Archeology and History of the Silk Road



Monday, 22 December 2014

The site of ancient Sizhou city rediscovered

Chinese Archaeologists have completed excavating the site of the ancient city of Sizhou in Xuyi county in East China's Jiangsu province.

They confirmed the structure and layout of the lost city, known as "the oriental Pompeii" and say that it covered more than 2000 square meters.
Historical data suggests Sizhou was a flourishing city with a history of more than 900 years. But the city, located in the intersection of three of the largest rivers in China - the Yangtze River, the Yellow River and the Huaihe River - was buried after a massive flood, during the reign of Emperor Kangxi from the Qing Dynasty.
Experts say Sizhou is perhaps better preserved than the Roman city of Pompeii, which was buried in volcanic ash.
The inner city wall of Sizhou extends to almost 340 meters, while the outer city wall is about 130 meters in length.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Uzbekistan rediscovers lost culture in the craft of Silk Road paper makers

A Samarkand craftsman revives thousand-year-old paper production methods in Central Asian workshop

Zarif Mukhatarov
Zarif Mukhtarov holds the fibre of mulberry bark, used as a raw material in his Samarkand paper-making workshop. Photographs: Komila Nabiyeva
Zarif Mukhtarov's dream came true. He is standing in front of his workshop in the village of Koni Ghil, 5km from the Uzbek city of Samarkand. His eyes shine with pride as he tells his story. Mukhtarov, 58, had tried for years to discover the lost art of Samarkand paper-making. Today, visitors to one of the only workshops for handmade paper in Central Asia can learn the secrets of a 1,000-year-old production process.
Samarkand paper was renowned for its quality. Many Persian and Arabic manuscripts of the ninth and 10th centuries were written on it. "The world's best paper is produced in Samarkand," wrote Babur, a descendant of the Central Asian ruler Tamerlane and founder of the Mughal dynasty in India in the 16th century.
It was betrayal that brought the paper-making craft to Samarkand. In the year 751 the Chinese invaded Central Asia, but the ruler of Samarkand defeated their troops and captured many thousands of soldiers. To save their lives, the story goes, craftsmen among the captives revealed their knowledge of paper-making to their captors. From then on, Samarkand became a centre for paper production. But following Russian colonisation of the Silk Road city in the 19th century and the start of industrial production, the ancient recipe got lost.
In 1995 Mukhtarov, a professional ceramist, took part in a UN conference dedicated to lost culture in Uzbekistan. Samarkand paper was one of the topics, and he started to dream of rediscovering how to make it. After five years of experiments with cotton, rag waste and flax, Mukhtarov became convinced that the best paper was made from the bark of the mulberry tree, which grows all over Samarkand.
In 2001 he started to build his own paper workshop. Some funding was provided by US and Japanese foundations, but most of the money was invested by Mukhtarov himself.
"At first my friends thought I was insane," he recalls. "My wife scolded me regularly. We had to [save enough money to] marry both our children and I kept borrowing money for the workshop. At the end, I had to sell our car and my wife's gold jewellery to finish the construction."
Samarkand paperPaper made at Mukhtarov's workshop
Today the paper workshop is a must-see site for tourists coming to Uzbekistan. Mukhtarov has no website and does not advertise. Yet, each year some 5,000 visitors seek out his picturesque mud-brick workshop with a chattering wooden watermill by the Siyob river. The location was no coincidence; once, there were 400 watermills around Samarkand, many of them in Koni Ghil, Mukhtarov says.
Visitors find a variety of products: silk-like or hairy paper in cream, blue, yellow or pink; notepads and wallets; even puppets and masks. All of them are made of paper. Mukhtarov's workers even produce Uzbek costumes with traditional embroidery.
Despite this, the workshop hardly makes ends meet. The high season lasts only six months, and Mukhtarov has to pay his 10 employees throughout the year. Then there is a cultural problem: newly trained young female employees often quit once they are married, as it is uncommon for married women in Uzbek villages to retain paid jobs.
Initially the paper workshop was a project of a small arts NGO founded by Mukhtarov. Yet, after the 2005 bloody unrest in the eastern town of Andijan, the Uzbek government closed hundreds of NGOs with foreign funding and Mukhtarov's was one of them. He had to register as a business, a move he thinks has helped: "In the past we were dependent on grants. Now we have more freedom in investing our money."
Even so, Mukhtarov has to deal with state bureaucracy in securing crucial raw materials. At first he had to apply every year for a permit to buy mulberry branches from a farmer and was once accused of illegally cutting them (mulberry trees are vital for silkworms and are therefore controlled by the Uzbek state). But Mukhtarov is tenacious. Now he grows his own trees on leased land.
Puppets from Samarkand paperPuppets made from Samarkand paper
In his workshop, Mukhtarov strips the inner bark from a year-old mulberry branch. "After boiling for five hours the bark fibre becomes soft and can be pounded into the paper pulp by the watermill," he explains. "Then we add the pulp to water." The pulp is taken out with a sieve and once it has dried, the paper is then put under press for 24 hours.
Finally, each sheet of paper is polished with a shell. Mukhtarov believes the polishing stage was introduced by Samarkand craftsmen: "In China and Japan the paper was rough, as people wrote with a brush. And in Central Asia one wrote with a feather, and therefore needed a smooth paper."
In contrast to industrially produced paper with its lifespan of around a century, he reckons his will last 2,000 years. It is also protected from mice, which cannot digest mulberry bark.
In future Mukhtarov hopes to expand his production and open a small restaurant next to his workshop, but that is a dream for another day. He smiles: "You have to have a clear vision of what you want to achieve. And then never give up until this vision comes true."

