Archeology and History of the Silk Road

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Monday, 6 July 2015

Oc Eo, an important trade site along the maritime Silk Road that linked China, India and the Mediterranean world


Content image - Phnom Penh Post

Romans vs Khmers: They came, they saw, they traded... or did they?

No one disputes that Oc Eo is a site of great archaelogical value. Vietnam this week named it a "national relic". But was it also the place where ancient Romans and Khmers met?
In 2nd century AD Egypt, the legendary Greco-Roman scientist Claudius Ptolemy put the extent of the known world onto paper. From his home in Alexandria, he gathered reports from sailors who had made perilous journeys to India and possibly beyond. Though details were sparse, a voyager named Alexander described a distant port called Kattigara on the Sinus Magna (Great Gulf) to the east of the Golden Chersonese peninsula – widely considered to be mainland Malaysia.
Halfway across the world around the same time, the bustling seaport Oc Eo was part of the flourishing Funan Kingdom, the earliest known pre-Angkorian civilisation and origin of the earliest Khmer-language inscriptions.
Located in modern Vietnam’s An Giang province near the Cambodian border, Oc Eo was on Monday declared a “national relic” by the Vietnamese government. Vuong Binh Thanh, chairman of the People’s Committee of An Giang, reportedly told onlookers that it was essential to preserve the 450-hectare site for the sake of tourism and academia alike.
Excavation at Oc Eo suggests it was major centre for international maritime trade. Unearthed jewellery, pottery statues, coins and gold pieces – including depictions of Hindu deities and Sanskrit inscriptions – indicate busy trade with the Indian subcontinent.
Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A 15th Century map of Southeast Asia from Ptolemy’s writings. WIKICOMMONS
Most curious, however, are the 2nd century AD Roman coins, found by French archaeologist Louis Malleret, who is credited with discovering the archaeological site in 1942.
While certainly one of Vietnam’s most important archaeological sites, could Oc Eo actually be Ptolemy’s Kattigara? And is it possible that Roman mariners could have travelled there and encountered Cambodia’s ancient ancestors?
While the idea seems fanciful, it’s not new. The notion was even suggested by the late George Coedes, arguably the most influential historian of ancient Southeast Asia.
“Funan may even have been the terminus of voyages from the Eastern Mediterranean, if it is the case that the Kattigara mentioned by Ptolemy was situated on the western coast of Indochina on the Gulf of Siam,” he wrote in a 1964 article from the Journal of Southeast Asian History.
The possibility seems less farfetched in light of the well-documented direct maritime trade between Rome and western India. According to Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, a Greco-Roman manuscript most likely written in the middle of the 1st century AD, the Greek navigator and merchant Hippalus was the first to discover the monsoon winds that could take a ship from the Roman provinces along the Red Sea to India without following the dangerous coastal route. 
Spices, Chinese silk, fruit and even wild animals were traded for Roman coins, which have been excavated along the western Indian coast. Silk had become so popular by the late 1st century AD that Pliny the Elder even complained about Rome’s lust for the fabric.
“At the smallest reckoning, 100 million sesterces [of gold] is the sum which every year India, the silk-growing country of northern China, and the Arabian peninsula take from our Empire,” Pliney wrote.
But while the western Indian Ocean sea route was well documented by contemporaries, Roman theories of what lay east were far sketchier. Rome and China knew of each other through trade intermediaries in South and Central Asia, who jealously guarded their knowledge to retain their lucrative middlemen status. The Romans knew China as Seres, the land of silk, while China knew Rome as Da Qin, which literally translates to “Great Qin” in reference to the Qin Dynasty.
A single, uncorroborated account of Romans in Southeast Asia can be found in the Hou Hanshu, an official Chinese history compiled by the courts of the Liu Song dynasty in the 5th century AD. 
The document states that Roman sailors arrived in 166 AD at Rinan – located in modern day central Vietnam – with gifts of ivory and tortoise shells for the Chinese who then ruled the area. The meeting, reads the document, was the first instance of direct communication between the empires.
Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Greco-Roman scientist Claudius Ptolemy. WIKICOMMONS
But it has yet to be demonstrated whether Romans directly met the peoples of East and Southeast Asia or only picked up scattered titbits and artefacts via intermediaries. 
Kattigara, said professor Miriam Stark, a specialist in the Funan period at the University of Hawaii, could have been as far south as Sumatra according to modern peer-reviewed scholarship on the subject.
“I can’t say that Oc Eo (or even the Mekong delta more generally) was the Kattigara that Ptolemy describes,” said Stark in an email, adding that archeologists have yet to find firm evidence confirming Kattigara’s location.
Concordance with multiple sources, she said, was also lacking, and the Roman coins unearthed at Oc Eo were of dubious provenance because Malleret mostly purchased them from locals rather than excavating them himself.
However, Kasper Hanus and Emila Smagur, both PhD candidates at Poland’s Jagiellonian University, argue in a yet-to-be released research paper that Oc Eo is the “most probable” location of Kattigara.
Hanus, who is also a research affiliate at the University of Sydney, agreed that the lack of evidence meant that committing to any particular theory for the location of Kattigara was “gambling”.
But he cited Oc Eo’s importance in contemporary maritime trade along the Gulf of Thailand, the discovered Roman relics and Ptolemy’s description as compelling evidence in favour of the theory.
“What we can say for sure is that Oc Eo was an important trade site along the maritime Silk Road that linked China, India and the Mediterranean world, and the concentration of overseas goods suggests its vital role in intercontinental commerce,” said Hanus, adding that more written evidence from the period was needed.
“In general, the late prehistory of mainland Southeast Asia is developing very fast, and every year we witness new discoveries, so I suggest to have our minds open, and verify and change our ideas as the new evidence arrives.”

