Thursday, 31 January 2019

Silk Roads and Steppe Roads of Medieval China: History Unearthed from Tombs

The 2016 Rostovtzeff Lectures were delivered by Jonathan K. Skaff (Shippensburg University).
  • "A Slave Road? Sogdian Merchants and Foreign Slaves at Turfan,"
  • "Sogdians or Borderlanders?, Part I: Lives Revealed in Epitaphs,"
  • "Sogdians or Borderlanders?, Part II: Death Rituals Revealed in Tombs," 
  • "A Tang Dynasty Ally in War and Ritual: The Tomb of Pugu Yitu (635-678) in Mongolia,"                                                                                                                                     

"A Slave Road? Sogdian Merchants and Foreign Slaves at Turfan," 
Tuesday, March 29, 2016 
To watch this first lecture, press HERE

Dr. Jonathan Skaff is a Visiting Research Scholar at ISAW who will deliver the annual M.I. Rostovtzeff Lectures in Spring 2016. Skaff is a Professor of History at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania, where he also has served as Director of International Studies. He developed a lasting fascination with Eurasian cultural connections after teaching English in Shanghai in the mid-1980s and traveling through northwest China, Pakistan, India, Nepal and Tibet. Since receiving his doctorate from the University of Michigan in 1998, his research has investigated medieval China’s frontier interactions with Inner Asia. Most prominently, his book, Sui-Tang China and its Turko-Mongol Neighbors: Culture, Power and Connections, 580-800 (Oxford University Press, 2012) revealed previously unrecognized cultural connections between China and peoples of the Eurasian steppe involving diplomacy, warfare, ideology, and political networking. A Chinese translation is forthcoming from the Social Sciences Academic Press.
Skaff’s Rostovtzeff lectures, entitled Silk Roads and Steppe Roads of Medieval ChinaHistory Unearthed from Tombs, comprise four case studies that use paper documents, stone epitaphs and artifacts excavated from tombs to illuminate China’s interactions with Eurasia. “Silk Roads” is the popular name for east-west land routes—linking East, South, and West Asia and serving as conduits transmitting luxury goods, technology, religion, and artistic motifs. “Steppe Roads” is a term coined by David Christian, who defines them as north-south routes linking the Eurasian steppe’s vast pastoral grasslands with the agricultural regions to the south that facilitated exchanges of goods such as Chinese silks and Mongolian horses. The lecture series argues that the Silk and Steppe Roads were networks through which Eurasian peoples, who perceived their societies to be unique, spun overlapping and entangled webs of culture. The transit hubs of Silk and Steppe Roads were particularly active sites of cultural contestation, experimentation, and mutual influence that had an impact on the historical development of China and Inner Asia.
The first lecture entitled "A Slave Road? Sogdian Merchants and Foreign Slaves at Turfan" introduces the Silk Roads through a case study of Sogdians living as a minority at the Chinese oasis city of Turfan in the six and seventh centuries. The Sogdians were early inhabitants of modern Uzbekistan and Tajikistan who spoke an Iranian dialect, and began to migrate eastward by the fourth century CE to settle in cities and towns on the Silk Roads. The lecture will update Skaff's previous publications on Sogdian farmers and merchants at Turfan by considering recently-discovered paper documents and epitaphs.

"Sogdians or Borderlanders?, Part I: Lives Revealed in Epitaphs," 
Tuesday, April 5, 2016
To watch this lecture, press HERE

The second lecture “Sogdians or Borderlanders?, Part I: Lives Revealed in Epitaphs” will return to the topic of immigrants, but in this case two lineages with the same surname of Shi who settled at Guyuan in China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region where the Silk Roads and Steppe Roads intersect. These people were locally powerful elites serving a succession of China-based dynasties as military officers, imperial bodyguards, horse breeders and translators in the sixth and seventh centuries. Their existence literally came to light when archaeologists excavated six tombs at Guyuan in the 1980s and 1990s containing burial goods and seven engraved stone epitaphs written in Chinese. A scholarly consensus has developed that both lineages had Sogdian origins, but this lecture along with the third lecture in the Rostovtzeff series will challenge and complicate this conclusion.

