Archeology and History of the Silk Road



Saturday, 1 August 2015

Huge hidden ocean under Xinjiang’s Tarim basin larger than all Great Lakes combined

The ocean acts as a major carbon sink, sucking up CO2 and preventing even greater climate change

The South China Morning Post  Stephen Chen   30 July 2015
Chinese scientists say a huge ocean underneath Xinjiang's Tarim basin acts as a major carbon sink, protecting us from even greater global warming. Photo: Nasa
There could be an “ocean” hidden under one of the driest areas on earth, according to a breakthrough discovery by Chinese scientists.
The amount of salt water beneath the Tarim basin in northwestern Xinjiang province could be equivalent to 10 times the water in all five Great Lakes in North America.
“This is a terrifying amount of water,” said professor Li Yan, who led the study at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography in Urumqi, the Xinjiang capital.
“Never before have people dared to imagine so much water under the sand. Our definition of desert may have to change,” he said.
The Tarim is the world’s largest landlocked basin and home to Taklimakan, the biggest desert in China. The basin is known for its rich oil reserves, but to access them requires large amounts of water.
For a long time scientists had suspected that melt water from high mountains nearby had sipped beneath the basin, but the exact amount of water reserves there remained unknown.
Precise estimates are difficult because surface water in the region, such as seasonal rivers and lakes appear at random times in inconsistent locations, making direct measurement impossible.
Li’s team stumbled on the discovery by accident.
“We were after carbon, not water,” he said.
Greenhouse gas carbon dioxide can be absorbed in certain regions known as "carbon sinks", such as forests and oceans. Locating these sinks may help scientists better understand climate change.
Around 10 years ago, Li’s team discovered large amounts of carbon dioxide disappearing in Tarim, with no explanation over where it could be going.
In a paper in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, Li’s team reported that there could be a large amount of water under earth's largest deserts which serve as carbon sinks as important as forests and oceans.
Under the Tarim desert, over a depth stretching thousands of metres, exists an enormous amount of saline water fll of carbon dioxide, they found.
The team obtained deep underground water samples from nearly 200 locations across the desert. By measuring the amount of carbon dioxide in these samples, and comparing them to the carbon dioxide in melt water, the scientists were able to calculate how much water had flown into the basin.
“Our estimate is a conservative figure. The actual amount could be larger,” Li said.
Melt water has been used by people in Xinjiang for agricultural irrigation for thousands of years.
The soil of farmland in the region is alkaline, helping the dissolving of carbon dioxide into the water. By dating the age of the carbon Li's team "recorded a jump of 'carbon sinking' after the opening of the ancient Silk Road more than two thousand years ago."
“CCS [carbon capture and storage] is a 21st century idea, but our ancestors may have been doing it unconsciously for thousands of years," he said.
However, Li emphasised that the "ocean" under Tarim would not be much immediate use for Xinjiang's economic development.
The water is not just salty, but contains a large amount of carbon dioxide. “It’s like a can of coke. If it is opened all the greenhouse gas will escape into the atmosphere,” he said.
The biggest question now is whether similar “oceans” can be also be found under other large deserts, such as Sahara. Li said they would work with research teams around the world to find out the answer.
The chance of water under these deserts is high because the amount of carbon these “oceans” carried could reach a trillion tonnes, which matches the amount of “missing carbon” on the planet, according to Li's team's calculations.