Dining from Darius to Kublai Khan


Fresco of Shah Abbas I receiving Vali Muhammad Khan, Chehel Sotoun Palace, Isfahan, circa 1657. Ninara/Wikicommons
July 05, 2015

In April prior to the Expo Milano 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry gathered the chefs who would represent America at the world fair. “You can make connections around the dinner table you can’t around the conference table,” he told them. In 2012, the State Department had formed a Diplomatic Culinary Partnership with the James Beard Foundation, proclaiming that chefs would “elevate the role of culinary engagement in America’s formal and public diplomacy efforts.”
Such nods to the kitchen seem quaint in light of history’s deep association between cuisine and politics. From the earliest empires, a ruler had to eat and drink to maintain his personal prowess, gather his strength for battle, ensure his virility in bed, and outperform those who aspired to his throne, all the while making sure his enemies did not poison him. Cuisine, like monumental buildings and fine dress, demonstrated and reinforced a sovereign’s power. During ages when transport was slow and expensive, dining on exotic luxuries showed off a leader’s command of the resources of his domains. When cuisine was shared it bought loyalty from followers, and when withheld it humiliated and punished his enemies. Farm products were central to generating revenues, and once processed were used to pay bureaucrats, bodyguards, and warriors. When annual food shortages before the harvest were a regular reminder of the ever-present threat of famine and riot, it was the ruler’s responsibility to make sure that the poor, particularly the urban poor, did not go short.
For more than two thousand years, from circa 550 BC to 1700 AD, Persian high cuisine was as important to the politics of Eurasian states as French gastronomy would become to international diplomacy in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Its long reign began when Cyrus the Great led his charioteers down off the high plateau to the plains of Mesopotamia, conquered the rich lowlands, named himself King of Kings, and established the largest empire yet seen, stretching from Turkey in the west to the borders of India in the east. Not the least of his prizes was the world’s most sophisticated culinary tradition, the Babylonian, which stretched back another thousand years to the first written recipes recorded in 1750 BC. Cyrus adopted its cooks, its dishes, and the organization of its kitchens.
The organization of the imperial kitchen, one of the most important government departments, was to remain remarkably stable over the centuries. Into it was checked and recorded much of the ruler’s revenue, whether as tribute, taxes, or the products of his own farms, orchards, game parks, and fisheries. Tribute bearers from around the empire, depicted on the ceremonial staircase that Cyrus’s successor Darius I had constructed at the palace of Persepolis, brought grains, oil seeds, fruits and vegetables, and domesticated animals along with showier gold, silver, wild animals, and beautiful slaves. In the elaborate series of kitchens in the palace, and in satellite operations such as bakeries, fisheries, and game reserves, perhaps thousands of workers labored to process and cook these foodstuffs. The head cook, or executive chef, as he would now be called, was responsible for logging the offerings into storage and then out to the kitchens, for organizing the staff, and for getting the multiple meals of the palace served to the appropriate groups. He worked with the steward, one of the ruler’s right-hand men, who was responsible for protocol and administration of the palace. Somewhat less senior but also crucial was the royal physician, who with his staff prepared strengthening foods before battle or if the king seemed ill, and monitored the ruler’s health, checking his digestion, urine, and excrement to see that foods passed properly. Finally, royal gardeners, huntsmen, and others delivered delicacies such as dates, pomegranates, and game.
The imperial kitchens added value to grains and carcasses, turning them from useless, bulky objects to fine white bread, delicious oils, or aromatic roasted meats, by slaughtering and butchering, threshing and grinding, boiling and crushing, and multiple other difficult, laborious operations. Processed foods were handed out as rations, payment in kind, to the ruler’s bodyguards and bureaucrats, and to all artisans, women, soothsayers, entertainers, and of course the cooks, who kept the imperial machine humming. A bronze pillar was inscribed with the rations for Cyrus’s meals, reported the Macedonian writer Polyaenus. These included different grades of wheat and barley flour; carcasses of oxen, horses, rams, geese, and birds; milk both fresh and fermented; seasonings and condiments such as garlic and onions, apple and pomegranate juice, cumin, dill, turnip pickles and capers; cooking fats including ghee, sesame, and almond oils; wine of both dates and grapes; “cakes” of dried fruits and nuts bound with a resin; and firewood for preparing meals. Far too much food for any single person, even a King of Kings, these lists bear witness to the way palace provisions were distributed.
Nothing established the ruler’s position within his own court and with foreign dignitaries more than the great feast. Whole carcasses were roasted, an extravagance in a land where fuel was scarce. Sauces, time consuming to prepare, accompanied the meat. Confections were created from sesame oil, honey, barley meal, and fresh mild cheese. Guests went home with leftovers and the elaborate silver and gold drinking horns from which they had quaffed their wine. A fine gift induced loyalty in humans, “just as it does in dogs,” sniffed Xenophon, the Greek historian who served in the Persian army. The Greeks might sniff, but a hierarchy of benevolence was the working assumption of most of the ancient world.

