Friday, 28 February 2014

1.4 million Western Han Dynasty coins found in Inner Mongolia


Archaeologists in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region have found a coin casting workshop and more than 1.4 million ancient coins dating back to the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24), Guangming Daily reported on Tuesday.

Photos show some of the ancient coins recovered from the site [Credit: Chinanews/Zhong Xin]

According to Inner Mongolia Institute of Archaeology, which made the excavation from August 2012 to October 2013, the ruins are located in an ancient city in Erdos.

The excavated workshop in Inner Mongolia yielded 1.4 million Western Han Dynasty coins as well as numerous coin casts [Credit: Chinanews/Zhong Xin] 

The new discoveries provided important information for the study of local economic and social development in ancient times. Author: Ma Lie | Source: China Daily [Fenruary 25, 2014] ebook

Historic Centre of Bukhara

Outstanding Universal Value
Brief synthesis
The Historic Centre of Bukhara, situated on the Silk Roads, is more than two thousand years old. It is one of the best examples of well preserved Islamic cities of Central Asia of the 10th to 17th centuries, with an urban fabric that has remained largely intact.
Bukhara was long an important economic and cultural center in Central Asia. The ancient Persian city served as a major center of Islamic culture for many centuries and became a major cultural center of the Caliphate in the 8th century.
With the exception of a few important vestiges from before the Mongol invasions of Genghis Khan in 1220 and Temur in 1370, the old town bears witness to the urbanism and architecture of the Sheibani period of Uzbek rule, from the early 16th century onwards. The citadel, rebuilt in the 16th century, has marked the civic center of the town since its earliest days to the present,
Important monuments that survive from early times include the famous Ismail Samanai tomb, impressive in its sober elegance and the best surviving example of 10th century architecture in the whole Muslim world. From the 11th century Karakhanid period comes the outstanding Poi-Kalyan minaret, a masterpiece of decoration in brick, along with most of the Magoki Attori mosque and the Chashma Ayub shrine. The Ulugbek medresseh is a surviving contribution from Temurid. With the advent of the Sheibanids came some of the most celebrated buildings of Bukhara: the Poi-Kalyan group, the Lyabi-Khauz ensemble, the Kosh Medresseh and the Gaukushon medresseh in the Hodja-Kalon ensemble. Later buildings from this phase of Bukhara´s history include monumental medressehs at important crossroads: Taki Sarafon (Dome of the Moneychangers), Taki-Tilpak-Furushan (Dome of the Headguard Sellers), Tim-Bazzazan, and Tiro-Abdullah-Khan. In the early 17th century fine buildings were added, including a new great mosque, Magoki Kurns (1637), and the imposing Abdullaziz-Khan medresseh (1652).
However, the real importance of Bukhara lies not in its individual buildings but rather in its overall townscape, demonstrating the high and consistent level of urban planning and architecture that began with the Sheibanid dynasty.

Criterion (ii): The example of Bukhara in terms of its urban layout and buildings had a profound influence on the evolution and planning of towns in a wide region of Central Asia.
Criterion (iv): Bukhara is the most complete and unspoiled example of a medieval Central Asian town which has preserved its urban fabric to the present day.
Criterion (vi): Between the 9th and 16th centuries, Bukhara was the largest centre for Muslim theology, particularly on Sufism, in the Near East, with over two hundred mosques and more than a hundred madrasahs.

The property contains all the attributes that sustain its Outstanding Universal Value. Its boundaries and buffer zone are appropriate and adequate. Despite the insensitivity of much of the new construction from 1920 until the 1950s and earthquake damages, Bukhara retains much of its historic ambience and still has a largely intact urban fabric.
However, the integrity of the property is threatened by aggressive impact of salinity and underground water and by termites causing the erosion of wooden structures. In addition, large numbers of the outstanding earthen buildings are in some quarters extremely vulnerable due to the deterioration of the historic fabric.