Prester John: The Legend and its Sources

Prester John: The Legend and its Sources 

Crusade Texts in Translation

Hardcover – 28 Jul 2015

This Tsarist Warlord Became a Modern Genghis Khan

The crazy story of Roman von Ungern-Sternberg—‘The Mad Baron’ of Mongolia

Imagine Mongolia in the early 1920s.
It’s so remote, nomadic families could spend an entire year without seeing more than a few dozen people. There’s no centralized currency. There’s no army except marauders and occupying Chinese troops.
The lone big city, Urga, is medieval-like but surprisingly cosmopolitan. European emigres and Chinese merchants rub shoulders with Buddhist priests and Mongolian natives. Mexican pesos, a popular trading currency at the time, is used as tender.
The country is also surrounded by war. There are Chinese warlords inside Mongolia and to the south. To the north, there’s a civil war between Russian communists and the counter-revolutionary Whites.
The craziest thing? A mad German noble named Roman von Ungern-Sternberg emerged out of this environment to build a nomadic army that sought to recreate the kingdom of Genghis Khan.
Today, Ungern is a largely forgotten figure from the era, having only partly re-emerged after the publication of James Palmer’s The Bloody White Baron, a 2008 biography of the warlord. Dressed in a yellow silk robe and riding a white horse—or dismounting and then skipping into battle—Ungern was in some respects the Russian civil war’s equivalent to Joseph Kony, the leader of the fanatical Lord’s Resistance Army.
Another comparison could be to the fictional Kurtz of Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now.
But he was real.
Like Kony, who fused elements of Christianity and Islam, Ungern combined eastern and western religious traditions into a syncretic, apocalyptic and messianic ideology. Like the fascist leaders that arose over the next two decades in Italy and Germany, Ungern espoused a violent anti-Semitism, anti-communism and anti-liberalism.
He enacted punishments of such cruelty it’s a wonder his men didn't revolt—though many deserted. He ordered whippings for minor infractions. Soldiers caught drinking alcohol would be stripped naked and ordered to spend the night on a frozen river. This left them vulnerable to being attacked and eaten by wolves.
His sadism wasn't unusual for an officer schooled in the Tsarist tradition. Conscripts in the imperial armies were treated no better than slaves and could be killed by their own officers. If captured, Red Army soldiers could expect to be buried alive or crucified.
But Ungern found inspiration in depictions of torture found in Mongolian Buddhist monasteries and popular literature. “All of Ungern’s favorite tortures were prominent in the hell scrolls of the Mongolian monasteries: exposure on the ice, burning alive, rending by wild beasts,” Palmer wrote.
Ungern-Sternberg in 1920. Photo via Wikipedia

The mad baron

Where the Hell did this guy come from?
Ungern was born in 1885 to a Baltic-German noble family. He was born in Austria but moved to Estonia early in life, where his family pledged fealty to the Tsar.
He also came of age during the turn of the century, when traditional feudal systems in Eastern Europe were under increasing threat. Revolutionary movements were growing in support, and his family’s privileges were at risk.
At the same time, there was a budding, faddish attraction among European elites to New Age beliefs, Eastern mysticism and occultist practices. Ungern was enamored with some of these beliefs, and combined them with anti-Semitism and faith in monarchical rule.
Ungern distinguished himself as a cavalry officer during the First World War, fighting against both Germany and Turkey. He also served in Cossack units and had a reputation for being a violent, drunken lunatic. He was thrown in a military prison for two months after slashing a military commandant’s aide across the head with his cavalry sword.
He became something of a shadowy figure during the early years of the Bolshevik revolution. His locations are hard to pin down or merely rumors.
But after the collapse of the Tsarist regime in 1917, he re-emerged among the scattered counter-revolutionary White forces based in the far east. Eventually, he became governor of the eastern province of White-ruled Transbaikal.
Ungern’s forces were a bit of an oddity. They operated independently from Adm. Alexander Kolchak, the most prominent White officer in Russia’s far east. Ungern’s troops were instead backed by Japan.
The areas involved in this war were vast. Entire battalions could move through enemy lines without being detected. But strategic locations, particularly railway hubs, were few and bitterly contested.
By August 1920, the White forces were badly losing the war. Kolchak had been defeated and executed. The hope of restoring the Tsar to the throne was dashed after Nicholas II’s execution in 1918. To further drive the nail into the monarchy’s coffin, the Tsar’s youngest son, the Grand Duke Michael, was shot.
Ungern was on the run. But his forces were highly mobile, sustaining themselves by living off the land or through piratical raids. They forcibly conscripted new soldiers into their ranks and wore tattered uniforms made from animal skins.
An opportunity presented itself in Mongolia. The Bogd Khan (the resident monarch) sought an alliance with Ungern to drive out occupying Chinese forces. For Ungern, shifting his forces into Mongolia served both practical and ideological needs.
They could recruit or conscript new soldiers—but also fulfill a new purpose.
Palmer explained:
[Ungern] had striven to save the empire he had been raised in, but it was almost irretrievably corrupted. Russia’s core had been lost to the Bolsheviks. A new empire would have to be created, and he had the model for it in the empire of Genghis Khan, which had once stretched ‘from the Amur Mountains to the Caspian Sea.’ Ungern did not believe himself, as some later claimed, to be the reincarnation of Genghis Khan; instead he saw himself as restoring his legacy.
His army also marched under a diverse set of banners reflecting the hodge-podge of Ungern’s beliefs.
One banner included the symbol of the Grand Duke Michael represented as the new Russian emperor. Another banner included an image of Jesus Christ with a yellow background, symbolizing Buddhism. Another banner featured the swastika.
“This was, of course, an old and valued Buddhist motif, but Ungern would also have been aware of its anti-Semitic interpretation, as would most of the Whites,” Palmer wrote.
Soviet-era Ulaanbaatar sign. aleceast/Flickr photo