Power to Feed
With food and cooking so important, it’s not surprising that the universe was thought to be a giant kitchen in which fire and water were the chief agents of change just as they were in the sculleries and bakeries of the palace. The sun beamed down fire (thought to be a real living thing that danced and died if it were not fed), the moon water. Fire and water were the driving agents of a world made up of a hierarchy of living things, each with their own way of dining. Minerals, then believed to be alive, needed little more than water. Plants thrived on water and earth, cooked by the sun until they flowered and seeded. Animals ate raw meat or vegetables, alone and standing. Nomads who (at least by reputation) ate raw meat but no grains, were considered little better than animals; civilized humans ate meat and grains only if they had been further cooked in the fire, and they ate them reclining, sitting, or kneeling with their fellows. The poor among them ate the less prestigious grains, the darkest bread, and rarely saw meat. The privileged, perhaps 10 percent of the population, enjoyed high cuisines that included fine white bread, meat, sauces, and sweets. At the pinnacle of the hierarchy was the monarch, who ate the most refined foods, dining alone since he had no equal. He was the pivot of the cosmos, poised between the natural and the supernatural, the gods who supped on ethereal aromas and smoke. The more cooked the food, the more refined, the more concentrated, and the more powerful it was. 
A chain of culinary benevolence (or bribery) bound together gods and humans, rulers and subjects. The gods had given food to humans, especially the grains and the domesticated animals, it was believed. In return, the king offered sacrifices of grains and animals to the gods to guarantee fertile women, good crops, and success in war. The king thus ensured the peoples’ well-being, receiving in return grains and animals in tribute from his subjects. As historian Amy Singer puts it, it was the power to feed that fed power.
And so Persian cuisine, a cuisine that satisfied these multiple political needs, was refined during a thousand years and more of successive Persian empires, the Seleucid, the Parthian, and the Sassanid. Other empires that bordered on the sequence of Persian empires copied what they could. The Greeks, for example—although suspicious of imperial extravagance—adopted Persian sauces, Persian wine cups, and Persian dining benches, while Alexander the Great took cooks as part of the spoils of war. Drawing on these intermediaries, the cuisine of imperial Persia found echoes in the cuisine of imperial Rome.
In 762, the second caliph of the Abbasid Dynasty founded Baghdad. He modified the Persian culinary tradition to fit the gradually emerging Islamic culinary strictures, as Cyrus had co-opted the cuisine of Babylon a thousand years earlier. By the end of the century, Harun Al-Rashid, best known today from the Thousand and One Nights (although the stories about him are probably fictitious), took it to new heights. For the caliph and his court, the cooks prepared chicken, tender young goat, and lamb in sauces rich with almonds and pistachios, spices, vinegar, and green herbs. They seized on newly available sugar to create pastries and confectionary that went beyond the halvas and brittles prepared with honey. For the people, agricultural reforms and new ways of food processing improved the diet.
Once again, surrounding states emulated this powerful cuisine. It was recreated in Indian sultanates and central Asian states and across northern Africa. Elements crept into the newly prosperous princedoms and kingdoms of Europe. A version was found in Al-Andalus; because Christian conquistadors set their sights on the Americas, traces are found across Latin America.

