Friday, 27 May 2016

Mystery of Mongol Retreat from Hungary Solved

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Tree rings hold a record of annual growth, which researchers can use to extrapolate weather. This is fir timber from a historical building in southern Poland. Credit: Ulf Büntgen

In 1241, the Mongol army marched into Hungary, defeating the Polish and Hungarian armies and forcing the Hungarian king to flee. In 1242, despite meeting no significant military resistance, the Mongols abruptly packed up and left.
Now, a new study of the climate in Eastern Europe that year suggests a reason for this mysterious military retreat: The Mongols got bogged down. Literally.
A cold and snowy winter yielded to a particularly wet spring in Hungary in 1242, according to data from tree rings. As a result, the grasslands of Hungary turned to marsh, said study researcher Nicola Di Cosmo, a historian at Princeton University. The Mongols, dependent on their horses, wouldn't have been able to move effectively across the squishy land, and their steeds would have had few fields to graze.
"This is one of the very few cases in which we can identify a minor climatic change on just one winter and link it to a particularly important historical event," Di Cosmo told Live Science. [10 Surprising Ways Weather Has Changed History]

Oak tree rings, viewed through a microscope, were among the natural records that helped researchers find that the Mongols faced wet, marshy conditions in their attempt to invade Hungary.
Oak tree rings, viewed through a microscope, were among the natural records that helped researchers find that the Mongols faced wet, marshy conditions in their attempt to invade Hungary.
Credit: Willy Tegel 

The invasion of Hungary happened well after the death of notorious Mongol leader Genghis Khan in 1227. His successor, his son Ogodei, led the Mongols into Russia in 1235 and into Eastern Europe by 1240.
Multiple Mongol commanders brought at least 130,000 troops and perhaps as many as half a million horses into Hungary in the spring of 1241, Di Cosmo wrote in the journal Scientific Reports. They won key battles in April of that year, beating both the Polish and Hungarian armies and setting up an administrative system in eastern Hungary.
In the early months of 1242, the Danube and other rivers in the region froze solid, according to contemporaneous reports. This allowed the Mongols to move into western Hungary, where they spent several months fighting until their sudden retreat.
Di Cosmo's co-author Ulf Büntgen, a climate researcher at the Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL, examined tree-ring data from northern Scandinavia, the Polar Ural, the Romanian Carpathians, the Austrian Alps and the Russian Altai to untangle the climate factors that might have led to the Mongol army's actions. Previous theories had held that perhaps Ogodei's death in December 1241 prompted the main Mongol commander to head home; but that's unsatisfying, Di Cosmo said, because the commander never went back to Mongolia to take part in the politics there — he ended up back in Russia.  
Tree rings hold a record of the tree's summer growth and winter quiescence, which researchers can use to extrapolate what the weather might have been like in a particular year. The record that Büntgen examined told a tale of above-average temperatures in Hungary between 1238 and 1241, followed by a sudden spate of cool summers between 1242 and 1244. In 1242, the region encompassing southern Poland, the Czech Republic, western Slovakia, northwestern Hungary and eastern Austria was exceptionally wet, the researchers report today (May 26) in the journal Scientific Reports.

A microscopic view of four oak rings that were used to help reconstruct the weather of 1241 and 1242 in Eastern Europe, when the Mongols invaded Hungary and then abruptly retreated. Credit: Willy Tegel

The finding that spring flooding probably stymied the Mongols makes sense, Di Cosmo said, because the grasslands of Hungary were notoriously marshy until major draining projects in the 1700s and 1800s. The Mongols also retreated via different routes than their initial invasion, skirting through the Carpathian foothills and other high ground, Di Cosmo said.
"All of this, I think, is evidence that they were not happy with the terrain where they were operating," he said.
Di Cosmo and his colleagues have previously found that a stretch of warm, wet weather between 1211 and 1225 probably helped fuel the Mongols' initial expansion by giving them ample fodder for their horses. And other climate researchers have found that the Mongols may have influenced the climate as well: In 2011, researchers reported that the Mongol invasion of the 1200s hadtiny but perceptible effect on global carbon dioxide levels because the amount of death and destruction their expansion caused slowed deforestation for agriculture.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Chinese and Indian archaeologists mull exploring birthplace of Buddhism

