Archeology and History of the Silk Road

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Wednesday, 26 November 2014

1,700-Year-Old Silk Road Cemetery in Kucha contains Mythical Carvings





LiveScience.com  by Owen Jarus   November 24, 2014                                                          A cemetery dating back roughly 1,700 years has been discovered along part of the Silk Road, a series of ancient trade routes that once connected China to the Roman Empire.
The cemetery was found in the city of Kucha, which is located in present-day northwest China. Ten tombs were excavated, seven of which turned out to be large brick structures.
One tomb, dubbed "M3," contained carvings of several mythical creatures, including four that represent different seasons and parts of the heavens: the White Tiger of the West, the Vermilion Bird of the South, the Black Turtle of the North and the Azure Dragon of the East. [See photos of the ancient Silk Road cemetery]

The M3 tomb also "consists of a burial mound, ramp, sealed gate, tomb entrance, screen walls, passage, burial chamber and side chamber" the researchers wrote in a report published recently in the journal Chinese Cultural Relics.
The cemetery was first found in July 2007 and was excavated by the Xinjiang Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, with assistance from local authorities. The research team, led by Zhiyong Yu, director of the Xinjiang Archaeological Institute, published the findings in Chinese in the journal Wenwu. The article was recently translated into English and published in the journal Chinese Cultural Relics.
Who was buried here? 
The identity of the people buried in the cemetery is a mystery. The cemetery had been robbed in the past and no writing was found that indicates the names of those buried or their positions in life.
The seven large brick tombs were likely constructed for people of wealth, the researchers said.
But, when the skeletal remains were analyzed, the researchers found that the tombs had been reused multiple times. Some of the tombs contain more than 10 occupants, and the "repeated multiple burials warrant further study," the researchers wrote.
City on the Silk Road
The excavators think the cemetery dates back around 1,700 years, to a time when Kucha was vital to controlling the Western Frontiers (Xiyu) of China. Since the Silk Road trade routes passed through the Western Frontiers, control of this key region was important to China’s rulers.
"In ancient times, Kucha was called Qiuci in Chinese literature. It was a powerful city-state in the oasis of the Western Frontiers" the researchers wrote.
For the dynasties that flourished in China around 1,700 years ago "the conquest and effective governance of Kucha would enable them to control all the oasis city-states in the Western Frontiers," the researchers said.
In fact, one ancient saying was, "if you have Kucha, only one percent of the states in the Western Frontiers remain unsubmissive."
Chinese Cultural Relics is a new journal that translates Chinese-language articles, originally published in the journal Wenwu, into English. The discovery of the 1,700-year-old cemetery was included in its inaugural issue.

Fancy tombs - silk road cemetery























Tomb M3, pictured here, contains a ramp, sealed gate, screen walls, tomb entrance, passage, burial chamber and side chamber. Researchers also found carvings of mythical creatures.

Multiple burials
Multiple burials - silk road cemetery























More than 10 occupants were buried in tomb M3 at different times, the researchers said, but the burial containers have now decayed. All the large brick tombs in the cemetery contain multiple burials.

Interesting decorations
Interesting decorations - silk road cemetery











































A screen wall of tomb M3 contains carvings that depict a variety of mythical creatures. Heavenly deer are shown at both top right and top left, while at bottom left and bottom right are mythical animals called Xie Zhi. In between the deer and the Xie Zhi, there are carvings that depict the Vermilion Bird of the South (on left, second from top), the White Tiger of the West (on left, second from bottom), the Black Turtle of the North (at right, second from top) and the Azure Dragon of the East (at right, second from bottom). The dragon, bird, black turtle and white tiger are creatures that represent different seasons and parts of the heavens.

The wear of time
The wear of time - silk road cemetery



















An up-close view of a heavenly deer from the screen wall. The carved bricks were originally painted, but these decorations have since peeled off.

A different perspective
A different perspective - silk road cemetery









































This image shows another view of the interior of tomb M3, facing northwest.

A relic
A relic - silk road cemetery
























While the cemetery had been robbed, archaeologists found a number of artifacts. This lotus petal guan jar is from tomb M3.

Another tomb
Another tomb - silk road cemetery





































This image shows another large brick tomb discovered in the cemetery, dubbed M1. This photo shows the tomb facing west.

Human remains
Human remains - silk road cemetery





















A view of the antechamber of tomb M1, showing some of the human remains found in the tomb.