In 1330, the court physician Hu Szu-Hui presented the Mongol emperor of China with a cookbook-cum-dietary manual and food inventory called the Proper and Essential Things for the Emperor’s Food and Drink. As he explained in the introduction, “There is none, near or far, who does not come to court and offer tribute. Rare dainties and exotic things are all collected in the imperial treasury.” That meant that the Mongols, although best known in the public imagination as fierce warriors who pierced their horses’ necks and sucked on the blood for sustenance, followed centuries of precedent and co-opted Persian cuisine for the court. They had begun their conquests in the 1220s and by mid-century controlled northern China, Persia, Russia, Baghdad, and by 1280 southern China as well.
In the Chinese capital Khanbalik, near present-day Beijing, Kublai Khan asked Chinese advisors to devise a cuisine that would display the Mongol court as powerful and cosmopolitan as befitted emperors who portrayed themselves as heirs to the world’s great empires, calling themselves King of Kings like the Persians, Son of Heaven like the Chinese, Caesar like the Romans, and Great King like the Indians. Captives from Persian lands were instructed to set up flourmills and oil presses, grow grapes and make wine. In the kitchens, traditional Mongol meat soups were prepared with Persian (or with Chinese) thickeners, vegetables, and spices as part of imperial culinary policy.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a trio of Islamic empires, the Safavid, the Ottoman, and the Mughal, which stretched from the Mediterranean to much of India, continued the Persian tradition, with delicate rice pilaus now added to the cuisine. In Isfahan, Shah Abbas I served envoys such as Vali Muhammad Khan of Bukhara. In Istanbul, the Topkapi kitchens of Suleiman the Magnificent had earlier prepared meals for the ruler and his janissaries, as well as elaborate festivities in which sugar sculptures were paraded to the delight of his subjects. And to the east, on the terrace of the fort of Agra, Shah Jahan, the Mughal emperor who built the Taj Mahal and ruled one-seventh of the world’s population, gave white banquets by the light of the moon, his retinue dressed in white kneeling on white carpets. Prepared by cooks brought from different parts of the Islamic World to work in the kitchens in Delhi or in the sixteen large kitchen tents that were part of the emperor’s train, they featured chicken breasts in a sauce of almonds and creamy yogurt and pilau rice rich with butter and white raisins. They were served on dishes of gold, silver, and Ming porcelain, while the shah drank wine from an auspicious milky white Chinese jade cup, perfectly sized to fit in his palm, and believed to turn color if the drink were poisoned. The Savafid, Ottoman, and Mughal courts received European envoys who reported on the magnificence of the cuisine.
European diplomacy, though, was headed in a different direction. High French cuisine had been created in response to the scientific, political, and religious changes of the mid-seventeenth century as part of the court ceremonial of Versailles. Adopted by the aristocratic diplomatic class, it became first the cuisine of European diplomacy, then over the course of the nineteenth century, the cuisine of world diplomacy. To participate, Asian courts added second, French kitchens. Those of republican persuasion—first the Dutch, then the young American republic, drawing on traditions that went back to republican Rome and democratic Greece—were opposed to such monarchical displays. They embarked on a reform of culinary politics, maintaining the commitment to provide decent diets for their citizens, but distancing diplomacy from the deeply entrenched model of extravagant dining. Although American state dinners have most frequently been French, they have always been modest by historical standards. And the Barack Obama administration’s Diplomatic Culinary Partnership continues the move from historical precedent by choosing, for diplomacy, the culinary traditions of the United States.

Rachel Laudan is a visiting scholar in the Institute for Latin American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. She is author of Cuisine and Empire: Cooking in World HistoryThe Food of Paradise: Exploring Hawaii’s Culinary Heritage; and co-editor of the Oxford Companion to the History of Modern Science. On Twitter: @rachellaudan.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

2nd shipwreck confirmed from 13th century Mongolian invasion


Archaeologists have discovered a Mongol ship which took part in a failed invasion on Japan over 700 years ago