Bukhara has preserved a great deal of its urban layout that dates from the Sheibanid period. Modern buildings have been erected in the historic centre over the past half-century that have destroyed the appearance of some quarters, but in others the medieval townscape has survived. The proportion of old structures, particularly the public and religious buildings, nonetheless remains high, and the historic centre is unquestionably of outstanding significance as an exceptional example of a largely medieval Muslim city of Central Asia.
In the context of regarding the Historic Centre of Bukhara as an entire entity – expressed through a variety of attributes including urban setting, form and design, use of materials and techniques, functions and tradition – some factors can be recognized as having the potential to impact adversely on the authenticity of the property, namely: (i) the diminishing use of traditional materials and traditional building techniques and introduction of new building materials, as well as new architectural details; (ii) inadequate documentation of major monuments and urban fabric; (iii) urban development pressures resulting in inappropriate designs of new structures.

Protection and management requirements
Relevant national laws and regulations concerning the World Heritage property include the Law on Protection and Exploitation of Cultural Heritage Properties, 2001. Current laws together with urban planning codes provide protection of monuments of cultural heritage and their buffer zones. These documents are reflected in the Master Plan of Bukhara city in 2005. In addition, the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Uzbekistan approved special Decree No. 49 of 23 March 2010 “On State programme on research, conservation, restoration and adaptation to modern use of the cultural heritage properties of Bukhara until 2020”. At present this state programme is being implemented which provides an additional layer for the protection and conservation of the property.
Management of monuments of cultural heritage in Bukhara is carried out by the Ministry of Culture and Sports of the Republic of Uzbekistan at national level and Bukhara Regional Inspection for Protection and Utilization of Monuments of Cultural Heritage and local authorities at regional level. 
In the framework of protection of cultural heritage of the historic centre of Bukhara, Cabinet of Ministries of the Republic of Uzbekistan adopted a State Programme for complex activities on research, conservation, restoration of monuments of cultural heritage of the Historic Centre of Bukhara and their adaptation to the modern needs for the period 2010-2020. Interventions are strictly regulated in order to ensure the integrity and characteristic elements of monuments. During the realization of the State Programme the monitoring of monuments will be carried out on a permanent base. A management plan, which should include a computerized database, a Master Conservation and Development Plan, a scientific monitoring system, an infrastructure plan, design guidelines, and guidelines and regulations for all tourist services, is required in order to sustain the Outstanding Universal Value of the property and balance the needs for sustainable development. To maintain the conditions of integrity and authenticity, a comprehensive conservation strategy needs to be in place, in particular, to remove cultural layers built on later periods and to reduce the surface of streets to their historical level. Another important aspect is to build capacity in traditional building techniques. At present Urban Planning Scientific-Research and Project Institute is developing a project of detailed planning of historic centre of Bukhara, which will further address these issues.
Long Description
Bukhara, which is situated on the Silk Route, is some 25 centuries old. It is the most complete example of a medieval city in Central Asia, with an urban fabric that has remained largely intact. Monuments of particular interest include the famous tomb of Ismail Samani, a masterpiece of 10th-century Muslim architecture, and a large number of 17th-century madrasas. The historic part of the city, which is in effect an open-air museum, combines the city's long history in a single ensemble.
Archaeological excavations have revealed that the settlement on the site of latter-day Bukhara became part of the Kushan state as early as the 2nd millennium BC. In the 4th century it was incorporated into the Ephtalite state. Before the Arab conquest Bukhara was one of the largest cities of central Asia, owing its prosperity to its site on a rich oasis and at the crossroads of ancient trade routes. It became a major cultural centre of the Caliphate of Baghdad in 709, and in 892 the capital of the independent Samanid Kingdom. A time of great economic growth came to an end with the sack of the city in 1220 by the Mongol horde of Genghis Khan. It slowly recovered, to become part of the Timurid Empire. The internal strife of the late 15th century led to the occupation of Bukhara by nomadic Uzbek tribesmen led by Khan Sheibani, becoming the capital of the Bukhara Khanate. A long period of unrest and short-lived dynasties ended in 1920, when it was absorbed into the Soviet Union; nevertheless, this period saw Bukhara consolidating its role as a major commercial and cultural centre.
The townscape of latter-day Bukhara represents every stage of the city's history. The earliest monuments include the 10th century Ismail Samani Tomb, the decorated brick minaret of Poi-Kalyan from the 11th century, along with the Magoki Mosque and the Chasma Ayub Shrine. The Timurid period is represented only by the Ulugbek Medresseh. The most celebrated buildings date from the Shebibanid period - the Poi-Kalyan group, the Lyabi-Khauz ensemble, the Kosh Medresseh, and the Gaukushon Medresseh. A little later came the medressehs at important crossroads, such as Taki Sarafon (Dome of the Moneyshangers, Taki-Tilpak-Furushan (Dome of the Headguard Sellers), Tim-Bazzazan, and Tim-Abdullah-Khan. Among the fine buildings erected in the anarchic early 17th century must be included the great new mosque Magoki Kurns (1637) and the imposing Abdullah-Khan Medresseh. It should be stressed, however, that the real importance of Bukhara lies not in its individual buildings but rather in its overall level of urban planning and architecture, which began with the Sheibanid dynasty.
Historical Description
Archaeological excavations have revealed that the settlement on the site of latter-day Bukhara became part of the Kushan state as early as the 2nd millennium BC. In the 4th century BC it was incorporated into the Ephtalite state. Before the Arab conquest, Bukhara was one of the largest cities of central Asia, owing its prosperity to its site on a rich oasis and at the crossroads of ancient trade-routes. The ancient Persian city covered an area of nearly 40 hectares, with the ark (citadel), the residence of its rulers, in the north-west quarter (where it survives as a huge rectangular earthen mound).
It became a major cultural centre of the Caliphate of Baghdad in 709. In 892 Emir Ismail ibn Amad (892-907) created an independent state and chose Bukhara as the capital of the powerful Sarnanid kingdom. There followed a period of great economic and cultural growth, when the city grew enormously in size, especially under the rule of the Karakhanids from the 11th century onwards. In 1220 the city was sacked by the Mongol horde of Chinghiz Khan (1220) and was not to recover until the second half of the 13th century. In 1370 it became part of the great Timurid Empire, whose capital was at Samarkand. Bukhara was still the second city of Maverannahr, and building was renewed.
The late 15th century saw much feudal strife in the declining Timurid lands, with the result that Bukhara was occupied by Uzbek nomadic tribesmen led by Khan Sheibani, under whose dynasty it became the centre of the Uzbek state. The Bukhara khanate was assiduous in promoting economic and cultural development in its territory, and the city was the main beneficiary of the new construction that ensued.
In the centuries that followed the death of Abdullah Khan in 1598 there was a succession of short-lived dynasties and from the late 17th century the resulting weakness led to continual raids and pillage by neighbouring rulers. It was not until 1753 that Bukhara became the capital of a new Mangut dynasty that was to survive until 1920. During this period the city was a major trade entrepot for the whole of central Asia (although it was incorporated into the Russian Empire in 1868). In 1848 it had no fewer than 38 caravanserais, six trading arcades, 16 public baths, and 45 bazaars. Bukhara was also the largest centre for Muslim theology in the Near East, with over two hundred mosques and more than a hundred medressehs.
Source: Advisory Body Evaluation

