Archeology and History of the Silk Road



Monday, 5 October 2015

Genghis: Sacred Tomb, Secret Treasure

Genghis: Sacred Tomb, Secret Treasure [Kindle Edition]

by Robin Ackroyd

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 5508 KB
  • Publisher: Mongolia Travel Books; 1st edition (27 Aug. 2015)

In this true story of adventure, Robin Ackroyd travels on horseback among nomads in northern Mongolia. 
Drawing on extensive research, the author provides the first comprehensive modern analysis of the whereabouts of Genghis Khan’s tomb. 
It is one of the world’s greatest mysteries - a puzzle that has lasted since August 1227. 
The author investigates how and where Genghis Khan died, and where he was taken for burial. 
He explains how Genghis Khan was buried in what would become an imperial necropolis, with other important family members interred there. 
Robin explains some of the reasons why the grave site has remained secret for so long. Death, and talk of death, has long been taboo in Mongolian culture. The author examines historical and modern taboos, some described in medieval texts, and the influence of shamanism. 
The author travels extensively by horse, in an unsupported expedition. He explores sites associated with Temüjin - the young Genghis Khan, or Chinggis Khan - and described in the 'Secret History of the Mongols', an important Mongolian text from the 1200s. 
He finds a way of life that has changed little since the world conqueror's time 800 years earlier. 
Robin travels to sites said to be the last resting place of Genghis Khan, and evaluates the evidence for those claims. Using the 'Secret History', Mongolian chronicles from the 17th Century, and other historical sources, he builds a convincing picture of where Genghis Khan was actually buried. 
He also looks outside the Mongolian heartlands, in the mind’s eye, to Iran and the Persian Ilkhanate, and to Central Asia. The burials of the Mongols who ruled there give us important clues as to how Genghis and his family - including Khubilai Khan, the Yuan dynasty ruler of China - were buried. 
Robin lives among nomadic herders during his remarkable trek through Genghis Khan's homeland of modern-day Töv and Khentii provinces. 
He finds important archaeology from Turkic times. He rides through one of the world's last great wildernesses, to the sacred mountain Burkhan Khaldun. Then, as he travels by horse towards Genghis Khan's birthplace near Russia’s Siberian border, he is joined on his trek by a loyal dog, Spirit. 
Genghis: Sacred Tomb, Secret Treasure contains more than 40 photographs, as well as translations and explanations of over 30 Mongolian proverbs and sayings. 
The book will appeal to the general reader. More detail, historical context, and translations, are provided in extensive explanatory endnotes. 
Robin Ackroyd is a professional writer with a particular interest in Central Asia and Mongolia. He is a member of the Society of Authors, and the National Union of Journalists, in the UK. 

Mongol nutag, Chingislin Ongon- Mongolian homeland, Genghis Khan's tomb

Genghis Khan: Barbarian Conqueror or Harbinger of Democracy

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University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
3260 South Street | Philadelphia, PA 19104 | (215) 898-4000

Genghis Khan: Barbarian Conqueror or Harbinger of Democracy

Dr. Morris Rossabi, Senior Research Scholar, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, Columbia University 
Lecture December 2, 2015
The world has generally viewed Genghis Khan as a barbaric conqueror whose troops raped and murdered hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people, and pillaged and often destroyed villages, towns, and cities throughout Asia and Europe. However, several popular writers have recently portrayed him as an advocate of democracy, international law, and women's rights. This lecture seeks to provide a balanced depiction of Genghis, and to explain the reasons for the myths that have developed about the man and the people who established the largest contiguous land empire in world history.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Tomb found from the Liao Dynasty

From: Chinese Archaeology 29 September 2015

Chinese archaeologists discovered a burial tomb for a noble that could date back to the Liao Dynasty (916 to 1125 AD), in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, authorities said Friday.

The tomb, 300 meters from the tomb of a concubine, is in Duolun county, according to the regional institute of archaeology.

