Archeology and History of the Silk Road



Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Excavations reveal new terracotta army at ancient emperor’s tomb   May 4, 2015

Chinese archaeologists are working on uncovering more than 1400 well-preserved clay soldi
Chinese archaeologists are working on uncovering more than 1400 well-preserved clay soldiers dating from about 200BC. Source: China News Service Source: Supplied
CHINA’s famous terracotta army is about to be reinforced: Fresh excavations on a burial pit in the ancient capital, Xi’an are expected to uncover 1500 more of the live-sized clay figurines.
The excavation, which began last Thursday, is centred upon a 200sq/m patch of the 56sq/km underground mausoleum of China’s first emperor, Emperor Qinshihuang, who reigned in 221BC.
Source: China News Service
Source: China News Service Source: Supplied
Archaeologist Yuan Zhongyi told media that he anticipated the burial pit would contain 1400 more terracotta warriors and archers, along with about 90 horse-drawn chariots.
Progress has so far been promising, he said.: “Their colourful paint is also relatively well preserved.”
Source: China News Service
Source: China News Service Source: Supplied
The excavation site, known as “Pit No. 2”, has previously produced several particularly fine specimines — including one with a distinctive green-coloured face.
The number of clay figurines expected to be uncovered is based on the positioning and density of previous discoveries in the area.
Source: China News Service
Source: China News Service Source: Supplied
Previous excavations at the Shaaxi Province site uncovered more than 7000 warriors and horses since 1974.

The Lure of Iron and Gold, Interactions with the steppe in the First Millennium BC.


Yesterday I went to the first lecture from Jessica Rawson "Warfare, Beauty and Belief, Bridging Eurasia" in Leiden.

What a pleasure this proved to be.  Jessica Rawson is such a power lady once she starts talking. Very eloquent and with a clear voice it's impossible to miss a syllable she says.
In this first of 4 lectures she gives in Leiden this week she tells a story about Ancient China and its neighbours among which the nomad people who lived on the steppes with a clear helicopter view which makes everything she says easy to place and to understand and which makes that at the end of her talk you don't remember some long list of details and nice pictures but that you have a clear picture of what she really wanted you to understand and you to have a clear picture of.

Tomorrow, the 6th of May is her second lecture in this serie " The Lure of Iron and Gold, Interactions with the Steppe in the First Millennium BC" again in Leiden, now in the Academy Building of the University, Rapenburg 67- 73.

Don't miss it if you live in Holland or in the vicinity of Leiden:

Wednesday 6 May, Leiden: The Lure of Iron and Gold, Interactions with the steppe in the First Millennium BC.

As riding on horseback changed the structure of the lives and warfare of the mobile peoples in Eurasia, all settled states, including central China, were forced to adapt to these challenges and change their own methods of warfare, affecting also society as a whole.
Time: 16.00-17.30 hrs
Venue: Small Auditorium, Academy Building, Leiden University 

17.30-18.30: Drinks at the Faculty Club

The last two lectures in this serie from Jessica Rawson are on Friday the 8th of May in Leiden, 16.00 hours and on Saturday the 9th of may in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam at 14.30 hours (for more information, read the following announcement below)

Steppe and the Silk Roads, China’s Interactions with its neighbours- lectures by Jessica Rawson 

Professor Dame Jessica Rawson, DBE, DLitt, FBA Professor of Chinese Art and Archaeology, University of Oxford will deliver a series of lectures in Leiden and Amsterdam between 4-9 May 2015.
Professor Dame Jessica Rawson, DBE, DLitt, FBA Professor of Chinese Art and Archaeology, University of Oxford

Professor Dame Jessica Rawson, DBE, DLitt, FBA is Professor of Chinese Art and Archaeology, University of Oxford. Her research interests involve the archaeology of China and Inner Asia, early Chinese material culture as evidence for religious concepts and beliefs, the development and function of ornament in all parts of Eurasia. Currently, Professor Rawson works on interactions between central China and Inner Asia in the Zhou (c. 1045- 221 BC), Qin (221-210 BC) and Han (206 BC-AD220) periods; on the structure and contents of Chinese tombs; and on exoticism in the Han to Tang periods (200 BC-AD900).

Selected Publications

Treasures of Ancient China, Bronzes and Jades from Shanghai, London, 2009With Evelyn Rawski (eds), China: The Three Emperors, 1662-1795, London Royal Academy Publications, 2005

Chinese Jade, from the Neolithic to the Qing
, British Museum Press, London 1995.

Chinese Ornament, the Lotus and the Dragon
. London: British Museum Publications, 1984.

Some recent articles 
“Carnelian Beads, Animal Figures and Exotic Vessels: Traces of Contact between the Chinese States and Inner Asia, c. 1000-650BC.” Archäologie in China, vol. 1, Bridging Eurasia, 2010, pp. 1-42.

