Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Cultural relics preservation technicists repair walls of Jiayu Pass

   2013-07-21 23:45:26    Xinhua      Web Editor: Wang Wei
Click to see the next picture

Photo taken on July 21, 2013 shows a gate tower of the Jiayu Pass, the starting point of a section of the Great Wall constructed during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), under repair, in Jiayuguan City, northwest China's Gansu Province. [Photo: Xinhua/Chen Bin]

Built in 1372, the Jiayu Pass also served as a vital passage on the ancient Silk Road. It was listed on UNESCO's World Heritage List in 1987.
China has poured 2.03 billion yuan (about 328 million US dollars) in maintaining the Jiayu Pass, also including the construction of a world culture heritage inspection center and a heritage protection and display project at the end of 2011.
The local cultural relics bureau announced Sunday that the maintenance project, the largest one since the Pass was set up, has entered the critical stage. 

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

For Korean Buddhists, it all started in Gandhara

One of the Gandhara-era structures in Taxila. PHOTO: FILE
Many Pakistanis might not be aware that South Koreans trace the roots of their Buddhist heritage to centres of Gandhara civilisation located in present-day Pakistan.
Buddhism is the largest faith in South Korea and Korean archaeologists and monks have visited Pakistan in the past for research as well as pilgrimage.
“Gandhara is considered the second home for Buddhism by Koreans,” says Quaid-e-Azam University’s Taxila Institute of Asian Civilisations (TIAC) Director Dr Muhammad Ashraf Khan. “It is because Maranantha, the Gandharan monk who introduced Buddhism to South Korea, belonged to Swabi in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.”
Now, academic exchanges and technical knowledge sharing between Pakistani and Korean archaeologists are expected to expand further.
Geumgang University — a South Korean Buddhist university — will sign a Memorandum of Understanding for scientific and education cooperation with TIAC very soon, said Dr JeeYeon Han, a professor at Geumgang University, during a visit to TIAC on Friday.
Han is leading a three-member delegation of Korean professors of Archaeology and Buddhist Studies from Geumgang and Dongguk universities to Pakistan. The delegation visited TIAC’s department building and was given a tour of the centre’s museum, library and conservation laboratory.
Khan briefed the delegation about TIAC’s recent excavation of a third century Buddhist mini-monastery in Badal Pur near Taxila. Archaeologists and students from TIAC had unearthed 40 by 40 metre annex near Badal Pur’s main monastery in March, which is believed to have been built to accommodate an influx of students at the monastery.
The Korean professors also exchanged their own field research with students of archaeology enrolled at TIAC.
Khan said the MoU will be beneficial for Pakistani archaeologists.
“The Koreans are much more advanced than Pakistan in terms of field research techniques and conservation practices,” he said. “They also have very nice archaeology museums, they can help us a great deal.”
The MoU will facilitate student exchange between the universities, Khan said. Cooperation regarding restoration and preservation of excavated items, sharing of research documentation, joint exhibitions, faculty visits and joint research programmes will also be included in the MoU’s draft.
In June, professors from the School of Archaeology at China’s Peking University had also announced interest in signing a MoU with TIAC. Khan said both memorandums are being drafted and will be officially signed by October 2013.
Professor Mu Wang Moon of Seoul’s Dongguk University and professor Gil-Am Seok of Geumgang University are accompanying Dr Han as members of the delegation.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Exploring pastoral-nomadic origins and population history of the Xiongnu confederacy of Iron Age Mongolia

This article discusses the complex history of Mongolia during the Xiongnu Period (209 BCE – 2nd Century CE). The origins of the Xiongnu are still relatively unknown to archaeologists. I describe on-going research of these pastoral nomads and attempt to elucidate questions of their provenience and biological relationships to other groups in the region, specifically to groups in China and Siberia. Current hypotheses suggest a complex population history, and data from bones, genes, and artifacts attest to this complexity. Here, I show that the Xiongnu are not entirely biologically homogenous and are closely related to both nomadic Chinese and Siberian populations.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Exporting Enlightenment: Susan Beningson

Brooklyn Museum curator Susan Beningson gives an illustrated keytalk at the Rubin Museum of Art in conjunction with the exhibition "From India East: Sculpture of Devotion from the Brooklyn Museum"

Unravelling a mystery in an ancient grave site

LANZHOU, July 24 (Xinhua) -- At a 20-square-meter lab in the Gansu provincial cultural relics research institute, archaeologists have restored a 2,000-year-old cart that was unearthed in a tomb cluster along the Silk Road.