The battle for Mongolia’s capital

Until Ungern’s capture and execution in 1921, his troops engaged in scattered battles with numerically larger Chinese forces. At the same time, a bizarre cult emerged among Buddhist lamas loyal to Ungern or his Mongolian allies.
“There was no official Mongolian recognition of Ungern as an incarnate god, despite all the other titles heaped on him,” Palmer cautioned. “The belief probably sprang up spontaneously: a mysterious figure from the north, riding a white horse, ignoring bullets and claiming to fulfill ancient prophecies—it was only logical to think him a god.”
At the peak of his power—which wasn’t much—his forces numbered between 5,000 and 6,000 troops. About half of them were Mongolians, with others from Russia, Japan, China and Central Asia. (Russians made up the largest non-Mongolian contingent.) They used Japanese rifles, Italian machine guns—extending to pikes and lances.
The largest battles fought during this period centered around Urga, today the modern Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar.
The city had been walled by heavily-armed Chinese troops, but the soldiers were demoralized and poorly trained. In October 1920, several attacks by Ungern’s troops were repulsed by Chinese artillery.
The following February, Ungern’s forces were freezing and running out of food. His men reconnoitered an unguarded gate and launched a surprise assault. Tibetan monks serving with Ungern’s force joined the push, “their clothes lightly smeared with butter and their faces painted with soot to strike fear into enemies of the faith.”
The horseback soldiers stormed into the city, which descended into house-to-house fighting.
“Once the gates were breached, the fighting turned into a general killing spree,” Palmer wrote. The Chinese troops abandoned the city. Many were later hunted down and slain in the countryside.
What befell the city’s inhabitants was sickeningly brutal and ugly—including indiscriminate attacks on Jews, Russian emigres and Chinese residents. Victims were strung up along city streets. One Russian soldier serving in Ungern’s forces had a reputation for killing the elderly with his hands.
But Ungern’s terrible reign would only last a few months.
At this point, he was the last prominent White commander still on the loose. The capture of Urga shocked the Kremlin, which proceeded to invade Mongolia. The Red Army splintered Ungern’s forces, and he was captured in August 1921, put on trial and shot by firing squad.
He was 35.
Since his death, his legacy has been largely confined as a footnote to the horrors that would later inflict Europe during the Holocaust and the Second World War. “In the murky world of post-war rightist occultism he was remembered as a precursor figure of the weirder fringes of Nazism,” Palmer wrote.
Accounts of his brief reign would filter back into Germany, which provided inspiration to some extreme nationalists and lurid pulp books. Today, he’s still celebrated on neo-Nazi Websites.
But he was also a precursor to sinister, rebel cults operating today. He moved around in remote, ungoverned spaces and forged a reputation for cruelty. He was highly maneuverable and his forces operated over vast, wild areas.
But once a committed force was tasked with hunting him down, his days were numbered. He wasn’t impossible to stop.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Charles Freer at Longmen