The changing images of Buddha in Indian art

Faces of enlightenment 

The most familiar image of an Indian Buddha to Chinese people might be that featured in the extremely popular Chinese TV series Journey to the West, in which a Chinese monk in the Tang Dynasty (618-907) traveled all the way to India to see the sage. In reality, as well as the plump Buddha with curly hair and large earlobes featured in the TV series, there are many other versions of images of Gautama Buddha in Buddhist history. Recently, Shanghai Museum has been displaying 91 images of the Buddha from India, showcasing the entire life of Siddhartha Gautama.

All of the exhibits are provided by the Indian Museum, Kolkata, which boasts a history of 200 years. The exhibition is one of the largest of its kind presented in China by an Indian museum, and is part of the Glimpses of India Festival, initiated by the Indian Embassy in Beijing along with the Indian consulates in China to celebrate the India-China Year of Friendly Exchanges in 2014. The exhibition will also tour to Tokyo, Seoul and Singapore. "They are very precious exhibits showcased here, with the oldest dating back to the 2nd century BC," said Chen Xiejun, the director of Shanghai Museum.

Siddhartha Gautama, who lived around the transition of the 6th to 5th centuries BC in India, enjoyed a miraculous life, according to stories passed down. Visitors can see this through the exhibits, which depict stories such as how his mother dreamt of an elephant entering her body and soon after found she was expecting a baby; how he was born out of his mother's armpit; and how he meditated for 49 days under a Bodhi tree before he finally became the Buddha.

The exhibits also reveal the changing history of Buddhist art. Deepak Ashish Kaul, director of the India's Ministry of Culture who attended the opening ceremony of the exhibition, said Buddhist art before the 1st century BC seldom featured images of the Gautama Buddha, instead using symbols such as an empty throne or the Bodhi tree to present the saint. From the 1st century AD, different versions of figures of the Buddha began to appear.

Visitors can see three different styles of Buddha images at the exhibition, which are the Gandhara style prevalent in north India and the Mathura style popular in southeast India before India was unified, and the Gupta style after Indian unification in the 5th century.

Also on view at the exhibition are several series of precious palm tree leaves on which are written Buddhist stories and scriptures. The tree leaves are about 600 years old and have had to be specially preserved to ensure their survival.

Date: Until February 2, 9 am to 5 pm

Venue: Hall 2, Shanghai Museum 


Address: 201 People's Avenue 


Admission: Free

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Mes Aynak: a Choice between Economy and History

Panel discussion 25th of November 2014 in Amsterdam

Ancient stone Buddha statues found in SW China 17 December 2014

More than 80 stone Buddha statues and statue fragments were unearthed in southwest China's Sichuan Province, archaeologists said on Tuesday. 
The red sandstone statues were found in a 500-square meter plot near the ancient walls in Qingyang District, Chengdu, the provincial capital, according to the Institute of Archaeology in Chengdu.
Dating estimates have put ages of the finds to be from around the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420-589) to the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the peak of China's stone Buddha statue art, said Yi Li from the institute.
This discovery will contribute to research on religious art in China. The statues have been sent to be restored.
In addition, porcelain, pottery, building material and coins were also found during the excavation.