The Silk Road
The silk road - silk road cemetery























A map showing the location of Kucha within China and the Xinjiang region. The pink area is Kucha County and the yellow area represents the prefecture. (Image courtesy of Wikimedia user Croquant, CC Attribution 3.0 Unported)

Monday, 24 November 2014

Journal of Inner Asian Art and Archaeology publishes sixth volume

Journal of Inner Asian Art and Archaeology publishes sixth volume
JIAAA logo 
In 1995, several enterprising graduate students in the Department of Art and Archaeology at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, founded the Circle of Inner Asian Art (CIAA) to serve as a forum for discussion and exchange of information about the non-Islamic art and archaeology of Inner Asia. The Circle hosted lectures by internationally renowned scholars, as well as seminars and workshops; it promoted exchange of information regarding Inner Asian art and archaeology through an international network of universities, museums, and other organizations. Probably its most important—and certainly most lasting—contribution was its Newsletter, produced three times a year. It featured short articles and excavation reports by various scholars, a “News Bulletin” on recent and upcoming international events, awards, and exhibitions, in addition to conference reports and listings, and descriptive notices of forthcoming publications, often accompanied by brief reviews.
Graduate students eventually earn their degrees and move on to another stage of life and to other climes. But one of the original group, now Dr. Lilla Russell-Smith, wished to preserve the mission of this unique publication and interested the Belgian publisher, Brepols, in launching the annual Journal of Inner Asian Art and ArchaeologyIt was my good fortune to be asked by Lilla to co-edit volume 1 (2006), which was mostly devoted to articles focusing on Iran and neighboring areas in celebration of the 80th birthday of A. D. H. Bivar, Professor of Iranian Studies at SOAS, and, among his many accolades, Honorary President of the CIAA. Similarly, volume 2 (2007) contained a large festschrift section devoted to more eastern subjects to honor Roderick Whitfield, Professor of Chinese Art and Archaeology at SOAS, and President of the CIAA. As begun with these volumes, the JIAAA attempts to balance the “West Central Asian” world with the “East Central Asian” one, with a range of articles for widest appeal, not only on art and archaeology but on the related areas of language and history.
With Lilla’s appointment as Curator of Central Asian Collections in the Museum of Asian Art, Berlin, and my association with ISAW, first as a Visiting Research Scholar and now as a Research Associate, we thought it would be a good idea for the Journal to come under ISAW’s wings. Fortunately, ISAW’s director, Roger Bagnall, did too. Another reason for making the JIAAA an ISAW enterprise was to benefit from the involvement of Sören Stark, Assistant Professor of Central Asian Art and Archaeology; beginning with volume 4, Sören has been sharing the editorship with us.
Volume 6 will soon be published; we invite readers to visit http://isaw.nyu.edu/publications/jiaaa to see its Table of Contents and images from some of the articles. With volume 7, Lilla Russell-Smith will be stepping back from co-editing but will remain on our Editorial Board. Taking her place will be Annette L. Juliano, Professor of Chinese Art History at Rutgers University-Newark.
Soon we expect to add to the JIAAA webpage the complete contents of volume 1, and each year the next consecutive issue, thanks to Brepols, which has graciously agreed to make back issues available through the Ancient World Digital Library (AWDL); we already post on the JIAAA website in full one article from each published volume and plan to replace each periodically with a different article from that issue.
JIAAA Bird Motif
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum für Asiatische Kunst / Jürgen Liepe
And what of the CIAA Newsletter? In the spring, thanks to the efforts of ISAW Head Librarian David Ratzan, all 20 volumes of the Newsletter have been scanned and will be accessible via AWDL (searchable through the NYU Library’s BobCat portal) as well as a PDF, which can be fully searched. Eventually, one will be able to search for a name or a term across the set as a whole in AWDL. With the growing interest in the historiography of Silk Road studies and the development of art historical and archaeological investigation, the Newsletter articles and news items should prove valuable.
A final word about the CIAA’s legacy: the JIAAA continues its logo, an adaptation by one of the student publishers, Dr. Madhuvanti Ghose (now at the Art Institute of Chicago), of the beribboned bird, enclosed in a pearled roundel and holding a jeweled pendant in its beak, that decorated a wall in one of the caves at Kizil, a Buddhist site along the northern caravan route skirting the Taklamakan desert in Xinjiang. The roundels are paired so that two ducks face each other and a textile-like pattern is formed by their repetition. Indeed, the motif was undoubtedly copied from a silk textile originating in Sogdiana in western Central Asia or Sasanian Iran. Thus, an appropriate symbol for the transnational art of Central or Inner Asia, and, a propitious one for Lilla Russell-Smith, who was pleased to have in her care in Berlin a portion of the painted frieze from Kizil.


