Monday, 27 January 2014

Understanding Buddhist Art : Buddhism and Trade on the Eastern Silk Road

February 8, 2014 

Stanford Annenberg  Auditorium 1.00- 4.00 PM

Join Susan Whitfield, historian of medieval China, as she introduces the discovery of the rich Buddhist remains of the Eastern Silk Road—the art, architecture, artifacts, and manuscripts—including some of the most recent and exciting finds. Her talk will consider how these finds have informed scholarship over the past century and, most especially, our understanding of Buddhism.

This seminar will then raise the question of whether long-distance prestige trade—the so-called “Silk Road”—was an essential or even a necessary condition in the development of Buddhism, looking in particular at Buddhist stupas and cave temples. If trade is seen as a factor, what can the Buddhist remains tell us about the nature and extent of trade?

Director of the International Dunhuang Project, British Library
Susan Whitfield is a historian of medieval China and the Silk Road and curator of the Stein and related collections of 50,000 Central Asian manuscripts from Dunhuang and other Silk Road sites at the British Library. She directs the International Dunhuang Project, a collaboration to make all related material freely accessible online. She has curated several major exhibitions, lectures internationally, and has published many books and articles. She also travels regularly along the Silk Road.

Saturday, February 8
1:00 – 4:00 pm
Annenberg Auditorium, Cummings Art Building
Free; no registration is required

“Understanding Buddhist Art” is a series of quarterly Saturday seminars. Co-sponsored by Stanford’s Ho Center for Buddhist Studies and Stanford Continuing Studies, each seminar takes us to a different part of the Buddhist world, and to a different period in its cultural history, with richly illustrated lectures and discussion.

Excavating a Silk Road City: the Medieval Citadel of Taraz, Kazakhstan

The city of Taraz, located near the southern border with Uzbekistan, is one of the most significant historic settlements in Kazakhstan, and two seasons of fieldwork in the central market-place have revealed a substantial depth of medieval stratigraphy. Despite frequent mentions in Arabic and Chinese written sources, both the form and evolution of this important Silk Road city remain poorly understood. Evidence for a series of successive medieval buildings, including a bathhouse and a Zoroastrian flame shrine, was found in the area of the former citadel. These excavations, undertaken as a joint initiative between the Centre for Applied Archaeology and Kazakh archaeologists, were the first for 50 years in the city and form part of a wider public outreach programme.

The aim of the 2011–2012 excavation in the central market in Taraz city (Figs 1 and 2), undertaken as a joint venture between Archaeological Expertise (AE), Kazakhstan, and the Centre for Applied Archaeology (CAA) of the UCL Institute of Archaeology, was to identify remains worthy of in situ preservation and conservation, which could be displayed as a permanently covered archaeological exhibition in the city centre. The excavation was only one element of the overall initiative, with education and public outreach also important parts (Fig. 3). The ultimate intention of the joint venture is to assist in developing tourism initiatives based on archaeological resources of the city, and to raise awareness, amongst the local population, of the significance of local heritage, and its protection and management.
Fig. 1 
Location of Taraz in Central Asia.
Fig. 2 
The excavation at Taraz city was located in the bustling heart of the central market.
Fig. 3 
Public outreach is an important part of the Taraz project and the site has attracted a great deal of media interest both in Kazakhstan and further afield.

Historical and archaeological background

Taraz, located in the Zhambyl province of southern Kazakhstan, is traditionally believed to have been founded in the 1st century AD, although the earliest historical reference to the city, by a Byzantine writer describing an embassy sent by Emperor Justinian II to the Talas valley, dates to 568 AD (Baipakov et al., 2011: 282). Thereafter the city is frequently mentioned in both Arabic and Chinese sources as a major settlement, and its size and significance is undoubtedly attributable to its location between the Talas and Asa rivers on a major Silk Road route between Otrar and Balasagun (Moldakynov, 2010: 10Baipakov et al., 2011: 254–255).
Previous archaeological excavations in Taraz, located in and around the modern market-place, have identified buildings and structures associated with the former citadel of the medieval city. These include an ‘eastern’ domed bathhouse with evidence of wall paintings, excavated in 1938, and a ‘western’ bathhouse, found during the construction of the covered market in the late 1960s (Moldakynov, 2010: 14–15). The current excavation, measuring c.26m by 16m, was located around the southern end of the latter bathhouse, adjacent to the covered market building, and within the area of the former medieval citadel.