MATSUURA, Nagasaki Prefecture--A shipwreck found here is the second confirmed vessel
from a 13th century Mongolian fleet that foundered in a typhoon in a failed attempt to invade Japan, researchers said July 2.
Archaeologists from the University of the Ryukyus and the Matsuura city board of education determined that the wreck was a part of the Mongolian invasion fleet partly based on its structure.
Chinese ceramic wares dating from the 12th to 13th centuries were discovered in and around the wreck, backing up their conclusion, they said.
The research team, which is surveying around the Takashima Kozaki underwater archaeological site, discovered the shipwreck last autumn around 200 meters off the southern coast of Takashima island and 15 meters below the surface.
The remains of the ship measure 12 meters long and maximum 3 meters wide. The wreck was lying on the seabed apparently with its bow pointing southward.
Yoshifumi Ikeda, a professor of archaeology at the University of the Ryukyus who is leading the research project, said his team has found potential shipwrecks from the Mongolian invasion at three other locations.
“We have successfully confirmed the two ships from the Mongolian invasion, and further research on them is expected to lead to the discovery of even more sunken Mongolian ships,” Ikeda said.
The first confirmed Mongolian warship was discovered in 2011 around 1.7 kilometers west of the wreck found last year.
Numerous artifacts have been found on the seabed in the Takashima Kozaki site from wrecks of a fleet dispatched in the second Mongolian attempt to invade Japan in 1281. The two invasion attempts in 1274 and 1281 ended in vain as the both fleets were destroyed in typhoons.
The latest ship is estimated to have measured about 20 meters from bow to stern and 6 to 7 meters wide, slightly smaller than the first ship.
Its body was split by nine wooden bulkheads and was loaded with rocks that were apparently used as ballast. The boat’s keel has not been found. The archaeologists believe it remains buried at the bottom of the sea.
About 20 artifacts, including a white porcelain bowl, brown glaze pottery vase, roof tiles and ironware, have been discovered in and around the wreck, the researchers said.

To view a.o. two video's of the shipwreck, click HERE for the original article in the Asahi Shimbun

(This article was written by Sunao Gushiken and Sei Iwanami.)




The same story but now in the Daily Mail of 3 July 2015

Mongol ship sent by Genghis Khan's grandson to invade Japan before it was destroyed by 'kamikaze' typhoon is discovered underwater after 700 YEARS


  • Ship was part of Mongol armadas which sailed to Japan in 1274 and 1281
  • But the 4,000 ships and 140,000 men were sunk by devastating typhoons
  • Storm has gone down in Japanese history as 'kamikaze', or the divine wind
  • It is the third sunken ship from failed invasion to be discovered in the water

The Mongolian ship which was sent to invade Japan in the 13th Century had been decaying underwater for over 700 years.
Dispatched by Genghis Khan's grandson Kublai, it formed part of two massive armadas - made up of 4,000 ships and 140,000 men - tasked with invading the island and expanding the legendary Yuan Dynasty in 1274 and 1281.
But both fleets were destroyed by destructive typhoon winds which have gone down in Japanese history as 'kamikaze' - or the divine wind - which saved the country from foreign invasion. 

Historic: Archaeologists have discovered a Mongol ship which took part in a failed invasion on Japan over 700 years ago
Historic: Archaeologists have discovered a Mongol ship which took part in a failed invasion on Japan over 700 years ago

Attack: Dispatched by Genghis Khan's grandson Kublai, it formed part of two massive armadas tasked with invading the island in 1274 and 1281.
Attack: Dispatched by Genghis Khan's grandson Kublai, it formed part of two massive armadas tasked with invading the island in 1274 and 1281.

Sunken: But both fleets were destroyed by destructive typhoon winds which have gone down in Japanese history as 'kamikaze' - or the divine wind

It was found in a bay close to the city of Matsuura on the west coast of Kyushu island - and archaeologists believe it was taking shelter from the storm when it sunk.
This is the third sunken ship from the armada to be discovered by archaeologists from the University of the Ryukyus, who found the last one around 200m from Takashima Island in October 2014.
The latest is estimated to be around 20m from bow to stern and up to seven metres wide - slightly smaller than the first ship.
The second ship to be discovered on the seabed yesterday is 12m long and 3m wide at its longest point. 
The first Mongolian warship was discovered in 2011 around 1.7km west of the wreck found last year.

Shipwreck: This is the third sunken ship from the armada to be discovered by archaeologists from the University of the Ryukyus

Massive: The latest is estimated to be around 20m from bow to stern and up to seven metres wide
Massive: The latest is estimated to be around 20m from bow to stern and up to seven metres wide

The structures of the ship, and the 13th Century ceramics on board, backed up their theory that it was part of the Mongol invasion fleet.
A professor of archaeology at the University of Ryukyus says his team have now found potential shipwrecks from the same invasion at three different locations. 
Yoshifumi Ikeda told Asia and Japan Watch: 'We have successfully confirmed the two ships from the Mongolian invasion and further research on them is expected to lead to the discovery of even more sunken Mongolian ships.'
Numerous artifacts have been found on the seabed in the Takashima Kozaki archaeology. They include a white porcelain bowl, brown glaze pottery vase, roof tiles and ironware, have been discovered in and around the wreck, the researchers said.