Contents of volume 6:
  • Luca M. OLIVIERI, "The Last Phases at Barikot: Domestic Cults and Preliminary Chronology. Data from the 2012 Excavation Campaign in Swat"
  • Mutalib KHASANOV and M. H. ISAMIDDINOV, "Ceramic Imitations of Metalwork of the Early Hellenistic Period in Kurgancha"
  • Géraldine FRAY, Frantz GRENET, Mutalib KHASANOV, Marina REUTOVA, and Maria RIEP,  "Non-Zoroastrian Agrarian Cults in Sogdiana"
  • Lyndon A. ARDEN-WONG, "Preliminary Thoughts on a Marble Tablet from Karabalgasun"
  • Jan BEMMANN, Thomas HÖLLMANN, Birte AHRENS, Thomas KAISER, and Shing MÜLLER, "A Stone Quarry in the Orkhon Valley"
  • Étienne de la VAISSIÈRE, "Two Sogdian(?) Tombs from Gansu. A Preliminary Note"
  • T. H. BARRETT, "Transcribed Printers’ Colophons at Dunhuang as Evidence for Early Printing"
  • Marilyn GRIDLEY, "Yulin Cave 30 and Uygur Patronage: Origin and Transmittal of the Theme of Guanyin with Luohans"
  • Gábor KÓSA: "The Sun, The Moon and the Paradise –– An Interpretation of the Upper Register of the Chinese Manichaean Cosmology Painting"
  • Annette L. JULIANO and Judith A. LERNER: "Conference Notes. 'Sogdians in China: New Evidence in Archaeological Finds and Unearthed Texts'"
  • OBITUARY
    • Katheryn M. LINDUFF and Karen S. RUBINSON, "Elena Efimovna Kuz’mina (Kuzmina) (1930-2013)"


To subscribe to the Journal of Inner Asian Art and Archaeology
Please contact periodicals@brepols.net
If you would like to purchase online access on a pay-per-view article basis, please check:Brepols Periodica Online: brepols.metapress.com

The conservation of the Begram Ivories

http://bri.mu/sO1WTS ivories

The remarkable story of conservation and repatriation of the Begram Ivories. Excavated in the 1930s, the ivories were part of the collection of the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul but went missing during the unrest in Afghanistan. They re-emerged in 2010 and have been conserved at the British Museum. The ivories have been returned to the National Museum of Afghanistan.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Important tomb found from the Wu Zetian period

Tomb of China’s woman prime minister: The life and lovers of politician who served first female emperor and was eventually executed in a palace coup



As a sequence of murders, coups and affairs enveloped the dynasty, Shangguan Wan'er's husband Li Xian briefly became emperor.

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Ancient: This undated picture released by the Shaanxi provincial cultural relics bureau shows a stone marker carved with an epitaph inside the newly discovered tomb of Shangguan Wan'er
Ancient: This undated picture released by the Shaanxi provincial cultural relics bureau shows a stone marker carved with an epitaph inside the newly discovered tomb of Shangguan Wan'er
'Of major significance': Chinese archaeologists work inside the newly discovered tomb of Shangguan Wan'er, a 7th-century female politician who was one of the most powerful women in ancient Chinese history
'Of major significance': Chinese archaeologists work inside the newly discovered tomb of Shangguan Wan'er, a 7th-century female politician who was one of the most powerful women in ancient Chinese history
Fascinating find: The tomb was discovered near an airport in Xianyang in northern Shaanxi province and confirmed by an epitaph, China Radio International said on its website
Fascinating find: The tomb was discovered near an airport in Xianyang in northern Shaanxi province and confirmed by an epitaph, China Radio International said on its website
  

She was killed in 710 when Li Longji (685-762), the seventh emperor of the Tang Dynasty, launched a palace coup. 
Her tomb was discovered near an airport in Xianyang in northern Shaanxi province and confirmed by an epitaph, China Radio International said on its website.

'The discovery of the tomb with the epitaph is of major significance in the study of the Tang Dynasty,' the China Daily said, citing a historian specialising in the era, Du Wenyu.
The grave was badly damaged, suggesting a 'large-scale, organised' and possibly 'official destruction', Geng Qinggang, a Shaanxi-based archaeology researcher told the China News Service on Thursday.