Caked with clay, the wooden cart was embellished with gold, silver and copper foil patterns. It is typical of a vehicle structure dating back to the Warring States Period (475-221 BC).
"It's amazing that the metal accessories are still shiny after 2,000 years," said Yang Xiaolin, a researcher with the National Museum of China.
The cart was among the items buried at the Majiayuan Graves in Muhe Township, Zhangjiachuan Hui Autonomous County in northwest China's Gansu Province. Since the excavation began in 2006, archaeologists have discovered 60 tombs and sacrificial pits with 44 carts there, making the site one of the ten most important excavation projects of that year.
Wang Hui, chief of the Gansu provincial cultural relics research institution, said the luxuriously decorated carts mean the owner of the graves was nobility among the Xirong, a local tribe.
Before the discovery of the graves, archaeologists knew little about the Xirong, who are believed to have lived in the western part of China, except where recorded in historical files. The ruins of the graves have provided vital evidence for unraveling the mystery of the ancient tribe.
Since 2010, the institution, in cooperation with archaeological departments under Cambridge University, Peking University and the Shaanxi Provincial Archaeological Institution, started repairing and restoring some of the items found at the grave site in the lab at the provincial cultural relics research institute.
Experts determined that the technology and the shape of the cart, as well as other items buried at the graves, had actually originated in the West, indicating that cultural integration had already occurred there 2,000 years ago.
The metal embellishments, such as patterns of tigers and bighorn sheep, are emblematic of the northern prairie culture. It has also been confirmed that the materials for the carts came from what is now known as the Altai region in Russia, and the tradition of burying glasses, as well as bowls, pitchers and other vessels made of gold and silver, in graves also came from the West, according to Wang.
Cultural elements from the northern prairie, the West, the Xirong and the Qin, a power that defeated other powers during the Warring States Period and later established Qin Dynasty in 221 BC, can be found among the buried items, Wang said.
He said they also found gem-mounted items in the graves, a technique that spread from the southern prairie region of Russia.
Grains unearthed, such as barley and wheat, also indicate that the Xirong had connections with nomads from the West and the north.
Based on these discoveries, it is believed that the Xirong tribe was a major intermediary between Eastern and Western cultures. During the Warring States Period, Xirong people exchanged not only goods with the outside world, but had also integrated some of foreign customs into their lives.
"The graves have helped us learn the history of the Xirong that had been lost for nearly 1,000 years, and also provided new information for getting a better understanding of the culture in the southeastern part of Gansu, as well as the cultural connections between the Xirong and the Qin," Wang said.
The tomb cluster was a stop on a ten-day journey that started on July 15. The campaign, launched by Xinhua News Agency, is intended to raise public awareness of the importance of preserving cultural heritage on the ancient Silk Road, a 7,000-km-long pathway created by camel-driving merchants who carried silk and porcelain to Western Europe and spices to the Far East 2,000 years ago.
Supported by UNESCO, the "Cherish Dunhuang" campaign will take professional journalists, researchers and citizen journalists on an exploratory journey to major natural and culture heritage sites along the Silk Road, including the Maijishan Grottos (Wheat Stack Hill), Jiayuguan Pass and the Mogao Caves at Dunhuang.

Prehistoric civilization found along Silk Road

Archaeologists have unearthed relics that suggest prehistoric humans lived along the Silk Road long before it was created about 2,000 years ago as a pivotal Eurasian trade network.

Prehistoric civilization found along Silk Road
The ruins of a Han Dynasty (202 BC - 220 AD) Chinese watchtower made
of rammed earth at Dunhuang, Gansu province, the eastern
edge of the Silk Road [Credit: WikiCommons]
An excavation project that started in 2010 on ruins in northwest China's Gansu Province has yielded evidence that people who lived on the west bank of the Heihe River 4,100 to 3,600 years ago were able to grow crops and smelt copper, the researchers said.

The site is believed to date back to the Han Dynasty (202 BC - AD 220).

Over the past three years, archaeologists have discovered a variety of copper items, as well as equipment used to smelt metal, said Chen Guoke, a researcher with the Gansu Provincial Institute of Archaeology.

"People back then mainly dealt with red metal. They also began to make alloys," said Chen, who is in charge of the excavation project.

Chen added that a rare copper-smelting mill was also found in the ruins.