Archaeological excavation method and dating

The excavation was undertaken by a joint team of AE staff and UCL staff and students, in the winter of 2011 and the summer of 2012 (Figs 4). The UCL team utilised the single-context recording system, developed in London in the 1970s and 1980s for the excavation of complex urban sequences (Museum of London, 1990), as well as undertaking hand-drawn building elevations and plans of the exposed structures.
Fig. 4 
UCL students excavating at Taraz under the purpose-built shelter.
The dating of structures and features recorded on the site is both provisional and tentative. However, the best interpretation for the occupation of the site is between the 9th century and the end of the 12th century, based on the spot-dating of the artefact assemblage and a C14 radiocarbon date obtained on a charcoal sample taken from the soot-covered hypocaust of the latest building, the hamam (Building 4).


Phase 1: 7th-8th centuries; Citadel walls

The earliest structure identified in the excavation consisted of truncated portions of mudbrick walls in the north-west corner of the site, possibly representing parts of the citadel circuit, tentatively dated to the 7th to 8th centuries (Figs 5and 6). The later wall was built directly on top of the earlier wall and was constructed, at least partially, of alternating grey and yellow mudbrick courses. Individual mudbrick courses were not visible in the earlier wall.
Fig. 5 
Taraz site plan (2012).
Fig. 6 
Rooms B, C and D of Building 1.
These walls were only partially seen and had been exposed by the excavation of a very large later pit. This was the deepest intervention on the site (c.3.5m below ground level), and it is highly likely that further structures of contemporary date lay below the later buildings described below (Buildings 1–4).

Phase 2: 9th-10th centuries; Buildings 1 and 2

Only part of Building 1 was seen in the excavation area, although it seemed to be L-shaped with the long axis aligned north-west to southeast. Building 2 occupied a similar alignment to the northeast and between the two buildings there may have been an alleyway or street, although no evidence of any surfacing was found. The walls of both buildings were constructed of alternate layers of mud plaster and river-rolled stone cobble with a trench-built foundation.
At least four small rooms were identifiable in Building 1 and the two central rooms seem to have been a shrine and a workshop: in Room B was a mud plaster D-shaped flame shrine and in Room C were the remains of three small furnaces (Figs 6– 8). Both rooms had been laid with gravel metalled floors which were later repaired with mud plaster.
Fig. 7 
The flame shrine in Room B of Building 1.
Fig. 8 
The workshop (Room C) of Building 1, with three small furnaces.
Both Rooms A and D may have been open to the street to the north-east, and possibly represent entrances. These rooms had mud plaster benches, as opposed to the mud plaster and stone cobble benches found in Rooms B and C. They were also distinctive from Rooms B and C in that no flooring material was identifiable within these rooms. The walls of Room A utilised noticeably fewer stone cobbles in its construction than the walls to the south, suggesting that this was a different phase, possibly a later extension to an existing structure.
Building 2 is less well understood, with only fragmentary parts visible beneath the unexcavated masonry of the later bathhouse (Building 4). The building had at least two rooms floored with stone slabs and a wall built of mud plaster and stone cobble. Although much of the layout was obscured, the building appeared to be aligned north-east to south-west, with a 4m-wide gap between Buildings 1 and 2, possibly representing an alleyway.

Phase 3: 10th-12th centuries; Building 3

After the demolition of Buildings 1 and 2, a large stone building (Building 3) was constructed in this area of the citadel (Fig. 5). Building 3 was built in an entirely different manner with split-stone blocks faces and a river-rolled stone cobble core. No contemporary internal walls or floor surfaces survived, and there was no indication of the building’s function, although immediately to the north were three conjoined lengths of ceramic water pipe, suggesting that this building had access to running water. Similarly, the absence of large finds assemblages associated with Building 3 greatly restricted the dating of the structure, and the best estimate for its occupation, between the 10th and 12th centuries, is based on its stratigraphic position between the better-dated earlier and later buildings.
Although this building was definitely later than Building 2, it had no stratigraphic relationship with Building 1, and it is feasible that Buildings 1 and 3 were, for a time, contemporary structures separated by a narrow alleyway (2.5m wide).
In the southern corner of the site was a short, truncated length of wall, built in the same stone block and cobble manner as Building 3, and this may well represent a contemporary structure, although too little survived to draw any firm conclusions about its form.

