Monday, 29 September 2014

The Legendary Tombs of Mawangdui - Art and Life in China during the second century AD

From 3 July 2014 to 16 February 2015 will be presented, for the first time in Italy in the halls of the Refectory of the fifteenth-century Palazzo Venezia, an exhibition that tells the time of the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD) through the treasures from the tombs found at Mawangdui and held by the Hunan Provincial Museum, one of the most important institutions of the museum system of China. On display will be exhibited 76 pieces of inestimable value, such as lacquers, textiles, manuscripts and paintings on silk. The exhibition allows you to unearth an ancient civilization through a major archaeological discovery, reflecting the very essence of a people that already at that time was recognized as "the land of silk and porcelain."

 Bacinella laccata con disegni di nuvole (dettaglio)
Altezza 13 cm, diametro maggiore 72,2 cm Rinvenuto nella tomba n. 3
The exhibition curated by Professor Zhen Shubin, has the patronage of the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of China, the Embassy of the People's Republic of China in Italy together with the Ministry of Heritage and Culture and Tourism of the Italian Republic (MiBACT), and is organized by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage of the Republic of China (SACH), the Directorate General for the enhancement of the cultural heritage of MiBACT, the Special Superintendence for Artistic and Ethno-anthropological Heritage and for the Museum of the City of Rome, in collaboration with the Provincial Administration of Hunan.
The exhibition is part of the Memorandum of Understanding on Partnership for the Promotion of Cultural Heritage signed October 7, 2010 between the Ministry of Heritage and Culture and Tourism of the Italian Republic and the State Administration of Cultural Heritage of the People's Republic of China, which provides for the exchange of permanent museum space dedicated to the respective cultures in order to promote cultural exchange between China and Italy and allow a greater and deeper understanding between the two peoples.
The first significant Italian model of a museum outside the national borders, permanent showcase for promoting Italian culture, the exhibition space has been given to the Directorate General for the enhancement of cultural heritage by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage of the Republic of China in the National Museum China's Tian on 'Tian'anmen Square in Beijing, space opened with the exhibition "Renaissance in Florence. Masterpieces and Protagonists "and currently hosts the exhibition" Rome seventeenth century origin of the Baroque.
The discovery of the tombs of the Han period at Mawangdui, in the city of Changsha (capital of the province of Hunan in southern China), is one of the great discoveries made in the twentieth century in China. Between 1972 and 1974, Chinese archaeologists unearthed a set of tombs belonging to the family of Li Cang, the Marquis of Dai and Prime Minister of the State of Changsha. A discovery that began in a completely serendipitous, following a series of excavations for an underground shelter, and thanks to the emergence of so-called "wisps." The three tombs found, contained in them more than 3,000 objects, including lacquers, ceramics, bronzes, silks, and jades, which are able to witness the excellent results achieved by the artistic and cultural heritage and to offer an insight into the Chinese society in the Han period. The immense value of the findings revealed and especially the discovery of a corpse fully integrates meant that experts paragonassero this discovery to the "tomb of Tutankhamun" in Egypt. The body of the Marquise of Dai is the first and oldest in the world body found still fully intact, not completely dehydrated and with tissues not yet completely drives.

Contenitore in legno laccato del tipo Ding con motivi decorativi "a nuvola"

The exhibition brings together for the first time in Italy an important selection of these archaeological findings, telling the whole story related to the tombs of Mawangdui and showing to the public the main results obtained from their discovery, as well as to understand, in an organic , the splendor that characterized the Han civilization. Divided into three sections, "Ancient legends of Mawangdui," "Secrets millennial disvelati from ancient tombs" and "The splendid archaeological remains found inside the tombs," the exhibition is offered as a multi-layered story, able to unite the stages of archaeological discovery with the legends connected to it.
The exhibition begins with all those aspects that have helped to create an aura of mystery around Mawangdui. From the ancient legends, such as the "Mound of King Ma" or "Tomb of the two women," until the unexpected appearance of a "wisp" that kicked off the series of archaeological excavations since the seventies. In China in the middle of a "Cultural Revolution", even the then Prime Minister Zhou Enlai took charge of the work for which they were also involved in the military People's Liberation Army. To account for this extraordinary tale, the exhibition brings together 76 items including lacquer, silk textiles, manuscripts and silk paintings, accompanied by a series of thematic analysis and multimedia installations.
Mawangdui was the burial place of the family of the Marquis of Dai. Here were buried Li Cang, the first Marquis of Dai, his wife Xin Zhui and one of their sons. The works on display represent the best pieces found in the tombs of Mawangdui and recompose the private world of an aristocratic family of the time; among them stand out the thirst refined and elegant, like the muslin fabric printed with colorful decorative motif phytomorphic and one in silk gauze printed with a decorative pattern in flames, unique demonstration of the achievements in the textile manufacturing, and remembered even by Pliny the Vecchio, who describes them as "tissue of origin heavenly." But in addition to reconstruct a slice of everyday life, through containers, bronze mirrors, wooden combs, tweezers in bone and other materials, the exhibits on display remind the echo of a historical reality and philosophical-religious extraordinary. The Banner funerary painted silk T-shaped in fact gives us the image cosmogony which had at that time the Chinese, describing their idea of ​​life after death and the desire for immortality who led them. Divided into three sections, representing the planes of existence, heaven, earth and the underworld, the center presents the Marquise of Dai leaning on a stick, in a pictorial representation where reality, fantasy and mythology harmonize with each other.
Of particular importance in this regard are the manuscripts on strips of bamboo or wooden tablets, content-rich different from each other, as in "Tianwen Qixiang za zhan" (divination through the interpretation of the astrological phenomena and atmospheric), the most oldest ever found in the world where it is specifically the forms of comets, or "Wushi'er bing fang" (Medical prescriptions for 52 diseases), the text pharmacological oldest and most complete ever discovered. Techniques and remedies for obtaining a fulfilling sex life to sexual practices to keep in good physical and mental condition, up to a range of practical advice for their own health: in these unique manuscripts, philosophy, politics, history and religion come together in what can be considered a true "underground library."
The finest silks, the most ancient manuscripts, the rarest items; The legendary tombs of Mawangdui, places us before the eyes of the high level of progress that characterized more than two thousand years ago, the civilization of the Han era and allows us to appreciate the achievements of the twentieth century Chinese archeology.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Sogdian burial funeral and religious and cultural image