Saturday, 4 July 2015

Hellenes and Romans in Ancient China (240 BC – 1398 AD)

By Lucas Christopoulos
Sino-Platonic Papers, 230 (August, 2012)
17th century map of China, by Johan Nieuhof (1618-1672)
Introduction: Following the death of Alexander the Great, a large number of his soldiers were forced to remain in the Asian fortified cities of Bactria and northwest India in order to control the occupied territories. These new colonies of the East appealed to migrants, many of them artists or mercenaries from Greece, during the reign of Alexander’s successor, Seleucos. Many of the children that issued from the mixed marriages of Greeks and locals belonged to a Hellenized aristocracy that came to rule Bactria and northwest India for, in some places, the next three hundred years. Soon after Seleucos had made an alliance with Chandragupta Maurya, the king of India, the Kshatriya, the warrior caste of India, had come to consider the Greeks as entirely members of their own clan. After the reign of Chandragupta’s grandson Ashoka, the first Buddhist king of India, this alliance was reflected in Gandhara with the development of a Greco-Buddhist culture.
The independent kingdom of Bactria claimed by Diodotes gave rise to a distinctive culture that mixed Persian, Indian and Greek elements, and its later expansion eastward eventually had a great impact on the Chinese world. The Greco-Bactrians and their Hellenized Scythian troops reached China through the Tarim Basin and established colonies in its southern portion, along the northern range of the Himalayas. The eastern part of the Roman Empire then took the relay, thronged with travelers, embassies and traders reaching China through Sri Lanka, the Kushana Empire and India, following the Spice Road from Roman Egypt. After the advent of Christianity, Byzantium developed close relations with Tang dynasty China in its turn, mostly with Syrian monks acting as intermediaries between the two empires.
In this article I have assembled elements from historical texts, archaeological discoveries and research from other scholars in order to establish the links between these civilizations. Few archaeological discoveries have been made in China, and the lack of information on that side makes this research difficult. The ancient Roman and Greek historical sources are also insignificant concerning this particular cultural exchange in East Asia. Modern Western scholars do not have many tools to investigate the subject seriously, and they are very cautious when it comes to Chinese national history. The subject can hurt national sensibilities, because it is situated at the crossroads of major ancient civilisations, and some might regard investigating the interactions in that area as taboo. But if we can pass over this psychological barrier, disregarding particular ethnicities and considering mankind’s history as global, then it is possible to make fascinating deductions concerning what happened along the Silk Road in Xinjiang.
I found only a few pieces of this particular historical puzzle; other needed pieces are still missing or may themselves raise further questions. I do not intend to try to draw definitive conclusions to these unresolved problems, but I do suggest that we need to assemble all the pieces that we have in order to have a clearer view. That is the premise of this essay. I hope that future archaeological discoveries and exchanges with other scholars will help to clarify this signal part of human history, one that links two ancient and greatly influential civilizations — Greece and China.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Symposium: Silks from the Silk Road: Origin, Transmission and Exchange

International Dunhuang Project


THURSDAY, JULY 2, 2015


Symposium: Silks from the Silk Road: Origin, Transmission and Exchange

Hangzhou, ChinaOct. 11th --Oct. 13th, 2015

In June 2014, the Silk Roads: the Routes Network of Chang'an-Tianshan Corridor jointly nominated by China, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan was inscribed on the World Heritage List, making the ancient Silk Road a common wealth of human beings.
Parallel to the cognominal exhibition, held at the China National Silk Museum from Sept. 15th to Oct. 14th, 2015, which include masterpiece ancient silk textiles and other treasures related to the Silk Road from 24 Chinese museums and archaeological institutions of eight provinces, the symposium will present the following six sections:
  • Silk Road and Technical Exchange
  • Archaeological Findings of Silk in China
  • Archaeological Findings of Silk outside China
  • Silks on the Silk Road from the Perspective of Linguistics
  • Maritime Silk Road and Chinese Export Silk
  • Silks on the Silk Road from the Perspective of Anthropology
Download a PDF (194KB) for more details and the programme.

For more information, go to the website of the China National Silk Museum ( under Research)

Ancient 'mummy' unearthed from 'lost medieval civilisation' near Arctic, claim scientists

New find at Zeleny Yar necropolis, which shows links to Persia, to be examined within weeks. 