"They are in the same valley. Its owner may be a key member of the concubine's family," said Gai Zhiyong, deputy head of the institute.

Currently, archaeologists are removing the tomb door, which is made from crystal-like bricks and its passage features black bricks. Gai said the delicate decorations inside the grave show the high rank of this noble. Similar decorations have only been found in two Liao Dynasty tombs, and both were high-ranking nobles.

The Liao Dynasty was founded by the Khitan tribes and ruled the northern part of China.

内蒙古发现辽代贵妃墓 出土大量珍贵文物

2015年09月24日 21:00   来源: 新华社内蒙古分社    作者: 勿日汗    【 收藏本文

The use of exotic objects from different trade routes by the Vikings

From: Heritage Daily  26 September 2015


People from Scandinavia plundered and traded in foreign countries.  They brought home jewels, clothing, silver, gold, coins and other costly objects.

In August this year, the archaeologist Hanne Lovise Aannestad defended her doctoral thesis at the University of Oslo regarding the ways in which these expensive, imported objects were used in Scandinavia during the Viking Age. In her thesis, she has surveyed over 350 imported objects that were used as clothing accessories in Eastern Norway in the Viking Age. These objects include buckles, necklaces, coins, belts and pearls from the British Isles, from the European Continent and from along the eastern trade routes to Asia via the Baltic Sea.
"Mounting from a reliquary, produced in Northumbria in the 8th century. The mounting have been modified and was used as a brooch. It was found in a woman's grave from the second part of the 9th century, in Buskerud, Norway ". Credit : Museum of Cultural History
“Mounting from a reliquary, produced in Northumbria in the 8th century. The mounting have been modified and was used as a brooch. It was found in a woman’s grave from the second part of the 9th century, in Buskerud, Norway “. Credit : Museum of Cultural History
Parts of holy reliquaries
“Throughout the whole Viking Age, people were eager to display these exotic objects. The ninth century in particular was a time when large quantities of imported objects were refashioned into jewellery for women. Coins were turned into necklaces in big strings of pearls. Fittings from harnesses for horses and parts of holy reliquaries and books were used as buckles for clothing and thereby assumed new functions and attained a different significance in Scandinavia,” says Aannestad.
The objects show signs of both wear and reworking. These traces show that certain groups of objects were remodelled by local craftsmen, whereas others were reworked by professional metalworkers who had long experience with this kind of work. The different traces indicate social disparities, but the way in which the jewels are used indicates a common understanding throughout all of Scandinavia of the importance of the imported objects.
Imported objects used as personal adornment
Aannestad interprets the importance of the imported objects in light of cultural and ideological conditions in Norse society. When so many objects have been refashioned into clothing accessories, it indicates that it was very important to be seen wearing these objects. Norse literature describes travels to remote places. In many cases, the journey amounted to a kind of coming-of-age ritual, a transitional period between childhood and adulthood. The political circumstances in the Viking Age were unstable and power was in the hands of individuals. The prestige that was accorded to those who had been on journeys to foreign lands was significant in social and political proceedings. The fact that the imported objects were used as personal adornment attests that they signalled the individual’s or the clan’s status and prestige.
Scandinavia and foreign countries culturally and ideologically closer
The practice of refashioning exotic objects into jewellery for women disappeared in the latter part of the Viking Age. This development suggests that Scandinavians had gained a greater understanding of how the objects were originally used.  Archaeological complexes with many imported objects tell us that the Scandinavians were steadily developing more stable relations with foreign countries. The way that the use of imported objects developed shows that Scandinavia and foreign countries were coming culturally and ideologically closer during the Viking Age.
The Thesis and the foreign jewels
The thesis, “Transformations. Reworking and use of imported objects in the Viking Age”, gives insight into the ways in which Scandinavian society was changed by its encounters with the new. The Viking journeys were motivated by more than just political conflicts and the need for wealth and land. The foreign jewels were symbols of travel, prestige and adventure.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Accounts of China and India and Mission to the Volga

Two Arabic Travel Books: 