  • Sogdian burial funeral and religious and cultural image

    by SUN WU JUN 

  • Language: Chinese
  • Pages: 257
  • Publisher: China Social Sciences Press (February 1, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 7516138800



Friday, 26 September 2014

China's largest ancient nomadic (Liao Dynasty) campsite unearthed

Xinhua 25 September 2014
The remains of an ancient campsite for nomadic emperors from the Liao Dynasty (907—1125) has been unearthed in China, archaeologists said.
The campsite, found in Qian’an county in north—east China’s Jilin province, served as an administrative centre during the reign of the nomadic Khitans, although the regime’s capital city was in inner Mongolia.
Feng Enxue, an archaeologist and professor with Jilin University, told Xinhua on Wednesday that emperors of the Liao dynasty usually had four campsites where they lived during the four seasons. In spring and summer, when it was warmer, they moved to the north while in autumn and winter they settled in the south.
The ruins, once the spring campsite, were first found in 2009 and have undergone excavation since August this year. Situated on a vast grassland, the campsite is next to a small lake. Tradition dictates that a Khitan emperor would give the first wild goose he hunted and the first fish caught as offerings for prosperity every year.
Overall it consists of four parts. The biggest, three kilometres wide, is about one—third the size of the entire campsite, containing as many as 900 bases for camping.
While archaeologists have yet to disclose the overall size of the campsite, it is believed to be the largest ever found in China.
During the past two months, archaeologists unearthed more than 100 cultural relics, including tiles, pottery, porcelain, copper coins and Buddha statues.
Site workers also discovered pottery shards, coal cinder and pieces of broken iron—ware, which proved the Khitans dwelled there for short periods.
Jin Xudong, head of the Jilin Provincial Bureau of Cultural Heritage, told Xinhua that they were considering applying to the World Heritage list.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World

The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World

Hardcover: 536 pages
Publisher: Princeton University Press (9 Sep 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0691147205

Amazons--fierce warrior women dwelling on the fringes of the known world--were the mythic archenemies of the ancient Greeks. Heracles and Achilles displayed their valor in duels with Amazon queens, and the Athenians reveled in their victory over a powerful Amazon army. In historical times, Cyrus of Persia, Alexander the Great, and the Roman general Pompey tangled with Amazons.
But just who were these bold barbarian archers on horseback who gloried in fighting, hunting, and sexual freedom? Were Amazons real? In this deeply researched, wide-ranging, and lavishly illustrated book, National Book Award finalist Adrienne Mayor presents the Amazons as they have never been seen before. This is the first comprehensive account of warrior women in myth and history across the ancient world, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Great Wall of China.
Mayor tells how amazing new archaeological discoveries of battle-scarred female skeletons buried with their weapons prove that women warriors were not merely figments of the Greek imagination. Combining classical myth and art, nomad traditions, and scientific archaeology, she reveals intimate, surprising details and original insights about the lives and legends of the women known as Amazons. Provocatively arguing that a timeless search for a balance between the sexes explains the allure of the Amazons, Mayor reminds us that there were as many Amazon love stories as there were war stories. The Greeks were not the only people enchanted by Amazons--Mayor shows that warlike women of nomadic cultures inspired exciting tales in ancient Egypt, Persia, India, Central Asia, and China.
Driven by a detective's curiosity, Mayor unearths long-buried evidence and sifts fact from fiction to show how flesh-and-blood women of the Eurasian steppes were mythologized as Amazons, the equals of men. The result is likely to become a classic.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Scythian names and words on ancient Greek vases