Phase 4: 11th-12th centuries; Building 4

The latest and best understood structure was Building 4, the bathhouse or hamam (Figs 5 and 9). The south-western end of this ceramic brick building lay within the excavation and consisted of two rooms: a cold room to the north-west, and a hot room to the south-east. The cold room had a rectangular aperture, possibly a drain, built into the northern wall.
Fig. 9 
The brick-by-brick recording of the hamam bathhouse (Building 4).
Within the hot room was a hypocaust, with a yellow ceramic tile floor suspended by a series of dwarf walls. The bathhouse furnaces would have been located beyond the limits of excavation to the north-east. There were three wall flues, for venting the hot air, located in the south-west.
A C14 radiocarbon date was obtained on a charcoal sample taken from the soot deposit adhering to the dwarf walls of the hypocaust flues. This produced a late 12th-century date (SUERC-38682; 910±30 BP) for the last use of the hamamand, as this was stratigraphically the latest structure, it provides a terminus ante quem for the occupation of the site.
Other features, mainly to the south-east, may have been contemporary with the hamam, mostly cutting through the remains of the earlier buildings. These features were mostly pits and contained large amounts of pottery, as well as other finds (Figs 10 and 11). Other notable features were a circular oven and well.
Fig. 10 
Part of the exceptionally large ceramic assemblage from the Taraz excavation.
Fig. 11 
A notable find at Taraz was a copper-alloy animal paw, from one of the numerous refuse pits


The excavation exposed a succession of four buildings, dating from the 9th to 12th centuries, and representing at least three constructional phases. Each of the three phases utilised a different building material (mud plaster and stone cobble; stone block and stone cobble; ceramic brick) and ushered in a major reconstruction in this area of the citadel. As all four buildings were unexcavated, some of the stratigraphic relationships and dating are more tentative than others.
Confidence in the interpretation of the function of the individual buildings varies greatly: Building 4 was without doubt a bathhouse, whereas too little of Buildings 2 and 3 was seen (or survived) to make any certain interpretation.
Although the majority of Building 1 was located beyond the limits of the excavation, enough was uncovered to make some suggestions about its form and use. The three small furnaces in Room C would not have been in contemporary use, but rather successive replacements, and indicate that part of the building was a probably a workshop.
The similarities between Rooms A and D suggest they may have had a similar function and, as both had open fronts onto the alleyway, they may have been small shops, possibly the retail space for the adjacent workshop.
Flame shrines, like the D-shaped mud plaster feature in Room B, are known from the medieval city of Kostobe, also in the Talas valley, and are often found in highly decorated rooms (Baipakov et al., 2011: 373–375). Although there was no evidence of any decoration in Room B, these flame shrines seem to be related to a fire cult, likely to be a late and somewhat simple form of Zoroastrian fire worship. The Central Asian variant of Zoroastrianism borrowed much from local Turkic cults and was especially preoccupied with reverence of fire, families and animals (Baipokov, no date: 196).
Although the 9th and 10th centuries witnessed the rapid advancement of Islam through the Talas valley, Zoroastrianism continued to be a presence (Baipokov, no date: 196). Both the simplicity and the small size of the room, as well as the location between a workshop and a shop, suggest that this shrine was for domestic rather than public use.
Building 1 clearly had a variety of functions: retail, manufacture and religious. In addition, the close similarities in both the initial construction of Rooms C and D, and the later floor repairs, perhaps indicates that the shrine and the workshop had the same owner, who is also likely to have had possession of the two adjacent shops.
Building 4 was the south-western end of a bathhouse or hamam building which had been previously located to the north, and is locally known as the ‘second’ bathhouse, due to its later discovery. The ‘first’ or ‘eastern’ bathhouse, excavated in 1938 by A.N. Bernshtam, was of a very different structure, being square in plan, domed and richly decorated with geometric murals, although the discovery of a hoard of 11th-century silver coins within the baths suggests that it was more or less contemporary with the ‘second’ or ‘western’ bathhouse (Baipakov et al., 2011: 303–304).
The ‘second’ or ‘western’ bathhouse was rectangular in plan, between 9m and 13m wide and at least 20m long, quartered into four rooms: two hot and two cold. The hot rooms were located in opposite corners and were constructed with a near identical layout of hypocaust walls and wall flues. One of the cold rooms, excavated in the late 1960s, contained a furnace, housings for copper water tanks and the remains of the external water supply via ceramic pipes (Baipakov et al., 2011: 308); unfortunately, all of the internal features of the cold room revealed in the current excavation had been truncated by modern disturbance.
The excavation, although limited in area (c.400m2), clearly demonstrated the abundance of stratified archaeological deposits of the medieval citadel that survive under the area of the modern market-place between Avenues Tole and Adambaeva.
In addition, it is clear from the results that there is a complexity of intercutting structures dating to the later period (9th to 12th centuries) of the medieval city, all located within 2.5m below the existing ground level. The depth of underlying archaeological stratigraphy is still unknown, but undoubtedly earlier elements of the city, for instance the two mudbrick walls [576] and [577], lie preserved beneath these four buildings.
There was no evidence for occupation on the site after c.1200 and, although the later 13th and 14th centuries were periods of political instability, it is believed that the city did continue in a reduced form until the beginning of the 15th century (Baipakov et al., 2011: 308). However, the uppermost medieval deposits on site had almost certainly suffered a degree of modern truncation and any remains dating to the final two centuries of the city may well have been lost.
  1. Centre for Applied Archaeology, Portslade, East Sussex BN41 1DR, United Kingdom