Above: detail, Chinese workers at Longmen; Yütai (act. early 20th century); November 12, 1910; Silver gelatin photographic print; Charles L. Freer Papers; Freer|Sackler Archives FSA A.1 12.5.GN.088

Freer at Longmen

In 1910, Charles Lang Freer, founder of the Freer Gallery of Art, made his final journey to China. He usually had stayed in urban centers, where he could meet with dealers and fellow collectors. Yet he was increasingly drawn to China’s interior, where he could directly encounter its ancient capitals and cultural centers, thereby deepening his insight into and emotional connection with these works. 
On this trip, Freer’s goal was to visit the Buddhist cave temple complex at Longmen Gorge in Henan province. One of China’s great cultural monuments, Longmen has more than a thousand man-made caves, many containing masterpieces of stone sculpture dating from the fifth to ninth century. The site is only five miles from the provincial capital of Luoyang, but in 1910, it was remote and largely abandoned; bandits had become a concern. Chinese officials insisted that an armed guard accompany Freer. When he set out from Luoyang, his party had grown to more than twenty people, including porters, a cook, a photographer, and six soldiers.
Over the next two weeks, Freer and his photographer, Yütai, surveyed the caves with delight and awe. Many of the more than 100 large-format photographs produced on this trip—along with dozens of relief rubbings—are the best in situ visual documents of sculptures that were looted over the following decades. Later in his life, Freer frequently recounted the profound impact of his time spent with some of the finest works of early Chinese Buddhist art.

This photo and article is from the Freer I Sackler site and this photo made part of an exhibition, named :

Looking at Asia Through the Traveler’s Eye

For a few  good links: 500 years

The ancient silk road city of Taraz in southern Kazakhstan

The accent is on the past in the ancient silk road city of Taraz in southern Kazakhstan, with a new drive to make sure that historic landmarks can be enjoyed for generations to come.
Meticulous restoration work is bringing numerous local monuments back to their former glory.
The impressive Tekturmas mausoleum is just one example. Located on a hill that overlooks the city, the monument attracts tens of thousands of visitors every year.
Taraz, which is the administrative centre of the Zhambyl region, is one of Kazakhstan’s oldest cities.
It celebrated its 2000th anniversary in 2001, an occasion that was officially recognised by UNESCO.
Given its rich history along the Silk Road, Taraz has also attracted a lot of interest from archaeologists.
Sites where digging has taken place are also earmarked for restoration.
Taraz, which is surrounded by beautiful steppe country, lies beside the Talas River and is close to the border with Kyrgyzstan.
There are numerous sites of interest arond Taraz, but the most popular for many is the elegant Aisha Bibi mausoleum, which dates back to between the 11th and 12th centuries.
Painstaking restoration work that began in 2002 was considered to be a huge success, with the surrounding gardens adding to the overall harmony of the site.
And what makes Aisha Bibi particularly popular is the legend that lies behind its construction. This is a monument dedicated to love.
An ancient ruler built it for a young woman he fell in love with: Aisha Bibi. She was killed by a snake while attempting to go against her parents’ wishes to be with him.
Couples travel from far and wide to visit the monument on their wedding day, hoping to attract the good luck that Aisha Bibi is supposed to radiate.
Many visitors rub their hands down the exquisite terracotta tiles.
An expert is also on hand to explain the significance of the site and to lead people in Muslim prayers.
It is worth taking the time to look at all of the minute detail of the decorative art, which is unique to Aisha Bibi.
There are more than 60 different types of ornaments.
The main mausoleum is 18 metres high, symbolising the age of Aisha Bibi when she died.
Visitors are also encouraged to simply sit in the lush, colourful gardens and listen to the birds and gentle flowing stream.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