A photo of an ancient fragmented attic red-figure cup from Greece.
This Greek cup, dating from around 510 B.C., depicts an Amazon warrior on a horse. Scholars suggest wording on the vase names the woman Worthy of Armor in ancient Circassian.
Ancient Greek vases have revealed the hidden names of Amazons, mythology's warrior women, in a report deciphering ancient languages unspoken for millennia.
In the forthcoming study of pottery dating from 550 B.C. to 450 B.C., study lead author Adrienne Mayorand J. Paul Getty Museum assistant curator David Saunders translated Greek inscriptions into their phonetic sounds for 12 ancient vases from Athens. The inscriptions appear next to scenes of Amazons fighting, hunting, or shooting arrows.
They next submitted just the phonetic transcriptions without explanation to linguist John Colarusso of Canada's McMaster University in Hamilton, who is an expert on rare languages of the Caucasus. He translated the inscriptions into names—such as Princess, Don't Fail, and Hot Flanks—without knowing the details of the pictures of Amazons.In the forthcoming study of pottery dating from 550 B.C. to 450 B.C., study lead author Adrienne Mayorand J. Paul Getty Museum assistant curator David Saunders translated Greek inscriptions into their phonetic sounds for 12 ancient vases from Athens. The inscriptions appear next to scenes of Amazons fighting, hunting, or shooting arrows.
The report in the journal Hesperia gives linguists unparalleled insight into languages last spoken more than 2,500 years ago around the Black Sea. This area was the realm of Scythian nomads, who fought and traded with the Greeks.
Essentially, the ancient Greeks seem to have been trying to re-create the sounds of Scythian names and words on the Amazon vases by writing them out phonetically, the study authors suggest. In doing so, the Greeks may have preserved the roots of ancient languages, showing scholars how these people sounded on the steppes long ago.
"I am impressed, and I find the conclusions quite plausible," says archaeologist Ann Steiner, an expert on ancient Greek vases at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, by email. The results give weight to the suggestion that well-traveled Athenians first learned of Amazon legends and names from foreigners in their midst, she says.
Amazons Memorialized
Amazons were thought to be solely mythological until archaeologists unearthed Scythian burials of real women warriors, says Mayor, a visiting scholar at Stanford University and author of the just-releasedThe Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women Across the Ancient World.
"Amazons were clearly exotic and exciting to the Greeks. Clearly there is respect and admiration mixed with ambivalence," says Mayor. "Women lived much more separate and unequal lives in the Greek world, so the notion of women who dressed like men and fought like them was pretty exciting to them."
On the Amazon vases, Colarusso found an archer named Battle-Cry, a horsewoman named Worthy of Armor, and others with names such as Hot Flanks that probably had erotic connotations. On one vase, a scene of two Amazons hunting with a dog appears with a Greek transliteration for the Abkhazian word meaning "set the dog loose."
The other figures shown, such as Hercules and Achilles, were also named on the vases, leading the researchers to think the Amazon labels were meant as names, not descriptions.
The names were probably nicknames or heroic appellations given to Amazons, rather than real family names. Even today, Colarusso says, speakers of modern-day languages in the Caucasus region often use public, descriptive nicknames rather than reveal their real names.
Vases from Athens were a hot commodity in the fifth and sixth centuries B.C., traded across the Mediterranean. Often they held wine or were used as decanters during symposia, celebratory drinking parties for men. The vases were often painted with legendary scenes intended to provoke debate at the event, and a minority were inscribed with words.
A photo of an ancient fragmentary attic black-figure olpe from Greece.
Ancient vases carrying images of Amazons reflect a long-running Greek fascination with the female warriors.
More than 1,500 vases preserved from the era contain "nonsense" inscriptions that mostly use combinations of Greek letters but don't form words in ancient Greek (an analogy in English would be "dosud" or "hisme," which use the Latin alphabet but don't form meaningful words). Some of these also include depictions of women warriors.
Athenians had a long-running fascination with Amazons and began depicting them in art before 550 B.C., says the Getty's Saunders, a study author. After a Scythian incursion into Thrace, the region north of Greece, Amazons were more often shown wearing Scythian tunics, trousers, and hats, sitting on horses and carrying bows and axes.
Mayor realized the images on the vases matched clothes found in Scythian burials. "It all started from a hunch," she says. "What if these illiterate gibberish scribbles on ancient Greek vases depicting Amazons and Scythians meant something?"
Game of the Goose
To find out, Mayor first asked Colarusso, an expert on rare languages such as Circassian, Abkhazian, Ossetian, and Ubykh, to translate nonsense inscriptions on a vase that didn't have images of Amazons.
"I had goosebumps when I realized we were really deciphering sounds perhaps 3,000 years old," Colarusso says now.
The goosebumps came, in fact, from the New York Goose Play Vase, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The vase, dating to 400 B.C., depicts a scene involving a policeman and a dead goose in a basket.
On the vase, some characters speak decipherable Greek phrases, but the policeman says something that sounds like "noraretteblo," meaningless in Greek. Colarusso, blind to the scene on the vase, translated the phrase into "This sneak thief steals from the man over there" in ancient Circassian.
Remarkably, Athens is thought to have employed Scythian constables in the era of the lost play depicted on the vase, suggesting the Greeks depicted foreigners they were familiar with.
"Deciphering that very exact phrase told me we had something," Colarusso says. The languages of the Caucasus region still contain words with repeated hard, friction-filled sounds, such as "kh," he says, making them diagnosable as archaic Scythian sounds rendered phonetically in Greek phrases on the vases.
Making Sense of Nonsense
To test the translations, Mayor also sent Colarusso true Greek-inflected gibberish, which he couldn't translate.
In other instances, Colarusso translated words that are nonsense in Greek into phrases from other, archaic dialects. For example, without seeing the image on a vase depicting a Scythian archer next to a dog, he translated the inscribed words into "the dog is sitting by him."
"They've taken a great deal of trouble to make it a really convincing case," says classicist Anthony Snodgrass of the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, who was not on the study team.
The only limitation of the study, Snodgrass says, is the small number of vases used in the research, a dozen of the 1,500 known.
"It all raises a lot of questions: Why would the Athenians want these phrases on their vases?" Saunders says. Many of the vases were exported to northern Italy, where Scythians must have been quite rare, and were found in Etruscan burials there.
All in all, the translations point to the wide interconnection of the ancient world, he says, where Bronze Age trade routes were used to carry goods from Iberia to Siberia.
"It certainly has made me a lot more careful about what I call nonsense," Saunders adds.
Follow Dan Vergano on Twitter.