IDP and Irina Popova


A Few of Our Favourite Things: #17 Irina Popova

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

Dr. Irina Popova has been the Director of the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts, RAS, since 2003. She is also Professor of Chinese History and Language at St Petersburg State University, the Faculty of Oriental Studies. She was admitted to Leningrad State University in 1978 in the Faculty of Oriental Studies, History of China Section. In November 1983, she started her doctoral studies at the Leningrad Branch of the Institute of Oriental Studies. Three years later, she joined the staff of the Institute as a junior researcher. In 1988 she received her Ph.D. for the thesis on the Theory of the Rulership in the Early Tang China and received her Habilitation in 2000. Her major research areas are political thought, government and the administrative system of medieval and especially Tang China, as well as the study of Dunhuang and Chinese manuscripts held at the Institute and archival documents on Russian Sinology.
Dr. Popova’s chosen item is F-32/4 from the collections of the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts.
The manuscript of the ‘Library Document’ (F-32/4) was discovered by the Second Russian Turkestan Expedition headed by Sergey Oldenburg in Dunhuang and became part of the collection of The Asiatic Museum (now The Institute of Oriental Manuscripts, RAS) with all the other documents on September 1, 1915. The separate sheet of white paper (30 x 17.2 cm) was registered as a ‘Postscript to Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra’.
The text states that the ruler of Dunhuang Cao Zongshou and his wife Lady Fan issued an order to make cloth wrappers for Buddhist sutras and to supplement the lacunae in the library of Baoen Monastery. The document was dated the 15th day under the sign renyin of the 7th month of the 5th year under the reign of Universal Peace (Xianping) of the Song Dynasty, which corresponds to August 25, 1002. This 4-line document therewith became one of the pearls of Russian collection, for the clear reason that there are not too many documents from the Library Cave bearing a full date. And it is remarkable and even unique, as it represents a long forgotten type of documents that reflects the daily life of Chinese society in a provincial town located close to the state’s frontier.
Moroever, in the course of the research and print and on-line publication of the Dunhuang collections from all over the world no other document with a full date from later than this has come to light, even if there is circumstantial evidence that such documents may exist. So then, this unpretentious short manuscript F-32/4 retains its complete timeless value.