  1. Baipakov K M.  Roza, Bektoureyeva  Medieval Cities of Kazakhstan on the Great Silk Road. Committee of Culture, Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Kazakhstan; No date
  2. Baipakov K MKapekova G AVoyakin D AMaryashev A N. 2011 Treasure of Ancient and Medieval Taraz and Zhambyl Region. Taraz: Archaeological Expertise LLP;
  3. Moldakynov T. 2010 The Monuments of Ancient Taraz. Taraz: The National Historical Cultural Reserve Museum of Taraz;
  4. Museum of London. Archaeological Site Manual. London: Museum of London Archaeology Service;

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Les Maîtres des Caravanes

Beautiful DVD from 2004, originally in Japanese with an English voice-over about the Sogdians

Directors: Patrick CABOUAT, Noriaki HASHIMOTO/ 

Writer: Alain MOREAU

After a perilous trek of some 11 000 kilometres across steppes, mountains and deserts, the caravans entered China through the Jade Gate. For seven hundred years, one particular tribe of caravaneers, the Sogdians, held the monopoly of crossing these hostile regions and became masters in the art of organising and leading caravans between East and West. They were among the best merchants the Silk Road had ever known.
Their ancestral trading tradition had been the result of Sogdiana's privileged geographical position: the only possible route for caravans from India to reach Russia, or for those from the Mediterranean to travel to China was to cross Sogdian territory. No other trading route in history has been used for so long and by so many. In the year 674, the Sogdian city states would be conquered by the Arabs from the Middle East. They allowed the defeated Sogdians to keep their own language, Persian, but they forced them to convert to Islam. Still - looking back in history - no other people without an empire or military might has contributed more to the cultural encounter between East and West than the Sogdians. 

Friday, 24 January 2014

IDP and Fan Jinshi


A Few of Our Favourite Things: #12 Fan Jinshi

As part of IDP's 20th anniversary celebrations we have asked twenty of our friends and supporters to select their favourite item from the IDP collections. The full selection will form an online catalogue and will be featured in the spring and autumn 2014 editions of IDP News

Fan Jinshi is Director of the Dunhuang Academy in China. Her research interests are on Chinese Central Asia — known historically in China as ‘The Western Regions’. This is part of the ancient ‘Silk Road’ where trade and culture flourished and where diverse civilisations met. In the rich cultural legacy that remains in the region we can glimpse see the history of a thousand years of interaction between these civilisations. Buddhism had a far-reaching impact in its journey from India through Central Asia to China and East Asia. The Dunhuang Mogao caves are a direct result of this, showcasing this mix of cultures. Having been involved for many years with research on and protection of the caves, Professor Fan Jinshi has a strong interest in the cultural connections between Dunhuang and Central Asia.
Her chosen item is the painting 1919,0101,0.6.
Professor Fan Jinshi writes:
The painting has several interesting features. Firstly, the heads of the three younger disciples are very round with round faces and cute expressions. Second, the painting is very similar to murals found in Dunhuang Mogao Caves dating from the early Tang period. For example, the complex lingzhi mushroom (灵芝) design depicted on the canopy and the lotus seat is identical to that shown in the preaching scene on the east wall of Mogao Cave 329, dating to the early Tang. Third, the composition is very similar to the Pure Land and preaching scenes depicted in early Tang caves such as Mogao 321 and 329. This type of composition is thought to have originated from the preaching scene in the Sui-period Mogao Cave 390. These similarities indicate a close relationship between this piece and the murals of the same period at Dunhuang Mogao.