Desecrated: The grave was badly damaged, suggesting a 'large-scale, organised' and possibly 'official destruction', Geng Qinggang, a Shaanxi-based archaeology researcher told the China News Service
Desecrated: The grave was badly damaged, suggesting a 'large-scale, organised' and possibly 'official destruction', Geng Qinggang, a Shaanxi-based archaeology researcher told the China News Service
Bloody end: Shangguan Wan'er was killed in 710 when Li Longji (685-762), the seventh emperor of the Tang Dynasty, launched a palace coup
Bloody end: Shangguan Wan'er was killed in 710 when Li Longji (685-762), the seventh emperor of the Tang Dynasty, launched a palace coup
Relics: Sculptures of horse riders inside the newly discovered tomb of Shangguan Wan'er
Relics: Sculptures of horse riders inside the newly discovered tomb of Shangguan Wan'er

DENIED A STATUS: HOW WOMEN WERE REPRESSED IN CHINA

As a woman, Shangguan Wan'er's rise to such a powerful position in the Chinese hierarchy was extremely rare.
For thousands of years, women were considered inferior to men to the point of being treated with contempt.
They were given no political rights, denied property or inheritance and given no social status.
Many were treated as slaves until their death.
They were forced to obey their fathers before marriage, their husbands after marriage and then their sons if they became widowed.
It wasn't until the first half of the 20th Century when the Chinese Communist Party made the achievement of female emancipation one of its goals that equality between men and women began to even out.

Shannguan Wan'er was born into an influential Chinese family in 664AD. 
Her grandfather, Shangguan Yi, had risen to the rank of chancellor during the reign of Emperor Gaozong.
But was executed after he was found to be involved in a plot to depose of his wife, Empress Wu.
Shangguan Wan'er's father, Shangguan Tingzhi, was also put to death for taking part in the same conspiracy.
Despite her family connections, she went on to become Wu's secretary when she became empress dowager following Gaozong's death in 683 and then took title of Emperor herself in 690.
Empress Wu is said to have admired Shangguan Wan'er's qualities of being discerning and manipulative and saw something of the young girl in herself, it was reported on Journey to the East.
As secretary, she was in charge of writing imperial edicts, dealing with matters of vital importance on the government and state - effectively taking on the role of a prime minister.
Held in high regard: Shangguan Wan'er - who lived from 664 to 710 in the Tang dynasty - was a trusted aide to China's first female emperor Wu Zetian (pictured)
Held in high regard: Shangguan Wan'er - who lived from 664 to 710 in the Tang dynasty - was a trusted aide to China's first female emperor Wu Zetian (pictured)

She was also asked to spy on the Empress's courtiers.
When Tang Emperor Zhongzong ascended to the throne after a coup, Shangguan Wan'er was awarded the title Zhaorong and given responsibility for the imperial harem.
Aspiring to follow in the footsteps of Empress Wu, Empress Wei posioned her husband and took power. 
But after a short time, she was overthrown and killed in a coup by Li Longji, Prince of Linzi.
As a member of Empress Wei's inner circle, Shangguan Wan'er was also killed.
Her story has intrigued many in China and has even inspired a TV series.


Marco Polo on Netflix

With less than a month before its debut, Netflix has released the first full-length trailer for Marco Polo, its new series retelling the story of the real-life trader and world-traveler from the 13th century.



“All my life, I've waited for the great adventurer to offer me a place at his side,” Polo (newcomer Lorenzo Richelmy) says at the start of the trailer, before we see the young Marco be given by his father to Mongol emperor Kublai Khan as tribute (Prometheus’ Benedict Wong plays Khan). “Am I a prisoner?” Polo asks in a later scene, to which Khan responds, “A man who proves his loyalty to me can take whatever he wishes.”
Alongside Wong and Richelmy, Marco Polo — created by Academy Award nominee John Fusco — also features Joan ChenChin Han and The Flash’s Olivia Cheng. The show is a co-production between Netflix and The Weinstein Co.
Marco Polo premieres on Netflix Dec. 12.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Excavation Hong Kong links to the tragic tale of the Song era's last young emperors?