Safeguarding China's sunken riches

Saving ancient heritage from the depths is no easy task, as Peng Yining reports.
After a descent of 16 meters into waters off the coast of Fujian province, Zhao Jiabin touched thesandy seabed.
The turbid water meant the maritime archaeologist's vision was restricted to just 1 meter. Apart from a group of curious shrimps attracted by the beam of his flashlight, Zhao saw nothing until a blurred reflection on the seabed caught his eye.
Safeguarding China's sunken riches
Archaeologists from the National Museum of China work at a seabed site off the coast of Kenya in November. Along China's 18,000-km coastline, Chinese researchers are vying with looters for the best wrecks. Seabed discoveries include a vessel believed to date from the 17th century. Photo by Nie Zheng / for China Daily
"My instincts told me it wasn't the reflection of shells. This was porcelain - art treasures that had remained untouched for hundreds of years," said Zhao, a veteran with nearly 20 years' experience in the field.
In the eerie, grayish seawater Zhao had discovered a wooden merchant ship, believed to date from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).
Laden with fine porcelain, the vessel was part of the flourishing trade that helped spread Chinese culture and influence from East Asia to Southeast Asia and even to Europe.
"To be out on the ocean and come up with a 400-year-old ship makes you shiver," Zhao said. "I was so excited that my jaw dropped, and I almost lost my regulator."
However, when the unexpected sight came slowly into focus, Zhao saw that the 17th-century vessel had been ripped open by illegal treasure hunters.
Thousands of pieces of porcelain, all piled on top of each other in a huge jumble were spread over the 23-meter-long wreck, half buried in sand and fallen rocks.
About 300 years ago, the porcelain ware - bowls, plates and jars decorated with delicate blue and white patterns - were en route to Europe, before the ship sank and became a hidden museum.
But now the porcelain had been looted, Zhao said. In a bid to grab as many pieces as possible, the looters had torn off the deck and dragged the art treasures out, causing many of the priceless relics to be broken in the process.
"The debris will soon be washed away by the current and nothing will be left. I feel so sorry that we didn't protect the ship before it was looted," said Zhao, director of the underwater-archaeology department at the National Museum of China in Beijing. "Having been overlooked and lacking many resources, the development of China's maritime archaeology has experienced many twists and turns."
Safeguarding China's sunken riches