Accounts of China and India and Mission to the Volga

by Abu Zayd al-Sirafi (Author), James Montgomery (Translator), 2 more

  • Series: Library of Arabic Literature
  • Hardcover: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Library of Arabic Literature; Bilingual edition (December 8, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1479803502

Two Arabic Travel Books combines two exceptional exemplars of Arabic travel writing, penned in the same era but chronicling wildly divergent experiences. Accounts of China and India is a compilation of reports and anecdotes on the lands and peoples of the Indian Ocean, from the Somali headlands to China and Korea. The early centuries of the Abbasid era witnessed a substantial network of maritime trade—the real-life background to the Sindbad tales. In this account, we first travel east to discover a vivid human landscape, including descriptions of Chinese society and government, Hindu religious practices, and natural life from flying fish to Tibetan musk-deer and Sri Lankan gems. The juxtaposed accounts create a jigsaw picture of a world not unlike our own, a world on the road to globalization. In its ports, we find a priceless cargo of information; here are the first foreign descriptions of tea and porcelain, a panorama of unusual social practices, cannibal islands, and Indian holy men—a marvelous, mundane world, contained in the compass of a novella. 
In Mission to the Volga, we move north on a diplomatic mission from Baghdad to the upper reaches of the Volga River in what is now central Russia. This colorful documentary by Ibn Fadlan relates the trials and tribulations of an embassy of diplomats and missionaries sent by caliph al-Muqtadir to deliver political and religious instruction to the recently-converted King of the Bulghars. During eleven months of grueling travel, Ibn Fadlan records the marvels he witnesses on his journey, including an aurora borealis and the white nights of the North. Crucially, he offers a description of the Viking Rus, including their customs, clothing, tattoos, and a striking account of a ship funeral. Mission to the Volga is also the earliest surviving instance of sustained first-person travel narrative in Arabic—a pioneering text of peerless historical and literary value.   
Together, the stories in Two Arabic Travel Books illuminate a vibrant world of diversity during the heyday of the Abbasid empire, narrated with as much curiosity and zeal as they were perceived by their observant beholders.

The Culture Show : The Art Of Chinese Painting

The ancient art of Chinese painting is one of the oldest continuous artistic traditions in history. 
Kate Bryan, former Hong Kong resident and the Fine Art Society's head of contemporary, travels to China to find out more about this tradition, a journey which coincides with a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition at London's Victoria & Albert Museum, 'Masterpieces of Chinese Painting'. In China, Kate learns about the golden age of Chinese landscape and discovers why ink is still favoured over paint. She also learns how the country's unique aesthetic was heavily influenced by age-old standards of class and politics.

Travelers Among Mountains and Streams

Source: Shanghai Daily | October 4, 2015

AMONG ancient Chinese master landscape artists, Fan Kuan (AD 960-1027) stands head and shoulders above most. His best-known painting, “Travelers Among Mountains and Streams,” has long been deemed a seminal masterpiece of the Northern Song School.
Fan was born in Huayuan, now in Tongchuan area in northwestern China’s Shaanxi Province. It is said he hated urban life and loved to travel among towering mountains and live close to nature. He also loved wine and Taoist thinking, eventually becoming a Taoist recluse in his later years.
Today, however, Fan is remembered chiefly as one of the top landscapists in the early Song Dynasty (AD 960-1279).
Traditional Chinese ink-wash landscape painting began to appear in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) and reached its heyday during the Song Dynasty.
Two major landscape art schools — the Northern Song School and the Southern Song School — had emerged by that time. Fan was a chief representative of the northern school. This style features clear, emphatic compositions and rich details that make the painting look very realistic.

A half-concealed temple on a foreground promontory serves as the “eye” of the landscape.