Chinese, Indian archaeologists mull exploring birthplace of Buddhism
Dhamek Stupa at Sarnath. [Photo/CRI/]

China Daily Europe 24 May 2016

Chinese and Indian archaeologists are currently discussing a cultural cooperation project in the birthplace of Buddhism.
The Institute of Archaeology under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences will collaborate with Indian archaeologists at key sites in Sarnath, India. The project is expected to include excavations, cultural relics protection, and safety monitoring and control, Wang Wei, director of the institute, told Xinhua Monday.
Sarnath, in Northeast India, is where Buddha gave his first sermon and is considered one of the most important holy sites by Buddhists.
"We are very excited because our archaeologists will be finally able to look for, and may later touch and protect Indian relics that they have only seen in books," said Wang.
Sanjay Kumar Manjul, director of the Institute of Archaeology under the Archaeological Survey of India, voiced strong support for the project, which is expected to begin in November and last until 2020.
Another project, focusing on relics at Rakhigarhi, west of New Delhi, the site of one of the largest Indus Valley Civilization settlements, will also be launched.
"We are two neighbors with a long history of cultural, spiritual and economic ties, and I believe this project will strengthen our connection," he said.
The director explained that during the first millennium, many Chinese scholars and monks traveled to India, including Xuan Zang and Yi Jing, who attended Nalanda University in Bihar, north India.
"The detailed accounts of their journeys are an important resource for historians, archaeologists, Buddhologists and those interested in studying cross-cultural interactions in the pre-modern world. On the basis of these records, archaeologists have explored several Buddhist sites in India," he said.
Indian archaeologists have been excavating at Sarnath since the late 19th century, and a considerable number of temple relics and statues have been discovered. However, they have yet to be dated.
Another mystery Wang is interested in is the connection between Buddha statues from the Gupta Dynasty, discovered in Sarnath, and similar items made in China during the Beiqi Dynasty (550-577).
"The relationship between these relics may tell us something new about the spread of Buddhism in China," said Wang.
The project will feature some of the world's leading archeological technology, including three-dimensional remote sensing and three-dimensional imaging systems, as well as advanced indoor testing and analysis techniques, said Wang.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

5,000-Year-Old Chinese Beer Recipe Had Secret Ingredient

5,000-Year-Old Chinese Beer Recipe Had Secret Ingredient
A stove fragment from the Mijiaya site that was probably used to heat the fermenting grain mash during the beer-brewing process.
Credit: Fulai Xing