Beating the looters
The biggest headaches come from looters and treasure hunters, according to Zhao, who has witnessed an illegal salvage operation firsthand.
"Dozens of fishing boats were floating above an ancient sunken cargo boat. Each had a diver working underwater," he said. "They (the looters) don't mind destroying the hull to get at the porcelain. They don't even mind breaking some of the pieces because their rarity brings a high price. All they care about is money."
Safeguarding China's sunken riches
In 2008, Chinese archaeologists undertook research into a merchant vessel built during the Song Dynasty (960-1279) that sank off the Huaguang reef near the Xisha Islands in the South China Sea. Provided to China Daily
Professional archaeology and commercial salvage are irreconcilable, according to Zhao. Outright looters are systematically scouring the best of the wrecks in search of gold and other booty. They supply the underground art market and unscrupulous or unsuspecting collectors, but in doing so, they also destroy the archaeological context that provides scholars with invaluable evidence.
Although the government has launched a series of crackdowns, in many coastal areas divers have picked many accessible wrecks clean. Now, few of the conspicuous wrecks lying in waters shallower than 20 meters are worth excavating.
"They sail out at night or on typhoon days to dodge the police. One diver died because of a problem with his gear as he dug up relics of the coast of Fujian," Zhao said. "Once, we covered a wreck with sand to hide it from looters before we left, but it was gone after a few months. Only a large piece of the bottom of the hull was left."
The researchers are competing with looters for the best wrecks, according to Zhang Wei, a maritime archaeologist and deputy director of the National Museum of China. But with their limited resources and public attention, the archaeologists are falling behind in the race.
Founded in 1987, a half-century after its Western peers, China's Underwater Archaeology Research Center sent Zhang to the Netherlands to learn diving skills.
"I didn't know a thing about diving and had just two weeks of training in a swimming pool before my coach dropped me into the ocean," said Zhang. "I didn't even have my own wetsuit, so I borrowed one from other divers in the Netherlands."
Since that humble beginning 27 years ago, the number of archaeological divers working along China's coast has risen to 55. Among them, 31 are able to dive deeper than 60 meters, but only three are capable of descending to 100 meters.
But the number of divers is far from enough to search the entirety of China's 180,000 km coastline, according to the National Museum. The researchers are divided between several salvage projects, each requiring considerable time, money and personnel. Each salvage site needs a team of 10 to 12 people, including at least six to eight divers.
"We've found more than 200 wrecks that are worth studying, but our biggest problem is that we don't have enough underwater archaeologists," said Qiu Gang, head of the Hainan Museum. "Every time we find a wreck, we must protect it before the looters arrive. But we have no people available."
In addition to the shortage of human resources, Qiu stressed the importance of financial support. Training a world-class archaeological diver costs about 400,000 yuan ($66,000), and that figure doesn't include the cost of the equipment, which is around 30,000 yuan for each diver.
Support industry
The lack of money isn't the only problem, according to Meng Yuanzhao, an archaeologist at the National Museum.
"Even if we had sufficient funds, maritime archaeology is systematic work. We still need to conduct more work to build the support industry, including the related training, education and infrastructure," he said.
Safeguarding China's sunken riches
Members of the salvage team wear bamboo hats as protection from the tropical sun. Wang Ji / for China Daily
"In the US, the divers sail out with heritage experts who are able to recognize and preserve the submerged relics. The team also includes medical-support personnel and equipment in case of accident or illness, such as decompression sickness," said Meng. "Compared with their peers in the West, where underwater archaeology originated, China's researchers are still working in a humble environment."
In 2007, Meng was present at a salvage site in the South China Sea where more than 40 field researchers spent 56 days digging up relics from a sunken cargo vessel. Experts hope that items recovered may shed more light on 12th-century China.
Far removed from the riotous swagger of Indiana Jones, the members of the team lived on dilapidated fishing boats and wore bamboo hats, the typical headgear of the local fishermen, to avoid the burning tropical sunshine.
Mandarin ducks
Maritime archaeology is a slow and dirty business, followed by an even slower process of recording the recovered items. The divers worked on their hands and knees in 20 meters of water, sifting through the ruins of what some archaeologists regard as one of the best-preserved Song Dynasty (960-1279) wrecks.
Meng displayed a photo of one of the thousands of porcelain shards found in the wreck. Two mandarin ducks, symbols of love and peace in Chinese tradition, were vividly drawn on the surface. Untouched for nearly a millennium, the shard, which is probably part of a bowl or plate, looked like a piece of jade.
It's easy to imagine a scene from 800 years ago: A small wooden merchant vessel is plying the South China Sea, laden with tea and porcelain for European consumers. A storm whips in from the east and the boat struggles, its simple sail proving more of a hindrance than a help. Unable to navigate the narrow shipping lane, the boat is dashed against the jagged rocks that rise from the blue-green water. Its fragile hull cracks, sending the valuable cargo to the sea floor to remain undisturbed for centuries
The scene shifts to the present. While China's cultural heritage on land has increasingly benefited from national and international measures to safeguard precious items, the country's underwater cultural heritage still lacks sufficient protection, according to Wu Chunming, a professor of maritime history at Xiamen University in Fujian province.
China has conducted three archaeological surveys of its land-based heritage, but only one of underwater relics. Although the survey took two years, it didn't cover all the maritime areas.
In addition to rectifying the shortages of personnel and funding, Wu urged the stronger implementation of existing laws on the protection of the underwater heritage.
"China has laws relating to the protection of our underwater heritage, but treasure hunting and the illegal sale of cultural relics are still serious problems," he said. "We have a long way to go to build a systematic approach to the protection of our underwater heritage."
Wu said China has a rich history of overseas trade and a remarkable history of navigation, and maritime archaeology has made considerable headway in recent years.
The country's underwater cultural heritage has yielded pottery, tools and other relics that have provided scholars with information about ship construction, navigational skills and the trading habits of earlier periods, he said.
Furthermore the lack of oxygen - which facilitates the deterioration of biological material - underwater means that the submerged cultural heritage is often much better preserved than at similar sites on land. That makes the submerged sites unique. They are time capsules.
"For our future development and success, China needs to shift from the land to the oceans. And to explore the seas, an understanding of maritime history is a crucial prerequisite," Wu said.
Contact the author at