Chinese landscapists then began to follow some conventions such as what was defined as the “rule of scale” by Wang Wei (AD 699-761), a poet, musician, painter and statesman of the Tang Dynasty.
In one of his essays on landscape painting, Wang said if a mountain in a painting is one zhang (about 3.35 meters) tall, then a tree should be about one-tenth the size and a horse one-tenth of the tree and a figure even smaller.
Fan first modeled his work after those of earlier masters such as Jing Hao (circa 850-?) and Li Cheng (AD 919-967), but later he felt “observing and learning from nature is better than learning from man.” Eventually, he realized “the human heart is an even greater source than nature for learning.”
He gradually began to change his painting style. For instance, while his predecessor Li Cheng painted landscapes that “open like windows onto distant and attractive vistas,” Fan’s works tend to press close to viewers, blocking out their view like walls.
Fan had also developed a number of new landscape painting techniques such as using various texture strokes to create three-dimensional forms and overlapping ridges and contours to make a mountain appear to project forward.
Fan utilized many of his superb skills in “Travelers Among Mountains and Streams,” which is widely recognized as the greatest example of the monumental-landscape style of painting.
To embody the Taoist principle of man being just a small part of nature, Fan made the human figures rather small in order to dramatize the awesome power of nature.

To embody the Taoist principle of man being a small part of nature, the artist made the human figures rather tiny. The use of scale dramatizes the awesome power of nature.

In this ink on silk, 103.3cm by 206.3cm large hanging scroll, the central majestic mountain occupies nearly two-thirds of the total space.
The tiny human figures and a mule train can barely be seen walking out of a wooded area near the bottom of the painting.
A half-concealed temple on a foreground promontory serves as an “eye” of the landscape.
To evoke the Taoist idea of the interplay of yin and yang and add energy to the composition, Fan generated many sharp contrasts such as those between the foreboding mountain and miniature figures and animals, richly textured mountains and rock forms, as well as flowing streams and drifting mist.
The painting also features rich shades and tones, along with imposing and vigorous brushwork. It later became a model for numerous Chinese artists in the following centuries.
Many ancient masterpieces of traditional Chinese painting are today believed to be remakes of later years, but not Fan’s “Traveler” painting. In addition to some inscriptions by famous artists on the painting attributing it to Fan, the artist’s half-hidden signature was rediscovered in 1958, confirming its authenticity.
The painting belongs to the National Palace Museum in Taipei.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

