Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Rashīd al-Dīn and the transformation of the Iranian world after the Mongol invasions

Writing's on wall as old-style archaeology goes digital

In 1900, a Taoist priest named Wang Yuanlu discovered a cave in Dunhuang, Gansu province, packed with tens of thousands of volumes of Buddhist sutra. 
Six years later the Hungarian-British archaeologist Marc Aurel Stein arrived in Dunhuang, followed soon after by the French archaeologist Paul Pelliot. Both paid a pittance for priceless treasures from the cave, and both took photos of it and its surroundings. 
When you compare those photos with ones taken recently, the extent of the irretrievable loss that Dunhuang and the world have suffered over the past century or so becomes clear. Colors on many of the murals and statues have faded, and blurry areas have become more expansive as a result of oxidation and damage inflicted by people. 
A lot of the damage happened in the 1950s and 1960s when artists tried to make facsimiles of murals and when archaeologists tried to survey and map the caves. 
 Writing's on wall as old-style archaeology goes digital
Clockwise from left: 3-D printed Buddhist sculptures; Cameramen use scaffolding to capture the images on a smoked roof; A digital and immersive experience of the cave. Photos Provided to China Daily
 Writing's on wall as old-style archaeology goes digital
From top: 3-D point cloud technology helps photographers to have a better rendering of the murals; Dunhuang Academy now uses high-resolution cameras to capture the images of the murals.
In recent years, the growing number of tourists has increased the amount of carbon dioxide and humidity in the atmosphere and the exposure of relics to light and other elements has sped up their deterioration. 
In an effort to minimize the the damage, since July visitors have had to apply online to visit the caves. The number is limited to 6,000 a day. 
Before beginning their tour proper, visitors go to the Mogao Grottoes Visitor Center to watch two 20-minute films, including one about the seven most valuable caves in terms of artistic achievement. 
Since the end of last month it has been possible for people around the world to see online 3-D views of the caves, and virtual reality devices can be used to view the images. 
"Over the past three decades, especially in recent years, we have been developing digital technology that can be used not only to preserve images of the relics, but also to help archaeologists record detailed information about the caves and help artists make facsimiles of the murals," says Wu Jian, director of the digital center of Dunhuang Academy, a research institute devoted to studying and preserving the Mogao Grottoes. 
Cai Weitang, 59, an archaeologist, joined the academy in 1978. He is among the first to have applied digital technology in his work. 
Earlier, all field surveys and mapping were done by hand, Cai says. 
"We had to erect scaffolding so we could measure the higher parts of the caves." 
A typical old-fashioned tool kit for an archaeologist in Dunhuang included a compass, a tape, a set square, a steel tape, a plummet and a home-made square grid. 
The grid, usually one or two meters long, consisted of a handful of lines, fixed horizontally and vertically to form squares of about 1 square centimeter. 
When surveying and mapping a mural, Cai put the grid in front of it without touching it. For example, if he planned to copy the lines of an eye on the picture, he would find three points on the grid, jot them down and connect them with lines. In this way, he could slowly build a collection of the outlines of the murals and colored statues. 
As well as keeping accurate records of the murals and statues, archaeologists need to do the same for the caves, including taking high-definition photos, so that if one day they are destroyed for any reason, records will yield enough information to allow the grottoes to be fully and accurately replicated. 
In the past, after the lines were drawn on gridded paper, they needed to be copied onto imitation parchment. 
"It's an extremely complex job, and very time-consuming," Cai says, adding that there were too many inaccuracies through measuring with rudimentary tools. 
"People draw differently. Some are good, some bad. They have very different styles." 
Dunhuang Academy was founded in 1944 by Chang Shuhong. At the very beginning, the intention was to keep comprehensive archaeological records, but until the 1990s the project was behind schedule. 
It planned to publish 100 volumes of records for the UNESCO World Heritage site, covering everything in the Mogao Grottoes, the nearby Yulin Grottoes and Western Thousand-Buddha Cave. 
The first of the 100 volumes, published in 2011, included caves numbered from 266 to 275. 
Writing's on wall as old-style archaeology goes digital
Generally, using the old method, it would take two to three people five to six years to survey a cave. 
"We will now be able to finish all the surveying and mapping in four years thanks to 3-D point-cloud scanning technology," Cai says. 
This technology enables users to collect detailed information about the subject based on points chosen during scanning, so that the detail of a curved surface or complicated structure and lines can be accurately captured. 
It takes the scanner one to two hours to finish scanning a whole cave. 
After scanning, the processed digital information generates a drawing of the cave's structure and the outline of the statues. But the shapes of eyes and noses on murals do not reproduce clearly, so archaeologists need to make revisions using high-definition photos. 
"It's our first try," Cai says. "The new method cuts the work time by one third, and it's much more accurate." 
Recently a reproduction of Cave 320 of the Mogao Grottoes was on display at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. The exhibition, opened in May and ran until September. 
Ma Qiang, 53, director of the academy's fine art institute, is one of the artists who took part in the project. He spent four years creating facsimiles of the 6-sq m mural on the eastern wall of Cave 320. 
Since 1981 when the 17-year-old Ma first arrived at Dunhuang Academy after failing the national college entrance examination, he has finished facsimiles of more than 30 murals in the Mogao Grottoes. 
In the 1950s, the State Bureau of Cultural Relics received an old-fashioned slide projector from Poland as a gift, Ma says. Zheng Zhenduo, then head of the bureau, gave the projector to the Dunhuang Academy. 
Ma recalls that the projector was still being used in the 1980s. If artists at that time wanted to create a facsimile of a mural they would first go to the cave to use rulers to measure its dimensions and record the information in notebooks. 
Photographers, from the photographic section, that later became the digital center, would then take 10 black-and-white pictures of the whole mural. 
"I would get the slides of 10 photos and then I took the projector and the slides to bigger caves, like No 61 or 98," Ma says. 
After setting up a board and spreading two layers of Chinese art paper on it, Ma turned on the projector and put the images in. These were then projected onto paper. The size of the image could be adjusted according to the size appropriate for the cave. 
With the mural's image projected on paper, Ma was able to trace the lines - even broken or unclear ones - and draw them. 
However, after the projector had been on for 30 to 40 minutes the slides would get too hot and start to distort. So he then had to take a break to wait for the machine to cool down and for the slides return to their original state. 
Ma would later go back and see what lines had been completely missed or incorrectly shown. 
Usually, it would take an artist a year to do the first draft and revise it, and another year to color it. 
"The most important thing is to understand the spirit of those murals and how their unique style developed in different historical periods," Ma says. 
Sometimes the same Buddhist stories are presented in different styles. 
Ma cites as an example the classic story about a prince who sacrifices himself to feed tigers. 
Cave 428 and Cave 254 have murals that present the story, but the one in Cave 254, completed during the Northern Wei Dynasty (AD 386-557), is in the Han ethnic style, looking more unrestrained and free, compared with that in 428, drawn during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), which is more ornamental. 
Because of the complicated procedure, copying a 6-sq m mural would take two or three people two years to complete. 
"Now it's easier for me to do a copy," Ma says. "But I have a lot of other work to do and it took me four years, from early 2012, to finish the facsimile of the mural on the east wall of Cave 320. I had to do the management work, write papers and do my own artistic work - last year he completed 500 ink and wash paintings. 
"This time we used 3-D point-cloud technology to collect digital information for the whole cave. Based on that, we can build a wooden model of it and draw the outline of the murals." 
Based on the outlines produced by the technology and the high-definition photos provided by the digital center, artists fill in colors made from stones such as turquoise, malachite and cinnabarit, and add finer lines that have been missed by the scanner. 
"We still need to go to the caves to see the original murals and study their history and artistic styles so we can understand the spirit of the works in those years," Ma says. 
The high-definition photos sometimes can be misleading to inexperienced artists. 
"They focus too much on the broken or missing parts, and overlook the whole," Ma says. 
Wu says the focus of future work at the digital center will be on studying how to present the digital information to audiences. 
Ma believes artists' work based on 3-D printed copies of the murals will become the norm. 
In June, the Dunhuang Academy presented 3-D printed Buddhist sculptures and their holographic images at the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) Scientific Innovation Exhibition in Beijing, attracting a great deal of attention. 
"If the new technology can do the job, we will let it. We artists do what it cannot, such as adding to the thickness and granular sensation of the copies." 