Editor's note: This is the second in a series of special reports in which our reporters will travel the length of China's 18,000-km-long coastline to detail the lives of the people whose existence is dominated, and often facilitated, by the waters that stretch from Bohai Bay in the north to the Zengmu shoal in the south.

Exhibition: ‘The Diamond Sutra and Early Printing’

International Dunhuang Project   TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 25, 2014

The Diamond SutraOr.8210/P.2.
The whole text of the earliest dated printed book — the Diamond Sutra — will be on display at the British Library for the first time over a period of eighteen months from March 8, 2014.
Following extensive conservation, the Diamond Sutra scroll currently remains in separate panels giving the unique opportunity to show all the panels in turn (see timetable below). Each panel will be on display for two months in theTreasures Gallery at the British Library, open to all and with free admission.
The first panel on display (March-April 2014) will be the illustrated frontispiece showing the Buddha with his elderly disciple, Subhūti. The text of the sutra concerns the philosophical discussion between the Buddha and Subhūti.
Each panel will then be shown in turn, remaining on display for two months. The frontispiece will be shown again for the final display in July and August 2015.
The Diamond Sutra was printed in AD 868 as an act of faith and piety. In this period Buddhists took advantage of printing to replicate the words and image of the buddha, but private printers at the time also used the new technology to produce texts for profit. Almanacs were immensely popular, so much so that the Chinese emperor, whose imperial astronomers produced and distributed an imperial almanac, tried to suppress their printing and sale throughout the 9th and 10th centuries.
Printed almanac. Or.8210/P.6.
Displayed alongside the Diamond Sutra will be a copy of a Chinese almanac printed just a decade later, in AD 877. It is a very different style of printing with the document split into registers showing immense detail. They include the animals of the Chinese zodiac, a diary of lucky and unlucky days, fengshui diagrams, magic charms and much more.
Sanskrit Heart Sutra with Chinese transcription. Or.12380/3500.
The display also includes two pages from a printed copy of the Heart Sutra in Sanskrit with a phonetic transcription in Chinese, an early example of Korean printing using moveable type and the earliest examples of Japanese printing, the Million Charms of Empress Shotoku.

‘The Diamond Sutra and Early Printing’

MARCH 2014 – AUGUST 2015
Monday 09.30 - 20.00
Tuesday 09.30 - 20.00
Wednesday 09.30 - 20.00
Thursday 09.30 - 20.00
Friday 09.30 - 18.00
Saturday 09.30 - 17.00
Sunday 11.00 - 17.00
Public holidays 11.00 - 17.00
Sir John Ritblat Gallery
The British Library
96 Euston Road
London, NW1 2DB



MAY – JUNE 2014

1st panel printed text


2nd panel printed text


3rd panel printed text


4th panel printed text


5th panel printed text


6th panel printed text

MAY – JUNE 2015




Thursday, 27 February 2014

Pronkwerk zijderoute in Hermitage

NOS  donderdag 27 feb 2014, 

Objecten uit de tentoonstelling in de Hermitage
Objecten uit de tentoonstelling in de HermitageJeroen Wielaert / NOS
Door verslaggever Jeroen Wielaert
Op de kaart staan de namen van verdwenen koninkrijken, oasen en mysterieuze steden: Chorasmië, Sogdië, Bactrië, Khara-Khoto, Karashahr, Noin-Ula. Ze lagen allemaal op een wijdvertakt handelsnetwerk dat bekend is geworden als de zijderoute, een traject vol kunstschatten.
Vanaf komende zaterdag is in de Amsterdamse Hermitage een indrukwekkende selectie te zien. De tentoonstelling heet Expeditie Zijderoute, schatten uit de Hermitage.
Die antieke handel is begonnen in de tweede eeuw voor Christus en liep door tot de vijftiende eeuw. Onderweg van de Middellandse Zee naar het Verre Oosten ontstond een enorme vermenging van culturen.

