and textiles, leather, furs, porcelain, pottery, salt, spices, honey, jade and precious stones, musk, herbal medicines, weapons, slaves, and much else. By attempting to open trade with Otrār Chingis Khan hoped to gain access to the rest of the world.

The Silk Road trade had made Otrār a rich and influential city. It had its own mint, the coins of which now grace museums, was famous for its locally produced pottery, including beautifully decorated bowls, and boasted of one of the biggest libraries of Inner Asia, with a collection of over 33,000 items, including such exotica as Babylonian clay tablets and Egyptian papyrus scrolls which had somehow found their way hither. The library also contained the works of the city’s most famous intellectual, Abu Naṣr Moḥammad Fārābi (died c. 950), a polymathic Philosopher, mathematician, linguist, poet, and composer who was called “the Second Teacher” by his students, meaning that he played second fiddle only to Aristotle. He is also credited with heavily influencing Abū Alī Sīnā, a.k.a. Avicenna (c. 980–1037) perhaps the greatest Medieval Islamic philosopher, who was born near Bukhara, also in the Khwarezmshah’s domains.

By the early thirteen-century the city consisted of the triangular-shaped Ark, or citadel, located within the tightly packed Shahristan (walled inner city). The Shahristan itself was in the shape of a pentagon and covered about 200,000 square meters, or about fifty acres The city was famous for its baths and most homes were served by a city-wide sewage system. The big Friday mosque was also probably within the Shahristan. Surrounding the Shahristan was the Rabad, or trade quarter, which was also walled. Covering some 420 acres, it contained the extensive markets and caravanserais connected with Silk Road trade, local bazaars, craft shops, and low-class residential areas. The medieval Arabic historian Moqaddasi claimed the city had 70,000 inhabitants, but at least one modern historican has opined that this was a misprint and that he must have meant 7,000. In any case, numerous small towns and villages in the immediate environs of the city contributed to a sizable urban conurbation.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Sea hunt for ancient Chinese ship off African coast

Workers clean a model of a Chinese ship sailed by Chinese explorer Zheng He. He led seven seven voyages in which he sailed from China to more than 30 countries and regions throughout the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf from 1405 to 1433.

LAMU, Kenya — Did the Chinese come to East Africa before the Europeans? Erin Conway-Smith June 8, 2011

Sea hunt for ancient Chinese ship off African coast
Chinese and Kenyan archeologists probe waters near Lamu Island for sunken ships from the 1400s.

China says yes, as do a growing number of Western historians. To prove the theory, Chinese and Kenyan archeologists are now searching the African coast for the fabled wreck of a Ming dynasty junk — an ancient Chinese sailing vessel — from the fleet of legendary 15th-century explorer Zheng He.
A new report, obtained by GlobalPost, reveals that the researchers have identified several shipwrecks of interest off the Kenyan coast near the World Heritage site of Lamu.
Despite years of excitable hype by China’s state media, the underwater archaeologists involved in the search are warning that the newly discovered wrecks could be from any era or country — and even if a sunken Chinese ship is found, it may no longer be intact or even identifiable.
Some reports in the Chinese and Kenyan media have implied that the wreck of a ship from Zheng He’s fleet has already been found — and by extension, irrefutable historical proof that Chinese explorers visited Kenya before the Europeans. Evidence that China had friendly trading relations with Africa before the colonialists arrived would add luster to the Asian giant’s rapidly expanding presence on the continent.
According to this historical perspective, 600 years ago, Chinese sailors swam ashore after their vessel was shipwrecked off the coast of Pate Island, near Lamu. The Chinese sailors married the local people, and their descendants can still be identified by their almond-shaped eyes and light skin.
But the problem is that so far, there is no concrete proof that this tale is true. While archeologists have found Chinese coins and ceramics in Kenya, these could be explained by ancient trade routes that took Chinese goods through the Malacca Strait, and into India and the Arab world.
China state media claims that DNA tests have proven Chinese ancestry for some of the residents of Pate Island, but results have not been released. The light skin of these residents could just as well be explained by longstanding trade between the area and India, and migration from the Arab peninsula to the Swahili coast.
The first phase of a $3 million, three-year project to try to find conclusive evidence of Zheng He's journey occurred between late December and January.
A draft of the archaeology team’s first progress report, obtained by GlobalPost, lowers expectations that this missing ship will be found, warning that “we are not searching for the Zheng He or the Chinese shipwrecks alone,” but rather looking for “underwater archaeological heritage” from any era.
The report does tout the success of researchers in locating several potential shipwreck sites, found through interviews with local fishermen, seabed imaging, literature reviews and probe diving.
In the Lamu archipelago, three underwater sites were identified to have features likely to be shipwrecks: the area just off Mwamba Hassan — a large rock off Pate Island that the Chinese ship is said to have hit — as well as areas off Manda Toto island and Shela village on the island of Lamu. Five other shipwrecks were discovered, one believed to be from the 14th century, near the coastal city of Malindi.
“The discovery of these sites in Lamu, where Zheng He’s ship is believed to have sunk, was a major success and step towards discovery of this shipwreck,” says the report.
The second phase of the project, scheduled to begin in November, will further study the shipwreck sites by using diver surveys and analysis of artifacts.
“Since we know how Chinese junks were built and their likely cargo of that time, they are easy to identify,” the report says. “However this depends on whether the ship is well preserved under the sea."

When GlobalPost visited one of the project’s research sites in January, a team of Kenyan and Chinese scientists were working together just a hundred yards off Shela beach, a posh holiday area on Lamu Island frequented by Hollywood celebrities and European royals.
“Zheng He visited Malindi two or three times. During one of his visits, one of the boats in his fleet capsized, but we do not have physical evidence,” said Philip Wanyama, a Mombasa-based assistant site scientist for coastal archaeological research, and one of the divers searching off Lamu Island.
“What we are seeking is material clues to confirm that written information,” he said.
But as in the report, the team of Kenyan and Chinese archaeologists in Lamu also tried to play down the focus on finding Zheng He’s storied lost ship.
“We are not looking for the ship alone, but doing a comprehensive survey,” Wanyama said.
“Because this is the first time that we have come to Kenya, there are bumps to work out," said Li Jianan, team leader in Lamu and director of the archeology institute at the provincial museum in Fujian, China
The progress report notes that the Kenyan coast has been visited by waves of foreigners for centuries, including Arabs, the Portuguese and the British.
“There is therefore likely to be more underwater cultural heritage in our waters than we can imagine,” it said. “For this reason we are looking for all shipwrecks, no matter their nationality.”
If a ship is found intact, it can be identified by the researchers, and in that case “we will with certainty say, 'yes, this is a Chinese junk,'” the report said. “But if it has succumbed to the elements of nature including bacteria, it is only the available artifacts such as the cargo and any wood remains which will give us clues about this Zheng He shipwreck.”