Barley might have been the "secret ingredient" in a 5,000-year-old beer recipe that has been reconstructed from residues on prehistoric pots from China, according to new archaeological research.
Scientists conducted tests on ancient pottery jars and funnels found at the Mijiaya archaeological site in China's Shaanxi province. The analyses revealed traces of oxalate — a beer-making byproduct that forms a scale called "beerstone" in brewing equipment — as well as residues from a variety of ancient grains and plants. These grains included broomcorn millets, an Asian wild grain known as "Job's tears," tubers from plant roots, and barley.
Barley is used to make beer because it has high levels of amylase enzymes that promote the conversion of starches into sugars during the fermenting process. It was first cultivated in western Asia and might have been used to make beer in ancient Sumer and Babylonia more than 8,000 years ago, according to historians. [See Photos of Ancient Beer Brewing in China's 'Cradle of Civilization']
The researchers said it is unclear when beer brewing began in China, but the residues from the 5,000-year-old Mijiaya artifacts represent the earliest known use of barley in the region by about 1,000 years. They also suggest that barley was used to make beer in China long before the cereal grain became a staple food there, the researchers noted.
The prehistoric brewery at the Mijiaya site consisted of ceramic pots, funnels and stoves found in pits that date back to the Neolithic (late Stone Age) Yangshao period, around 3400 to 2900 B.C., said Jiajing Wang, a Ph.D. student at Stanford University in California and lead author of a new paper on the research, published today (May 23) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Wang told Live Science that the discovery of barley in such early artifacts was a surprise to the researchers.
Barley was the main ingredient for beer brewing in other parts of the world, such as in ancient Egypt, she said, and the barley plant might have spread into China along with the knowledge of its special use in making beer.
"It is possible that when barley was introduced from western Eurasia into the Central Plain of China, it came with the knowledge that the grain was a good ingredient for beer brewing," Wang said. "So it was not only the introduction of a new crop, but also the knowledge associated with the crop."
A map of the location of the Mijiaya archaeological site in the Shaanxi province of northern China.
A map of the location of the Mijiaya archaeological site in the Shaanxi province of northern China.
Credit: PNAS 
The Mijiaya site was discovered in 1923 by Swedish archaeologist Johan Gunnar Andersson, Wang said. The site, located near the present-day center of the city of Xi'an, was excavated by Chinese archaeologists between 2004 and 2006, before being developed for modern residential buildings.
After the full excavation report was published in 2012, Wang's co-author on the new paper, archaeologist Li Liu of Stanford, noticed that the pottery assemblages from two of the pits could have been used to make alcohol, mainly because of the presence of funnels and stoves. 
Wang said that some Chinese scholars had suggested several years ago that the Yangshao funnels might have been used to make alcohol, but there had been no direct evidence until now. [Raise Your Glass: 10 Intoxicating Beer Facts]
In the summer of 2015, the Stanford researchers traveled to Xi'an and visited the Shaanxi Institute of Archaeology, where the artifacts from the Mijiaya site are now stored.
The scientists extracted residues from the artifacts, and their analysis of the residues turned out to prove their hypothesis: that "people in China brewed beer with barley around 5,000 years ago," Wang said.
The researchers found yellowish remnants in the wide-mouthed pots, funnels and amphorae that suggested the vessels were used for beer brewing, filtration and storage. The stoves in the pits were probably used to provide heat for mashing the grains, according to the archaeologists.
The beer recipe used a variety of starchy grains, including barley, as well as tubers, which would have added starch for the fermentation process and sweetness to the flavor of the beer, the researchers said.
Wang and her co-authors wrote that barley had been found in a few Bronze Age sites in the Central Plain of China, all dated to around or after 2000 B.C. However, barley did not become a staple crop in the region until the Han dynasty, from 206 B.C. to A.D. 220, the researchers said.
"Together, the lines of evidence suggest that the Yangshao people may have concocted a 5,000-year-old beer recipe that ushered the cultural practice of beer brewing into ancient China," the archaeologists wrote in the paper. "It is possible that the few rare finds of barley in the Central Plain during the Bronze Age indicate their earlier introduction as rare, exotic food."
"Our findings imply that early beer making may have motivated the initial translocation of barley from western Eurasia into the Central Plain of China before the crop became a part of agricultural subsistence in the region 3,000 years later," the researchers wrote.
It's even possible that beer-making technology aided the development of complex human societies in the region, the researchers said. "Like other alcoholic beverages, beer is one of the most widely used and versatile drugs in the world, and it has been used for negotiating different kinds of social relationships," the archaeologists wrote.
"The production and consumption of Yangshao beer may have contributed to the emergence of hierarchical societies in the Central Plain, the region known as 'the cradle of Chinese civilization,'" they added.

Archaeologists have reconstructed a 5,000-year-old beer recipe from residues on pottery fragments found in northern China. Scientific analyses have revealed that barley may have been the "secret ingredient" in the ancient beer-making process. 