Friday, 19 December 2014

The Qaraqorum Expedition

From: Mobility, Empire and Cross Cultural Contacts in Mongol Eurasia

The project seeks to explain why, how, when and to where people, ideas and artifacts moved in Mongol Eurasia, and what were the outcomes of these huge movements. Studying the Mongol Empire in its full Eurasian context, the project combines a world history perspective with close reading in a huge array of primary sources in various languages (mainly Persian, Arabic and Chinese) and different historiographical traditions, and classifies the acquired information into a sophisticated prosopographical database, which records the individuals acting under Mongol rule in the 13th and 14th centuries. On the basis of this unique corpus, the project maps and analyzes mobility patterns, and the far-reaching effects that this mobility generated. More specifically, it aims:
  • to analyze modes of migrations in Mongol Eurasia: why, how, when and into where people- along with their ideas and artifacts - moved across Eurasia, portraying the full spectrum of such populations movements from the coerced to the voluntary.
  • to shed light on the economic and cultural exchange that this mobility engendered, with a stress on the religious, scientific and commercial networks both within and beyond the empire‘s frontiers.
  • to reconstruct the new elite of the empire by scrutinizing the personnel of key Mongolian institutions, such as the guard, the judicial and postal systems, the diplomatic corps, and the local administration.
These issues will be studied comparatively, in the period of the united Mongol empire (1206-1260) and across its four successor khanates that centered at China, Iran, Central Asia and Russia.
The project is led by Professor Michal Biran of the Hebrew University and conducted by an international team of young scholars working in Jerusalem.
The project's results will be a quantum leap forward in our understanding of the Mongol empire and its impact on world history, and a major contribution to the theoretical study of pre-modern migrations, cross-cultural contacts, nomad-sedentary relations and comparative study of empires. Moreover, the re-conceptualization of the economic and cultural exchange in Mongol Eurasia will lead to a reevaluation of a crucial stage in world history that begins with the Mongol period:  the transition from the Middle Ages to the early modern era.
For a more detailed description of the project see
Qaraqorum Expedition
A joint archaeological expedition of Mongolian, German and Israeli students intends to set a camp this August for excavating the ruins of the first Mongolian capital of Qaraqorum. The project founded by Humboldt Foundation and led by Profs. Michal Biran (HU), Jan Bemmann (Bonn University) and Enkhtur Altangerel (Mongolian Academy of Sciences), aims to reveal parts of the Muslim quarter in the city. Different quarters (e.g. the Chinese quorter that was excavated beforehand) are recorded in the historical documents describing Qaraqorum, and this expedition intends to focus on the Muslim part. Muslim institutions such as Mosques, Caravansaries and Madrasas dictate the layout of the Muslim quarters, and we hope that tracking these features may lead to the exposure of this quarter. Alongside these features, finding goods coming from different regions such as the Middle East, in a capital once situated on a world trade route, may shed some light on the cross-cultural environment that formed the backbone of the whole empire.

The excavations are part of a historical-archaeological project that centers on Qaraqorum and aims to gather as much information on the city in the 13th-14th centuries. The Israeli team, led by historian Michal Biran and archaeologist Tawfiq Da'adli, consists also of 5 HUJI students specializing in archaeology, anthropology, Asian and Islamic and Middle Eastern studies. The first season of the  excavation began on July 29, 2014 and finished on August 31.
Pictures of the first season 2014 can be found here.