"Sogdians or Borderlanders?, Part II: Death Rituals Revealed in Tombs," 
Tuesday, April 12, 2016
To watch this third lecture, press HERE

The third lecture “Sogdians or Borderlanders?, Part II: Death Rituals Revealed in Tombs” will return to the topic of immigrants, but in this case two lineages with the same surname of Shi who settled at Guyuan in China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region where the Silk Roads and Steppe Roads intersect. These people were locally powerful elites serving a succession of China-based dynasties as military officers, imperial bodyguards, horse breeders and translators in the sixth and seventh centuries. Their existence literally came to light when archaeologists excavated six tombs at Guyuan in the 1980s and 1990s containing burial goods and seven engraved stone epitaphs written in Chinese. A scholarly consensus has developed that both lineages had Sogdian origins, but this lecture along with the second lecture in the Rostovtzeff series will challenge and complicate this conclusion.

大唐故右驍衛大將軍金微州都督上柱國林中縣開國公仆固府君墓志銘並序 / 公諱乙突,朔野金山人,蓋鐵勤之別部也。原夫石紐開基,金峰列構,疏枝布葉,擁 / □塞而推雄,茂族豪宗,跨龍城而表盛。亦有日磾純孝,泣畫像於漢宮,日逐輸忠, / 委□□於鑾邳。求諸史諜,代有人焉。祖歌濫拔延,皇朝左武衛大將軍、金 / 微州都督。父思匐,繼襲金微州都督。並志識開敏,早歸皇化,覘風請謁,匪 / 獨美於奇肱,候日虔誠,本自知於稽顙。公幼而驍勇,便習馳射,彎弧挺妙,得自乘 / 羊之年,矯箭抽奇,見賞射雕之手。及父歿傳嗣,遂授本部都督,統率部落,遵奉 / 聲教。回首面內,傾心盡節。俄以賀魯背誕,方事長羈,爰命熊羆之軍,克剿犬羊之 / 眾。公乃先鳴制勝,直踐寇庭,無勞拔幟之謀,即取搴旗之效。策勛敘績,方寵懋官, / 詔授右武衛郎將,尋授護軍,封林中縣開國子,俄除左武衛大將軍。至麟德二年,/鑾駕將巡岱岳,既言從塞北,非有滯周南,遂以汗馬之勞,預奉射牛之禮。服既榮 / 於飾玉,職且貴於銜珠,厚秩載隆,貞心逾勵。及東征靺鞨,西討吐蕃,並效忠勤,亟 / 摧凶丑。裒錄功績,前后居多,尋除右驍衛大將軍,依舊都督,加上柱國,林中縣開 / 國公,食邑一千戶。頻加寵授,載踐崇班,邁彼氈裘之鄉,參茲纓冕之列。光 / 膺啟國,既錫茅土之封,趨步升朝,且曳桃花之綬。方謂高情壯志,媲金石而同堅,/ 豈圖脆質小年,與風露而俱殞。奄辭白日,長歸玄夜。以儀鳳三年二月廿九日遘 / 疾,終於部落。春秋卌有四。/ 天子悼惜久之,敕朝散大夫、守都水使者天山郡開國公麴昭,監護吊祭, / 賻物三百段,錦袍金裝帶弓箭胡祿鞍韉等各一具。凡厥喪葬,並令官給,並為立 / 碑。即以其年歲次戊寅八月乙酉朔十八日壬寅,永窆於纈碖原,禮也。生死長乖,/ 哀榮畢備,深沉苦霧,方結慘於鬆塋,飋[風+日]悲風,獨含淒於薤鐸。對祁連而可像,寄□勒而有詞,述德表功,乃為銘曰:/西歭蔥山,北臨蒲海,土風是系,英杰攸在。葉貫箭鋒,花分騎彩,孫謀有裕,祖襲無 / 改。束發來儀,腰鞬入侍,/ 天德斯溥,人胥以洎。獻款畢同,輸忠靡異,臨危效節,致果為毅。疇庸啟邑,疏爵命 / 官,從軍擁旆,拜將登壇。赫弈光顯,榮名可觀,方奉 / 明時,遽歸幽穸。壯志何在,瓌容共惜,鶴隴俄封,雞田罷跡。月落無曉,雲來自昏,鳥 / 切響於鴻塞,人銜悲於雁門,庶清塵而不泯,紀玄石而長存。

"A Tang Dynasty Ally in War and Ritual: The Tomb of Pugu Yitu (635-678) in Mongolia," 
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
To watch the fourth episode, press HERE