"The mill is the earliest of its kind that has been unearthed. It will be of great help for studies of the history of Chinese craftmanship," said Zhang Liangren, a professor at Northwest University in Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi Province.

The researchers also discovered carbonized barley and wheat seeds, as well as stone hoes and knives used for farming, said Zhang, adding that some adobe houses were also found this year.

The finds indicate that east-west exchanges started prior to the Han Dynasty, as adobe architecture, barley and wheat originated in central and west Asia, according to Zhang.

A series of previous discoveries during the past decade have also provided evidence of the existence of prehistoric civilization along the Silk Road.

From 2003 to 2005, archaeologists excavated the Xihetan ruins in Gansu's city of Jiuquan.

"We were surprised to find a pen for cattle and sheep preserved in the ruins. The find was unprecedented," said Zhao Congcang, another professor at Northwest University.

Footprints of the livestock and their skeletons were also found at the site.

In 2005, researchers from China and Japan completed a three-year excavation project at the Mozuizi ruins in Gansu's city of Wuwei, finding traces of a primitive tribe that lived about 4,500 years ago.

Starting from the ancient city of Chang'an, now known as Xi'an, the ancient Silk Road extends to the Mediterranean region in the west and the Indian subcontinent in the south. Its total length is over 10,000 km, with 4,000 km located within China.

In January, China, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan jointly submitted an application to the UNESCO for adding the Silk Road to the World Heritage List for 2014. 

Source: Xinhua [July 25, 2013]

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

NEW: The Secret History of the Mongols, VOLUME 3 (Supplement)

The Secret History of the Mongols, VOLUME 3 (Supplement)

A Mongolian Epic Chronicle of the Thirteenth Century
Translated with a Historical and Philological Commentary by Igor de Rachewiltz

Monday, 22 July 2013

A Silk Road Mousetrap?

From the International Dunhuang Project ( IDP) Blog

TUESDAY, JULY 16, 2013

A Silk Road Mousetrap?

In 2004 during the British Library Silk Road exhibition, I showed this wooden implement from Niya (Cadota) on the Southern Silk Road and described it as a mousetrap following M. Aurel Stein's description. InAncient Khotan (376) he says that it 'was recognized by the men from Niya as a mouse-trap, similar to those still in use.' However, I have long been puzzled as to how it functioned, but Janken Myrdal, Professor at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, has sent me a plausible explanation. He writes:
'The narrow end has a small hole, probably for the peg which held the bowstring, the peg that was connected to the bait and thus was released when the prey tried to take the bait. The bow was probably attached to the four small holes just before the round opening. The arrow was arranged under the bow, and run in the channel (as suggested by Stein).
The bait must have been placed over the opening, so the mouse (or probably a rat, as diameter of opening is c. 5 cm) had to stick its head into the opening. The small holes on the other side of the opening were probably for the stand holding the bait, with a connection to the peg that held the bow-string.
A guess is that the arrow had a tip with a straight end. Then this trap would function as a guillotine chopping off the head of the rat quickly and silently – there was no time for the mouse/rat to squeal. This would explain the opening where the rat has to place its head and the channel where the bow had to run an exact path.
Diagram showing the original loaded mousetrap. Janken Myrdal.
I found mention of a similar trap (the arrow did not go under the bow though) used in Japan, and because the rat made no sound at all on its death the author had caught as many as seven rodents in an evening – but had to remove the bodies fast. If other rats realized that it was a trap they would not try to take the bait.' (John Batchelor. Ainu Life and Lore. Tokyo: Kyobunkwan 1927).
Many thanks to Janken for this. He also suggests that testing could be carried out for traces of blood in the hole.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Caravan Kingdoms: Yemen and the ancient Incense Trade

Click to start the Caravan Kingdoms interactive
Click on the image to start the Caravan Kingdoms interactive!