“Reviving Ancient Ornament and the presence of the Past: Examples from Shang and Zhou Bronze Vessels” in Wu Hung (ed.), Reinventing the Past: Archaism and Antiquarianism in Chinese Art and Visual Culture, Chicago: 2010 pp. 47-76.

“The Chinese Hill Censer, boshanlu: a note on Origins, Influences and Meanings”. Ars Asiatiques, Volume en homage á Madame Michéle Pirazzoli t’Serstevens, Vol. 61 2006, pp. 75-86.

“Novelties in Antiquarian Revivals: The Case of the Chinese Ritual Bronzes”, National Palace Museum Research Quarterly vol.22, no.1, Autumn, 2004, pp. 1-34

Published Books 2010
Rawson, J. , (2010), Hung, W. (ed.), Reinventing the Past: Archaism and Antiquarianism in Chinese Art and Visual Culture, Chicago, The Centre for the Art of East Asia, University of Chicago, Art Meia, Resources

Rawson, J., & Gorransson, K. (eds.), (2010), China’s Terracotta Army, Stockholm, Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities

Rawson, J., (2009), Treasures from Shanghai: ancient Chinese bronzes and jades, British Museum Press

Contributions to Edited Books
2010 Rawson, J., (2010), Carnelian beads, animal figures and exotic vessels: traces of contact between the Chinese states and Inner Asia, c. 1000–650BC. : in “Archaeologie in China, Vol. 1, Bridging Eurasia, pp 1–42, Beijing branch of the German Institute of Archaeology, Berlin.

Steppe and the Silk Roads, China’s Interactions with its neighbours

Monday 4 May, Leiden: Warfare, Beauty and Belief, Bridging Eurasia

This talk will introduce my overarching ideas and show how I apply them in different periods to illustrate the ways in which central China was forced to interact, especially with the northern neighbours, introducing new technologies, artefacts and ideas, which China then changed and adapted within Chinese frameworks.

Time: 16.00-17.30 hrs
Venue: National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden

17.30-18.30: Drinks at the National Museum of Ethnology

For this event, please register by 30 April at:

Wednesday 6 May, Leiden: The Lure of Iron and Gold, Interactions with the steppe in the First Millennium BC.

As riding on horseback changed the structure of the lives and warfare of the mobile peoples in Eurasia, all settled states, including central China, were forced to adapt to these challenges and change their own methods of warfare, affecting also society as a whole.
Time: 16.00-17.30 hrs
Venue: Small Auditorium, Academy Building, Leiden University

17.30-18.30: Drinks at the Faculty Club

For this event, please register by 30 April at:

Friday 8 May, Leiden: Sculpture and Stone in the Han dynasty, (206 BC-AD 220)

The early Chinese did not make use of either sculpture and stone, major features of Western Asian city culture.  Following the innovations of the First Emperor and the creation of the Terracotta Warriors, which owed their inspiration to both Western Asia and the steppe, the Han emperors adopted both the sculpture and stone, primarily in burial contexts. These innovations then filtered down to lower levels of the elite, but again in the context of tombs.

Time: 16.00-17.30 hrs
Venue: Small Auditorium, Academy Building, Leiden University

17.30-18.30: Drinks at the Faculty Club

For this event, please register by 30 April at:

Saturday 9 May, Amsterdam: Tents, Tombs and Horse Trade, The Tang (AD 618-906 ) and the Turks

The Tang period is renowned for its glittering court and the so-called Silk Road, bringing many merchants and foreign goods to the capital, Chang’an. The talk will illustrate the very fine artefacts of this period, but will also consider a much wider context. The Tang were embattled with several Turkish empires, at that period occupying large areas of the steppe. The Chinese were forced to purchase horses to engage with these mounted warriors, and they paid for the horses, which indeed came from the steppe, in silk. This silk drove the silk trade, mainly in the hands of an Iranian people, the Sogdians. Today we have much evidence from archaeological excavations of the lives of the Sogdians who settled in China in the sixth to eighth century.  the talk will present the fascinating scenes of these merchants and officials that are documented in carvings on their coffins buried at the capital cities of the Tang. The Tang period, renowned for its art and poetry, is now much better known and even more colourful for the multiple engagements that we now know the court had with its neighbours.

Time: 14.30-16.00 hrs
Venue: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

16.00-17.00: Drinks at the Rijksmuseum

For this event, please register by 30 April at:

The events are organized by Asian Modernities and Traditions. Everyone welcome! 