The Drunken Man's Talk- Tales from Medieval China

The Drunken Man's Talk                           Tales from Medieval China


  •      University of Washington Press
  •      paperback not available
  •     $50.00S HARDCOVER (9780295994734) ADD TO CART
  •     PUBLISHED: July 2015
  •     SUBJECT LISTING: Asian Studies, Literature
  •     BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: 238 pp., 6 x 9 in.
  •     CONTENTS

This collection of short stories, anecdotes, and poems was likely compiled during the 13th century. Tales of romantic love-including courtship, marriage, and illicit affairs-unify the collection and make it an essential primary source for literary and social history, since official Chinese history sources did not usually discuss family conflict or sexual matters.

This volume, the first complete translation of The Drunken Man's Talk (Xinbian zuiweng tanlu) in any language, includes an introduction that explores the literary significance of the work as well as annotations explaining the symbolism and allusions found in the stories.

ALISTER D. INGLIS is Freeman Associate Professor of Chinese languages and literature at Simmons College. He is the author of Hong Mai's Record of the Listener and Its Song Dynasty Context.

"These stories and anecdotes provide valuable information about marriage and sexuality in Song/Yuan society. The translator has done a remarkable job in rendering the text into readable English."
-James M. Hargett, translator of Treatises of the Supervisor and Guardian of the Cinnamon Sea

"An important contribution to the field. There are very few translations of biji xiaoshuo [anecdotal fiction] from the Tang, Song, and Yuan periods.The Drunken Man's Talk stands out because it offers a complete translation of a single collection, which offers insights into the compiler's interests and agendas, in particular, his selection, presentation, and arrangement of stories."
-Manling Luo, author of Literari Storytelling in Late Medieval China

Map Showing Portions of Chinese Turkestan and Kansu to Illustrate the Explorations of Dr. M. Aurel Stein

From: The MAP HOUSE 


The next map featured on our blog records one of the most remarkable archaeological expeditions ever undertaken. Its accomplishments changed the history of the printed word; in fact, these accomplishments are still reverberating throughout the academic world to this day.
“Map Showing Portions of Chinese Turkestan and Kansu to Illustrate the Explorations of Dr. M. Aurel Stein.” Published for the Royal Geographical Society, 1911.

Sir Marc Aurel Stein was born in 1863 in Pest on the opposite side of the Danube to Buda in Hungary. He was named after Marcus Aurelius, the Roman philosopher Emperor. His family was by no means wealthy but his mother came from a privileged background ensuring that the young boy received a superlative education, an opportunity which he seized with both hands. By the age of twenty, he had gained his doctorate from the University of Tubingen. His passion and subject was the convergence between the history, geography and religion of the Indo-Persian region and his particular specialty were the ancient languages of Persia and India.
Stein was a very affable individual and had gathered a useful group of friends and contacts during his student days. This was something at which he excelled throughout his life and he kept a steady stream of communications with this network no matter where in the world he was travelling at that time.
After he graduated in 1883, he managed to put together a small amount of funds which allowed him to travel to London where he studied ancient Indian coins at the British Museum; it was his first taste of British life and he found it greatly to his liking; so much so that he became a British citizen in 1904.
He did have to go back to Hungary in 1885 to perform his national service. Thankfully for both him and us, he joined the Topographical section of the Austrian army and learnt the skills of surveying and mapmaking; these would become incredibly useful in his later career.
He returned to England and – again due to his contacts – secured an academic position in the Punjab. From that moment onwards, his life began a pattern of constant travel, research, writing and publishing his results and interpretations; followed by numerous public lectures. His thirst for this lifestyle never dimmed and the extent of his travels and exploration is quite extraordinary; from surveying the boundaries of the Eastern Roman Empire in Syria to exploring and recording the archaeology of the legendary Kun-Lun mountain range in Western China. His record keeping was exemplary and as well as his academic records, he wrote and published a collection of popular works on his travels, many of which have also become standard works for the history and archaeology of these regions.
Stein passed away in Kabul in 1943 at age 81, typically planning his next expedition, this time to Central Afghanistan.
Although Stein travelled widely throughout the continent, his most famous expedition was his journey to Central Asia between 1906-8, recorded on this map.

The two great heroes of Stein’s life were Alexander the Great and the 7th century Chinese Buddhist pilgrim, Xuanzang. The latter was a monk who embarked upon a pilgrimage to India both in search of his own enlightenment and to return with documents and records from the country of Buddha’s birth. After seventeen years of travel he returned to China and his account of this extraordinary feat was entitled: “Great Tang Records on the Western Regions.”
Stein was determined to retrace at least some of Xuanzang’s journey and proposed an expedition to study the archaeology of the Silk Road and China’s western border during the Tang Dynasty. He had already reached the legendary city of Ancient Khotan on the Southern Branch of the Silk Road on an earlier journey but this time, the scope of his expedition was far more ambitious and he wanted to travel far further East.
Thankfully, he already had the experience of organizing several important expeditions and had proved he had a prodigious talent for both organization and producing results. This experience, combined with his charm and network of contacts, helped him to secure sponsorship from the British Museum and the Government of India. Once that was in place, the expedition set out in 1906.

As can be seen from the red route on the map, Stein made his way through Leh in Kashmir and then re-visited Ancient Khotan; the map records a mixture of extraordinary geographical detail together with the superimposition of archaeological and ancient sites, again marked in red. This is archetypal Stein, whose topographical accuracy was legendary and remains one of the main reasons why his work is still valid to this day.
Once had had reached Khotan, Stein carried on East to reach his main goal, the Western borders of China which ultimately took him to the site that would change his life.

These old Chinese borders ran close to another ancient Chinese oasis settlement on the Silk Road, Dunhuang. Within a few miles of the oasis, lay a series of caves and temples long associated with Buddhist pilgrims. This complex was known as the Mongao Caves or “The Caves of a Thousand Buddhas.” The complex had long been neglected and housed one self-appointed caretaker, a Daoist monk, Wang Yuanlu, who had recently made a momentous discovery. In 1900, behind a false wall, he had found a cave which housed tens of thousands of ancient documents; these were assumed to be Buddhist, but later study has also found Nestorian Christian, Jewish, Manichean and Daoist texts among the collection. It is not known if Stein was aware of this discovery as he was travelling through the desert but he would certainly have found out about it as soon as he reached Dunhuang.
For an archaeologist, this was the discovery of a lifetime and Stein negotiated the purchase of a part of the collection on behalf of the British Museum and the Government of India.
Stein completed his expedition in 1908 and upon his return the manuscripts were divided between the Indian government offices in Calcutta and the British Museum. Amongst the collection sent to the British Museum was the Diamond Sutra, a printed scroll published in about 860AD, incontrovertible proof that printing was used in China approximately 600 years before its origins in Europe.
As a final note, French, Russian, German and Japanese expeditions reached the Mongao caves soon after Stein and all of them purchased parts of the manuscript collection. In 1914, Stein visited the Caves again and was greeted enthusiastically by Wang Yuanlu, who proudly showed him the improvements he had been able to make with the funds he had raised. These were mainly new and larger facilities to house pilgrims.
Today, the manuscripts purchased by these expeditions are housed in a variety of public libraries and institutions; there is an international co-operative project between all of them which promotes, shares, digitizes and publishes both research and translations of these documents: appropriately, it is named the International Dunhuang Project.
Please visit our website to see other maps made by Sir Marc Aurel Stein.. AS1079 AS1112 AS1113 and do let us know if you have any further questions about these fascinating pieces!