Bont en Boeddha

Zijde was lang niet het enige product dat werd vervoerd over de vrijwel onbegaanbare berghellingen en desolate woestijnen. Met karavanen van soms duizend kamelen, ezels, ossen en paarden werden vanuit China ook papier, lakwerk en spiegels vervoerd. Omgekeerd gingen glas en textiel oostwaarts. Uit Siberië kwamen bont en pelsdieren. India en Zuidoost-Azië leverden topaas, henna, parfums, jade en exotische dieren. Het traject verspreidde ook een belangrijke religie: het boeddhisme.
De handelsreizen duurden maanden lang, weinigen legden de gehele route af.
Het ging in delen van oase naar oase, van koningsstad naar koningsstad. Eenvoudige nomadische boeren ontwikkelden handelsgeest en werden schatrijk in het grote systeem van overslag van goederen, met tussenhandel en belastingafdrachten. De handelaren kregen ook veelvuldig te maken met rovers.


De ontwikkeling van de scheepvaart over de wereldzeeën bracht een efficiëntere en veel minder moeizame vorm van massatransport. Het markeerde na zeventien eeuwen het eind van de zijderoute. De zandstormen die al die tijd de reizigers hadden geteisterd kregen nu het rijk alleen. Honderden steden verdwenen onder het zand, zoals in de Taklamakan-woestijn in Centraal-Azië.
In de negentiende eeuw is de herontdekking van de gebieden langs de route begonnen. De Duitse geograaf Ferdinand von Richthofen gaf er in 1877 de naam van de kostelijke stof aan. Het meeste graafwerk werd gedaan door de Russen. Hun vondsten werden naar de Hermitage gebracht. De Amsterdamse Hermitage maakte een keuze uit de oogst van dertien opgravingen.


Eén van de topstukken is een lange muurschildering waarin een godheid op een olifant strijdt tegen roofdieren. Hij is gevonden in het koningspaleis in Varakhsha, het tegenwoordige Oezbekistan. Het is een pronkwerk uit de zevende en achtste eeuw, de Gouden Eeuwen van de Zijderoute.
Kostbare gewaden, sieraden, schalen, kannen, borstbeelden, speelgoed ? zaal na zaal vertellen ze het verhaal van wat die lange tochten vol ontberingen opbrachten aan statussymbolen.
Samensteller Birgit Boelens: "Het waren handige kooplui. Ze begrepen hoe ze die zijde uit het oosten met winst konden doorverkopen. Daarom konden ze een luxe leven leiden. Het is te zien aan de prachtige schilderingen. Het was een goed leven, een hoge cultuur. Er was vrije tijd. Ze konden het leven vieren met die succesvolle handel."
5 Photo's, click HERE