Monday, 4 May 2015

Comparing China and India in the 9th century

While Europeans knew little about India and China in the Early Middle Ages, the Arab world had more contacts with these Asian countries. As sailors, merchants and travellers headed to the east, they returned with bits of knowledge. In the late ninth-century a writer named Abu Zad al-Sirafi made a compilation of notes and stories from this part of the world, entitled Accounts of China and India.
Late 16th century map showing China and India - Abraham Ortelius (1527–1598)
The text offers a rich description of these lands, as well as other parts of Asia, and includes interesting stories such as one about a man from Basra who upon seeing a ship bound for China was “seized by a sudden desire that caused him, as was fated, to travel to China aboard the ship.” He eventually would have an audience with the Chinese Emperor and be given a lot of money for his return journey.
Much of the text gives details that would have been interesting to merchants, including goods that could be bought and sold, what was necessary to travel around these countries, and even bankruptcy laws. It also offers insights into the daily life in those countries, including one of the first ever references to the use of toilet paper.
Here is one excerpt that explains what people wore and ate in China:
The Chinese, whether young or old, wear silk in both winter and summer. Their ruling classes wear the finest silk; other classes whatever quality they can afford. In winter, the men wear two pairs of trousers, or three, four, five, or even more pairs, according to what they can afford. This they do in order to keep the lower parts of their bodies warm, on account of the prevalence of damp and fear of its ill effects. In summer they wear a single gown of silk, or something of that sort. They do not wear turbans.
Their staple food is rice. They often cook a sauce to go with it, which they pour on the rice before eating it. Their ruling classes, however, eat wheat bread and flesh of all sorts of animals, including pigs and other such creatures. They have various kinds of fruits – apples, peaches, citrons, pomegranates, quinces, pears, bananas, sugarcane, watermelons, figs, grapes, serpent melons, cucumbers, jujubes, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachioes, plums, apricots, serviceberries, and coconuts. Not many date palms are to be found in China, except for the occasional specimen in the garden of a private house. Their drink is a wine made from rice. Grape wine is not to be found in their land, and it is never imported – indeed, they do not know of it and do not drink it. From rice they manufacture vinegar, wine, jellied sweetmeats, and other such products.
The Chinese are unhygienic, and they do not wash their backsides with water after defecating but merely wipe themselves with Chinese paper. They eat carrion and similar things, just as the Magians do; in fact, their religion resembles that of the Magians. Their womenfolk leave their heads uncovered but put combs in their hair, a single woman often wearing twenty combs of ivory and other such materials. Their menfolk, however, cover their heads with something like a cap. In dealing with thieves, their practice is to put them to death if they are caught.

Later on in the text, the Chinese and Indians are compared. Here are a few of the comparisons:
The Chinese are fond of musical entertainments; the Indians, however, regard entertainments as shameful and never indulge in them. They do not drink intoxicating drink, either, nor do they consume vinegar, because it is produced from such drink. This is a case not of religious belief of disapproval. They say, ‘A king who drinks is not a king at all,” the reason being that, in most Indian states, they are surrounded by their neighbouring kings who make war on them, so they say “How can someone run a kingdom properly if he is drunk?”
The Chinese use wood to build their walls, while the Indians build in stone, gypsum plaster, brick, and mud; these materials are however sometimes used in China also. Neither the Chinese nor the Indians are users of carpets.
The Indians let their beards grow long, and I have often seen an Indian with a beard three cubits in length. Also, they do not clip their moustaches. In contrast, most Chinese men are beardless by nature, for the most part. When someone in India suffers a bereavement, he shaves his head and his beard.
Both the Chinese and the Indians assert that their idols speak to them, when, in reality, it is their temple servants who speak to them.
India is greater in extent than China, several times so, and has a greater number of kings. China, though, is more densely inhabited and cultivated.
The Chinese have no native tradition of religious learning, in fact their religion came from India. They maintain that it was the Indians who introduced idols to their land and that they, the Indians, were the original people of religion. In both lands, they believe in the transmigration of souls as a basic tenet, although they differ on the resulting details of dogma.
India is the land of medicine and of philosophers; the Chinese also have medical knowledge. Most of their medicine involves therapeutic burning. In addition, they have a knowledge of astronomy and astrology, although this is more widespread in India. I do not know of a single member of either race who is a Muslim and Arabic is not spoken.
The Indians possess few horses; they are more common in China. The Chinese, however, do not possess elephants and do not let them remain in their land, as they regard them as ill-omened.
China is more salubrious and finer land than India. In most of the land of India there is no urban settlements, but everywhere you go in China they have a great walled city. Also, China is a healthier country, with fewer diseases and better air: the blind, the one-eyed, and the deformed are seldom seen there, although in India there are plenty of them.
The Chinese are better-looking than the Indians and more like Arabs in their dress and in their choice of mounts; in fact, their style of clothing when they ride out in public is quite similar to that of the Arabs, for they wear long tunics and belts. The Indians, however, wear two waist cloths and adorn themselves with bangles of gold and jewels, the men as well as the women.
You can read a full translation of this text in Two Arabic Travel Books, edited and translated by James E. Montgomery, which is part of New York University Press’ Library of Arabic Literature.