Google Earth ™ und die archäologische Erforschung Afghanistans (ASAGE-Projekt)

Abb. 2: Das Google Earth-Bild und der ASAGE-Plan von Qual'a-i Hauz

From 2008
For an English PDF version, click HERE

Zahlreiche bemerkenswerte afghanische Fundorte, wie z.B. die hellenistische Stadt Aï Khanum (Bernard 1982) und eine grosse Vielzahl wertvoller Funde sind uns bereits durch archäologische Forschungen früherer Jahrzehnte in Afghanistan bekannt. Eine Kostprobe dieser Kunstgegenstände war Anfang des Jahres in europäischen Museen ausgestellt und kann momentan in der Wanderaustellung `Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul’ in den USA besichtigt werden (James 2007; Zorich 2008). Trotzdem ist unser Wissen über Afghanistans archäologische Hinterlassenschaften fragmentarisch – die bisherige Forschung hat nur kleine Teile des Landes im Detail erfasst (etwa durch französische und deutsche Feldforschung in Sistan im Südwesten Afghanistans, siehe z.B. Fischer 1983; Fischer et al. 1974-76; Hackin 1959), während große Gebiete des Landes praktisch unerforscht blieben (Ball 1982: 21). Die andauernden gewalttätigen Konflikte und die Gefahr, die die nicht-detonierte Munition dreier Jahrzehnte darstellt machten die weitere archäologische Erforschung vieler Teile Afghanistans unmöglich. Als Resultat wird diese uneinheitliche wissenschaftliche Aufarbeitung jetzt und auch in absehbarer Zukunft die räumliche Analyse von Afghanistans archäologischen Überresten behindern. Dies bedeutet für Archäologen, dass sie alternative Datenquellen finden müssen, um die Beschaffenheit und die Verteilung archäologischer Fundorte in Afghanistan zu erforschen.

Eine Option bieten Luftbilder und in zunehmendem Maße auch Satellitenbilder, welche alternative Sichtweisen auf archäologische Fundstätten und Landschaften eröffnen. Obwohl solche Daten, besonders in guter Qualität, oft schwer oder nur teuer zu erstehen sind, gibt es Datensätze wie z.B. die Spionagesatellitenbilder der vor kurzem freigegebenen CORONA-Serien aus den 1960er und 1970er Jahren, welche ein billiges wissenschaftlich auswertbares Archiv darstellen. Zudem haben solche Archive den Vorteil, dass sie ‘Schnappschüsse’ von Landschaften liefern, die mittlerweile erheblich durch neue städtische und landwirtschaftliche Expansion verändert worden sind (Beck et al. 2007; Goossens et al. 2006; Philip et al. 2002; Ur z.B. 2003).

Die Einführung des ‘virtuellen Globus’’ Google Earth ( 2005 hat die Art und Weise verändert, wie wir die Welt durch Satellitenbilder betrachten (McCamish 2008). Google Earth stellt jedem der Zugang zu einem entsprechend leistungsfähigen Internetanschluss hat Bilder mit hoher Auflösung von ausgewählten Teilen der Welt kostenlos zur Verfügung - und hat somit das Interesse tausender `Arm-chair'-Archäologen erregt (Handwerk 2006). Obgleich einige Berufsarchäologen das Potenzial dieser neuen Datenquelle schnell erkannten (Beck 2006; Ullmann und Gorokhvich 2006; Ur 2006), werden Google Earth-Bilder von den meisten Altertumsforschern nur verwendet, um Vorträge anschaulicher zu gestalten und um in den Vorstufen zur Feldarbeit einen geographischen Überblick zu bekommen (Fleming 2008). Nur wenige Wissenschaftler haben Studien veröffentlicht, in denen Google Earth-Bilder verwendet worden sind (mit Ausnahme von Petrie 2008).

Das ‘Archaeological Sites of Afghanistan in Google Earth’-Projekt (ASAGE) ist ein innovativer Versuch Google Earth-Bilder als archäologische Datenquelle zu verwerten. In Afghanistan decken Google Earth-Bilder mit hoher Auflösung ca. 46.000 km2 (7%) des Landes ab. In dieses Gebiet fallen 250 (19%) der 1286 bekannten archäologischen Fundstätten Afghanistans (Ball 1982), wobei von 217 (87%) davon noch nicht einmal rudimentäre Pläne existieren. Das ASAGE-Projekt konzentriert sich folglich auf drei methodische Ansätze.

Durchsicht und Prüfung der vorhandenen Pläne und Beschreibungen der bekannten archäologischen Fundplätze und gegebenenfalls deren Ergänzung durch Details
Anfertigung ausführlicher Skizzenpläne der unkartierten bekannten archäologischen Fundplätze
Analyse der Bilder mit hoher Auflösung in den bisher unerforschten Regionen, um mögliche unbekannte Fundorte zu lokalisieren.

[1] David Thomas (e-mail: ) befindet sich im letzten Jahr seines PhD-Studiums der Mittelalterarchäologie Zentralasiens an der La Trobe University, Australien ( ). Claudia Zipfel ist ebenfalls eine Doktorantin des Archaeology Program an der La Trobe University, übersetzte diesen Artikel und ist am Projekt als Kartographin beteiligt. Suzanna Nikolovski ist eine Studentin des gleichen Instituts. Dr. Fiona Kidd ist eine ARC Habilitationsstipendiantin der University of Sydney. Das ASAGE-Projekt wird durch eine Förderung (an Dr. Alison Gascoigne, University of Southampton, Großbritannien) des Cary Robertson Fund, Trinity College, Cambridge finanziert.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Mongol Rule in Seljuk Anatolia

Mongol Rule in Seljuk Anatolia
The Politics of Conquest and History-Writing 1243-1282
By Sara Nur Yıldız

Hardcover: 300 pages
Publisher: Brill Academic Publishers (30 May 2011)
Language English
ISBN-10: 9004174338

Informed by the question of how Mongol rule transformed thirteenth-century Seljuk political culture, the volume explores the constantly evolving structures of both the Mongol Ilkhanate based in Iran and its client state, the Seljuk sultanate of Anatolia. Writing outside the nationalist paradigms of the mainstream scholarly literature, the author not only takes issue with the assumption of the marginality of Mongol rule in Anatolia; she also offers an alternative political narrative constructed according to a critical reading of the sources, especially of the underutilized unabridged sole manuscript of the main source for the period, Ibn Bibi’s Persian history. Her reconstruction of an alternative narrative employs, as an explanatory device, the dynamics of factional court politics.

About Sara Nur Yıldız
Dr. Yıldız taught at the Department of Near Eastern Studies, Manchester University, UK (2000-2001), and at the History Department of Istanbul Bilgi University (Sept. 2003-Feb. 2008). She received her doctorate from University of Chicago in 2006, with the thesis entitled, "Mongol Rule in Thirteenth-century Seljuk Anatolia: the Politics of Conquest and History Writing, 1243-1282," under the supervision of John E. Woods, Cornell Fleischer and Robert Dankoff.

Silken threads from the past

Silken Threads from the Past
By Aphra Pia

Photographs of Uyghur people and their culture living in Ea. Turkestan (Uyghuristan). A land of lush green mountains, huge sandy deserts, towering snow capped mountains and an expansive uninterrupted sky. Their culture includes bustling bazaars, the smell of fresh kabobs and nan in the streets, girls in Atless dresses, old men with doppas, and the jovial voices of haggling vendors.