China's Mona Lisa

The New York Times 30 September 2015
BEIJING — An hour before the Forbidden City opened to visitors one recent morning, the stone courtyard just south of the ancient imperial palace was abuzz. Within the vermilion walls, the usual mix of uniformed palace workers, tour guides and tourists milled about beneath a pale blue sky. Loudspeakers blared a recording about ticketing policies.
But at the center of it all was an atypical sight: a phalanx of more than 1,000 people, flanked by palace workers whose job was to keep the ranks in line. Unlike most visitors, this small army had come with only one goal: to see “Along the River During the Qingming Festival,” an early 12th-century painted scroll considered so iconic that it is often called “China’s Mona Lisa.”
Since an exhibition celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Palace Museum opened in early September, people have been waiting for up to 10 hours to see this 17-foot-long masterpiece attributed to the painter Zhang Zeduan, an intricate ink-on-silk tableau of life in the Northern Song dynasty capital, Kaifeng. The best-known painting in the museum’s vast collection, it has been shown in public only a few times, in Beijing most recently in 2005 for the museum’s 80th anniversary.
A detail of a reproduction of "Along the River During the Qingming Festival," an ink-on-silk tableau attributed to the painter Zhang Zeduan. CreditGilles Sabrie for The New York Times 
The fanatical interest in the work coincides with a concerted push by the Chinese government to encourage interest in traditional culture and values, as a way of emphasizing its links to a history that goes back thousands of years.
And the crowds lining up have been widely covered both in the news media and on social media, particularly after photos began circulating of people frantically racing from the Meridian Gate entrance of the palace toward the exhibition hall. (Chinese news outlets were quick to label the phenomenon the gugong pao, or “Imperial Palace run.”)
“There’s been so much hype about this painting, so I decided to come early to check it out myself,” said Jacqueline Zhang, 25, who works at a bank in Beijing and came at 5 a.m. to secure a place at the head of the line. She added, “This just shows how easily excited Chinese people can get.”
Past exhibitions of the scroll have attracted huge crowds, but the heightened fervor these days comes as the term “wenhua,” or culture, and the desire to appear cultured have become increasingly prominent in China.
“Now that people have money and social status, they want to show other people that they understand culture,” said Chen Yimo, an expert in Chinese calligraphy and painting.
“Chinese people have a lot of respect for the term ‘culture.’ No matter how much money you have, if you don’t have culture, then you’re just a tuhao,” said Mr. Chen, using a popular term for the crass nouveaux riches.
The growing emphasis on culture, however, stems partly from the government’s efforts. In recent years, education officials have made a number of proposals, including revising elementary and middle school textbooks to increase the proportion of guoxue, or the study of Chinese culture, and reducing the importance of English on some versions of the gaokao, or university entrance examination, in favor of a greater emphasis on the Chinese language.
The commitment to promoting Mandarin has even extended abroad, as evidenced by the announcement last week by President Xi Jinping and President Obama of the “One Million Strong” initiative, which aims to have a million American students learning the language by 2020.
In a speech last year, Mr. Xi called traditional Chinese culture the lifeblood of the nation as well as a “foundation for China to compete in the world.”
“People and the government talk about culture a lot more now, so it’s become a kind of social trend,” said Ma Weidu, a prominent antiques collector and the former host of several popular television programs on China Central Television about Chinese antiques.
surface-level interest. A lot of people want to see ‘Along the River During the Qingming Festival’ because it’s very famous, not because they are actually interested in art. It stems from the Chinese tendency to follow the masses.”
The public fascination with traditional culture, some experts say, has another element, too: the realization that many ancient objects would fetch millions in the marketplace.
“Taking pride in cultural heritage is an important factor, but there’s also a huge interest in the monetary value of classical Chinese paintings,” said Freda Murck, a scholar of Chinese art who worked at the Palace Museum for nine years. “Now when I talk to my Chinese friends, a lot of people ask me, ‘How much would this be worth at auction?’ ”
Most, however, would not dare to ask that of “Qingming Festival,” a national treasure that has “taken on a mythic quality because it’s shown so little and is so widely available in publications,” Ms. Murck said.
As the day that began in the already crowded courtyard wore on, a steady stream of visitors ignored signs estimating the length of the wait — as well as a worker with a bullhorn warning people to “please make a careful decision about getting in line.”
They instead made their way to the back of the line that snaked around the mostly tree-lined path leading to the Hall of Martial Valor, where the exhibition is being held. Many, having seen the reports online, had brought folding stools and snacks.
Museum officials estimate that the exhibition has about 3,000 visitors a day — a small number compared with the tens of thousands who flow through the sprawling palace complex each day. But the line moved slowly “because viewers in the exhibition hall move too slowly,” the museum said in a statement.
“So why exactly is ‘Qingming Festival’ so famous?” asked Audrey Cao, 40, who had arrived late to meet her friends, a group of fellow mothers, and was in line by herself.
“Because it captures what life was like during the Song dynasty, the peak of Chinese civilization,” said Yin Yi, 61, the director of an art research center in Beijing standing in front of her.
“Oh, so it’s like an iPhone panorama!” Ms. Cao exclaimed.
Viewers can spend only a few minutes looking at the scroll. They are repeatedly urged to move along by palace workers speaking in stern voices, but almost everyone left the exhibition beaming.
When Mr. Yin, the director of the art research center, finally reached the painting, the Forbidden City had closed for the day and the sun had disappeared. After his several minutes were up, he lingered to look at some of the calligraphy on display. Asked whether seeing the scroll for the first time, after spending so much time poring over reproductions online and in books, was worth the nearly nine-hour wait, he replied softly but without hesitation. “Yes. It was completely worth it.”