Conservation in Action: Preserving Hanabusa Itchō’s rare masterpiece, Death of Buddha (1713)

For the next six months, MFA visitors can watch and interact with conservators as the Museum’s Asian Conservation Studio in partnership with colleagues from the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art publicly restores Hanabusa Itchō’s rare masterpiece, Death of Buddha (1713)—one of the most important Buddhist paintings of its time.
Hanabusa Itchō (1652–1724), best known for his satiric scenes of everyday life, enlivened the traditional scene depicting Buddha’s death through his masterful handling of the individual figures and grieving members of the animal kingdom. The painting was famous in its own time, attracting travelers to the Zen temple where it was displayed annually for more than 150 years.
The conservation treatment is an elaborate process that involves completely dismantling and reassembling the scroll. The new mounting uses a custom woven reproduction of the original mounting silk made for the MFA by traditional weavers in Kyoto. The scroll painting also has elaborate gilt metal fittings carved with mythical lions, created and signed in the 18th century by the famed metalworker and close friend of the artist, Yokoya Sōmin. Follow the progress at #mfaConservation or for an in-depth look at this conservation project, see Conservation in Action.
On October 19, MFA conservators and their Freer/Sackler colleagues rejoin Hanabusa Itcho’s oversized painting back into its hanging scroll form. When finished the scroll will be 16 feet tall!
Above: Hanabusa Itchō, Death of Buddha, 1713. Hanging scroll; ink, color, and gold on paper. Fenollosa-Weld Collection.