The final lecture “A Tang Dynasty Ally in War and Ritual: The Tomb of Pugu Yitu (635-678) in Mongolia” takes the audience along the Steppe Roads from China to Mongolia to investigate another recently discovered tomb and epitaph. The history of Mongolia is little known between the First Türk (552–630) and Second Türk (682–742) Empires. Chinese historical records claim that the Tang Dynasty exerted suzerainty over Mongolia during the interregnum through vassal rulers, but offer few details after 660. Likewise, Uighur Empire (744-840) inscriptions assert an earlier period of rule over Mongolia in alliance with the Tang. The recent excavation of Pugu Yitu’s tomb and Chinese-language epitaph shows that an alliance endured through the 670s and throws new light on cultural connections between China and Mongolia.

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

National treasures returned: Kizil Grotto murals

CGTN By Xu Tingting and Zhang Wanbao   2018-07-20
From July 14 to September 2 two exhibitions revolving around a singular theme, the Buddhist grottoes of Kizil, Xinjiang are presented at M WOODS in Beijing. 
A program supported by the China National Arts Fund, Collected Reproductions of the Kizil Grottoes and Overseas Murals represents a culmination of twenty years of research led by Kucha Research Institute of Xinjiang. 
The other exhibition shares three murals originating from the sacred caves of Kizil. The two exhibitions explore the beauty and originality of Kizil Grottoes that located at the ancient Silk Road. 
The Kizil Grottoes
The Kizil Grottoes are located on the northern bank of the Muzal river, in Baicheng County, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. 
Known in China as one of the "Four Great Grottes" - a list including the Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes, the Yungang Grottoes, and the Longmen Grottoes, the Kizil Grottoes were registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014. 
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, archaeological expeditions to the historical Western Regions of China attracted many foreign explorers. These expeditions removed the different number of murals and painted status from Kizil Grottoes. 
Currently, the majority of the overseas Kizil murals are in Germany, while the rest are scattered across institutions in Russia, France, Hungary, the United States, Japan and South Korea. Others belong to undocumented private collections or may be lost entirely. 

Replicas of the Kizil Grottoes and Overseas Murals 
By collaborating with other international institutions in possession of murals from the Kizil Grottoes, the Kucha Research Institute has led an initiative to digitize every piece and bring these into a central collection in Xinjiang.
The Kucha Research Institute of Xinjiang started research on the overseas collection of Kizil Grotto Murals in 1998. 
After twenty years of efforts, the Institute has documented 465 pieces from different museums in the world. Parts of these digital images are showing at M WOODS this summer. 
With the help of 3D digital scanning, researchers at the Institute have measured the murals and compared them with the pieces left in the original grottoes. Now many of their original locations have been identified. 
The exhibition not only presents images of the overseas murals but also replicas of two caves belonging to the Kizil Grottoes. 
The Return of National Treasures 
As the only public institution in the Chinese mainland to own original fragments from Kizil Grottoes, M WOODS presents these three masterpieces in this exhibition. 
One of the three masterpieces: Mystery Figure with Five Hair Knots. /CGTN Photo
The returned three masterpieces are Head of a Deity, Mystery Figure with Five Hair Knots and also Millennium Smile, which has significant meaning in Kizil Grotto research and cultural transmission. 
One of the extraordinary pieces is Millennium Smile that depicts a royal family member from Ancient Kucha. Like Mona Lisa, a coy smile brightens her face, an enigmatic glance that has captivated viewers for over a millennium. 
Details are shown on the mural point to a talented painter with ample knowledge of Buddhism. This marvelous piece still has the power to move people's hearts. 
The original grottoes were sites for self-cultivation for monks. 
"The creation and collection of art is yet another self-cultivation, and art is timeless. Collecting fragments from the Kizil Grottoes is also a kind of self-cultivation." Founder of M WOODS Lei Wanwan said. 
(Video Credit: Zhang Wanbao; Music Credit: Sun Dawei)

The Politics of Reconstructing Ancient Grotto Murals from Xinjiang in China Today

Why did Beijing’s M WOODS museum recently mount two simultaneous exhibitions focusing on the ancient Buddhist site of Kizil, Xinjiang Province?

M WOODS, a private contemporary art museum based in Beijing’s 798 Art Zone, recently mounted two simultaneous exhibitions focusing on the ancient Buddhist site of Kizil, Xinjiang Province. Carved from the Baicheng County hillside between the 3rd and 8th centuries, the Kizil Buddhist grottoes are China’s earliest, large-scale Buddhist cave complex, and are regularly listed as one of China’s four most significant Buddhist art sites.
‘Collected Reproductions of the Kizil Grottoes and Overseas Murals’ was produced with the Kucha Research Institute of Xinjiang, who worked for 20 years tracing the whereabouts of countless mural fragments removed by foreign archaeologists a century ago and subsequently dispersed to public and private collections around the world. The institute obtained high-quality photographs of the mural fragments and found their original placement in the Buddhist grottoes. A selection of these were then mapped onto the walls of the ground floor exhibition hall at M WOODS, recreating the murals to scale, and a 1:1 replica of grotto no. 38 was constructed within this volume, giving audiences an approximate experience of what the Buddhist caves were like in situ.

On the first floor was its companion show ‘Monks and Artists’, consisting of three original mural fragments from the Kizil grottoes, acquired by M WOODS founders Lin Han and Wanwan Lei, and repatriated to China. Accompanying these original fragments are stone carvings from other civilizations along the Silk Road, and Kader Attia’s Open Your Eyes, part of his project shown originally at dOCUMENTA (13). However, M WOODS is the first and only institution in China to own original fragments from the caves. This begs the question: why did a contemporary art institution decide to devote its energies to a show of ancient religious art?
M WOODS founder Lin Han has repeatedly claimed that the Kizil exhibition is as contemporary as the museum’s show of Paul McCarthy videos, mounted this past spring. Contemporary, in this context, is synonymous with ‘relevant’ – and the Kizil murals reveal much about modern China. Although Kizil is well within China’s current borders, most of its murals show scarcely any Chinese influence at all, but rather Gandharan, Indian and Persian characteristics, demonstrating the incredible cultural fluidity of the Silk Road. Today, the Silk Road is being used as a blueprint for China’s massive international trade scheme, the Belt and Road Initiative, while Xinjiang, home to Kizil and much of the Silk Road, is undergoing a period of extreme religious and political tension, as the Chinese government has exerted tight control over the Uyghurs, the Muslim minority population there.

Ever since the Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE), China has attached enormous strategic importance to its Western Regions, consisting of the Hexi Corridor in Gansu Province and Xinjiang, as a vital trade lifeline. Whether the area now called Xinjiang was part of the Chinese empire has always been a barometer of China’s political fortunes. The Kizil murals were painted during a Chinese power vacuum, after the collapse of the Han Dynasty and before the Tang Dynasty reasserted its influence in the region. It is precisely this lack of Chinese cultural influence that makes them so unique. Their stunning colours derive from minerals such as lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, and their inventive compositions are untethered from strict Buddhist conventions, revealing a wide range of Asian sources. The artists who created the murals were far away from their own territories, and were able to take inspiration from each other.
Equally important, however, is seeing the negative historical and cultural space of this exhibition. In 1906, many of them were cut from cave walls by Albert von Le Coq, a German archaeologist, and brought to the Museum for Asian Art in Berlin; other explorers followed, and murals appeared in Russia, Japan and the US. The removal and dispersal of the murals runs reverse to the globalization that once brought wealth to Xinjiang. Foreign powers found little resistance when they plundered Chinese cultural heritage during the turbulent years of the early 20th century. The feeling of loss this history brings is compounded by the reconstructed grotto at M WOODS, marked by the scars of excavation. The sculpture of a Buddha figure is missing from its niche, leaving behind a white shadow.

The contradictions of the Kizil murals makes their exhibition at M WOODS and the 20 years of study conducted by the Kucha Research Institute of Xinjiang all the more essential. Xinjiang itself is a place of contradiction and conflict, and understanding its present requires a deeper knowledge of its past.
‘Monks and Artists’ and ‘Collected Reproductions of the Kizil Grottoes and Overseas Murals’ ran at M WOODS, Beijing, from 14 July – 2 September 2, 2018.

Colin Siyuan Chinnery is an artist and curator based in Beijing, China. He is a contributing editor of frieze.

Monday, 28 January 2019

One of best and definitely funniest archaeological lectures ever given

I long hesitated if I would include this lecture by Irving Finkel in my blog as it has no obvious links to the Silk Road or other related areas, but this lecture definitely has a number of qualities which makes it outstanding in its field and so witty, funny, interesting and informative that anyone interested in history and archaeology should have it seen at least once in his lifetime!

Most interesting, it has a link with the current exhibition in the British Museum:" I am Ashurbanipal King of the World, King of Assyria" (which is still on till 24 February 2019!!)

For your information Irving Leonard Finkel (born 1951 is a British philologist and Assyriologist. He is currently the Assistant Keeper of Ancient Mesopotamian script, languages and cultures in the Department of the Middle East in the British Museum, where he specialises in cuneiform inscriptions on tablets of clay from ancient Mesopotamia.

In 2014, Finkel's discovery of a cuneiform tablet that contained a Flood narrative similar to that of the story of Noah's Ark, described in his book The Ark Before Noah, was widely reported in the news media. The ark described in the tablet was circular, essentially a very large coracle or kuphar and made of rope on a wooden frame. The tablet included sufficient details of its dimensions and construction to enable a copy of the ark to be made at about 1/3 scale and successfully floated, as documented in a 2014 TV documentary.

Great journeys across the Pamir mountains

Editors: Huaiyu Chen and Xinjiang Rong

  • Hardcover: 250 pages
  • Publisher: BRILL; Lam edition (26 April 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9004362223

Drawing upon numerous manuscripts from China and Central Asia, the articles presented in this volume by leading scholars in the field examine a broad range of topics on the multi-lingual, multi-religious, and multi-ethnic communities along the Silk Road in the medieval period, and cover such topics as the social history of Kucha, book history in Dunhuang, the spread of Manichaeism, the political history of Turkic and Khotanese Kingdoms, and the travelogue of the Buddhist pilgrim Xuanzang. They demonstrate that Han Chinese, Khotanese, Sogdians, Tocharians, Tibetans, and Uyghurs have all contributed to constructing a sophisticated international network across Asia. 
Contributors are: Bi Bo, Chao-jung Ching, Jean Pierre Drège, Ogihara Hirotoshi, Xiaohe Ma, Nicholas Sims-Williams, Xinjiang Rong, Tokio Takata, Xiaofu Wang, Wenkan Xu, Yutaka Yoshida, Lishuang Zhu, Peter Zieme

Sunday, 27 January 2019

Archaeology and Conservation Along the Silk Road


Paperback – 12 Nov 2018

by Gabriela Krist (Editor), Liangren Zhang (Editor)

  • Paperback: 215 pages
  • Publisher: Bohlau Verlag (12 Nov. 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 3205200446

Supported by Eurasia Pacific Uninet, the second international conference on 'Archaeology and Conservation along the Silk Road' was jointly organized by Nanjing University China and Institute of Conservation, University of Applied Arts Vienna and held in May 2016 in China. Silk Road showcases the trans-continental cultural movements between Europe and Asia and this event encouraged researchers to reflect on popular as well as otherwise under-represented topics. This volume includes selected papers from the conference and merges aspects of archaeology with conservation. Subjects vary from field drawings, unique local techniques, spread of diseases and epidemics to DNA studies assessing population migration and mixture. Next Silk Road conference is planned for 2018 to carry forward the initiative of learning and exchange of knowledge.

Barbarians at the Wall by John Man

by John Man

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam Press (13 Jun. 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1787632059

The people of the first nomadic empire left no written records, but from 200 BC they dominated the heart of Asia for 400 years. They changed the world. The Mongols, today’s descendants of Genghis Khan, see them as ancestors. Their rise cemented Chinese unity and inspired the first Great Wall. Their heirs under Attila the Hun helped destroy the Roman Empire.

We don’t know what language they spoke, but they became known as Xiongnu, or Hunnu, a term passed down the centuries and across Eurasia, enduring today in shortened form as ‘Hun’. Outside Asia precious little is known of their rich history, but new evidence reframes our understanding of the indelible mark they left on a vast region stretching from Europe and sweeping right across Central Asia deep into China.

Based on meticulous research and new archaeological evidence, Barbarians at the Wall traces their epic story, and shows how the nomadic cultures of the steppes gave birth to a ‘barbarian empire’ with the wealth and power to threaten the civilised order of the ancient world.

John Man is a historian with a special interest in Asia and the nature of leadership. His books, published in over twenty languages, include bestselling biographies of Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan and Attila the Hun, as well as histories of the Great Wall of China, the Mongol Empire and the Amazons.

Ships of the Silk Road

Ships of the Silk Road 

Hardcover – 24 Jan 2019