Pictured here is a map of the Mijiaya archaeological site in China's Shaanxi province, where the artifacts were discovered. 

The researchers speculated that the pottery assemblages at the Mijiaya site could have been used to make alcohol, mainly because of the presence of funnels (such as the one pictured here) and stoves. 

A stove fragment from the Mijiaya site that was probably used to heat the fermenting grain mash during the beer-brewing process. 

Archaeologists don't know when beer brewing began in China, but the residues from the 5,000-year-old Mijiaya artifacts represent the earliest known use of barley in the region by about 1,000 years. 

Gelatinized starch grains from the funnel used for brewing beer at the Mijiaya site. 

Saturday, 21 May 2016

A Tang Dynasty Tomb (C.740), Boy Bands and the Spice Girls

Han Xiu

Legendary Chinese artist Han Huang is best known for the "The Painting of Five cows", one of ten most significant scroll paintings in Chinese history.
The tomb of Han's father, who was a scholar and prime minister during the Tang dynasty, was recently discovered in the suburbs of Xi'an. Inside it was a vast collection of exquisitely painted murals that is shedding new light on the life of someone who was often left in the shadow of his legendary son.
The tomb, belonged to Han Xiu, a writer and prime minister during the eighth century. Filled with a vast treasure trove of exquisite art, the works enclosed in the tomb fit the title of someone as powerful as Han Xiu. Archaeologists say one of the landscape murals marks the rise of Tang dynasty ink paintings.
"On the mural, there's rivers, mountains, a pavilion and the sun," said Liu Daiyun,a scholar from Shanxi Institute of Archaeology.
"Seen from the layout and the strokes, we can say landscape painting had achieved maturity during Tang dynasty."
It was previously believed that Chinese ink painting did not achieve maturity until the Northern Song dynasty some 200 years later.
But this discovery has shown that the art form had reached maturity two centuries earlier than previously thought. Another mural inside the tomb, depicting singing and dancing scenes, also presents a vivid image of China's ancient art world.
"Normally, we found murals inside a tomb with only one band performing or one person dancing," Liu said. "But this time we've found two bands depicted on one mural, one female and one male band. And there's two people dancing opposite of each other."

Jade and gold clothes of a prince's wife

Jade and gold clothes unearthed from the tomb of Prince Jin of Zhongshan of the Han Dynasty. [Photo/Atron.Net] 

An exhibition featuring gold and silver wares, jade wares and weapons unearthed from tombs of the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC- 220AD) launched in Changsha in Hunan province today.
Among the showpieces, the jade and gold clothes of Dou Wan, the wife of Prince Jin of Zhongshan, attracted much attention. With 2,160 jade pieces held together by 700g of gold wire, the 1.72m long clothing is a rare national cultural relic.
Also called yuxia, gold-woven clothes were the finest garb for dead emperors and high ranking nobles in the Han Dynasty.
A complete suit consists of six parts: a head covering, upper clothes, sleeves, gloves, trousers and shoes. Each part was made by various shapes of jade pieces. On the jade pieces, there are many small holes, through which the pieces can be "woven" into a suit or clothing using fine gold, silver or bronze wire.

Jade face decorations from the Western Zhou Dynasty (c.11th century-771 BC).  [Photo/Artron.Net]
Evolution of jade and gold clothes
The clothes were developed from jade decorations that covered the faces of the dead. These jade pieces made in the shape of eyebrows, noses, mouths and eyes were sewed onto cloth. The earliest jade face decorations were excavated from a tomb dating to the late Western Zhou Dynasty (c.11th century-771 BC).
By the Warring States Period (475-221 BC), the decorations had become very popular. Emperors and nobles often had jade face decorations as funeral objects.
In the early period of the Han Dynasty, the jade decorations extended to the areas of the head, hands and feet. The change prepared for the coming of a full body suit of made of jade and gold.
Later, with the formation of the Silk Road, large quantities of hetian jade came to China and provided enough material for emperors and nobles to cover their whole bodies when they died. The most beautiful and earliest jade and gold clothes unearthed in a tomb in Xuzhou in Jiangsu province were made of 4,248 pieces of white hetian jade and 1,600g of gold wire.