New discovery of nomad’s secret history

New discovery of nomad’s secret history

In this room you can find exhibits from an escavation carried out recently during which a 7-8th century tomb came into surface from the Turkish period. The creators dug 6 meters deep for a tomb of 4.5m x 5.6m x 2.8m in size with a dirt foundation 5 m high and 30 m in diameter, with a wall 110m x 96m to protect the tomb. It has entry hall way of 25 meters and covered by dirt but still noticeable from outside. The archeologists found the entry hall way first, cleaned out the overlying dirt and then reached the tomb. They have discovered wooden crafts, ceramic dolls of soldiers on horses with flags in their hands, and also ceramic dolls, horses, camels, cows, lions, fish, pheasants, pigs, male and female figures. Also, discovered were two blue square stones 75cm x 75cm, on top of which was written a biography of the person who was buried, and kept it near the tomb’s entry door. It had been long time, since archeologists discovered a stone with so many writings. It said that all the animals and dolls were created for the person’s next life (reincarnation), and represented his future wealth and good life and dedicated to his soul and pride.
        The leader of these archeologists, Mr. A. Ochir, has tremendous experience in discovering tombs, such us Bileg Khaan of Blue Tureg Tribe and also the ancient Uigur Royal tomb and etc. He diagnosed that this tomb in Zaamar might be the tomb of the Leader of Pugu aimag of Tureg tribe and that Pugu was a strong aimag consisted of 30,000 nomad households, and had capacity of providing 10,000 soldiers when needed.

Seidenstraße: Türen in Kucha, Xinjiang

From: Bambooblog Hamburg  22 Januar 2014

Seidenstraße: Türen in Kucha, Xinjiang


Tuesday, 21 January 2014

More news about the Silk Road Exhibition Hermitage Amsterdam (in Dutch)

Leidse archeologen betrokken bij Zijderoute-tentoonstelling Hermitage


Vanaf 1 maart 2014 staat de Hermitage Amsterdam geheel en al in het teken van de lang verdwenen beschavingen langs de legendarische Zijderoute. Tot en met 5 september 2014 worden op de grote tentoonstelling Expeditie Zijderoute, Schatten uit de Hermitageruim 250 objecten getoond, als muurschilderingen, boeddha’s en talrijke kostbaarheden van zijde, zilver, glas, goud en terracotta. De unieke objecten werden in de negentiende en twintigste eeuw opgegraven door Russische expedities en zijn nooit eerder in West-Europa te zien geweest.
Boddhisattva, leerling van Boeddha. Dunhuang, China, 8ste–9de eeuw © State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.


Ter gelegenheid van de tentoonstelling wordt in samenwerking met de Universiteit van Leiden op 16-17 mei 2014 het tweedaagse symposium The Silk Road: Trade, People & Social Networks (ca. 400-1400 AD) georganiseerd. Diverse vooraanstaande deskundigen uit binnen- en buitenland zullen zowel in Amsterdam als in Leiden hun licht doen schijnen op tal van aspecten van de Zijderoute, zoals materiële cultuur, globalisering en de verhoudingen tussen Oost en West in de Middeleeuwen.
Verantwoordelijk voor de organisatie van het symposium zijn: Birgit Boelens & Vincent Boele (Hermitage Amsterdam), Joanita Vroom & Maria Riep (Universiteit Leiden). Poster-presentaties voor het symposium zijn welkom.

Stage & onderzoekreis

De tentoonstelling in de Hermitage biedt bovendien aan Leidse studenten van archeologie en area studies de kans om dit voorjaar een stageonderzoek te doen in de collectie van de Hermitage Amsterdam en St. Petersburg. In dat kader is er tevens de mogelijkheid om gebieden langs de Zijderoute met deskundige begeleiding te bezoeken (met name Kazachstan en Kirgizië). Daarbij zullen aan de hand van specifieke onderzoeksvragen aspecten worden bestudeerd van de Zijderoute door de eeuwen heen (tot aan de dag van vandaag).
De studenten dienen regelmatig verslag te doen van hun onderzoekreis door middel van web- en videoblogs. Deze verslagen zullen op de tentoonstelling en online worden getoond. De benodigde filmapparatuur wordt verzorgd door de Hermitage, en de reistickets worden gesponsord door KLM.

Aanmelding voor stage en onderzoekreis:

Aanmelden voor de stage kan via een speciaal aanmeldformulier tot 31 januari 2014. Ditaanmeldformulier en op Blackboard bij Stage 1 & 2 (2013-2014), Stages: Nabije Oosten & Mediterrane Gebied. 
Zend dit formulier als bijlage bij een e-mail aan Jip Heijmerink. Na ontvangst van je aanmelding, krijg je zo spoedig mogelijk een ontvangstbevestiging.
Voor verdere informatie kan men in contact treden met Joanita Vroom (Archeologie) ofMaria Riep (area studies)
Laatst Gewijzigd: 21-01-2014