About Aphra Pia
Aphra Pia has been a photographer for over forty years and has a BA in Art and Interior Design. Her photographic skill and vision were formed by working and teaching in both disciplines. Over the years, she has studied photography under such artists as Brigitte Carnochan, Olivia Parker, and Debora Blumefield and is continuously seeking new photographic challenges. A California born artist, she always enjoys photographing nature. In addition, she is an avid traveler, whose images incorporate new themes: unfamiliar animals, fantastic land and ice forms, old cultures, and ethnic people. Aphra’s photographs have won many awards. They have been exhibited in galleries, published in magazines and are held in numerous personal collections. She is represented by Appel Gallery in Sacramento and

Exploring art in Ulan Bator

The Monastery-Museum of Choijin Lama is a storehouse of jaw-dropping papier, mache masks and elegant bronze sculptures. (Sources: China Daily/Chitralekha Basu )

BEIJING, June 26 (Xinhuanet) -- At the heart of Ulan Bator is an art-lover's paradise waiting to be discovered. Chitralekha Basu looks beyond the usual tourist draws and finds a trove of art and culture around the city's central square.

If you stood in front of Sukhbaatar Batbold's now cellophane-wrapped statue in Ulan Bator's central square and drew a circle with a 1-kilometer radius, you would be at the hub of a never-ending exhibition.

Granted, most of Ulan Bator's potential tourist lures - from the Roman-style colonnaded buildings often colored an unlikely shade of dark peach to the multi-tiered pagoda-roofed monasteries - are located right here, but the volume and variety of art on display is truly extraordinary.

The best part of visiting UB's arts hub is that the intense concentration of thangka paintings, appliqu panels showing menacing mythological gods, bejeweled bronze sculptures, quaint hunting tools and masks and costumes worn traditionally by tsam dancers seems inversely proportional to the number of eager connoisseurs.

Miles and miles of art objects stand solemnly in unpeopled galleries. Even the staff, supposed to be looking out for the chance visitor, is hardly ever seen. But don't let that give you ideas. A warren of closed circuit cameras is tracking your moves, just in case you thought of clicking a shot or two on the sly and not paying the fee (see box).

First up on the list is Zanabazar Museum of Fine Arts, by far the most representative collection of Mongolian art, from prehistoric granite sculptures to early 20th-century landscapes by the legendary Mongolian painter B Sharav (1869-1939).

Top: A relief on the National Museum of Mongolian History, a place to sample the whole story of Mongolia's evolution. Bottom: Applique images of the Buddha are a staple of the Zanabazar Museum.

Sharav's One Day in Mongolia, an almost cinematic documentation of Mongolian social life in the 19th-century, is astounding in terms of the sheer range of landscapes it manages to collapse into one frame. From forests to walled cities to agricultural patches to the dunes in the Gobi; from wedding processions to childbirth to shamanistic dances - this painting presents nomadic Mongolia in a nutshell.

Among other top draws is a collection of bronze sculptures of various incarnations of the Buddha crafted by the legendary Zanabazar (1635-1723) himself. The first spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism in Mongolia, and also one of its finest artists, is credited with initiating a renaissance by integrating creative excellence, scholarly pursuits and spirituality.

In his hands, the various figures of the Buddha, wearing elaborate ornaments and a diaphanous cloth around the loins as he sits in meditation, assume an almost effeminate charm - serene, composed and compassionate.

A stone's throw away, to the northwest corner of Sukhbaatar Square, is the National Museum of Mongolian History.

One would probably need at least two days to sample the whole story of Mongolia's evolution, from the Stone Age to its liberation from Soviet Russia in 1990, given the painstakingly detailed nature of the show.

For example, the entire second floor is dedicated to gorgeous traditional Mongolian costumes, in dramatically different styles for its more than 20 ethnic groups, replete with heavy layering, appliqu and turquoise and coral embroidered sleeves and yokes.

The Mongolian craftsmen's penchant for intricate detailing in objects of everyday use is evident in the saddles, boots with upturned toes and horse-headed violins. The funkiest among these is the traditional wrestling gear - a blue embroidered brief paired with a three-quarter sleeved cropped bolero jacket in magenta.

The Winter Palace of Bogd Khan is 2.5 km south of the epicenter of this arts hub, but there's no way you can ignore this repository of ceremonial weaponry, lacquer furniture, bronze sculptures, silk appliqus and sutras, if you're into Tibetan-Buddhist art.

Bogd Khan (1869-1924), one of the most influential religious and political leaders in Mongolian history, ostentatiously lined his ger or yurt (cylindrical felt-lined tent) with the coat of 150 snow leopards, and would conduct his business sitting on a mantle layered with 80 fox skins. These excesses aside, he was also a connoisseur and collector of Mongolian art from the 17th to early 20th century, including some of the finest gilt-bronze works by Zanabazar.

The collection in the Monastery-Museum of Choijin Lama to the southeast of Sukhbaatar Square is tilted somewhat towards the quirky and the bizarre. If intimidating papier-mache masks embellished with an intense weaving of corals, miniature skulls and horsehair and elegant bronze sculptures of gods locked in intimate embraces with their consorts appeal to you, this is probably your scene.

The grandiose throne of Choijin Lama, who was the state oracle and Bogd Khan's brother, is an obvious attraction. However, it's the mysterious bronze figures, like the one in the Yadam temple who appears with a pulley in one hand and a bleeding human skull in the other, that always to baffle.

A slice of the vibrant contemporary art scene in Ulan Bator could be sampled at the Mongolian National Modern Art Gallery in the Culture Palace and the Union of Mongolian Artists' Art Center across the road from National Academic Drama theatre.

A slew of art galleries in and around Baruun Selbe Street exhibit and sell images done in oil, watercolor and felt. As the Ulan Bator skyline morphs and mutates, with snazzy malls and futuristic chrome-and-glass structures towering over European architecture, pagoda roofs and the ger districts, the city's artists are eager to record the transition.

And for the traveler stopping by, it is a rare chance to witness exhibitions and works in progress.

(Source: China Daily)

Monday, 27 June 2011

Rare Look into Famous Chinese Caves

Fan Jin Shi, director Dunhuang Academy (center) and Harlan Wallach (right) meet in a Mogao cave to review the new design of camera scaffolding.

From the website of NorthWestern University of December 20, 2010

Rare Look into Famous Chinese Caves
Chinese and Northwestern technologists preserve ancient Mogao Cave relics

EVANSTON, Ill. --- The treasures of China’s world-renowned Mogao Grottoes, or Dunhuang Caves―arguably home to the most important collection of ancient cave murals and other Buddhist art―soon will become more widely accessible and better preserved with help from Northwestern University.

For the first time during the multi-year e-heritage preservation project with Northwestern, a team of digital technology specialists from China’s Dunhuang Academy visited the University for a ten-day exchange of advanced digital imaging techniques with their counterparts at Northwestern University Information Technology (NUIT)―a partnership that began in 1999.

The Dunhuang Academy has embarked on a large-scale national initiative in China to build a new museum and visitor center near the site to give the public an interactive cave experience with the proper balance between tourism and conservation.

Applying new skills and techniques they learned at Northwestern, the Mogao Grottoes Photography and Data Management team are creating and building a three dimensional and digital imagery archive of over 300 unique cave murals to display within the center.

“This trip provided the rare opportunity for us to share technology to enhance existing photography and enable the acquisition and conservation of these artifacts through digital media,” said Robert Taylor, director, NUIT Academic & Research Technologies. “We are honored to be a part of this collaborative relationship in support of China’s historic endeavor.”

For more than a decade, NUIT Northwestern University Advanced Media Production Studio (NUAMPS) and the Dunhuang Academy have worked together on projects designed to preserve China’s cultural heritage through the application of advanced computing technologies.