June 26–September 11, 2005
For over a thousand years, from around 800 B.C.E. to 600 C.E., the kingdoms of Qataban, Saba (biblical Sheba), and Himyar grew fabulously wealthy from their control over the caravan routes of the southern Arabian peninsula and, in particular, from the international trade in frankincense and myrrh. Excavations at the capitals of these ancient kingdoms have yielded spectacular examples of architecture, distinctive stone funerary sculpture, elaborate inscriptions on stone, bronze, and wood, and sophisticated metalwork.
Drawn from the collections of the Republic of Yemen, the American Foundation for the Study of Man, the British Museum, and Dumbarton Oaks, this exhibition of approximately 200 objects explored the unique cultural traditions of these ancient kingdoms. It gave special emphasis to the rich artistic interaction that resulted from overland and maritime contacts linking the southern Arabian peninsula with the eastern Mediterranean, northeastern Africa, and south and southwest Asia.
Revisit the 2005 exhibition of the Freer I Sackler Smithsonian's Museums of Asian Art via this interactive exhibition on their website

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Epigraphs of ancient Turkic people discovered in Mongolia

OSAKA--Two massive slabs of stone inscribed in ancient Turkic script have been found on the steppes of eastern Mongolia, the first such discovery in over a century, a Japanese researcher said July 16.
The epigraphs date from the mid-eighth century, said Takashi Osawa, a professor of ancient Turkic history at Osaka University's graduate school.
He said the finds may offer invaluable clues to the political systems and institutions of the Gokturk people, who faced the Sui and Tang dynasties in China in times of peace and war as they reigned over the steppes of Central Asia.
Osawa said he and researchers from the Institute of Archaeology of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences discovered remnants of two giant epigraphs in May at an archaeological site called Dongoin shiree. It is near Mount Delgerkhaan, 400 kilometers southeast of Ulan Bator, the Mongolian capital.
The epigraphs measure 4 meters and 3 meters, respectively.
Combined, they are inscribed with 2,832 symbols, in 20 lines of ancient Turkic script.
Osawa, who deciphered the writing, said it describes the lamentation of people who have to leave their beloved families and homeland behind when they die.
"Oh, my home!" reads one inscription. Another reads: "Oh, my land!"
Signs engraved in the epigraphs indicate the artifacts likely represent epitaphs dedicated to members of the Ashina tribe, the reigning family of the Second Turkic Empire (682-744).
The Gokturks are the oldest nomadic people in Central Asia that left records of their own language in their own writing system.
The discovery is significant as it is the first of its kind since the three most renowned ancient Turkic inscriptions (Bilge Kaghan, Kol Tigin and Tonyukuk) were discovered in central Mongolia about 120 years ago, experts said.
"Other parts that remain buried in the ground may offer a record of the lives of the individuals commemorated," Osawa said.
"Research on ancient Turkic script has centered on the re-reading of known inscriptions after a Danish linguist deciphered the writing in the late 19th century," said Takao Moriyasu, a professor of Central Asian history at Kinki University. "The latest finds could help unravel new facts."
The history of the Gokturk state started when Yili Kaghan founded the First Turkic Empire in 552.
Political maneuvering by the Sui Dynasty of China split the Gokturk nation into an eastern and a western part, with the East Turkic Empire succumbing to Tang China's rule in 630. The Gokturks regained independence from Tang China to found the Second Turkic Empire in 682, only to be brought down by the Uighurs in 744.
By KUNIHIKO IMAI/ Senior Staff Write

Ancient Turkic inscriptions discovered in Mongolia, which should be read from right to left (Provided by Takashi Osawa)
Ancient Turkic inscriptions discovered in Mongolia, which should be read from right to left (Provided by Takashi Osawa)

Monday, 15 July 2013

Joyce Morgan - Aurel Stein's Silk Road - Evening of Adventure

A reading by Joyce Morgan in 2011 for the Australia & New Zealand Explorers Club ( in 2011 named Aurel Stein's Silk Road - Evening of Adventure

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Xinhua launches campaign to protect Silk Road heritage

BEIJING, July 4 (Xinhua) -- The Xinhua News Agency kicked off a campaign on Thursday that is intended to raise public awareness of the importance of preserving cultural heritage on the ancient Silk Road.
Supported by UNESCO, the "Cherish Dunhuang" campaign will take professional journalists, researchers and citizen reporters on an exploratory journey to major natural and culture heritage sites along the Silk Road, including the Maijishan Grottos (Wheat Stack Hill), Jiayuguan Pass and the Mogao Caves at Dunhuang.
"This campaign is an occasion to raise public awareness about cultural heritage along the Silk Road and to draw public attention toward world heritage protection in China as a whole," said Andrea Cairola, from the UNESCO China office, at Thursday's launching ceremony.
The campaign is also being supported by the Gansu Administration of Cultural Heritage and the Dunhuang Academy.
During the ten-day journey, which will begin on July 15, participants will file multimedia reports through Xinhua's traditional wire service, as well as its mobile multimedia platform "iFocus."
"iFocus" includes an Android-based mobile application and accounts on both popular instant messaging service WeChat and microblogging platform Sina Weibo, as well as a number of news feeds on some of China's biggest mobile news portals.
The Silk Road is a network of ancient overland trade routes that extends across the Asian continent and connects China to the Mediterranean Sea.
Several sections of the Silk Road were added to a list of potential future candidates for the World Heritage List this year. China currently has 45 sites that are inscribed in the World Heritage List.