Jade and gold clothes unearthed in a tomb in Xuzhou in Jiangsu province. [Photo/Artron. Net]
Happy posthumous life
Jade and gold clothes were thought to prevent a dead body from decaying. Moreover, people in the Han Dynasty believed in the immortality of the soul. In their mind, as long as the soul was protected well, dead people could still enjoy their posthumous lives as much as when they were alive.
Since the soul can only exist with the body, the emperors and nobles in the Han Dynasty endeavored to find ways to keep the body unchanged when they passed away. They believed that jade and gold are two essences of nature, which have magical functions to protect the human body.
To keep the soul in the body, they also intended to use jade to block the nine holes on the human body: eyes, ears, nostrils, mouth, sexual organs and anus.
Undoubtedly, only emperors and high rank nobles could enjoy such a luxury.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Lecture Victor Mair "Dunhuang as Nexus of the Silk Road during the Middle Ages"

Symposium Keynote Lecture by Victor H. Mair

Foreign dignitaries, Cave 85, Tang dynasty
Thursday, May 19, 2016
7:00 p.m.
Museum Lecture Hall, Getty Center

Get Tickets 

During the Tang dynasty (618–907 CE), Dunhuang played a vital role in linking diverse civilizations across Eurasia. Situated at the western end of the Gansu Corridor, this center of Buddhist religion and art facilitated the flow of economic goods and cultural influences among peoples of many different ethnic and linguistic backgrounds. Like a funnel, it led to the heartland of China in one direction and spread out through Central Asia in the other.

Victor H. Mair, professor of Chinese Language and Literature at the University of Pennsylvania, specializes in Buddhist popular literature as well as the vernacular tradition of Chinese fiction and the performing arts. He began visiting Dunhuang in 1981 and made dozens of trips there in the succeeding decades. Mair is the author of Tun-huang Popular Narratives(Cambridge, 1983), Painting and Performance (Hawaii, 1988), T'ang Transformation Texts (Harvard, 1989), and scores of articles pertaining to Dunhuang.
This lecture complements the exhibition Cave Temples of Dunhuang: Buddhist Art on China's Silk Road, on view at the Getty Center from May 7 to September 4, 2016.

Buddhist Cave Art in the Getty

Cave temples of Dunhuang: Art, History and Conservation

Exploring the history of the Mogao cave temple site—from its founding to abandonment, and its revitalization in the 20th century—“Cave Temples of Dunhuang” offers visitors the opportunity to experience the wonders of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

More about the exhibition “Cave Temples of Dunhuang: Buddhist Art on China's Silk Road,” on view at the Getty Center from May 7 to September 4, 2016: 

Learn more about the Getty Conservation Institute’s work to conserve wall paintings at the Mogao Grottoes: 

Creating Replicas of Buddhist Cave Temples at the Mogao Grottoes

Three full-size replica caves at the Getty Center provide visitors with a deeper understanding of the Mogao cave temple site. 

The replica caves, created by artists from the Dunhuang Academy’s Fine Arts Institute, were constructed through a multiyear process. Initially, the purpose of replicating the caves was to understand the art and to document it as a means of preservation, but over time the goal became to share this art with people around the world unable to visit the caves themselves. 

More about the exhibition “Cave Temples of Dunhuang: Buddhist Art on China's Silk Road,” on view at the Getty Center from May 7 to September 4, 2016: 

Creating the Immersive Experience of Cave 45 (Cave Temples of Dunhuang)

Immersive 3D technology enables visitors to “Cave Temples of Dunhuang” to examine the magnificent sculpture and painting of Cave 45. 

This 8th-century cave exemplifies the artistic brilliance of Chinese art of the High Tang period (705¬–781).