“There is no site in the world comparable to the Mogao Grottoes,” said Harlan Wallach, media architect, NUIT Academic & Research Technologies. “We are digitally preserving forever the relics of the grottoes from natural deterioration, such as atmospheric environmental damage and cave-ins, which will inevitably occur over time.”

Preserving History through Digitization

Buddhist worshippers between the 5th and 14th centuries carved as many as 1,000 cave shrines out of Dunhuang’s sandstone cliff facades at the edge of the Gobi Desert. Today 492 of these elaborately painted temples remain, representing nearly a millennium of unparalleled Buddhist art.

Using high definition cameras and custom-designed and custom-built camera support, the Dunhuang Academy team photographs small sections of the caves’ painted murals and then, adopting advanced computing techniques they learned at Northwestern, “stitches” them together, much like a quilt, to create a single, never-before-seen, comprehensive image.

To protect the delicate murals from damage due to human contact, only a select few of the Dunhuang caves are open for public viewing at any given time, and many of the murals within them are hidden behind support pillars, making it impossible to get an overall view of the artwork.

These newly created digital images will allow visitors to see the murals as they could not experience them even inside the caves.

To view a rich collection of Dunhuang Cave artifacts imaged by Northwestern for the Mellon International Dunhuang Archive, visit ArtStor, a nonprofit digital library for education and scholarship.

A 100 year Dunhuang flood


We’ve had the opportunity here in NUIT A&RT to work in China, on several cultural heritage projects, but our longest and deepest collaboration has been with the Dunhuang Academy. Today I received these photos from one of our associates, Peter Little of the Friends of Dunhuang Foundation. This past week the river that passes in front of the cliff scarp & the grottoes flooded in what was described as a 100 year flood.

Without having spent the time that we have there, it is difficult to imagine what these pictures represent. Annual rainfall at this site in far Western Gansu province is less than two inches a year. At this point in the summer most years, this river bed is a salty trickle.

The report from China is that there was no damage to the cave murals, but the flood closed the rail line and the airport, and caused significant damage to the new, still under construction visitor center.

Harlan Wallach, posted on 23 june 2011

Manuscripts And Travellers

Manuscripts and Travellers: The Sino-Tibetan Documents of a Tenth-century Buddhist Pilgrim
by Sam Van Schaik and Imre Galambos

Studies in Manuscript Cultures
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: de Gruyter (Sep 2011)
Language English
ISBN-10: 3110225646

This study is based on a Sino-Tibetan manuscript from the late 960s, carried by a Chinese pilgrim through the Hexi corridor on his way from Wutaishan to India. Included is a series of Tibetan letters of introduction that functioned as a passport as the monk stopped in monasteries on his way. The manuscript is a unique contemporary testimony of the large pilgrimage movement known from historical sources. It also provides evidence for the high degree of ethnic, cultural and linguistic diversity in Western China during this period.

About Sam van Schaik:
I am based at the British Library, where I run a British Academy-funded research project on Tibetan Chan (or Zen), as part of the International Dunhuang Project. I have also taught undergraduate and postgraduate students at the School of Oriental and African Studies on a part-time basis. My research has focused on the impact of social and historical factors on key issues in Tibetan culture. These include the contemplative tradition of the Great Perfection, the tantric ritual system and its social contexts, and the development of mythical narratives of imperial Tibet. I have also written on the intersection between orality and literacy, and on the social and historical context for the creation and development of the Tibetan writing system.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Horseback Riding and Bronze Age Pastoralism in the Eurasian Steppes

On Saturday, March 19, 2011 at the Penn Museum was held the Secrets of the Silk Road Symposium.
David W. Anthony gave a lecture "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.

To watch all published lectures, click HERE

Saturday, 25 June 2011

The Legendary Biographies of Tamerlane: Islam and Heroic Apocrypha in Central Asia

The Legendary Biographies of Tamerlane: Islam and Heroic Apocrypha in Central Asia
By Ron Sela

Hardcover: 184 pages
Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (29 April 2011)
Language English
ISBN-10: 0521517060
ISBN-13: 978-0521517065

Timur (or Tamerlane) is famous as the fourteenth-century conqueror of much of Central Eurasia and the founder of the Timurid dynasty. His reputation lived on in his native lands and reappeared some three centuries after his death in the form of fictional biographies, authored anonymously in Persian and Turkic. These biographies have become part of popular culture. Despite a direct continuity in their production from the eighteenth century to the present, they remain virtually unknown to people outside the region. This remarkable and rigorous scholarly appraisal of the legendary biographies of Tamerlane is the first of its kind in any language. The book sheds light not only on the character of Tamerlane and how he was remembered and championed by many generations after his demise, but also on the era in which the biographies were written, and how they were conceived and received by the local populace during an age of crisis in their own history.

About Ron Sela
Assistant Professor, Central Eurasian Studies at Indiana University
Adjunct Assistant Professor, Department of History at Indiana University

"I study the history and historiography of Islamic Central Asia – a region stretching from the Caspian Sea in the west to Eastern Turkestan (Xinjiang) in the east – in the Post-Mongol era, with an emphasis on the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. My research examines Central Asia from within – not from the perspective of bordering empires, as it is usually accomplished – and most of my work requires a detailed study of unpublished manuscripts, primarily in Persian and Chaghatay Turkic, but also in a variety of other languages (Russian and different European languages, and for earlier periods also Arabic and occasionally, Judeo-Persian).

My recent project, a book about “Heroic Apocrypha” in Central Asia, brings to light an unstudied eighteenth-century corpus of legendary biographies of one of the most formidable figures in the region’s history – Timur (Tamerlane). By portraying the particular circumstances under which these biographies came to life, and by addressing the many political and social changes that our manuscripts described and perhaps even induced, my research delineates Central Asia’s cultural and political boundaries in the early modern era, boundaries that presently witness an intriguing revival."

China invests heavily in protecting Dunhuang from desertification

LANZHOU, June 24 (Xinhua) -- China will invest more than 4.7 billion yuan (723 million U.S. dollars) over 10 years to improve the natural environment of a desert-threatened oasis city that holds one of the world's most impressive ancient Buddhist cave frescoes, local officials said Friday.

The plan for preserving the oasis, in northwest Gansu Province, has been approved by the State Council and will be a major boost for Dunhuang, also an ancient Silk Road town, to fight an uphill battle against desertification, said officials with provincial water resources bureau.

Authorities will build channels to bring water in from outside, promote water-saving technologies and methods, ration the use of water, and plant more trees and wetland plants, according to the plan.

Dunhuang, with a population of 130,000, has been protected from the encroaching dunes of the Kumtag desert by a belt of forests, wetland and lakes sustained by two major rivers and abundant underground water. But in recent years, excessive draining of water in the region has dropped the levels of the lakes, shrunk the wetlands and dried up the rivers.

Government statistics show that over the past six decades the forests of Dunhuang have shrunk by 40 percent, meadows by 62 percent, and the wetlands by 68 percent.

"A large part of salt lakes and fresh water lakes in the oasis had mostly gone," said Gao Hua, director of the Forestry Bureau of Dunhuang.

Gao previously told Xinhua that the Kumtag desert was pushing back the oasis' forest belt three or four meters each year.