Exhibition in Europe Sets Chinese Villagers in Pursuit of Lost Icon

The New York Times by Ami Qin  3 May 2015
YANGCHUN, China — One day in March, Lin Yongtuan was on his lunch break scrolling through the news on his phone when a story with an interesting photo caught his eye. Researchers in Europe had made a remarkable discovery: the nearly 1,000-year-old mummified body of a monk encased in a statue.
Mr. Lin rushed to this lush mountain village in the southeastern Chinese province of Fujian, where he had grown up praying to a similar statue that was believed to hold a monk’s remains. He passed around the photo, which showed a gilded Buddhist figure sitting cross-legged, shoulders slightly hunched forward, the corners of his lips turned slightly upward in a faint smile.
The villagers all agreed: It was the same statue. They called it the Zhanggong Patriarch, and it had been stolen from Yangchun 20 years earlier. Now it seemed to have resurfaced halfway around the world in a museum in Budapest.
“Everyone in the village was so excited,” said Mr. Lin, 46, who works at a financial services firm in a nearby city. “The smile, the eyes, his posture — it was unmistakable.”
In the weeks since then, the 1,800 residents of Yangchun have been on a mission to get their mummy back. They have welcomed journalists to the village, appealed for help on social media and lobbied government officials. A native of Yangchun working as a cook in Budapest was recruited to check out the statue in the Hungarian Natural History Museum, where it was on display as part of a mummy exhibit. Then villagers organized simultaneous prayer readings at their temple and at the museum to celebrate the discovery and draw attention to their cause. Hundreds turned out, and fireworks lit up the night sky at the temple.
The village’s demand has been embraced by the Chinese government, which has stepped up efforts to reclaim looted cultural relics that ended up abroad. On April 16, the State Administration of Cultural Heritage announced that it had contacted the mummy’s Dutch owner, whom it did not identify, and begun discussions about returning it.
It will be difficult to determine with certainty whether the mummy, which has been removed from the museum exhibit, is truly the missing Zhanggong Patriarch.
“Unlike the big museums, where everything is very well documented, holdings of temples and local small museums have very poor records, if any at all,” said Stefan Gruber, an associate professor at Kyoto University in Japan who studies cultural heritage law and art crime in Asia. “The world is a big place, and if an object is not included in an international database, for example, how would you even find this object? Where do you even start looking? Usually once these things are gone, they are gone forever.”
Continue reading the main story
Yellow Sea
China Sea
400 Miles
Hong Kong
The people of Yangchun hope their case will be an exception. On a recent afternoon, residents milled about and chatted with visitors in the village temple, a massive structure with thick wooden columns supporting a gently sloping, gray-tiled roof. Red vertical banners with handwritten poems appealing for good fortune hung inside, and smoke from burning incense filled the air. An electronic billboard flashing the temple’s name signified the hamlet’s relative prosperity, which villagers attribute to the tea farms that have replaced subsistence agriculture in recent years.
On the main altar stood a crude replica of the Zhanggong Patriarch, dark gray instead of gold, overlooking a table where residents had laid out evidence to support their claim to the statue: several photos of it taken in 1989 and the clothes that had adorned the figure and were left behind by whoever made off with it in 1995. A faded gold crown sat among the rags.
Villagers acknowledged that it was difficult to say that the statue in their photos was an exact match with the one exhibited in Hungary because the Zhanggong Patriarch was rarely displayed in their temple without clothes or a crown. Still, they are convinced they have the right mummy.
“To us, Zhanggong Patriarch is not a cultural relic,” said Lin Wenqing, 39, who returned from selling tea in the southern region of Guangxi when he heard the statue had been found. “We see him as family. He is one of us.”
Before its theft, residents prayed to the Zhanggong Patriarch at every important event in the village, including the harvest. Once a year, they took the statue down from the altar and paraded it through the village, visiting each house. And on the fifth day of the 10th lunar month — believed to be the mummified monk’s birthday — the village celebrated with a festival featuring performances and a bountiful vegetarian feast.
These traditions appear to go back centuries, passed down from generation to generation along with tales of the patriarch as a boy with the surname Zhang who moved to the village with his mother, worked as a cowherd and became a monk.
“They always told us that he lived during the Song dynasty,” said Lin Chengfa, 44, “and that inside the statue was his mummified corpse.”
Mr. Lin, who was part of the police unit that responded in December 1995 when the statue disappeared, recalled that several villagers wept outside the temple that morning. Especially upset were older residents, some of whom had gone to great lengths to protect the statue during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, when the Communist Party smashed such relics and sought to stamp out ancient traditions as obstacles to socialist progress.
“We dug holes to hide him, and sometimes we would hide him in people’s houses,” Lin Chuanlong, 73, said of the mummy during an interview at his home in a neighboring village. “We were under a lot of pressure during those years. Sometimes we would even move him twice in one night.”
Villagers in Yangchun, China, last month in front of a gray replica of a missing statue believed to hold an ancient monk’s remains. CreditGilles Sabrie for The New York Times 
Village records, which trace the histories of families in Yangchun, most of whom share the surname Lin, include references to the Zhanggong Patriarch from as early as the Song dynasty, which ruled China from 960 to 1279.
Mummification was a sign of eminence among monks of the Chan school of Buddhism during that era, and Fujian Province was a center of Chan Buddhism, said James Robson, a Harvard professor who has written about the alleged theft of another Chinese mummy by a Japanese traveler in the early 20th century.
Only a few mummies are likely to have survived the vicissitudes of Chinese politics, he said, and some may still be hidden in statues in museum collections around the world.
When contacted on the networking site LinkedIn last month, the Dutch architect Oscar van Overeem publicly acknowledged for the first time that he owned the mummy in dispute. He has said he purchased the statue in 1996 from a collector in Amsterdam who had acquired it in Hong Kong.
Workers restoring the statue realized something might be inside, and Mr. van Overeem decided to get a CT scan, which revealed the mummy. But he insists that his statue is not the Zhanggong Patriarch.
“I have convinced the Chinese representatives easily with facts and research that the villagers’ claim is unjustified or unlikely,” he wrote via LinkedIn. “However, meanwhile, my mummy has become a political issue — if I like it or not.”
Mr. van Overeem wrote that he had reached a tentative agreement to donate the mummy to “a major Buddhist temple” near Yangchun, which he referred to as a village that “pretends the mummy belongs to them.” An unidentified foundation will offer him some compensation for what he has invested in the statue and in researching its history, he said.
He added that he was letting go of the mummy because he believed it deserved to return to its homeland “to be incorporated in truly Buddhist surroundings” and worshiped “by those who love and appreciate him.”
The mummy’s well-being may be the only issue on which Mr. van Overeem and the villagers of Yangchun agree.
“We want our Zhanggong Patriarch back so we can pray to him and worship him,” said Lin Wenqing, the tea salesman. “Not so that some collector can keep him in a cold basement or in a museum display case.”