Fanny W. Y. Fung



 Legend has it that when Mongol invaders captured the Song dynasty capital of Lin'an, loyal ministers fled with their seven-year-old emperor, Shi, and his five-year-old brother Bing, in a last-ditch effort to save the dynasty.
They headed south and arrived in what is now Kowloon in 1277AD. Alas, their time there was short. Shi soon died of sickness. With the Mongols closing in, the small band of loyalists refused to surrender. A minister scooped up the hastily crowned Bing and jumped off a cliff in Yashan, Canton.
Did the two boy emperors really come to Hong Kong? Historians still debate that.
But an archaeological excavation in Kowloon City renews hope of tracing the city's link to the brothers.
The dig has exposed old wells, among other artefacts, providing historians with a treasure trove from which to decipher some of the city's history. Photos: SCMPAn archaeologist hired by the MTR Corporation has unearthed thousands of clues, including two intact wells dating back to the Song (960-1279AD), or perhaps the Yuan, (1279-1368AD) dynasties.
"This is very important because the era matches the stories told from written records," says Professor Chiu Yu-lok, a historian at the Open University of Hong Kong. "They show the existence of mature settlements in the area in that period."
Independent Hong Kong historian Anthony Chan Tin-kuen says the discoveries offer a plausible explanation for the brothers' story.
"When the emperor and his people took refuge, they needed food and other materials and therefore would not stay in a barren place," he says. "The location of wells indicates a populous area in the Song-Yuan era."
The wells and other historical items were discovered during an archaeological survey of the area around the MTR's new To Kwa Wan station, part of the Sha Tin-Central railway link. The area was identified in 2008 as probably having high archaeological value.
Most of the items discovered have been moved to the government's depository for archaeological finds. One of the stone wells will be preserved on the site.
The station site is about 100 metres from the monument of Sung Wong Toi boulder, carved to commemorate the two boy emperors' refuge in Kowloon.
The site has yielded hundreds of treasures: house structures, burial sites, kilns, ditches, ponds and wells. Thousands of ceramic shards, coins and remnants of iron tools have also been unearthed.
Buried in layers up to four metres below the ground, the remnants show settlements from the Song dynasty to the early 20th century.
While some people are excited about the finds, two archaeologists are more cautious about its significance.
The man in charge of the excavation, Dr Liu Wensuo, of the Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, declined to be interviewed.
Chinese University archaeologist Tracey Lu Lie-dan says it would be unscientific to draw any conclusions about the significance of the discovery as it will take a long time for the archaeological team to analyse the finds.
The latest find in Kowloon City may not be as surprising as the remnants of the Ma Wan excavation in 1997.
There, an archaeological team found 20 graves, proving that there had been a human settlement in Hong Kong in the late Neolithic to early Bronze Age (2000-1000 BC).
The Kowloon City site could fill a gap in the study of the city's role in the Song dynasty, a culturally important age that saw the invention of movable type and the rise of lyrical literature, even as the dynasty suffered from military and diplomatic weakness.
Despite knowing that the Song dynasty had settlements in east Kowloon, little archaeological evidence had been found until recent years.
The first archaeological study was near Sacred Hill - a slope in the Ma Tau Wai area levelled by the Japanese army in the 1940s. From 1918 to 1937, Walter Schofield, a colonial civil servant and amateur archaeologist, found remains from pre-Han (before 206BC) periods and Tang (618-907AD) and Song dynasties, according to a report by Dr Liu.
The MTR excavation is the fifth archaeological survey in Kai Tak since 2002.
But the history of Hong Kong in the Song era is far richer than just the story of the two young emperors.
By the 4th century, eastern Kowloon was a salt production hub. When the dynasty nationalised salt production, the government set up a local headquarters of the Imperial Salt Monopoly in Kowloon, spanning an area that includes today's Kowloon City, Kowloon Bay, To Kwa Wan, Kwun Tong and Tsim Sha Tsui, according to the Kwun Tong district council and studies by historians.
As Kowloon Bay became a popular shelter for ships sailing between Guangdong and Fujian during the Song dynasty, people arriving from other parts of China started to settle in the area and establish villages. Among the migrants of the time was the Lin clan from Fujian, who set up a village called Po Kong Tsuen near the present San Po Kong.
Another trace of the Song empire is the Hau Wong Temple in Kowloon City. Built in the 18th century, it is a grade-one historic building. Some people say the temple was built to commemorate Yeung Leung-chit, a military general and uncle of Emperor Shi who took him to Kowloon. But this claim is still debated.
After the Mongols routed the Song regime, succeeding dynasties kept a foothold in Kowloon, including the Ming and the Qing. Facing threats from Western military powers in the 19th century, the Qing empire built the Kowloon Fort and the Kowloon Walled City. The Walled City, which became a lawless and dirty slum, was razed 20 years ago.
Official recognition of Song-era Chinese heritage in Kowloon City did not come until British colonial rule. According to Legislative Council records, the decision was partly a political move to provide what was then a brand new colony with a "respectable halo of antiquity" and partly a strategy to preserve some open space in Kowloon for the public.
The colonial government attempted to sell the land for development in 1915. The Sung Wong Toi boulder - slated to be razed - was saved only after building contractor Li Sui-kum revealed the plan to the public and two University of Hong Kong academics petitioned for its conservation.
Some hope the new Kowloon discoveries will trigger renewed interest in Hong Kong's imperial past. "In the 19th century, people started to pay attention to the roots of Hong Kong as they looked for something which could strengthen their cultural identity," says Professor Chiu. "Later in the 1950s, a group of scholars became very keen on reconstructing the history of Kowloon and conducted a lot of studies. Yet there was very little information available from archaeological finds."
Until now.