Experts say desertification also threatens the preservation of 1,000-year-old Buddhist frescoes in the Mogao Grotteos, which were listed in 1987 by the United Nations' Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization as China's first world heritage site.

Dunhuang is just one example of the effect water shortages have on the vulnerable ecology in the country's northwest, where about 1.7 million square km of territory in Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Gansu, Qinghai and Ningxia, or 17.7 percent of China's land space, are covered by desert.

During a visit to Gansu in 2009, Premier Wen Jiabao, who started his career as a geological engineer in the province, called for efforts to "save" Dunhuang from disappearing into the desert.

"We should never allow Dunhuang to become a second Loulan," Wen said, referring to an ancient Kingdom located in today's northwestern Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Loulan is believed to have been swallowed by the desert about 1,400 years ago.

"It is a good thing that the state is about to give us such major support," said Ren Shenglu, head of the village of Heshui in Dunhuang. "We have been calling for the support for years."

Local officials said they have taken measures to prepare for the implementation of the plan, including promoting water-saving irrigation, advising farmers to grow agricultural products that need less water, and restricting drilling wells, farming and migration.

Friday, 24 June 2011

The Mongol Conquest in World History

The Mongol Conquest in World History
by Timothy May

Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Reaktion Books (15 Oct 2011)
Language English
ISBN-10: 1861898673
ISBN-13: 978-1861898678

The Mongol Empire (c. 1200-1350) in many ways marks the beginning of the modern age, as well as globalization. While communications between the extremes of Eurasia existed prior to the Mongols, they were infrequent and often through intermediaries. The rise of the Mongol Empire changed everything: through their conquests the Mongols swept away dozens of empires and kingdoms and replaced them with the largest contiguous empire in history. While the Mongols were the most destructive force in the pre-modern world, the Pax Mongolica had stabilizing effects on the social, cultural and economic life of the inhabitants of the vast territory, allowing merchants and missionaries to traverse Eurasia. The conquests also set in motion other changes in warfare, medicine, food, culture and scientific knowledge. When Mongol power declined, it was replaced with over a dozen successors who retained elements of the Mongol Empire, but none of its unity. "The Mongol Conquest in World History" examines the many ways in which the conquests were a catalyst for change. The memory of the Empire fired the collective mind into far-reaching endeavours: the desire for luxury goods and spices that were once available launched Columbus' voyages; the Renaissance was inspired by the innovations in art that emerged from the Mongol Empire: China, for the first time in 300 years was unified, and the Islamic world doubled in size. This fascinating book offers comprehensive coverage of the entire empire, rather than a more regional approach, as well as providing a long view of the Mongol Empire's legacy. It will appeal to all those interested in this vast, epoch-making empire, as well as specialists in the field.

About the Author
Timothy May is Department Head and Associate Professor of Central Eurasian and Middle Eastern History at North Georgia College and State University. He is the author of The Mongol Art of War: Chinggis Khan and the Mongol Military System (2007) and Culture and Customs of Mongolia (2009).

The Third Ōtani Expedition at Dunhuang

From the website of Imre Galambos " Chinese manuscripts" an article by him for the Journal of Inner Asian Art and Archeology of 2008

The Third Ōtani Expedition at Dunhuang: Acquisition of the Japanese Collection of Dunhuang Manuscripts
Journal of Inner Asian Art and Archaeology 3/2008: 29-35

Aurel Stein’s 1907 visit to the hidden cave library at the Thousand Buddha Caves near Dunhuang, and especially his acquisition of a large number of manuscripts there, came as exciting news to archaeologists and researchers worldwide. Paul Pelliot’s visit a few months later yielded an equally impressive collection of documents, which was soon to stir the interest of leading Chinese intellectuals. As a result of their efforts, the Chinese Ministry of Education issued a government directive to transport the remaining manuscripts to the capital in 1909, with this effectively putting an end to the sale of these to foreign explorers. However, the two members of the third Ōtani expedition were still able to acquire a significant number of documents in Dunhuang in 1911-1912.

Japan was a relatively new participant in the exploration of Central Asia. It had recently demonstrated its economic and military strength by unexpectedly defeating the Russians in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 and emerged as a major player in East Asia. As was the case with European imperialistic powers, Japan’s colonial ambitions were accompanied by an increased interest in the Qing empire, especially its non-Han regions of Manchuria, Mongolia, Xinjiang, and Tibet. The archaeological exploration of North-West China, however, was conducted as a private enterprise rather than a government-sponsored project. The man behind these ambitious plans was Count Ōtani Kōzui 大谷光瑞 (1876-1948), leader of the powerful Nishi Honganji Branch of the Jodo Shinshu sect, who sponsored a series of expeditions with the specific aim of exploring the Buddhist sites of the region. While staying in London in 1900-1902, the young Ōtani was fascinated by the discoveries of Buddhist remains in Western China by European explorers such as Sven Hedin and Aurel Stein. He believed that as a Buddhist priest thoroughly trained in the Chinese tradition he would be able to make a contribution to the exploration of the spread of Buddhism in this region. In 1902, when it was time for him to leave London, he decided to return home to Japan with a handful of followers by taking the overland route via Central Asia. Although his own participation in the journey was cut short by the death of his father, his men stayed behind to continue the exploration for a total of two years…

Read the whole article HERE: The third Otani expedition at Dunhuang

Tang Dynasty murals on display in Xi'an

What does China's Tang Dynasty look like through the brushes of ancient Chinese painters? You may find the answer at the on-going mural exhibition at the Shaanxi Provincial Historical Museum.
The show features nearly one hundred mural paintings created around a thousand years ago during the Tang Dynasty, which is regarded as the golden age in China's history.
The 97 mural paintings on display are elaborately chosen from the museum's collection of some six hundred mural paintings unearthed in 14 Tang Dynasty tomb complexes centuries ago.
Historical figures in the exhibits were portrayed with sheer clean-cut lines, complemented by bright colors to give a vivid presentation of the royal lives of the Tang imperial families.
A visitor said, "This is the first time I've ever enjoyed Tang Dynasty murals at such a close range. It's awesome!"
A visitor said, "The silhouettes are portrayed with flowing lines, and the bright colors have survived some one thousand years. It's unbelievable!"

The majority of the exhibits were exposed to the environment in the 1950's and '60s China. But for a long period of time the valuable cultural relics were kept in the storehouse of the museum due to limited protective measures. It took another ten years for the time to become right and all conditions growing mature for the exhibition.
Zhou Boling, researcher of Shaanxi Provincial Historical Museum, said, "The exhibition halls are kept at constant humidity and temperature. We've tried our best to reproduce the underground environment for the mural paintings."
This batch of priceless exhibits is highlighted by a piece portraying nine royal palace maids with various gestures and facial expressions. The one of a girl in a low-cut robe is hailed as "Venus from the Orient" by western researchers for her subtle smile and delicate make-up.

Curious? Wat this video HERE

Related stories:
Murals of Tang Dynasty on display in Xi'an 13 May 2011
Ancient murals of stolen Tang tomb back to China 12 May 2011

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Long Distance Trade in the time of Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic Kings

As part of the Secrets of the Silk Road Symposium on March 19, 2011, Joseph G. Manning gave the following lecture:
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.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes reopen after floods in NW China province

LANZHOU, June 22 (Xinhua) -- The Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes, one of the country's three major Buddhist art treasures, reopened as the severe flooding has been effectively controlled in northwestern Gansu Province.