Farmer stumbles upon 2,000-year-old Han tomb in Shaanxi

11 July 2013

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Archaeological finds are often made accidentally, and these days often occur during construction work. That’s what happened recently to a farmer in Fengxiang county in Shaanxi Province.
While building his house, he happened upon a Han dynasty tomb dating back some two thousand years. And both the tomb and the pottery it contains are in very good condition.
It’s not the first time that ancient tombs have been found in Fengxiang county, located near Xi’an, the famed capital of both the Han and Tang dynasties. But this one is special.
Li Wansuo, village leader of LiJiapu Village, said, “Last Friday, when the villager was fetching earth from the nearby cliff, he dug out some bricks, then dug deeper, and found that it was a tomb with some pottery inside it.”
Archaeological finds are often made accidentally, and these days often occur during
construction work. That’s what happened recently to a farmer in Fengxiang county in
Shaanxi Province.
The tomb has turned out to be astonishingly well preserved, despite extreme weather, war, construction, anything that happened in the past two thousand years. The arch shaped ceiling and the tomb’s chamber are neatly built with light blue bricks.
And on top of that, fourteen metal coins and fourteen works of finely crafted pottery have also been found. They include containers, pots, a wine cup, one mini cooker and two mini storehouses, which all provide clues to the tomb’s age.
Cao Jianning, vice director of Fengxiang Museum, said, “From the shapes of the pottery, the coins and the shape of the tomb, we have concluded that the tomb was built in the early years of the western Han dynasty.”

Inscriptions found in Shanghai pre-date 'oldest Chinese language by 1,400 years'

Markings on artefacts from Zhuangqiao relics site date to 5,000 years ago and include string of words, says archaeologist
Markings on stone axe, from Zhejiang province, China
A stone axe from near the Zhuangqiao relics site, in east China, shows a newly discovered form of primitive writing, archaeologists say. Photograph: AP
Primitive inscriptions dating back about 5,000 years – and believed to be 1,400 years older than the most ancient written Chinese language – have been discovered in Shanghai, archaeologists report.
Chinese scholars are divided over whether the markings, found on artefacts at the Zhuangqiao relics site south of the modern city, are words or something simpler. But they believe the discovery will shed light on the origins of Chinese language and culture.
The oldest writing in the world is believed to be from Mesopotamia (now Iraq), dating back slightly more than 5,000 years. Chinese characters are believed to have been developed independently.
The Chinese inscriptions were found on more than 200 pieces dug out from the neolithic Liangzhu relics site. The pieces are among thousands of fragments of ceramic, stone, jade, wood, ivory and bone excavated from the site between 2003 and 2006, Xu Xinmin, the lead archaeologist, said.
Chinese scholars, of archaeology and ancient writing, who met last weekend in Zhejiang province to discuss the finding, thought the inscriptions did not indicate a developed writing system. However Xu said there was evidence of words on two pieces of stone axes.
One of the pieces has six word-like shapes strung together and resembles a short sentence.
"They are different from the symbols we have seen in the past on artefacts," Xu said. "The shapes, and the fact that they are in a sentence-like pattern, indicate they are expressions of some meaning."
The six characters are arranged in a line, and three resemble the modern Chinese character for human beings. Each shape has two to five strokes.
"If five to six of them are strung together like a sentence, they are no longer symbols but words," said Cao Jinyan, a scholar of ancient writing at Zhejiang University. He said the markings should be regarded as hieroglyphics.
He said there were also stand-alone shapes with more strokes. "If you look at the composition, you will see they are more than symbols."
But Liu Zhao, an archaeologist at Fudan University, Shanghai, suggested there was not sufficient material for a conclusion. "I don't think they should be considered writing by the strictest definition. We do not have enough material to pin down the stage of those markings in the history of ancient writings."
For now the Chinese scholars are calling the markings primitive writing, a vague term that suggests they are somewhere between symbols and words.
The oldest known Chinese writing has been found on animal bones (known as oracle bones) dating to 3,600 years ago, at the time of the Shang dynasty.