Archeologists working at the site, near Salekhard, say they suspect the remains are of a child or teenager from the 12th or 13th centuries AD. Picture: Vesti.Yamal
The expected but as yet unopened human remains are wrapped in birch bark and it is likely that this 'cocoon' contains copper which - combined with the permafrost - produced an accidental mummification.
Archeologists working at the site, near Salekhard, say they suspect the remains are of a child or teenager from the 12th or 13th centuries AD.
The new find matches others discovered at Zeleny Yar, belonging to a mystery medieval civilization with links to Persia despite its position on the edge of the Siberian Arctic. If confirmed, it will be the first mummy from the civilisation found at this intriguing site since 2002. 
Fellow of the Research Center for the Study of Arctic, Alexander Gusev, said: 'We decided, after consulting with colleagues, to take the find as a whole piece, that is without opening it in the field, taking for further research in the city.'
Checks with a metal detector show there is indeed metal beneath the birch bark. 'The birch bark 'cocoon' is of 1.30 metres in length and about 30 cm at the widest part. 
'It follows the contours of the human body. If there is really a mummy, the head and skull are likely to be in good condition. We think it is a child, maybe a teenager. The find is now in Salekhard, in the Shemanovsky Museum, in special freezer. We plan to return to Salekhard on 15 July and immediately start the opening of the 'cocoon'.
Zeleny Yar

Zeleny Yar
'The find is now in Salekhard, in the Shemanovsky Museum, in special freezer. We plan to return to Salekhard on 15 July and immediately start the opening of the 'cocoon'.' Pictures: Vesti.Yamal
Anthropologist  Evgeniya Syatova will be among those examining the discovery which, hope experts, will throw light on this tribe and its origins. She is leading archeologist at the Scientific and Production Center for the Protection and Use of Historical and Cultural Monuments, Sverdlovsk region.
'The mummification was natural,' said Mr Gusev. 'It was combination of factors: the bodies were overlain with copper sheets, parts of copper kettles and together with the permafrost, this it gave the preserving effect.'
Local Vesti.Yamal TV came to the site as the find was made. Their images show it being removed from the ground. 
Previously, archeologists found 34 shallow graves at the medieval site, including 11 bodies with shattered or missing skulls, and smashed skeletons.  Five mummies were found to be shrouded in copper, while also elaborately covered in reindeer, beaver, wolverine or bear fur. Among the graves found so far is just one female, a child, her face masked by copper plates. There are no adult women.  
Nearby were found three copper masked infant mummies - all males. They were bound in four or five copper hoops, several centimetres wide.
Similarly, a red-haired man was found, protected from chest to foot by copper plating. In his resting place, was an iron hatchet, furs, and a head buckle made of bronze depicting a bear.
mummified by accident - but who were they? mummies found in Salekhard

mummified by accident, but who were these people?

Child mummy with the facial copper mask

Mummified hand of a child
Five mummies were found to be shrouded in copper, while also elaborately covered in reindeer, beaver, wolverine or bear fur. Pictures: The SIberian Times, Natalya Fyodorova
The feet of the deceased are all pointing towards the Gorny Poluy River, a fact which is seen as having religious significance. The burial rituals are unknown to experts.
Artifacts included bronze bowls originating in Persia, some 3,700 miles to the south-west, dating from the tenth or eleventh centuries. One of the burials dates to 1282, according to a study of tree rings, while others are believed to be older. 
The researchers found by one of the adult mummies an iron combat knife, silver medallion and a bronze bird figurine. These are understood to date from the seventh to the ninth centuries. 
Unlike other burial sites in Siberia, for example in the permafrost of the Altai Mountains, or those of the Egyptian pharaohs, the purpose did not seem to be to mummify the remains, hence the claim that their preservation until modern times was an accident.
Face of mummified adult man
Mummy of adult man
'A red-haired man was found, protected from chest to foot by copper plating. In his resting place, was an iron hatchet, furs, and a head buckle made of bronze depicting a bear.' Pictures: Kate Baklitskaya, Go East
The soil in this spot is sandy and not permanently frozen. A combination of the use of copper, which prevented oxidation, and a sinking of the temperature in the 14th century, is behind the good condition of the remains today. 
Natalia Fyodorova, of the Ural branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said previously: 'Nowhere in the world are there so many mummified remains found outside the permafrost or the marshes. 
'It is a unique archaeological site. We are pioneers in everything from taking away the object of sandy soil (which has not been done previously) and ending with the possibility of further research.'
In 2002, archeologists were forced to halt work at the site due to objections by locals on the Yamal peninsula, a land of reindeer and energy riches known to locals as 'the end of the earth'.