After days of work, the dikes were repaired and traffic resumed to all tourism sites in Dunhuang City. The power supply and telecommunication services also resumed, said a statement released by the Dunhuang City government on Wednesday.

The province's western cities of Jiuquan and Zhangye typically receive little rainfall, relying on water from the icecap of the nearby Qilian Mountain. Located in a basin nearby the desert, Dunhuang is a city affiliated to Jiuquan.

Heavy rains have battered Gansu Province since June 15. In Dunhuang, the rain-triggered floods submerged railways, destroyed a major bridge and hampered transportation and supplies of electricity.

LANZHOU -17 June 2011- Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang, a world heritage site in NW China's Gansu Province, was temporarily closed to visitors as of Thursday because of torrential rains, according to local sources.

Reopening of the site will be decided by the weather conditions in the region in the days to come, said Ji Xinming, Party secretary of Dunhuang Academy which is responsible for research, protection and management over the heritage site.

"Due to consecutive torrential rains in the past days, humidity in the caves has exceeded the set limit. The temporary closure is imposed to protect interior murals," said Ji.

"Apart from the high humidity and the damage to the roads in the site, however, the torrential rains seem not to have caused other adverse impact on the caves," Ji added.

Downpours pounded the western part of Gansu Province Wednesday night and Thursday.

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.

Dunhuang conference in Paris

From IDP ( International Dunhuang Project) Dunhuang conference in Paris

On 14-16 June 2011 a conference was held in Paris on recent achievements in Dunhuang studies, with the title "Rencontres franco-chinoises sur les Etudes de Dunhuang: Actualité de la recherche et publications récentes." The conference was organized by the UMR and EFEO and was held at Collège de France (first day) and EFEO (second day). Participants principally included French researchers and Chinese guests from the Dunhuang Academy, although Helen Wang of the British Museum and IDP's Imre Galambos also gave papers.

The full programme of the conference can be accessed HERE in PDF format.

In the afternoon of the second day participants visited the Musée Guimet and were shown paintings on textile from the Pelliot collection. On the third day they visited the Bibliothèque nationale de France where they had a chance to see some of the rare manuscript treasures from Dunhuang.

Monday, 20 June 2011

1,000-year-old murals make public debut in China

Murals unearthed from the tomb of Princess Yongtai

XI'AN, June 20 (Xinhua) -- Rare murals at least 1,100 years old that were unearthed from tombs in northwest Shaanxi Province debuted publicly Monday at a newly-opened exhibition hall in Xi'an.
The first-ever exhibition of the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907) murals at Shaanxi History Museum displays 97 pieces of rare murals found in tombs of imperial family members, including princes and princesses, said Cheng Jianzheng, curator of the museum.
The murals were painted on walls of imperial palaces, residences of aristocrats, temples, grottoes and tombs in ancient China.
While most murals in tombs and underground grottoes were found well-preserved, many others, painted in wood-and-earth structures on the ground, had either perished with the buildings themselves or been eroded by the changing temperature and moisture, Cheng said.
To ensure the quality preservation of the murals, they are being displayed in a temperature-and-moisture-controlled environment, Cheng said.
Archeologists say most of the murals unearthed from tomb chambers portrayed scenes of the tomb owners' daily life and were buried with the dead as important funeral offerings.
As only the rich and powerful had murals in their tomb chambers, most of the works portray maids, officers and officials. Many feature hunting, dancing and sporting scenes that represented lifestyles of the upper class.
All the murals were unearthed near Xi'an, which was capital for 13 dynasties and the starting point for caravans that traveled along the Silk Road from China to central and west Asia.
This is why foreigners often appear in Tang Dynasty murals, Cheng said.
The 4,200-square meter exhibition hall is a Sino-Italian project supported by 4.03 million euros of low-interest loans from the Italian government and 18 million yuan from the local government of Shaanxi Province.
All the exhibition facilities have been imported from Italy, which ensures the murals are well protected from harmful gas, dust and human damage.
Shaanxi History Museum, built in 1991, houses more than 1,500 square meters of Tang Dynasty murals unearthed from 20 tombs.

Using ancient grains to remap perceptions of Central Asia

This article is from the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog

The Silk Road Symposium held at the Penn Museum in March 2011 was clearly quite a get-together, judging by the personalities involved. Some of the presentations are on Youtube, including one by Dr Michael Frachetti on “Seeds for the Soul: East/West Diffusion of Domesticated Grains,” which has been picked up and discussed by Dienekes on his blog. It’s really worth listening to the whole talk, even at 45 minutes, but in case you don’t have the time, here are the main points.

Dr Frachetti excavated at a place called Begash in Uzbekistan. This is a site which goes back to at least 2500 BC and was used by nomadic pastoralists for many centuries. The dig came up with the earliest evidence of wheat and broomcorn millet in Inner Asia, dating back to about 2200 BC. At left is what the seeds they found look like (click to enlarge).

But here’s the thing. There’s no evidence that the people living at Begash at the time actually ate these things.1 Their teeth just don’t look like the teeth of people who have a lot of cereals in their diet. Basically, no cavities. And there was no evidence of processing either. So what was happening?

The seeds were recovered from a very particular context — a cremation burial. And only in that context. Along, incidentally, with horse remains. Both the cereals and horses were in fact ritual commodities, the excavators think. Not stuff to be consumed every day, but rather exotic commodities to be wheeled out on very special occasions to make an impression. As Dienekes points out, using wheat for funerary offerings goes on still.

Where did the cereals come from? To cut a long story short, the wheat from the west and the Panicum millet from the east.2 Which is the reason why Dr Frachetti thinks we need to remap our thinking about Central Asia. It’s not so much that the people who inhabited these regions were peripheral to the great Bronze Age civilizations, but rather (or, perhaps, also) that they were the link between them.

Now, I know that Central Asia does not necessarily mean the Silk Road, and things have changed since then anyway, but for an entertaining look at the food of the latter, check out the recent post at The Edible Schoolyard. [↩]
The Panicum miliaceum story is fascinating, with its pre-5000 BCE appearance of cultivated forms in the archaeological record in both China and around the Black Sea, but not in between. It is mentioned as an unsolved puzzle — independent domestication or long-distance contact? — by Prof. Colin Renfrew in his own talk, which refers to the genetic work of Dr Harriet Hunt. [↩]

Previously Unpublished Silk Road Manuscripts Now Available Online


Completion of Digitisation of Dunhuang Chinese Manuscript Fragments in the British Library (Or.8210/S.8401-13891)

In 1987 the British Library hosted scholars from the Institute of History, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. They came with a proposal to produce a facsimile edition of non-Buddhist Chinese manuscripts from Dunhuang, to include previously unpublished fragments. The resulting joint Sino-British project conserved all the remaining fragments, including the Buddhist material. This resulted in 6136 more manuscripts becoming available for study.

Thanks to the grant from the Research Institute of Korean Studies, IDP has now completed the digitisation of these fragments, resulting in the publication, for the first time, of most of this material with over 13,000 more images online.

Further information will be available in the next issue of IDP News.

About IDP

IDP is an international collaboration to make information and images of all manuscripts, paintings, textiles and artefacts from Dunhuang and archaeological sites of the Eastern Silk Road freely available on the Internet and to encourage their use through educational and research programmes.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Tang Dynasty horses, Xuan Zang and the Silk Road

An introduction to the Penn Museum's famous Tang dynasty horse sculptures with the University of Pennsylvania's East Asian Languages and Cultures graduate student, Sarah Laursen.

The Penn Museum's Keeper of the Asian Collections, Stephen Lang, discusses the Buddhist monk Xuan Zang and the Silk Road.

Secrets of the Silk Road Symposium: Closing Remarks

Closing remarks from Wang Binghua, Director Emeritus of the Xinjiang Institute of Archaeology, and from Philip L. Kohl, Professor of Anthropology and Slavic Studies at Wellseley College, for the symposium "Reconfiguring the Silk Road: New Research on East-West Exchange in Antiquity".
March 19, 2011 at the Penn Museum

Looking East from Constantinople: Byzantium and the Silk Road by Dr. Robert G. Ousterhout

On May 4, 2011 at the Penn Museum a lecture in the series Great Adventures along the Silk Road:
Looking East from Constantinople: Byzantium and the Silk Road by Dr. Robert G. Ousterhout

Medieval Constantinople was the greatest emporium of the eastern Mediterranean, where East and West came together. After a brief overview of the Byzantine capital, the talk will chart the routes merchants took traveling eastward from Constantinople, as well as the cities, sites, and landscapes they passed along the way. It will also examine the luxury goods and exotic commodities they brought back with them.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Serindia, Sir Aurel Stein and the Discovery of the Dunhuang Manuscript Hoard.

Not news but tastefully displayed, Sir Aurel Stein's masterpiece "Serindia" in a blog by Rare and Unusual Images from F.A. Bernett Books

The original was printed in 1921 with 500 copies.
The current price for the complete et of these books is between € 16.625 and € 50.000!

This is what you would get for € 50.00!

SERINDIA. Detailed Report of Explorations in Central Asia and Westernmost China carried out and described under the orders of H. M. Indian government by Aurel Stein, K. C. I. E. Indian Archaeological Survey. With descriptive lists of Antiques by F. H. Andrews, F. M. G. Lorimer, C. L. Woolley, and others ; and appendices by J. Allan, L. D. Barnett, L. Binyon, É. Chavannes, A. H. Church, A. H. Francke, A. F. R. Hoernle, T. A. Joyce, R. Petrucci, K. Schlesinger, F. W. Thomas.
by Sir Aurel STEIN

Bookseller: Librairie Herodote
(Paris, FR, France)

Book Description: Oxford, At The Clarendon Press, 1921. Couverture rigide. Book Condition: Très bon. Edition originale. 5 vol. gds in-4° ; [Text]-XXXIX-de la p. 1 à la p. 547, très nbses reprod. photographiques h.-t. [1-144]/VIII-de la p. 549 à la p. 1088, très nbses reprod. photographiques h.-t. [145-236]/XI-de la p. 1089 à la p. 1580, très nbses reprod. photographiques h.-t. [237-345]-59 plans h.-t. dont 2 repliés in-fine [1-59]/[Plates]-X-175 planches h.-t. [I-CLXXV]/[Maps]-1 carte repliée non ch. [General Map]-1 carte repliée non ch. [Index]-94 cartes repliées [1-94], pleine toile d’époque couleur brique illustrée or, dos lisse imprimé or, filets à froid d’end. et titre or avec fleuron sur les plats, étui moderne, rel. uniforme de l’éditeur, bel exemplaire. Yakushi, Catalogue of the Himalayan Literature, S 717. Édition originale très rare complète illustrée de 345 reproductions photographiques hors texte, 59 plans hors texte, 175 planches hors texte et 96 cartes repliées dans un portefeuille. Tirage : 500 exemplaires. First edition. VERY SCARCE COMPLETE. 500 COPIES ONLY. VERY GOOD SET.

Price: € 50.000

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Aurel Stein – Flowers to Lajos Lóczy

From Imre Galambos's Blog "Chinese Manuscripts from April 19, 2011

Last summer we were at Lake Balaton in western Hungary and decided to take a day trip to the Balatonarács cemetery to visit the grave of the famous Hungarian explorer and geologist Lajos Lóczy (1849-1920). In the West, he is mostly remembered as the person who first told the young Aurel Stein about the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas near Dunhuang, where Stein later purchased the largest collection of Chinese manuscripts ever found. It is through Stein’s acknowledgment in his publications that Lóczy’s name became known in Dunhuang studies. (His name is pronounced loh-tsee, unlike how it is transliterated in some Chinese or Japanese references.)
Lóczy himself visited China, including Dunhuang, in 1878 as the geologist in the Hungarian expedition of Count Béla Széchenyi (1837-1918). At the time, the manuscript library was still unknown and the members of the expedition only described the wonderful murals and statues in the cave temples. An account of this visit was published in 1881 by Gustav Kreitner (1847-1893), the expedition’s Austrian member, under the title Im Fernen Osten: Reisen des Grafen Bela Szechenyi in Indien, Japan, China, Tibet und Birma in den Jahren 1877-1880. Lóczy’s also published a book and later a detailed scientific report in three volumes, all in Hungarian. To this day, these works are largely inaccessible to the international community. A translation of his description of the visit to Dunhuang was published by Lilla Russell-Smith in “Hungarian Explorers in Dunhuang” (Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 2000, vol. 10, no. 3: 341-362).
Years ago I have read a biography of Lóczy, which mentioned that Aurel Stein sent flowers to his grave from Kashmir. These were supposed to be some alpine flowers the type of edelweiss. Now that I had a chance to visit the grave in person, I was curious to see whether I could find any flowers. The village of Balatonarács has since been incorporated into the town of Balatonfüred and finding the cemetery was not a straightforward task. Once inside, however, we immediately noticed the grave, erected not far from the entrance, a bit to the left. But it took us a while to notice the flowers, even though they were pressed under a circular sheet of glass right beneath Lóczy’s relief portrait. An inscription in Hungarian read, “Last greetings from Aurel Stein in Kashmir.” Since Lóczy died in 1920, I assume that these flowers date to that year, too. They are withered but nevertheless remarkably well preserved.

Thus this cemetery in a little village near Lake Balaton preserves a tiny piece of history related to the great days of the exploration of Central Asia.

On Tocharian Origins

From "Dineke's Anthropology Blog, May 20, 2011

Where did the Tocharians originate from?
J.P. Mallory's recent talk has been somewhat of an eye-opener for me, as Prof. Mallory brought to my attention two important issues:
The lack of a clear connection between Afanasyevo and the Tarim Basin.
The existence (in Tocharian) of a rich agricultural IE terminology related to cereals, as well as the domesticated pig, which cannot be easily explained if Tocharians arrived in Xinjiang from the steppes to the north, and, ultimately from eastern Europe.
To begin with, I want to point out an important issue: we cannot assume that the earliest Caucasoids of Xinjiang, including some of the famous early Tarim mummies were Tocharian speaking. There are several arguments why this is so:..................................

Interested? Go to Dineke's Anthropology Blog

Her conclusion, I'm glad to share with you:

The mystery of the Tocharians may be that there is no mystery. The Tocharians are revealed to have been just another West Asian branch of the Indo-European family that, unlike most of its cousins, went east, absorbed Northern Caucasoid, Mongoloid, and South Asian population elements, emerged long enough in history to leave us a written record of their presence, before succumbing to the Xiongnu and the Mongols.