More about the exhibition “Cave Temples of Dunhuang: Buddhist Art on China's Silk Road,” on view at the Getty Center from May 7 to September 4, 2016: 

Monday, 16 May 2016

Roman Views of the Chinese in Antiquity

Roman Views of the Chinese in Antiquity

André Bueno1

Rio de Janeiro State University

Abstract: How did the ancient Romans view the Chinese? In this short essay I briefly analyze Roman imaginings of the “Seres,” as the Romans of the ancient Mediterranean world called the natives of China. During the Roman Empire, in the first to third centuries AD, intense commercial and cultural contacts were maintained between East and West through the Silk Road. It is a portrait of the Chinese as they were seen in the Western world that I build here. 

In the field of classical studies, there is recently new interest in the relationship of the West and the Far East in antiquity. Obviously this field is vast, yet it has been little and sporadically explored. India and China represent two challenging civilizations, each with its own historical models, and therefore the study of their older historical periods requires a certain degree of specialized knowledge. But there is a good amount of Greco-Roman documentation of observations of these cultures that allows us to reconstruct the imagery regarding them that existed in the Mediterranean world.
In this discussion I seek to collect and analyze fragments of literature and history concerning the Chinese that survive in the Classic Greco-Roman documentation, during the first to the third centuries AD, when a Eurasian axis formed along the Silk Road. This axis joined the four great empires of the time — Rome, Parthia, Kushan, and China — in an extensive commercial and cultural network, responsible for the formation of a rich and fertile exchange. Writings conveying the Roman imaginary about China reveal that the ancient world was much wider and more open than we usually believe, offering an interaction among societies to which most experts in classical studies pay insufficient attention.

1) André Bueno is Adjunct Professor, Department of Ancient History, Rio de Janeiro State University (Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro), Brazil. E-mail:

For the complete story, click HERE 

First evidence of tea consumed by a Han Dynasty emperor

World's oldest tea on display in NW China

 Xinhua 16 may 2016
World's oldest tea on display in NW China
World's oldest tea will go on display starting on May 18 at a museum in Hanyangnorthwest China'sShaanxi province. [Photo/Xinhua]
Tea unearthed from the 2,100-year-old tomb of an emperor will be displayed at a museum in northwest China next week.
Zhang Yundeputy director of the Hanyang Mausoleum Museum in Xi'ancapital of Shaanxi provincesaid that small bits of the tearecently recognized by the Guinness World Record as the world's oldestwill be exhibited at the museum starting May 18.
He said the tea was mixed with grains when it was first discovered in 2005 at the Hanyang MausoleumThe site was the graveyard of Emperor Jing (188-141 BC), also father of Emperor Wuwhose reign ushered in one of the most prosperous periods in Chinese history.
Howeverit was not until 2015 when archaeologists from the Shaanxi Provincial Archeological Research Institute were able to ascertain the fossilized plant remains were teaExperts with the Chinese Academy of Sciences used new microfossil plant analysis techniques to examine the samples.
"The analysis results showed that the remains were all dried tea sprouts when they were buried," said Yang Wuzhana research fellow with the institute.
It was the first evidence of tea consumed by a Han Dynasty (202 BC-220 ADemperorhe saidadding that the findings are of great importance to research on the history of Chinese tea culture.
Rowan Simonsattestation officer from the Guinness World Recordon May 6 conferred the certificate to recognize the discovery as the world's oldest tea.
He said it has long been known that China is the home of teaand the world record gives us deeper understanding of China.
In ancient Chinatea had more and different uses than we have nowIt was drunk as abeveragecooked in mealsand even used as herbal medicine.
Ancient Chinese liked to be buried with their favorite things so they could enjoy them in thenext worldOther items found at Emperor Jing's burial site include pottery figurinesan armyof ceramic animals and several chariots as well as animal remainsincluding cowssheepdogspigsdeerrabbits and birds.