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Vorgeschichte und Historie von Kasachstan

Archäologie schreibt Geschichte

Ein hölzerner Greif mit einem Tier im Schnabel, 5. Jahrhundert v. Chr., aus Pazyryk.
Ein hölzerner Greif mit einem Tier im Schnabel, 5. Jahrhundert v. Chr., aus Pazyryk. (Bild: Bridgemanart)

Bis zum 10. Jahrhundert existierten in Kasachstan nur schriftlose Kulturen. Das Land beheimatet indes einen wahren Schatz an vielfältigen materiellen Sachkulturen, die von der Archäologie zum Sprechen gebracht werden.
In Ländern ohne eine weit in die Vergangenheit reichende Historiografie kommt der Archäologie eine führende Rolle zu, wenn es um die Rekonstruktion der eigenen Geschichte geht. Dies gilt auch für Kasachstan, wo es bis zur graduellen Islamisierung der südlichen Gebiete ab dem 10. Jahrhundert nur schriftlose Kulturen gab. Ausnahmen sind ein Einzelfund mit ein paar nicht entschlüsselten runenähnlichen Zeichen und ein weiterer Einzelfund frühsogdischer Inschriften. Ältere schriftliche Zeugnisse beschränken sich auf knappe Erwähnungen in Proklamationen fremder Herrscher und in Chroniken ausländischer Historiker. Zerstörungen durch Invasoren wie Dschingis Khan um 1219/20, Timur Lenkh nach 1370 und die buddhistischen Zungaren im 17. und 18. Jahrhundert verwandelten zudem zahllose architektonische Zeugnisse in stumme Schutthalden. Kurz: Ohne Archäologie gäbe es keine Geschichte Kasachstans, bloss Legenden und Überlieferungen.