'Marco Polo' brings the court of Kublai Khan to Netflix

LA Times,  September 19, 2014
By Julie Makinen

At its peak more than 800 years ago, the realm of the Mongols stretched from central Europe to China, from Siberia to the Indian subcontinent, encompassing nearly one-fifth of the planet and attracting Silk Road explorers no less than Marco Polo himself. But no Mongol emperor ever got as far south as the tropics of Malaysia — until now.

Here on a new 50-acre studio built on recently cleared jungle, a crew of about 400 has spent months conjuring Kublai Khan's 13th-century capital. Carpenters and plasterers are piecing together the royal quarters, including a lavish golden throne room, a dungeon and a wood-paneled dojo. Painters are decorating a multi-bed pleasure chamber replete with a hot tub fed by elephant-head fountains.

Peacocks, swans, fish and turtles are due to arrive any day to add some fauna to a courtyard garden, and an insect wrangler is breeding thousands of praying mantises. In the faux slum village, the odor of genuine horse manure hangs thick in the humid air as roast ducks and animal hides bake in the sun. Costumers are working in double shifts to sew hundreds of silken gowns and robes, heavy furs and suits of armor.
All this work is setting the stage, literally, for "Marco Polo" — arguably Netflix's biggest bet yet on original-series programming. An epic action-adventure suffused with court and sexual intrigue, horseback battles and martial arts, the show also filmed on location along the canals of Venice and on the snow-swept steppe of Kazakhstan. The first season of 10 episodes is to debut in December.
"It's a giant adventure. The only thing on TV that matches it, production-scale wise, is 'Game of Thrones,'" said Harvey Weinstein, whose Weinstein Co. is producing the series. Ted Sarandos, Netflix's chief content officer, refused to discuss the cost but described the series as "work you'd only see on the very big screen. This is hard to do with the business model of conventional television."
Like HBO did with "Thrones," Netflix is putting its money on spectacle rather than big-name stars. Lorenzo Richelmy, the 24-year-old Italian in the title role, has never even had a major English-language part before. Benedict Wong, who's portraying Kublai Khan, is known mainly in Britain as a TV and stage actor. The most familiar face in the series may be Joan Chen ("The Last Emperor," "Twin Peaks"), who's playing Khan's favorite wife, Empress Chabi.
Netflix's reach is increasingly global — the service now has 50 million subscribers in 40 countries and is pushing aggressively into Europe — and so the timing may be right for such an East-West story. But Netflix cannot yet directly leverage the appeal of "Marco's" Asian story and cast into new subscribers in Asia because the service has yet to launch in the region. (Instead, its content is distributed to pay TV and Internet platforms.) Still, "Marco" may help build brand awareness for an Asian expansion.
"Before we even launch in a territory, these shows can be a calling card," Sarandos said. "A good example has been 'House of Cards,' which is on Canal+ in France, but people recognize it as a Netflix show before Netflix shows up in France."
How it began
In 2007, writer John Fusco was tracing the Silk Road on horseback with his 13-year-old son when somewhere between Mongolia and the Mingsha Dunes, the Singing Sands of China, inspiration struck.
"I got the feeling: It's time to do a Marco Polo story," recalled Fusco, an equestrian and Sinophile who penned "The Forbidden Kingdom" and the coming sequel to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," another Weinstein project. "I felt like everything was lining up right because long-form television series were becoming to me like the new great American novel."
Though Marco Polo is familiar around the world, many people know little about him other than that his name is attached to a call-and-response swimming pool game and that he brought spaghetti from China to Italy (a factoid that Fusco, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of the Italian explorer, dismisses as historical hogwash).
"They have no idea that Marco Polo was basically adopted as a son by Kublai Khan, the most powerful ruler on Earth, the grandson of Genghis Khan," Fusco said. "And that he was trained in the scholar-warrior tradition — in archery, Mongol warfare, Chinese martial arts, languages, letters. He went through this incredible education that was really this cultural awakening."

The Polo story has long interested writers and filmmakers — including a Samuel Goldwyn 1938 production starring Gary Cooper, an elaborate 1982 American-Italian TV miniseries and a 2007 TV film with Ian Somerhalder, BD Wong and Brian Dennehy.
With the backing of the Weinstein Co. and Ben Silverman's Electus, "Marco Polo" was originally developed as a series for Starz, with plans to film in China. After concerns about censorship and other issues scuttled those mainland plans, Silverman said, Netflix came aboard offering to do the show at a higher budget. At the time, Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios was about to open, and "Marco Polo" was able to take over the entire facility — and leverage a generous production incentive.
Though the young Venetian spent 17 years in China, the first season of "Marco Polo" will tell only the beginning of his coming of age among the Mongols — his three-year journey from Venice to Khanbulik (modern-day Beijing) and his first year in the court.
Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg, the Norwegian directors of the Oscar-nominated Thor Heyerdahl adventure "Kon-Tiki," are helming the first two hours of "Marco Polo." (Next, they will direct yet another adventure story, the fifth installment of Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise.)
Marco Polo arrived in the East with his father and uncle at a crucial turning point in history: The 300-year-old Song Dynasty was on the verge of collapse and Kublai was about to become the first non-Chinese emperor of China. But even as the khan was trying to take China, his own people were turning on him in a civil war, upset over what they saw as his increasing softness and excessive Sinification.

Marco Polo eventually recorded his grand recollections of his Oriental sojourn in a jailhouse autobiography, "A Description of the World." His account was so fantastic he was dubbed Il Milone, the teller of a million lies. But legend holds that on his deathbed in 1323, urged to acknowledge his volume as tall tales, he instead declared: "I haven't told half of what I saw."
"I put that up in the writer's room: Our mantra was, 'We are not only telling the half that Marco did write about in his accounts, we are telling the half that he might have seen,'" said Fusco, the show's creator and an executive producer. "It's historical fiction, but the historical signposts along the way keep it rooted in history."
A late casting
Given the series' name, one might assume the show's creative team had found its Marco long before cameras actually started to roll last spring. But Patrick MacManus, co-executive producer of the show, said it actually came down to the wire, with Fusco's wife sifting through recorded auditions last winter and picking out Lorenzo Richelmy's submission for a second look.
"John Fusco called me," said Richelmy, puffing on a cigarette on the set. "He said, 'Can you just go tomorrow to Malaysia?' I was like, 'What? OK, let's go.'"
Despite Richelmy's lack of proficiency in English and martial arts, there was a certain je ne sais quoi about the actor — who resembles a cross between Armie Hammer and Shia LeBoeuf and exudes a certain rapscallion charm — that convinced producers he was right for the part.
"We saw actors from all over the world, great, beautiful actors, but there was a soul that was just a little off," MacManus said. "With Lorenzo, the second we saw him, we saw the soul of his character."
Added Weinstein: "They just rated him on the hot scale, and he flew off the chart. … I have to give credit to John Fusco, and Espen and Joaquim good credit for whipping Lorenzo into shape."
Though Netflix has been keeping plot details under tight wraps, it's clear that the father-son dynamic that develops between Kublai and Marco — and the jealousies their connection arouses —- is a fulcrum in the series.
Marco's father essentially gifts him to the khan, said Wong. "He's a novelty for Kublai — Marco is like this 13th century version of the Internet, the way he can speak and visualize things," said Wong. Gradually, Marco's utility to the khan will go far beyond regaling the emperor with fanciful descriptions of his vast realm.
The khan's interest in Marco engenders a rivalry with Kublai's eldest son, Jingim, played by Remy Hii, who's been told he will one day inherit the kingdom and all that entails. "This is a grand family story," said Hii, noting that just as Marco was abandoned by his father, who set off on another trading mission, "my character Jingim feels the same — an abandonment with his father."

Jingim's mother, Empress Chabi, does not like that this European gets close to the khan, said Chen. "I am a helicopter mom, and I don't want Marco to be any more important than [my son]. But as we go, slowly, I see that Marco loves the khan."
Part of Marco's immersion into the ways of the Mongol realm called for studying martial arts under the tutelage of a blind Daoist monk named Hundred Eyes (Tom Wu) — a fictional character. Marco later falls for a princess, Kokachin, who was a historical figure, played by Chinese actress Zhu Zhu.
The couple's love scenes, Zhu said, are "really sexy" but "poetic." Richelmy's Italian heritage and her Chinese upbringing lend authenticity and chemistry to their pairing, she said — though boozing at a Mexican cantina in Malaysia also helped break the ice. "I remember [Richelmy] was very sweet, giving me lots of tequila shots and at the same time taking care of me," she said.
Sarandos said he expects the writing and the relationship drama to hold an audience for the long term. The creators say they have plans for five or six seasons if the show does well.
"The scope of it is enormous. It travels far and wide and is set a long ago time," Sarandos said. "But what's beautiful about it is, it's really rooted in things that people can really relate to — the human storytelling that's happening on the show."

The Mysteries of the Marco Polo Maps

 A set of documents, brought to United States by an Italian immigrant, may reveal new details about Marco Polo’s travels in Asia, including that he possibly explored and mapped Alaska.
marco polo map - Library of Congress
Marco Polo (1254-1324) was  a Venetian merchant who wrote a detailed account of his travels into Asia, where he spent over 20 years, including being in the service of the Mongol ruler Qubilai Khan. His work, known as the Book of the Marvels of the World, was one of the most famous accounts of Eastern Asia from the Middle Ages, although Marco noted that “I did not tell half of what I saw.”
Besides his account of his travels of Asia, very little is known about Marco Polo. It seems that a set of fourteen documents might offer some new insights into his life.  They are detailed in the new book The Mysteries of the Marco Polo Maps, by Benjamin Olshin, which is to be published next month by the University of Chicago Press. This historian has been researching these documents for thirteen years, and revealed some of his findings in the article ‘The Mystery of the “Marco Polo” Maps: An Introduction to a Privately-Held Collection of Cartographic Materials Relating to the Polo Family,’ which appeared in the journal Terrae Incongnitae in 2007.
Olshin examined 14 documents that were brought to the United States by Marcian F. Rossi, an Italian immigrant, who claimed that they had been passed down through his family for generations. In the 1930s he gave a short account of these documents to a scholar named Leo Bagrow:
Marco Polo entrusted the maps to Admiral Rujerius Sanseverinus who had graduated the Nautical School at Amalfi. A number of centuries later his descendant Ruberth Sanseverinus married Elisabeth Feltro Della Rovere, Duchess of Urbino. In the year 1539 Julius Cesare de Rossi, Count of Bergeto, married Maddalena Feltro Della Rovere Sanseverinus to whom the Tenure of Cajiata was assigned; his grand-son Joseph de Rossi became Duke of Serre; this tenure was held till 1744, when it was transferred to the Duchy of Casale to [at?] Joseph de Rossi; his younger brother Antonio de Rossi was the father of Marciano de Rossi, my great grandfather…
The documents have now been passed down to his great-grandson, Jeffrey Pendergraft, except for one parchment that was donated to the Library of Congress. This last document, known as the ‘Map with Ship’ shows a map of eastern Asia and what appears to be part of Alaska. It also contains writing in Chinese, Arabic and Latin that offers some notes on various places on the map. Recent radiocarbon dating of this parchment reveals that it dates to the 15th or 16th centuries, meaning that it could be a copy of the original or a forgery
The other documents include writings purported to be made by the daughters of Marco Polo. In the one allegedly by Bellela Polo, she offers a story not included in the Book of the Marvels of the World:
The Mysteries of the Marco Polo MapsAfter Master Polo had become known in all of China for his zeal, the wife of Fafur, queen of the women in the province of the Mangi, entrusted to him a message for Fusint, queen of the women in the Far East, and put him in command of twenty Chinese and Saracen sailors, and with a big ship he set sail from the Gulf of [the] Manji and along the chain of small islands that cross the promontory on the east side of that gulf and then navigated to the east. Then he entered the ocean where suddenly there arose such a terrible storm that the compass needle swung from this side to that, forcing him to sail to the north side of a chain of islands that enclosed the sea, and stretched east as far as a peninsula where Master Marco Polo disembarked from the ship twenty-eight days after having departed from China.
It also notes that they came across “people who speak the Tartar language, and … go about dressed in sealskins, living on fish …” If this story is true, it is possible that Marco Polo sailed to the Aleutian Islands, where he met with aboriginals.
Olshin notes that there are many questions about the authenticity of these documents. If they are forgeries, it would have had to be done by someone able to write Italian, Latin, Chinese, and Arabic, as well as have a good knowledge of cartography. It is unlikely that this was Marcian Rossi, who went to become a tailor in California but had little formal education.
The Mysteries of the Marco Polo Maps should provide readers with more details about these documents and help start more research into the possibility that Marco Polo reached parts of North America. You can learn more about the book from University of Chicago Press.
See also the article Did Marco Polo “Discover” America? from the

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Ancient City in Mongolian Grasslands Preserved in Digital Scans

FARO 120920Located a mere 4 hours away by air from Kansai International Airport in Japan is Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia. Just 400km west of that is Karakorum – a city designated as the capital of the Mongolian Empire after it was built as a military base by Genghis Khan in the early 13th century. It is in this city that artifacts of the Khitan Period were unearthed by Nara University (Japan) during an archaeological survey in 2009. The relics are being exhibited at the Karakorum Museum, which was built in 2011 with interest-free loans from the Japanese Government.
This partnership between Mongolia and Japan started in 2009, when Nara University started surveying and researching archaeological ruins in Mongolia as a joint research project, under a collaboration agreement signed with the Institute of Archaeology at the Mongolian Academy of Sciences. The first three phases of the joint project were completed over a period of three years ending in 2011, with the fourth phase starting in 2012. A full survey of the ruins has also been started and is expected to continue through 2014.

Discovering 3D Laser Scanning

One of the aims of the survey was to build a digital archive of the historical ruins. Up until the third phase of the survey, the research team solely utilized a short-range 3D measurement device. However, the range was relatively narrow and made it difficult for researchers to capture a wide range of data. At that time, the Research Representative of this survey, Associate Professor Tetsuo Shoji, Ph.D., Faculty of Sociology of Nara University, got to know about and see scanned data from the FARO® Laser Scanner Focus3D during information exchange sessions that he held with other universities.
IMG 2232
Associate Professor Shoji assessed that with an integrated color camera, compass, and the ability to perform helical scans, the Focus3D instrument may be useful to the research project, so he subsequently introduced it for the survey. Focus3D is a 3D laser scanner that can obtain a vast amount of information with a measurement speed of approximately 976,000 points per second. Weighing just 5kg, the small and highly portable device was quickly introduced to the research team and deployed to the survey site.

Challenges met at Ancient Ruin Sites

The on-site surveys in 2012 were conducted by a team of 15 members, from 4 to 12 August, at three ancient ruin sites of Khar Bukh, Baibalyk, and Khar Bargas. The first site, Khar Bukh, contained ruins of the Khitan Period from the 9th to the 11th century AD. As Khar Bukh was rebuilt in the 16th century by reusing the stone structures and walls of the city, these ruins are considered relatively well preserved, in comparison with the ruins at the other two sites.
IMG 1856The next site is Baibalyk. Although the place has been listed as a World Heritage Site as the “Orhon Valley Cultural Landscape”, only some parts of the rammed-earth construction remain, while the rest have turned into vast grasslands that witness the occasional nomad group, herding sheep across the ruins leisurely.
The last site is Khar Bargas. Located about 40km to the north-west of Karakorum, these ruins, like Baibalyk, are also listed as a world heritage site, and similarly only some parts of the rammed-earth architecture and pagodas remain.
Associate Professor Shoji pointed out the problems commonly found in all three sites. “These ruins are all crumbling and I believe most will probably not be around in 10 years’ time.”
For example, as wasps build their nests in the city walls of Baibalyk, the structures will gradually lose strength and start to collapse section by section. In addition, the land is frequently visited by nomads and sheep that make their way to the top of the ruins, accelerating the wear and tear of the site.
“What we need to do now is to faithfully retain as much of it as possible using current technology,” Associate Professor Shoji commented.

Speeding up the Scanning Process

At the three archaeological sites, the survey team used the Focus3D to scan shapes of the ruins to create a digital archive. The researchers had only nine days to complete the project on-site, so it was important for them to work quickly to gather all the scans on time. Associate Professor Shoji said, “In surveying the extensive ruins, the time taken for scanning was shortened considerably thanks to the Focus3D.”

Future use of 3D data

With the ease-of-use and collection of 3D data, a world of possibilities has opened up for researchers to employ laser scanning in the field of archaeology. Another consideration is pricing. Digital archiving with laser scanners were too expensive for small project use when they first originated about 20 years ago, but the significant drop in the price of laser scanners over the past five years has made 3D scanning a viable and preferred option for data collection purposes in the field of archaeology.
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“In future, we have to consider how to use and apply the digital data collected,” said Associate Professor Shoji. “For example, I believe that recreating ruin structures using computer graphics, or comparing the digital data with the original structure of the ruins will be an epitome of the use of 3D data in future.”
In addition, Associate Professor Shoji is interested to install the Focus3D on a moving vehicle to perform helical scans and to digitize the surface images of the ruins, and preparations for continued research at the ancient city are already in progress.
Associate Professor Shoji concluded, “Our collaborative agreement with the Mongolian Academy of Sciences will last until 2022, and till then, we hope to recreate in as much detail as possible the images of the ancient city lying underneath the expansive grasslands.”
About Nara University
Located on a quiet, high ground that is surrounded by temples, shrines and many historical ruins, Nara University was founded in 1969. It is a university that specializes in rare historical studies and boasts a high level of professionalism with students from all over Japan. In addition, as the first university in Japan with a Department of study of Cultural Properties, there are many renowned professors in the field of history and archaeology at the University.
Furthermore, the “Faculty of Sociology” established in 2010 is a new department that combines social sciences and informatics, where one can learn how to perform and analyze social studies using information media. This survey is co-conducted by the Department of study of Cultural Properties and Faculty of Sociology, leveraging their respective expertise. The cultural relics department performs the archaeological survey of the ruins while the social studies department uses information technology to create a digital archive of the ruins.
About FARO
FARO is a global technology company that develops and markets computer-aided coordinate measurement devices and software. Portable equipment from FARO permits high-precision 3D measurement and comparison of parts and compound structures within production and quality assurance processes. The devices are used for inspecting components and assemblies, production planning, inventory documentation, as well as for investigation and reconstruction of accident sites or crime scenes. They are also employed to generate digital scans of historic sites.
With FARO, 3D measurement and documentation needs can be fulfilled confidently. As a pioneer and market leader in portable computer-aided measurement, FARO consistently applies the latest advances in technology to make its industry-leading product offerings more accurate, reliable, and easy to use. The focus is on simplifying workflow with tools that empower customers, thereby dramatically reducing the on-site measuring time and lowering overall costs.
Worldwide, approximately 15,000 customers are operating more than 30,000 installations of FARO’s systems. The company’s global headquarters are located in Lake Mary, Florida, with its European head office in Stuttgart, Germany and its Asia-Pacific head office in Singapore. FARO has branch locations in Japan, China, India, South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Canada, Mexico, United Kingdom, France, Spain, Italy, Poland, and The Netherlands.
Further information:

Han relics on show in Paris

China Daily, 15/7/2014

By Lin Qi (China Daily)

Valuable Chinese relics are to be exhibited in France, giving European visitors a glimpse of the rich traditions of the Han Dynasty. Lin Qi reports.
It is probably the largest exhibition of Chinese relics outside the country. Curators describe it as "an unrivaled show" as it explains why the majority of Chinese are called the Han people and why they speak the language of Han people and write Han characters. The exhibition, Han Dynasty, will open at the Musee Guimet in Paris in October, and will display about 457 artifacts that bear testimony to the dynamism of the Middle Kingdom. The exhibition, which celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Sino-French diplomatic relations, will present a retrospective of the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220), the empire that had profound and long-lasting influences on Chinese history. Antiquities, including dozens of national grade one collections, are on loan from 27 Chinese museums and cultural institutions. They provide various perspectives on the dynasty's administration system, its agriculture, its alliances with bordering countries and the start of Silk Road through which it communicated with the West.
"The exhibition will demonstrate the most complete and beautiful gems of the Han Dynasty, helping people to understand the foundation of Chinese civilization," says Sophie Makariou, director of the Musee Guimet.
 Han relics on show in Paris
A jade mask unearthed from a Han Dynasty tomb in the Shuangru Mountain in Jinan, Shandong province.
 Han relics on show in Paris
A bronze pot unearthed from the tomb of Liu Sheng (165-113 BC), or, Prince Jing of Zhongshan, in Mancheng county, Hebei province. Photos Provided to China Daily

 Han relics on show in Paris
A silver tiger, found in Shenmu county, Shaanxi province, is believed to date back to between the Warring States Period (475-221 BC) and the Han Dynasty.
"One of the highlights of the exhibition is the juxtaposition of archaeological discoveries made over the past five decades, which continue to renovate Chinese archaeology."
These breakthroughs have been largely achieved during burial excavations, with the objects found revealing the relationship between emperors and feudal princes. Terracotta warriors are some of the best examples of the imperial power, which come from the mausoleum of Liu Qi (188-141 BC), the empire's fourth emperor, which has been turned into a museum in Xi'an. Visitors will also see lamps and incense burners from the tomb of Liu Sheng (165-113 BC), son of Liu Qi and titled Prince Jing of Zhongshan.
Han relics on show in Paris
The funeral objects formed an affluent underground world in which the tombs' owners hope their soul could live in luxury. A jade suit sewn with gold threads that is a national treasure is one of the items on display. The fragile suit, which is more than 2,000 years old, was found in an imperial tomb in the Lion Mountain of Jiangsu province in 1995. It features 4,248 pieces of high quality jade and is considered a magnificent example of Han's jade processing technique.
Makariou says that the excavation of Han emperors' mausoleums is rare, and by appreciating burial objects unearthed from princes' tombs, people can picture the extravagance of the imperial family and the rulers' belief in eternity.
The exhibition will also attest to the diverse civil life outside the imperial palace. People today can get a glimpse of the luxuries of times past through the display of wooden architectural models, silk fabrics and musical instrument. There are also examples of cultural life. As bamboo sheets were replaced by silk and paper, writing became an art form. Lishu, the script first written by clerks, was adopted by more people and eventually evolved into different styles.
"All the exhibits are intricately pulled together by a tomb, a city and a journey. The mausoleum of Liu Qi shows the empire's ruling system; Xi'an shows the prosperity of an ancient capital and the Silk Road realized the communications of trade and culture between two civilizations," says Yao An, deputy director of Art Exhibitions China. The body under the State Administration of Cultural Heritage has organized and toured about 200 Chinese relic exhibitions, Han Dynasty included, around the world ever since its establishment in 1971.
"The exhibition traces back to the root of how Chinese culture and the temperament of Chinese people have taken shape," she says.
Han Dynasty will run from Oct 22 to March 1, 2015, along with forums, film screenings and concerts that expose European viewers to the Han Dynasty from multiple perspectives.
Han relics on show in Paris