Sir Aurel Stein

From: Cambridge Library Collection Blog

Posted on 
3D front cover of Sand-Buried Ruins of Khotan by M. Aurel SteinI came face to face the other night with a portrait of Sir Aurel Stein, which was a coincidence, given that I am currently reading his Sand-Buried Ruins of Khotan. Actually, I have to confess that the coincidence was not very wild, as I was in the Council Room of the Royal Asiatic Society, of which Stein was for many years a most distinguished member.
We were there to celebrate the association between the Society and CLC which has led to the reissue of 103 titles from its library, with plans for more. It was enormously gratifying and morale-boosting to see ‘our’ books on display beside their originals, and to compare the quality, which stood up to expert inspection, even in the more difficult works with detailed archaeological or architectural images.
Stein was not part of our first batch of books from the RAS, because when we started planning the project, his works were still in copyright. Like Flinders Petrie, another Grand Old Man of archaeology, Stein was very long-lived (1862–1943), and, also like Petrie, he is the father of his subject, though ‘Father of Sino-Turkestanic Archaeology, Plus Several Other Areas’ is a bit of a mouthful.
In fact, Stein has a greater claim to ‘fatherhood’ in this sense than Petrie, to the extent that Petrie had many predecessors (coming soon!), who had been unsystematically digging (or dynamiting, in Belzoni’s case) their way into Egyptian ruins for more than half a century before he brought scientific rigour to surveying and excavation. But Stein made discoveries and revealed civilisations of which nobody in the West previously had the slightest inkling.
I first came across Stein in Foreign Devils on the Silk Road, published in 1980 by Peter Hopkirk of The Times, which tells the extraordinary story of European exploration and excavation – and plundering, from the Chinese point of view – of the cities of the Silk Road, along which since very ancient times trade had been conducted between China and the countries to its west.
Stein was born in Hungary, where he became fascinated first by the character and exploits of Alexander the Great, and then by the fabulous countries of the East which Alexander had sought to explore and/or conquer, and in which traces of the fusion of cultures known as Graeco-Buddhist could still be found. In additional to a traditional, classical education, he studied Sanskrit, Old Persian and philology, as well as the history, culture and languages of India; and on a visit to England to examine oriental collections, he came under the wings of two Sir Henries – Rawlinson, the Assyriologist, and Yule, the doyen of Indian studies.
Deciding to go to India (after military service making maps in the Austro-Hungarian army), Stein took up academic posts in Lahore and Calcutta, but on every possible occasion he was off exploring, first in the Peshawar valley, but from 1900 much further afield. I remember being intrigued in Hopkirk’s account by the name of the Taklamakan desert (‘You can get in, but you won’t get out again’), especially by how so many words could be conveyed by four syllables. In spite of this warning, Stein went in – and thankfully came out again.
His motive was to find ancient manuscripts, a few of which had been coming on to the market in India, and were being seized upon by philologists and historians. He was remarkably successful, and in three expeditions (1900–1, 1906–8 and 1913–16) revealed the existence of a network of cities along trade routes in this apparently desert region, from which not only scrolls but writings on wood and leather panels, sculptures, coins, wall-paintings and textiles emerged, preserved in the dry climate.
His most famous discovery was the ‘Caves of the Thousand Buddhas’ in Dunhuang, from which came statues, Buddhist and secular texts, and a woodblock-printed scroll containing the Diamond Sutra and dating from the ninth century: the earliest known printed document. This is where thing get ethically difficult. Stein did not discover these treasures in an abandoned ruin: they were walled up in a cave, and he apparently bribed its guardian to let him carry some of them off to Britain, where they now reside in several of the great museums. From the Chinese point of view, this was straightforward robbery, and, as a consequence, a further expedition to China in 1930 was thwarted by the understandable hostility of Chinese academics.
Stein then turned his attention to archaeological surveys of Iran and the Middle East, pioneering aerial surveying with the help of the Royal Air Force. He maintained all his life his fascination with Alexander the Great, and in 1943 achieved his lifelong ambition of visiting Afghanistan, where Alexander had reputedly built a colonial city. Sadly, he fell ill almost immediately on arrival, died, and was buried in Kabul.
Hopkirk argued that Stein has never been given the credit he deserves as an archaeologist and explorer, partly because the whole area of his interest became much harder to visit after the rise of Communism in China, and partly because of the perennial (and proper) debate over the return of cultural treasures.* It is certainly the case that Stein’s name is not as familiar as those of PetrieSchliemannEvans or Carter.
And the book? The writing is earnest and very detailed (‘exhaustive’, as the ODNB puts it), and you really do need to have the large colour map (available to download) open at a high magnification to trace the progress of Stein’s travels. However, the descriptions of his various remarkable discoveries and his slightly patronising but affectionate account of the people he encountered make me look forward to reading his other books. Next up are the two-volume Ruins of Desert Cathay (1912) and On Alexander’s Track to the Indus (1929): others will follow!
* Thanks to George Clooney and Boris Johnson for adding to the gaiety of the nation recently. But Mr Clooney, the Pantheon and the Parthenon are not quite the same thing; and why (spoiler alert!!!) do only the non-Yanks end up dead (as always)?