Drei Klimazonen

Kasachstan, das mit 2,7 Millionen Quadratkilometern Fläche fünfundsechzig Mal grösser als die Schweiz ist, aber nur doppelt so viele Einwohner zählt, beheimatet einen wahren Schatz an vielfältigen materiellen Sachkulturen. Das Land besitzt seit Jahrtausenden drei Klimazonen – ganz im Norden einen schmalen Gürtel Waldsteppe mit anschliessender halbtrockener Steppe, im mittleren Bereich Wüstensteppe, im Südwesten Wüste und im Südosten Wüste und Gebirgszüge. Die unterschiedlichen Klimatypen führten zu verschiedenen Ökonomieformen wie Jagd- und Sammelwirtschaft, sesshafter Landwirtschaft, mobiler Viehzucht sowie urbanem Handel. Infolge von Klimaschwankungen, die sich mittels Bohrkernen von Seesedimenten, Analyse von Wachstumsringen an Bäumen und Pollensequenzen aus Mooren rekonstruieren lassen, verschoben sich die Grenzen der Klimazonen. Daher kann die Archäologie in einer bestimmten Region auf Relikte unterschiedlicher Wirtschafts- und Lebensformen stossen. Die Einwanderung verschiedenster Völker trug zusätzlich zur kulturellen Vielfalt bei.
Die Archäologie Kasachstans ist eng mit der Archäologie Südsibiriens verknüpft. Denn es waren Geografen, Bergbauprospektoren und Botaniker, die von russischen Zaren nach Sibirien und Nordkasachstan ausgesandt wurden und ab dem frühen 18. Jahrhundert «nebenbei» Informationen über vergangene Kulturen sammelten. Entscheidende Impulse gingen von Zar Peter dem Grossen (Regierungszeit 1696–1725) aus, der befahl, in Gräbern entdeckte Goldobjekte nicht einzuschmelzen, sondern zum wissenschaftlichen Studium nach St. Petersburg zu schicken und Skizzen der Fundorte anzufertigen. Damit versuchte Zar Peter, die seit Jahrhunderten grassierende Grabräuberei zu unterbinden. Als Erster führte der deutsche Botaniker und Geograf D. G. Messerschmidt im Jahr 1722 im südsibirischen Minusinsker Becken Ausgrabungen an einigen Kurganen (Hügelgräbern) skythischer Reiterkrieger durch, wobei er feststellen musste, dass hier Grabräuber am Werk gewesen waren. Der schwedische Kriegsgefangene Philipp Johann von Strahlenberg, der ihn begleitete, publizierte im Jahr 1730 einen Teil der Forschungsergebnisse Messerschmidts und berichtete als Erster von runenähnlichen Zeichen auf mannshohen Steinstelen. Er erkannte, dass diese «Runenschrift» nicht mit den germanischen Runen verwandt war, und vermutete eine Entwicklung aus «parthischen Buchstaben», wodurch er ganz richtig einen Zusammenhang mit der sogdischen bzw. aramäischen Schrift herstellte. Damit begründete Strahlenberg die Archäologie der skythischen und alttürkischen Kulturen.


Als «Vater der Archäologie» Kasachstans gilt Vasily V. Radlov, der im Jahr 1865 in Berel im Norden Kasachstans sogenannte Eiskurgane des 5. bis 4. Jahrhunderts v. Chr. erforschte. Eiskurgane entstehen, wenn nach einer Bestattung Wasser in die Grabkammer fliesst und zu einer kompakten Eislinse gefriert, die alle organischen Stoffe umschliesst und sie vor der Vermoderung bewahrt. Da die Steinaufschüttung über der Grabkammer die Wärme der Sonneneinstrahlung schlecht leitet, verhindert sie ein Auftauen der Eislinse bis zum Moment der Graböffnung. Radlov ging wenig zimperlich vor: «Der Boden war festgefroren. Ich liess trockenes Holz herbeischaffen, auf dem Boden der Grabhöhle aufschichten und dasselbe anzünden, darauf die obere, aufgetaute Schicht der Erde entfernen» – heute würde man die gesamte Eislinse aus der Erde sägen und ins nächste Kühlhaus fliegen. Spätere Ausgrabungen in Berel durch den kasachischen Archäologen Zajnolla Samashev in den Jahren 1998–2001 brachten einen reichen Fund der vorchristlichen reiternomadischen Skythen (Saken) ans Licht. Auffallend waren die Bestattungen geopferter Pferde, die Ledermasken mit einem mit Blattgold umwickelten Hirsch- oder Steinbockgeweih trugen. Vereinzelt sass zudem ein Raubvogel oder Greif zwischen den Ohren der Maske. Damit erhielten die Pferde, die den Totenwagen zogen, auf magische Weise zusätzlich die Attribute der anderen Tiere, die im theriomorphen Weltbild der Skythen eine herausragende Rolle spielten. Die Opferung von Pferden, die man mit artfremden Attributen versah, war schon bei den Vorfahren der Saken ein verbreiteter Brauch, wie sich an den bronzezeitlichen Petroglyphen (Steineinritzungen) von Tamgaly im Süden Kasachstans erkennen lässt.

«Gold hütende Greifen»

In Berel und in Pazyryk im benachbarten russischen Altai fand man mehrere einst mit Blattgold überzogene Holzfiguren von Greifen sowie knöcherne Zierstücke vom Pferdezaumzeug in Gestalt zweier einander gegenüberstehender Greifenköpfe; diese Funde erinnern an Herodot, der die im goldreichen Altai Kasachstans und Sibiriens lebenden Skythen als «Gold hütende Greifen» bezeichnete. Das Greifenmotiv findet sich auch prominent im skythischen Schmuck und erinnert an die etwa gleichaltrigen Greifenprotome der achämenidischen Kapitelle von Persepolis – die damaligen Saken standen nachweislich in Kontakt mit den Achämeniden. Zudem zeigten anthropologische Untersuchungen an mumifizierten Toten, dass in den Kurganen früheisenzeitlicher Skythen europide Menschen dominierten, in den späteren Gräbern aber mongolide Elemente überwogen, was auf eine entsprechende Einwanderung von Mongoliden hinweist.
Während die bedeutenden kasachischen Nekropolen von Tasmola, Taldy und Cilikty zur früh- und mittelsakischen Gruppe gehören, die Parallelen zum Fürstenkurgan Arzhan 2 in Tuva aufweist, zählen die Nekropolen von Berel, Bessatyr und Issyk östlich von Almaty zur jüngeren sakischen Gruppe. Als der berühmte kasachische Archäologe Kemal Akishev (1924–2003) im Jahr 1969/70 einen der 67 Kurgane von Issyk ausgrub, war zwar die zentrale Grabkammer geplündert, doch eine Nebenkammer barg die unangetastete Bestattung eines jungen Saka-Fürsten in prachtvoller Kleidung. Der «Goldene Mann von Issyk» aus dem 5. Jahrhundert v. Chr. trug eine rote Jacke und rote Stiefel, die mit Tausenden aufgenähten Goldplättchen geschmückt waren. Auffallend war die spitz zulaufende, etwa 60 Zentimeter lange Kopfbedeckung. Zuoberst stand eine goldene Steinbockfigur, darunter folgten goldüberzogene Figürchen (gehörnte oder geflügelte Pferde, auf Bäumen sitzende Vögel, Schneeleoparden vor dem Hintergrund schroffer Bergspitzen und Steinböcke) sowie vier 30 Zentimeter lange goldüberzogene Pfeile. Der junge Fürst trug die wichtigsten Elemente des mythischen Universums der Saken auf seinem Haupt. Der hohe Kopfputz weist nicht nur Ähnlichkeiten auf zu Funden aus dem russischen Altai, sondern er war auch bei weiter westlich lebenden Skythen verbreitet. Die persischen Achämeniden nannten einen östlich des Kaspischen Meers lebenden Stammesverband Saka tigraxauda, die «spitzmützigen Saken», und Herodot schrieb: «Die skythischen Saken trugen auf dem Kopf eine spitz zulaufende Mütze, aufrecht und steif».

Bis heute nicht entziffert

Der Fund einer silbernen Schale mit einer runenartigen Inschrift in zwei Zeilen in Issyk war ebenfalls einzigartig. Es handelt sich um die älteste bekannte sakische Inschrift, und bis heute hat man sie nicht entziffert; die Zeichen weisen eine entfernte Ähnlichkeit mit ein Jahrtausend späteren alttürkischen Inschriften aus der Mongolei und aus Südsibirien auf. Die zweitältesten Schriftdokumente Kasachstans wurden zwischen 1992 und 2006 im Süden bei Kultobe am Fluss Arys, einem Nebenfluss des mittleren Syr Darya, gefunden. Es handelt sich um dreizehn Fragmente und zwei fast vollständige Texte auf Tontafeln, die mit frühsogdischen Schriftzeichen in frühsogdischer Sprache beschrieben sind. Wie der kasachische Archäologe Aleksander Podushkin feststellen musste, waren die ersten Tontafeln schon in den 1940er Jahren aufgetaucht. Doch weil die leseunkundigen Einheimischen diese als Koranverse interpretierten und damals der Besitz eines Korans den Argwohn der kommunistischen Behörden provozieren konnte, wurden die Tonepigramme im unterirdischen Mauerwerk muslimischer Gräber weiterverwendet, was deren archäologische Ausgrabung ausschliesst. Diese Inschriften aus dem späten 2. oder frühen 3. Jahrhundert n. Chr. sind nicht nur mindestens hundert Jahre älter als die 1907 im Lop Nor, Xinjiang, entdeckten «alten sogdischen Briefe», die bis anhin als die frühesten sogdischen Schriftdokumente galten, sondern sie berichten auch, dass Kultobe von der sogdischen Tetrapolis Samarkand, Buchara, Kisch (Shahrisabz) und Qarschi gegründet wurde, mit Unterstützung von Schasch (Taschkent).

Millionen wildlebender Pferde

Weniger spektakulär, aber wissenschaftlich mindestens ebenso bedeutend wie die Funde von Issyk war die vom kasachischen Archäologen Victor Zaibert in den 1980er Jahren erforschte Jäger- und frühe Viehzüchterkultur von Botai, die ins Chalkolithikum (Kupfersteinzeit) datiert. Bei Botai im Nordosten Kasachstans entdeckte Zaibert nicht nur eine Siedlung von 150 runden und ovalen Grubenhäusern, deren kuppelförmige Dächer mit Rasensoden bedeckt waren, sondern auch die Knochen von 70 000 Pferden. Im 4. Jahrtausend v. Chr. herrschte im Norden Kasachstans ein feuchteres Klima als heute, und die Steppe ernährte Millionen wildlebender Pferde. Die Menschen der Botai-Kultur jagten die Pferde für ihr Fleisch und begannen auch, sie zu züchten. Spuren einfacher Wangenstücke und Abnützungsspuren an Gebissen lassen vermuten, dass ab etwa 3500 v. Chr. primitive Schnur- oder Knochentrensen verwendet wurden, was auf zugerittene Pferde schliessen lässt. Die klimatische Austrocknung Nordkasachstans, die in der zweiten Hälfte des 3. Jahrtausends v. Chr. begann, setzte dieser besonderen Wirtschaftsform ein Ende und leitete in die Zucht von Hornvieh und Pferden sowie eine einfache Landwirtschaft über.
Berichte geologischer Prospektoren begründeten in den 1920er Jahren die Montanarchäologie Kasachstans, die die vielen und reichen Gold-, Kupfer und Zinnminen erforschte. Dank den immensen Zinnvorkommen in Ostkasachstan und den damals beinahe unerschöpflichen Holzreserven zur Erzverarbeitung setzte ab etwa 2000 v. Chr. eine Produktion qualitativ hochstehender Waffen aus Zinnbronze ein, die der Arsenbronze überlegen war. Zinn und Zinnbronze waren begehrte Handelsgüter, so dass zwei Jahrtausende vor der klassischen Seidenstrasse eine Zinnstrasse nach Westen, Süden und nach Nordwestchina entstand.
Die von sogdischen Einwanderern initiierte Urbanisierung im Einzugsgebiet des Flusses Syr Darya wurde durch den Zweig der Seidenstrasse, der China mit Byzanz verband, beschleunigt. Als die turksprachigen Reiternomaden der Oghuzen in den 770er Jahren ihre zwischen Baikalsee und Altai gelegene Heimat verliessen und sich am Unterlauf des Syr Darya niederliessen, förderten sie den Handel; deshalb zerstörten sie die dortigen Städte nicht, sondern erweiterten sie. In den späteren 1940er Jahren erkundete der sowjetische Archäologe Sergei Tolstov einige Städte der Oghuzen. Auf seinen Spuren erforschen kasachische Archäologen wie Karl Baipakov und Dmitri Voyakin die im ehemaligen Flussdelta liegenden «Sumpfstädte» wie beispielsweise Juvara, das heutige Kesken Kyuyuk Kala. Die dortige Ausgrabung wird von der schweizerischen Gesellschaft zur Erforschung EurAsiens mitfinanziert. Um Juvara handelte es sich vermutlich auch bei der Stadt Chauriana, die der römische Historiker Ammianus Marcellinus (etwa 330 – etwa 395/400) erwähnt.

Systematische Erforschung

Die systematische Erforschung der mittelalterlichen Städte Kasachstans begründete der kasachische Archäologe und Ethnograf Alkey Margulan (1904–1985). Seine Arbeit wird heute in der archäologischen Ausgrabung der mittelalterlichen islamischen Städte Otrar (samt ihren Satelliten), Kayalyk, Sauran, Taraz, Aktobe, Kyzyl Kala und Zhaiyk fortgeführt. Dank der Archäologie ist Kasachstan kein geschichtsloses, auf fremde Quellen angewiesenes Land, sondern es entdeckt immer neue Aspekte seiner reichen Vergangenheit.
Dr. Christoph Baumer ist Kulturforscher, Gründer und Präsident der Gesellschaft zur Erforschung EurAsiens sowie Buchautor. Vor kurzem ist der zweite Band seiner vierbändigen, englischsprachigen «History of Central Asia» (Verlag I. B. Tauris, London) erschienen.