Pictures of the first season of the Qaraqorum excavations (2014)


Mongoia 459_mini

Mongoia 313_mini


KAR 2014 - FdNo 205_mini

KAR 2014 - FdNo 143_16_mini

KAR 2014 - FdNo 83_mini[Copyright: Tawfiq Da'adli; Nimrod Oren, Michal Biran]

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Architecture in China during the Northern Wei, the Liao and the Yuan Regimes

Edwin O. Reischauer Lectures 

2014 Edwin O. Reischauer Lectures  2014

by Nancy S. Steinhart


Tuesday, April 8, 2014, 4:15pm


CGIS Building, 1730 Cambridge Street, Tsai Auditorium (S010), Harvard University

Nancy S. Steinhardt is professor of East Asian art and curator of Chinese art at the University of Pennsylvania where she has taught since 1982.  She received her PhD at Harvard in 1981 where she was a Junior Fellow from 1978-81. Steinhardt taught at Bryn Mawr from 1981-1982. She has broad research interests in the art and architecture of China and China’s border regions, particularly problems that result from the interaction between Chinese art and that of peoples to the North, Northeast, and Northwest.

Steinhardt is author or coeditor of Chinese Traditional Architecture (1984), Chinese Imperial City Planning (1990), Liao Architecture (1997), Chinese Architecture (2003), Reader in Traditional Chinese Culture (2005), Chinese Architecture and the Beaux-Arts (2011), Chinese Architecture in an Age of Turmoil, 200-600 (in press), The Chinese Mosque (under contract), Chinese ArchitectureTen Lectures (under contract) and more than 70 articles.
East Asian Internationalism and Beyond:
Crossing Borders in Chinese Architectural History
Architecture is without doubt one of the most distinctive elements of Chinese civilization. Its characteristic features – roofs, gables, columns, bracket sets – mean that everyone can recognize a Chinese building when they see one. That these and other features remained so remarkably consistent over time may lead us to conclude that Chinese architecture was a closed system, a building tradition that resisted influences from outside and in which continuities in timber-frame construction and roof decoration can be straightforwardly traced over millennia. Through the centuries, however, the highly recognizable Chinese style in building has been adopted and adapted near and far, from Japan, Korea, and Southeast Asia to England and the United States. How can an architectural tradition apparently so hidebound be so elastic?
These three lectures by the leading American historian of Chinese monumental architecture take up this question by examining developments from a time when Inner Asian regimes, and not Chinese dynasties, governed in the Central Plains. The Northern Wei state of the Xianbei, the Liao state of the Khitans, and the Yuan state of the Mongols, all represent periods of alien rule when challenges were posed to established systems of building in China. In a magisterial overview of Chinese architectural history set broadly in a Eurasian context, Professor Steinhardt demonstrates that, although it might seem that architecture changed little during those periods, buildings constructed under the patronage of non-Chinese rulers in fact stretched the building system beyond anything previously erected in China, and that what we think of as “Chinese” architecture can be thought of as constituting an early “internationalism” in building and space.
Lecture 1: The Sixth Century as the Seventh and Eighth: Recentering an International Age in Chinese Architectural History
The lecture begins by asking questions that have driven the study of Chinese architecture through the twentieth century: Why do so many Chinese buildings look like so many others? What are the principles that govern Chinese construction? How did our current Chinese architectural history come to be written? Is Chinese architecture in fact a Chinese, Japanese, and Korean building system? Is the period of the Tang dynasty (618-907) really the first “international age” for East Asian art and architecture? In answering the last question, the lecture argues that Sino-Korean-Japanese internationalism in art and architecture in fact occurred earlier, in the sixth century, and to a certain extent even in the fifth. In the conclusion, the implications of an international sixth-century and themes that will be important in Lectures 2 and 3 are presented.
Yukio Lippit, Harvard University  (faculty website)
James Robson, Harvard University  (faculty website)
Lecture 2: Wednesday, April 9, 2014
The Liao Revolution in Building and Design
For more details, click here

Lecture 3: Thursday, April 10, 2014
Shifting the Borders: A Revisionist History of Yuan Architecture
For more details, click here
Reception follows each lecture
Cosponsored with the Korea Institute and the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Paul Pelliot et les études chinoises

Ukok Princess to find final resting place in Altai

Mausoleum plans unveiled for homecoming of Siberian ice maiden

Tattooed 2,500-year-old princess found mummified and preserved in permafrost could finally be reburied in special monument.
Plans have been put forward to build a permanent monument and final resting place for the ice maiden, who was uncovered by archaeologists in 1993. Picture: Spiritual Centre of the Turks Kin Altai
A tattooed Siberian princess found mummified and preserved after almost 2,500 years in permafrost is set to be buried in her own special mausoleum. Plans have been put forward to build a permanent monument and final resting place for the ice maiden, who was uncovered by archaeologists in 1993.
Known as Princess Ukok, after the high altitude plateau on which she was discovered, her body was decorated in the best-preserved, and most elaborate, ancient art ever found.
She spent most of the past two decades at a scientific institute in Novosibirsk, and is now at the Republican National Museum in Gorno-Altaisk, sparking anger among the local people in the Altai Mountain region who want her re-buried.
Ancient beliefs dictate that her presence in the burial chamber had been to 'bar the entrance to the kingdom of the dead'. Elders insisted that removing the mummified remains meant this doorway to the other world is now open and that her anger has already caused a series of floods and earthquakes. But now the revered princess could finally be repatriated to her original resting place in the Ukok plateau, with a beautiful mausoleum built on top.
The first sketches of the plans were presented by Akai Kine, the zaisan (leader) of the Teles ethnic group, and president of the Spiritual Centre of the Turks Kin Altai.
Mausoleum for Ukok princess

Tattoed 2,500 year old Siberian princess 'to be reburied to stop her posthumous anger which causes floods and earthquakes'
The mummy will be put in her original resting place, and on the top will be build funerary monument, which will be located on the Ukok plateau. Pictures: Spiritual Centre of the Turks Kin Altai, The Siberian Times
He said: 'According to the drafts, the mummy will be put in her original resting place, and on the top will be build funerary monument. The mausoleum will be located on the Ukok plateau in the place where the mummy was found by archaeologists in 1993.
'These are the first options for the future mausoleum. Publishing them, we want to start a public discussion in the media. There is no State decision on reburial of the Princess. But we have the main thing - we believe that this revered woman will be reburied.
'At one point, few people believed the princess to come back into the Altai Republic. Nevertheless, it that happened.'
The mummy was excavated by Novosibirsk scientist Natalia Polosmak and was heralded as 'one of the most significant archaeological discoveries of the 20th century'.
Thought to be about 27 years old when she died, she was found preserved in permafrost at an altitude of about 2,500 metres, with two men also discovered nearby. Buried around her were six horses, saddled and bridled and said to have been her spiritual escorts to the next world, along with a meal of sheep and horse meat.
Archaeologists also found ornaments made from felt, wood, bronze and gold as well as a small container of cannabis and a stone plate on which coriander seeds were burned. From her clothes and possessions including a 'cosmetics bag', scientists were able to recreate her fashion and beauty secrets.
She was dressed in a long shirt made from Chinese silk, and had long felt sleeve boots with a beautiful decoration on them. At this time Chinese silk was only ever found in royal burials of the Pazyrk people, and since it was more expensive than gold it gave an indication of her wealth and status.
Tattoed 2,500 year old Siberian princess 'to be reburied to stop her posthumous anger which causes floods and earthquakes'

Tattoed 2,500 year old Siberian princess 'to be reburied to stop her posthumous anger which causes floods and earthquakes'

Sculpture of Ukok mummy as artists imagined her
Scheme of the burial and reconstructions of Pazyryk woman's and man's costumes, reconstruction by D. Pozdnyakov, Institute of Archeology and Ethnography, Siberian Branch of Russian Academy of Science; sculptor's impression of how Princess Ukok looked 2,500 years ago
Her head was completely shaved, and she wore a horse hair wig on top of which was a carving of a wooden deer.
The princess's face and neck skin was not preserved, but the skin of her left arm survived. But the most exciting discovery was her elaborate body art, which many observers said bore striking similarities to modern-day tattoos.
On her left shoulder was a fantastical mythological animal made up of a deer with a griffon’s beak and a Capricorn’s antlers. The antlers themselves were decorated with the heads of griffons. The mouth of a spotted panther with a long tail could also be seen, and she had a deer’s head on her wrist.
Elders in the Altai Mountains have long called for the mummified remains to be reinterred to 'stop her anger which causes floods and earthquakes'. They insisted that the worst flooding in 50 years in Altai and a series of earthquakes were caused by the dead princess.
She is believed to have been between 25 and 28 years old and about 1.62 metres tall. Her remains have been treated by the same scientists in Moscow who preserved the body of former Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin.
Tattoed 2,500 year old Siberian princess 'to be reburied to stop her posthumous anger which causes floods and earthquakes'

Tattoed 2,500 year old Siberian princess 'to be reburied to stop her posthumous anger which causes floods and earthquakes'

Tattoed 2,500 year old Siberian princess 'to be reburied to stop her posthumous anger which causes floods and earthquakes'

Tattoed 2,500 year old Siberian princess 'to be reburied to stop her posthumous anger which causes floods and earthquakes'
The mummy is getting inside a sarcophagus of Anokhin museum, Gorno-Altaisk, under a watchful eye of Irina Salnikova, head of the Siberian Branch of Russian Academy of Sciences Museum of Archeology and Ethnography. Pictures: Alexander Tyryshkin
Under the proposals put forward for the mausoleum the elders say any project should meet three basic requirements.
Akai Kine said: 'Firstly, the body should be reposed in the site of the original burial. Second, the mausoleum mound must be made according to the traditions that were followed when the Princess was buried. And third, scientists shall be granted access to the body.'

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Hoaxes, Satire, Legends

Hoaxes, satire, legends

Chinggis - Chinese caricatureIn November a satirical news site announced the discovery of Genghis Khan’s tomb: archaeologists-unearth-tomb-of-genghis-khan
Hoax exposed on this satire watch site:
What’s the purpose of satire? To imitate the real news so closely as to point out its idiocies. The Lost Tomb is among the most popular of Genghis topics, and I get asked about it. Here’s my answer: I hope and trust he was laid simply in the open, on a spiritual mountain, or under a tree – one legend has him choose his tree. In life he was anti-ostentation, and a strong traditionalist in ways — in these ways, I think. The Mongols’ neighbour people transitioned from a shamanist disposal in trees to lavish tombs, quickly with their Imperial Period, as I wrote about here: tomb-masks-from-the-kingdom-of-qatay  Whereas the Jurchen Jin, after a century in China, kept such simple burials, even for royalty, that there is speculation they did not believe in an afterlife. Interestingly, they painted tomb inhabitants as spectators at a theatre: theatre-life-and-afterlife-tomb-decor-jin-dynasty [1] Traditional or pre-imperial disposal among the Jurchen, too, seems to have been so simple as to leave no record.
Sensationalism is of course an ancient art. The most bloodthirsty legend attached to dead Genghis dates to Rashid al-Din’s Jami al-Tawarikh, where you can read (in my Wheeler Thackston translation): “Picking up his coffin, they set out upon the return, slaying every creature they encountered along the way until they reached the ordus.”
I’m not the only one who thinks this as legendary as Genghis’ most-quoted quote, also the responsibility of Rashid:
“Genghis answered: ‘You are mistaken. Man’s greatest good fortune is to chase and defeat his enemy, seize his total possessions, leave his married women weeping and wailing, ride his gelding, use the bodies of his women as a nightshirt and support, gazing upon and kissing their rosy breasts, sucking their lips which are as sweet as the berries of their breasts.” — the translation found in Paul Ratchnevsky’s biography
Alternate translation, courtesy of Yu, Dajun & Zhou:
“The real greatest pleasure of men is to repress rebels and defeat enemies, to exterminate them and grab everything they have; to see their married women crying, to ride on their steeds with smooth backs, to treat their beautiful queens and concubines as pajamas and pillows, to stare and kiss their rose-colored faces and to suck their sweet lips of nipple-colored.” [sic… or did I mean, sick?]
I found that translation in WikiQuotes, where at least the attribution is ‘disputed’.
I’ll illustrate this post, fittingly, with Chinese caricatures of Chinggis (above) and Subutai (I call him Zab for short – beneath).
[1]  More on Jin tombs in Linda Cooke Johnson, Women of the Conquest Dynasties. She says, ‘The meagre Jurchen interments have typically attracted little archaeological attention’ [60] – which is a pity, because we can only guess what they meant by their tomb murals of the husband and wife seated in a private box above a stage; and I’m intrigued by their afterlife beliefs or lack of.
Subedei-Chinese ink