Thankfully, by combining the remnants of their language, and fragments of their DNA in their descendants, we are able to reconstruct the history of this, once forgotten people.

200,000 ancient coins from Northern Song Dynasty unearthed, weighing 4 tonnes

Archaeologists in east China's Jiangsu Province have unearthed about 200,000 ancient coins in a well on a construction site in the city of Suzhou.

The coins, weighing around 4 tonnes, were believed to be from the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1126), the city's archaeological institute said in a press release.

Construction workers found the well and coins first on Wednesday. Archaeologists rushed to the site and spent one day digging out coins in a protective manner.

Archaeologists assumed that the large amount of coins might be hidden by some rich family during war in relatively-prosperous Suzhou. The exact source has yet to be confirmed.

Source: Xinhua

Monday, 6 June 2011

Race to save Buddhas from bulldozers

It might be called the battle of the Buddha's feet, a struggle to rescue one of the great Buddhist sites in Afghanistan.

The deadline has just been cut to a year for a team of Afghan and foreign archaeologists to rescue what they can from the sites of four shrines and temples round Mes Aynak - the Copper Mountain - in the plains of Logar, 25 miles south of Kabul.

The Chinese have signed a 20-year lease to make this the biggest open-cast copper mine in the world outside Africa. They plan to blow up the mountain and what is left of the Buddhist temples, hoping to dig as much as they can of the copper estimated to be worth £45 billion.

Initially, they're offering £800 million a year for the concession.

It is a race between Afghanistan's cultural past and commercial future. A team of 32 archaeologists is moving everything it can from the site, rediscovered in the Sixties, rebuilding one of the temples and putting the treasures in a custom-built museum.

They are helped by 900 local Afghan workers. Initially they were given three years, but under pressure from the Chinese, President Karzai has said the conservation must end for the blasting and mining to begin late next year.

"The site is very important because this was a main junction on the Silk Road. The monks came here and settled between the 5th century and the 8th century, lured by the copper," said Philippe Maquis, the leading French archaeologist at the site. He points to large pieces of handsome Buddhas, complete with swirling drapery - said to be inherited from the Greeks who came here with Alexander the Great.

A battered statue three times life-size shows the Buddha in "Pari Nirvana" - the stage before nirvana, the highest state of consciousness.
Next to the figure are two huge stone feet, more than four times life size. "These pieces are the same style and from the same time as the great Buddha statues of Bamiyan," said Mr Maquis.

The Buddhas of Bamiyan were blown up by the Taliban in March 2001. Mes Aynak has not suffered such outright vandalism, although Osama bin Laden moved his main training camp here in 1999. "I think we can really do it," said Dr Omar Sultan, 61, deputy culture minister, a renowned archaeologist. "If we get the funds and the team of 40 archaeologists, I get the job of essential conservation done by the deadline."

Looking across the monastery and the camp for Chinese workers, it is a scene of utter tranquillity. But in two years the mountain which has lured mystics, pilgrims, and entrepreneurs - often all three in one - for more than 5,000 years will be blasted to oblivion.

It is the starting point of yet another invasion of Afghanistan, this time by the Chinese in their relentless charge for the world's mineral riches.

Source: London Evening Standard by Richard Fox

Rescue Excavation of Buddhist Relics in Mes Aynak, Afghanistan

Article by Dianne C. Brown, May 16, 2011

After years of armed conflicts, amongst the terrible human cost, Afghanistan has also suffered the loss of thousands of archeological objects and hundreds of ancient sites.

One of those sites is Mes Aynak, located in a mountainous region 40 kilometres from the capital. Mes Aynak is a hill topped by an ancient monastery. This site was discovered by archaeologists in the 1960s, but it has never been excavated. Archaeologists discovered that, two millennia ago, this region served as a critical conduit in the spread of Buddhism to Central Asia and China. It is believed that Mes Aynak could provide and entirely new insight into the origin of one of the world’s major religions.

During the late 1990s, the hill was a training camp of Osama Bin Laden. First, the Taliban brutally destroyed the site’s 1,700 year old statues of Buddha, the largest of their kind in the world. Today the ancient monastery is again under threat of destruction, this time from a copper mining company.

In 2007, the Afghan government negotiated a 30-year mining concession with the China Metallurgical Group Corporation for copper production at the Mes Aynak site. Archaeologists have since started emergency excavations in a bid to remove and preserve only those pieces that could still be saved. Dozens of ancient statues, defaced and vandalized, can be found there. The rescue excavation is undertaken by the National Institute of Archaeology and the Délégation Archéologique Française en Afghanistan. Only one small part of the site is fully excavated, just enough to reveal a vaulted chapel, monks’ cells and storerooms. Many polychrome terracotta statues were found, including a unique statue of the sleeping Buddha.

Omar Sultan, the Deputy Minister for Information and Culture said that the pace of excavation is accelerating, and will include an increase in the number of archaeologists on site from 30 to 65, and a massive increase in laborers from 90 to 900. While the archaeological works are ongoing, the site will be secured by a force of 1,600 soldiers. Excavation costs for the accelerated project are estimated to be nearly $28 million, and are financed partly by the Ministry of Mines.

Some of the most important finds have already been transferred to the National Museum in Kabul. Unfortunately, the facilities of this museum are often inadequate to appropriately house such valuable pieces. In response, the government has announced plans to construct a new museum just seven kilometers from the site, in Logar province. Both the government and attending scientists hope to move the most important and sensitive material to this new museum.

Deputy Minister Sultan has a personal interest in Mes Aynak. In 1976, he worked on an initial survey of this site together with Soviet archaeologists. Although time is running out for this rescue excavation, Sultan remains an optimist, telling reporters “Yes, we do have enough time. We have an agreement with the ministry of mines to safeguard the archaeology.”

The Copper Mine at Mess Aynak

New Archeological Discoveries in Xinjiang

First dig at Toyoq Grotto finds Buddhist temple ruins
Recently, Chinese archaeologists excavated the Toyoq Grotto for the first time and made a lot of important discoveries, including frescoes, paintings on silk, pieces of literature, pottery, sculptures and articles for daily use.

The Toyoq Grotto was a region where the Buddhist culture of the Central Plains and that of the Western Regions converged. The construction of the Toyoq Grotto started in the Sixteen Kingdoms Period. During the fifth and sixth century, the Grotto was decorated with a vast number of Buddhist temples and caves and gradually became a Buddhist holy site for the ruling class.

Many new discoveries have been made recently in the Toyuk caves of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The caves have been under archaeological excavation since last October.
The original artwork was created in the Toyuk caves between the 4th and 13th century, spanning a period of more than a thousand years.
The caves are the key point for the study of the Buddhist art of caves introduced from regions west of Xinjiang. The painting techniques were brought into China's interior areas from parts of Central Asia and beyond.

The first phase of excavation started from March this year and will come to a close soon. With the in-depth process of excavation, some important archeological finds have been surfaced.
Chen Ling, associate professor of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said, "What is essential is that we have discovered a central cave painting over a large area and it is integral with a rather good content. Also it is of great importance to the time of cutting inside Toyuk, the art of caves and the origin of fresco. The second is the wall with Uygur script, which may be the biggest one ever spotted in China or abroad."

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