From the Daily Mail in April 2014


Who were the accidental mummies? Scientists baffled by amazingly well-preserved 800-year-old bodies found in Russia


  • Archeologists unearth mysterious tribe of people south of the Arctic Circle
  • Experts say they were mummified 'by mistake' by copper used in burial ritual
  • It is thought the group share almost no customs with other nearby groups
  • Some of the artifacts found suggest links to Persia, around 3,700 miles away

Daily Mail    14 April 21014
Russian academics are working on unlocking the secrets of a mystery medieval civilization on the edge of the Siberian Arctic - which had links to Persia.
A burial ground has been found with human remains mummified seemingly by accident - and wearing copper masks.
But who they were remains a puzzle to Russian archeologists and experts.

A red haired man was found, protected from chest to foot by copper plating, among a group of bodies in a mysterious burial ground in northern Russia
A red haired man was found, protected from chest to foot by copper plating, among a group of bodies in a mysterious burial ground in northern Russia

A genetic study will now be carried out on the remains in a bid to solve the riddle of where the people came from
A genetic study will now be carried out on the remains in a bid to solve the riddle of where the people came from

A total of 34 shallow graves have been excavated by archeologists at Zeleniy Yar, 18 miles south of the Arctic Circle, and included a small treasure trove of jewellery and artifacts indicating this was a trading outpost of some importance around one millennium ago.
'The medieval necropolis include 11 bodies with shattered or missing skulls, and smashed skeletons,' reported The Siberian Times.
'Five mummies were found to be shrouded in copper, while also elaborately covered in reindeer, beaver, wolverine or bear fur.

'Among the graves is just one female, a child, her face masked by copper plates. There are no adult women.' 
Three copper masked infant mummies - all male - were unearthed nearby. They were bound in four or five copper hoops, several centimetres wide.
A red-haired man was also found, protected from chest to foot by copper plating. In his resting place, was an iron hatchet, furs, and a head buckle made of bronze depicting a bear.

A total 34 shallow graves were uncovered by archeologists working at Zeleniy Yar, Russia, which is 18 miles south of the Arctic Circle
A total 34 shallow graves were uncovered by archeologists working at Zeleniy Yar, Russia, which is 18 miles south of the Arctic Circle
As well as copper plating, the bodies were covered in reindeer, beaver, wolverine and bear fur
As well as copper plating, the bodies were covered in reindeer, beaver, wolverine and bear fur

The feet of the deceased are all pointing towards the nearby Gorny Poluy River, a fact which is seen as having religious significance.
Yet the burial rituals are reported to be unknown to experts and not typical of others in this cold and inhospitable region.
Artifacts included bronze bowls originating in Persia, some 3,700 miles to the south-west, dating from the tenth or eleventh centuries, it is believed.
'One of the burials dates to 1282, according to a study of tree rings, while others are believed to be older,' reports The Siberian Times. 

A bronze bowl (top) and a silver plate found beside the burials


Silver medallions and other decorations from the burial
A bronze bowl (top left) and a silver plate found beside the burials and silver medallions and other decorations (right)

A belt and bracelet from the burial. Artifacts found have led experts to link the people with Persia, thousands of miles to the south
A belt and bracelet from the burial. Artifacts found have led experts to link the people with Persia, thousands of miles to the south

An iron combat knife, silver medallion and a bronze bird figurine was found by one of the adult mummies and are understood to date from the seventh to the ninth centuries.
It is thought the preservation of the bodies was 'an accident' caused by a combination of the copper, which prevented oxidation of the remains, and a dip in temperatures in the centuries after the group were buried.
Natalia Fyodorova, of the Urals branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said: 'Nowhere in the world are there so many mummified remains found outside the permafrost or the marshes. 

The group, buried around 800 years ago, are thought to have been mummified 'by accident' due to the copper plating placed around their bodies
The group, buried around 800 years ago, are thought to have been mummified 'by accident' due to the copper plating placed around their bodies

A belt buckle from the burial, which experts are continuing to investigate
A belt buckle from the burial, which experts are continuing to investigate

'It is a unique archaeological site. We are pioneers in everything from taking away the object of sandy soil (which has not been done previously) and ending with the possibility of further research.'
She suggested that the smashing of the skulls may have been done soon after death 'to render protection from mysterious spells believed to emanate from the deceased'.
In 2002, archeologists were forced to halt work at the site due to objections by locals on the Yamal peninsula, a land of reindeer and energy riches known to locals as 'the end of the earth'. The experts were disturbing the souls of their ancestors, they feared.
Work is underway now to solve this riddle, including a genetic study of the remains headed by Alexander Pilipenko, research fellow of Institute of Cytology and Genetics, part of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences.