Monday, 30 October 2017

Chinese shipwreck from the Mongol Period

This Shipwreck Dates to When Genghis Khan's Descendants Ruled China

Archaeologists have uncovered a shipwreck buried under silt and mud that dates back around 700 years to a time when the descendants of Genghis Khan ruled China, sometimes from their palace at Xanadu.
Although China was ruled by the Mongols Chinese culture flourished at this time and the art and artifacts found in the 70-foot-long (21 meters) wooden shipwreck show motifs that were popular in China. These include a colorful jar depicting a dragon and phoenix.
The ship, which the archaeologists believe was used for river journeys, was found at a modern day construction site and had a hull sectioned into 12 cabins by 12 bulkheads, wrote the team of archaeologists led by Shougong Wang, of the Shandong Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, in a paper published recently in the journal Chinese Cultural Relics. [See Images of the Shipwreck Remains and Artifacts]

Dating to the Yuan dynasty (circa 1271-1368), the ship held a shrine, a captain's cabin, crew quarters, cargo compartments and a control room that doubled as a kitchen, the archaeologists said in their paper. In the cabin that was used as a shrine, archaeologists found an incense burner and stone-carved figurines of "arhats," which, in Buddhism, are individuals who have attained enlightenment. The figurines show seemingly tame dragons and tigers sitting peacefully beside the arhats.
Overall "more than 100 artifacts were unearthed from both inside the shipwreck and its surrounding area, including artifacts of porcelain, pottery, lacquerware, jade, stone, iron, bronze and gold," the archaeologists wrote in the journal article. Inside the crew quarters, the researchers found "porcelain ewers [a type of jug or pitcher], net sinkers, scissors, oil lamps and bronze mirrors," they wrote, adding that lacquerware was found in the captain's quarters and grain remained in the cargo compartments.  
Inside the control room, which also served as the kitchen, they found an iron stove, an iron pot, an iron ladle and a wooden cutting board. The researchers also found the ship's control system, which  included a tiller located just above the control room on the ship's deck, the archaeologists wrote.
"The deposits around the shipwreck and the cracking of its [hull] suggest the possibility that the ship sank after its hull was hit and the ship wrecked," the study researchers wrote.
They didn't speculate on the fate of the crew; however, no human remains were found inside the shipwreck.
"During a relatively short period of time after the accident, the silt beneath the shipwreck was washed away by the current, [and] the shipwreck continued to sink to 1 m to 2 m [3.3 feet to 6.6 feet] below the original riverbed, then stabilized at its current location. Silt and mud were then deposited over it, and the shipwreck was completely buried," the archaeologists wrote.
The shipwreck was excavated between October 2010 and January 2011 by archaeologists from the Shandong Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology and the Heze Municipal Commission for the Preservation of Ancient Monuments. A journal article with their results was published in 2016, in Chinese, in the journal Wenwu. Recently, this article was translated into English and published in the journal Chinese Cultural Relics.
Originally published on Live Science.

In Photos: 700-Year-Old Shipwreck Discovered in China

For more photo's, click HERE

Friday, 20 October 2017

Dunhuang: The Oasis at Bryant University

An Exhibit of Silk Road Art Treasures from Dunhuang Caves Coming to Bryant Sept. 27-Oct. 6

For ten days this fall, Bryant University will use virtual reality and painstakingly reconstructed replicas to bring an ancient Chinese cave and its artistic treasures to campus. 
“People will be able to experience something they’d otherwise have to travel thousands of miles to a Chinese desert to see."
The exhibition, Dunhuang: An Oasis for East-West Cultural, Commercial, and Religious Exchanges Along the Ancient Silk Road opens Sept. 27 in the George E. Bello Center for Information and Technology. Bryant is the first academic institution in the United States to host this interactive exhibition. After its 10-day run at Bryant, the exhibition will travel to other U.S. colleges and universities, including the University of Maryland, University of New Hampshire, and West Virginia University.  When the U.S. tour concludes, portions of the exhibit will be donated to Bryant for permanent display. 
Opening ceremonies will take place September 27, and from September 28-October 6, guided tours will take visitors through the exhibition — a panoramic projection of the cave site — and into the reconstructed cave to inspect the splendid murals and statues in close range. The interactive exhibit also include virtual reality, digital imaging, and short movies. Events related to the exhibition include a series of seminars focusing on arts, culture, history, environment, and religions represented in these caves.
“We are excited to bring this exceptional exhibition to Bryant after a year of planning and preparation,” said Hong Yang, Ph.D., Vice President of International Affairs and Dr. Charles J. Smiley Chair Professor of Science and Technology. “People will be able to experience something they’d otherwise have to travel thousands of miles to a Chinese desert to see. It is truly a unique cultural opportunity, and we look forward to sharing it with the Bryant community as well as other universities, organizations, and individuals throughout the country.”
About Dunhuang
Dunhuang is an oasis located in China’s northwestern Gansu Province, more than 1,400 miles from Beijing. According to Dunhuang Academy, it was the main and only gateway to and from China on the route known as the ancient Silk Road that ran between China, Western Asia, and the sub-continent of India. For more than 1,000 years, from the 4th to 14th centuries, Dunhuang was an ancient “cultural melting pot” where different cultures and religions met, traded, and interacted. Over the centuries, it became customary for travelers to dig caves into the sides of mountains and decorate them with art, with the hope for safety and success on their long and often dangerous journeys.

The Mogao Caves at Dunhuanghouse one of the world’s most extensive sites of Buddhist art, containing ancient Buddhist murals, statues, silk, manuscripts, as well as arts from Islamic, Daoist, Greek, Christian, and other cultures and religions. The centerpiece of the exhibit is a replica of Cave 285 of the Mogao Caves, a visually rich 6th-century cave known for its exceptional collection of Buddhist artworks. Due to environmental and political changes these caves were buried in the sands until rediscovered a hundred years ago. It is now a world renewed culture heritage listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Dunhuang exhibition at Bryant University is made possible by a partnership between Bryant University and Dunhuang Academy and co-sponsored by the Confucius Institute Headquarters and Government of Gansu Province.
Exhibition highlights

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Kara-Turug petroglyphs from ancient Siberia

Mountainside gallery where all civilisations added their own art from Bronze Age to medieval times

On the border between Russia and Mongolia, we reveal awe-inspiring Kara-Turug petroglyphs, and they contain a BIG secret about ancient Siberia.
Every major civilisation added their own distinct imprint to the collection of rock art at Dus-Dag mountain. Picture: Marina Kilunovskaya
There are 500 or so exhibits and the artwork here spanning some 4,000 years until the end of the first millennium AD.
Every major civilisation added their own distinct imprint to the collection of rock art at Dus-Dag mountain in modern-day Tuva Republic, literally from the age of the spear until well into medieval times. 
Archeologist Dr Marina Kilunovskaya said: 'This way they were marking their presence, showing that they were now the owners here.'
To their credit, successive civilisations coming here did not destroy the jottings of those who went before them. 

There are about 500 exhibits on Kara-Turug. Pictures: Marina Kilunovskaya
Each new incoming group on this crossroads of ancient civilisation  enriched the collection with their own artistic flourishes.
In truth, they probably came here for salt - there are copious local supplies - but they left their etchings depicting their life and beliefs, and they remain with us today.
'The petroglyphs were made by people who lived in this area in different times, starting from the Bronze Age in the third millennium BC,' said the academic, who is senior researcher at the Department of Archeology of Central Asia and Caucasus, Institute of the History of Material Culture, in St. Petersburg.
Her insights are riveting after painstaking research this summer into these hitherto unstudied petroglyphs.
'The most popular image - a bull. This was an epoch of the bull.' Picture: Marina Kilunovskaya
In a nutshell, she suggests that this rock art tells us that some of the oldest of the great nomadic cultures that - over several millennia - populated Siberia may not have been as nomadic as we thought. 
In the Bronze Age, petroglyphs at Kara-Tarag she has detected evidence of houses, with homely domestic scenes. 
'I am suggesting that ancient nomads knew how to build houses - and they depict these houses,' she told The Siberian Times.
Archeological discoveries tell us that ancient populations built log structures for burial chambers 'but it seems to me these (drawings) are real houses' in which Bronze Age families actually lived.
She explained: 'There are mainly domestic scenes but there also are images of houses in the Bronze Age.

Bronze Age chariot. Picture: Marina Kilunovskaya
'And what is surprising is that these are regular houses with roofs, although we are used to thinking that nomads lived in yurts.' 
The images of houses, sometimes even included floor plans.
They indicated that, for example, these ancients, predating the Scythians, led not only nomadic life but also were familiar with long term domestic life.  
They put down roots. 
The rock images evidently do not show similar houses in Scythian times, yet archeologists know they had the skills to build them: from the impressive burial chambers which have preserved right the way through to our times, for example in the Ukok plateau in the high Altai Mountains, and the Arzhan I and II sites in Tuva. 


'I am suggesting that ancient nomads knew how to build houses - and they depict these houses.' Pictures: Marina Kilunovskaya
They built them for their dead, so it is not unreasonable to suppose they also used them for the living. 
'The images of houses are unique,' explained Dr Kilunovskaya. 
'According to our understanding, nomads had no houses - but they were burying their dead in log cabins. Funeral chambers were made of wood which means they had understanding about 'wood architecture'. 
'We might be seeing houses of the dead (in this rock art) although, I think, we are seeing domestic scenes.
'There are couples depicted around houses and animals: goats, bulls, and dogs.'
She is currently engaged on a thesis to untangle these issues but talked us through the sweep of history depicted here in petroglyphs.
Arzhan 2 excavations site

Pazyryk burial chamber

Ukok burial chamber
Wooden burial chambers in Arzhan-2, Pazyryk and Ak-Alakha burial mounds. Pictures: Konstantin Chugunov, Anatoli Nagler and Hermann Parzinger; mazimus101, Vladimir Mylnikov/Science First Hands
'We discovered a unique monument of rock art at Kara-Turug, which has 20 groups of petroglyphs,' she said.
In other words, the ancient art gallery 20 different viewing spots for these remarkable petroglyphs. 
'The earliest we can date to the Bronze Age,' she said.  
'The Bronze Age era is the time of the first wave of migration to Central Asia, Mongolia, and the Sayano-Altai highlands, when an Indo-European population came here. 
'They were cattle breeders, moving along the 'steppes corridor' to the east. 
'These people left numerous archaeological sites here ... They also left specific rock art. 
Scythian deer

Scythian deer
'For Scythians the central deity was the deer. So we see deer appearing on the rocks.' Pictures: Marina Kilunovskaya
'It is special style in depicting animals. The most popular image - a bull. This was an epoch of the bull. 
'And creatures that were somehow related to the bull - well-known horned faces, so-called masks, of gods with horns.
'At that time, battle scenes also appeared, and at the end of Bronze Age, images of chariots.
'As for the houses... I believe that they are related to the late Bronze Age, to the pre-Scythian time.... 
'The houses are surrounded by the drawings related to the Bronze age - of bulls and chariots.'
She said: 'The next layer are the Scythian petroglyphs. For them the central deity was the deer. So we see deer appearing on the rocks. 
Deer in Mongolian-Transbaikal style

Deer in Mongolian-Transbaikal style

Deer in Mongolian-Transbaikal style
Scythian time stag in Mongol-Transbaikal style. Pictures: Marina Kilunovskaya
'The drawings are not very naturalistic, so we presume this was kind of deity. Also there are hunting scenes here. 
'Then came the Xiongnu times. They have a special style, very dynamic. Scenes of hunting and battles. 
'The next layer are drawn by the Turks. They loved to draw their warriors - in armour, with banners.' 
She said: 'Locals treated this ancient rock art with great reverence.' It was not vandalised. 
There is one enduring likeness through these epochs, and it keeps repeating, she said.
'The one image depicted in all the epochs is a mountain goat or sheep. They all hunted this animal and it is on their drawings. 
'The one image depicted in all the epochs is a mountain goat or sheep.' Picture: Marina Kilunovskaya
'The methods of drawing differed in every epoch. 
'The earliest stages - in the Bronze Age - they used sharpened bone and a stone. Bronze was not suitable. 
'In Xiongnu times they begin to use iron, as they learned to make durable iron. And they begin to engrave the drawings.
'We can also say that Scythian masters always did sketches - with charcoal - and then engraved very thin lines before making general drawings over these lines.'
Turkic engravings
'The next layer are drawn by the Turks. They loved to draw their warriors - in armour, with banners.' Picture: Marina Kilunovskaya
The end result is a treasure of epic proportions handed down from our ancestors, each epoch leaving their own imprint for future generations. 
'No one has studied this territory before,' she said. 
'I want to say big thanks to the Mongolian side [Institute of Archaeology of Mongolia] for the help in the research of these petroglyphs as they are located right on the border. 
'This territory is quite hard to study, as this is a frontier area and special access from border guards is needed. 
'But we managed to get the access and worked right on the border.'
Kara-Turug is located on the border between Russia and Mongolia, in the shore of Ubsunur lake. Picture: Marina Kilunovskaya

Silk in a Viking grave connecting East and West

A reconstructed Viking boat grave from the Gamla Uppsala archaeological site in Sweden is part of a Viking couture exhibition at the Enkopings Museum. CreditTherese Larsson 
ENKOPING, Sweden — The discovery of Arabic characters that spell “Allah” and “Ali” on Viking funeral costumes in boat graves in Sweden has raised questions about the influence of Islam in Scandinavia.
The grave where the costumes were found belonged to a woman dressed in silk burial clothes and was excavated from a field in Gamla Uppsala, north of Stockholm, in the 1970s, but its contents were not cataloged until a few years ago, Annika Larsson, a textile archaeologist at Uppsala University, said on Friday.

Among the contents unearthed: a necklace with a figurine; two coins from Baghdad; and the bones of a rooster and a large dog.
Dr. Larsson discovered the Arabic characters in February, as she was preparing some of the items for an exhibition on Viking couture in Enkoping, Sweden. She had been trying to recreate textile patterns for the exhibits — by comparing motifs on the burial dress with a silk band found around the head of a skeleton in a Viking grave at Birka, Sweden — when she discovered Kufic characters of Arabic.
Continue reading the main story
At first, she said, she could not make sense of the tiny geometric designs in both fabrics.
“Then I remembered seeing them in similar Moorish designs in silk ribbons from Spain,” she said. “I understood it had to be a kind of Arabic character, not Nordic.”
Upon closer examination of the band from all angles, she said, she realized she was looking at Kufic script. The words Allah and Ali appeared in the silk found in Boat Grave 36 and in many other graves — and, most intriguing, the word Allah could be seen when reflected in a mirror. The same patterns have been found in mosaic grave monuments in Central Asia.
Dr. Larsson has long noted the prevalence of silk from Asia in Scandinavian Viking graves. But the analysis of these materials, the weaving techniques and design indicated a combination of Persian and Central Asian origins.
An image taken from the analysis of the Kufic characters on bands found in graves in Sweden. CreditAnnika Larsson 
“A giddying thought is that the bands, as well as the costumes, were produced west of what was the Muslim heartland,” she said.
The evidence, she added, supported the theory that the Viking settlements in the Malar Valley of Sweden were, in fact, a western outpost of the Silk Road that stretched through Russia to silk-producing centers east of the Caspian Sea.
It is well known that the Vikings traded with the Arab world, and archaeologists have found plenty of Arab coins in Viking settlements. The trade lasted 150 years, beginning in the first half of the ninth century.
But Dr. Larsson said that the silk and other artifacts found in the Viking graves suggested not just trade or plundering — but a deeper cultural exchange and shared ideas.
Did the Vikings know the words were in the fabric?
“My opinion is that those who wore the fabrics must have understood the symbolism,” said Dr. Larsson. “But certainly, the person who wove the fabrics could read and write and knew what the characters meant.”
Dr. Larsson also said: “There are so many puzzle pieces here that together they represent an idea. I’m not saying that these are Muslims. But they are partaking in a worldview shared by people living in Central Asia.”
In addition to the objects found, large portions of the woman’s skeleton were found preserved.
“She has been following me for years,” Dr. Larsson said of the woman found in Boat Grave 36, which was reconstructed for the exhibition.
Narrow ribbons of silk and silver with geometric Kufi characters found in the boat graves CreditAnnika Larsson 
“She had so much silk in her grave that she has fascinated me,” she added during a tour of the show at Enkopings Museum, northwest of Stockholm.
“The Quran says that silk is worn in paradise, which together with the inscriptions on the ribbons can explain the widespread presence of silk in Viking graves,” Dr. Larsson said. “Viking burial customs were very likely influenced by Islam and the idea of an eternal life in paradise.”
There is evidence to support this in Viking mythology, in 12th-century historical texts from Scandinavia and in the writings of Ibn Fadlan, a traveler from Baghdad who chronicled a Viking boat burial from Eastern Russia at the beginning of the 10th century, Dr. Larsson said.
The next stage of the project includes the DNA analysis of human remains found in Viking graves, including the skeleton in Boat Grave 36. The results are expected in February 2018.
“When we get the results from the DNA analysis, I think we will be able to see that some of them have a Central Asian heritage,” Dr. Larsson said.
Not everyone accepted Dr. Larsson’s interpretation. She said she had been interviewed by an extreme right-wing publication questioning the exhibition and her reading of the material.
Viking symbols such as the Tyr rune are used by neo-Nazi groups to advance a myth of ethnic purity, something that many Viking re-enactment groups have said they do not want to be associated with.
A viking figurine from Bornholm, Denmark, with the typical circular motifs found in silk fabric from Central Asia. Similar patterns were found in the graves in Sweden.CreditAnnika Larsson 
But Roland Olsson, a retired social studies teacher and history expert from Uppsala, said he was not surprised by the questions raised by the exhibition.
“I think it’s interesting but perhaps a little exaggerated that there is this singular perception of this hard, tough Viking image,” he said. “There is a lot of evidence to indicate a connection between East and West.”
Christian Skoldborg, a spokesman for Fenris, a Viking re-enactment group that travels to markets all over Europe to sell crafts and show how Vikings lived, said the thought of a deeper cultural exchange between the Vikings and the Arab world was not such a shock.
“This notion that Vikings were a pure race — that picture is something we need to wash away,” he said. “There are so many artifacts that show Arabic writing in the bands. It is very likely that they came here and lived,” said Mr. Skoldborg, who works as a forger in a smith near Gothenburg.
Solveig von Malmborg, who belongs to the network Vikings Against Racism, which tries to combat the extreme right’s appropriation of Viking heritage, said Viking enthusiasts were often mistaken for racists and Nazis.
“We’re uncomfortable with that,” she said, speaking from a re-enactment event LARP in southern Sweden. “We’re sick of their taking symbols that become associated with the values of these ultranationalistic groups, things they were never intended to stand for. We think they should find their own symbols.”
At the entrance of the exhibition in Enkoping, an introductory text tells visitors that there are fanciful genres claiming to know the truth about the Vikings. How does such a historical description shape our identity?
“I think one needs to pause before saying that everything is so Swedish,” Dr. Larsson said.