Imperial Wives and Concubines in China from Song to Qing

Celestial Women: Imperial Wives and Concubines in China from Song to Qing Hardcover – 1 Jul 2016

Monday, 24 October 2016

The rise of Asia explained in a historical perspective by Peter Frankopan and Kwasi Kwarteng

Published on Sep 15, 2016
Filmed at the Royal Institution of Great Britain on 7th September 2016.

25 years ago, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the future looked rosy. Liberal democracy, freedom and individual rights were on the march, triumphing over tyranny and repression. The end of the Cold War had brought an end to history, declared Francis Fukuyama. A quarter of a century on, that sunny picture has clouded over. History has come bouncing back, says Peter Frankopan, the Oxford historian and author of the bestseller, 'The Silk Roads', a major reassessment of world history which has won ecstatic reviews across the globe.

We are living in a time of transition. Migration, religious fundamentalism and climate change leave many of us anxious about the future. So too does the rise of China, the re-emergence of Iran, the actions and posturing of Russia and a Middle East that seems fragile and volatile, where the dreams of the Arab Spring have turned to despair, as conflict rages across north Africa and the Middle East.

How should we best understand what is going on – and how do we prepare for the new world that is emerging? In June 2016 Frankopan came to the Intelligence Squared stage to put these questions into an historical perspective. He was joined by politician Kwasi Kwarteng, a rising star in Westminster, whose books on the history of empire and on finance have given him a rare perspective on global change and on the ways the West has engaged with other parts of the world, sometimes as he sees it with disastrous effect.

Frankopan and Kwarteng examined the rise of Asia and asked whether we are entering a new era where Europe is becoming not just less important, but potentially irrelevant. They also looked at the lessons that can be learned from the recent and not so recent past. As Frankopan argues so powerfully in 'The Silk Roads', history looks very different when viewed from different perspectives. The rhythm of change that we find so unsettling today has characterised previous centuries and is not only unsurprising, he claims, but actually predictable.

The globe has rotated towards the West for the last five hundred years. Now, as Frankopan explained, it is turning east, towards the new Silk Roads, largely funded by China, that fan out in all directions across Asia. Is it closing time in the gardens of the west, as our old comfortable democratic assumptions – and our comfort – fall prey to a world order that is changing at terrifyingly quick pace?

Sunday, 23 October 2016

The Maritime Silk Road in ancient China

26/10/2016 – 27/12/2016
Free admission
Special Exhibition Gallery, Hong Kong Museum of History 
The Maritime Silk Road was a major conduit for foreign trade in ancient China. Maritime trade began as early as the Qin and Han dynasties, and reached its peak during the Song and Yuan period. The Maritime Silk Road comprised of two major shipping routes: the East China Sea route linking China with the Korean Peninsula and Japanese archipelago; and the South China Sea route reaching from China westwards to Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean region. Major Maritime Silk Road cities in China such as Penglai, Yangzhou, Ningbo, Fuzhou, Quanzhou, Zhangzhou, Guangzhou, and Beihai played important roles in the development of maritime transport and trade. From the south-eastern ports and through the South China Sea to the Persian Gulf and Red Sea, Chinese silk, pottery, tea, and other goods were sent to the Arabian world and other locations in Asia and Africa. Spices, woollen textiles, ivory, and other commodities flowed into China from overseas. Although the Maritime Silk Road suffered the restrictions of a maritime trade ban during the Ming and Qing period, exchanges between China and foreign countries never stopped. In addition to facilitating the exchange of goods, the Maritime Silk Road also promoted the interaction and integration of different ethnicities, religions, and cultures. This exhibition is a cultural exchange programme of Mainland China-Hong Kong-Macao in 2016, supported by the Chinese Culture Friendship Association. By using the cultural relics from eight Maritime Silk Road cities, as well as artefacts from Hong Kong, the exhibition elaborates upon the roles and functions each had as they grew and prospered on the Maritime Silk Road. The exhibition also reflects upon the impact and contribution of the Maritime Silk Road on the development of the world's civilisations.
Besides the precious artefacts about the Maritime Silk Road, the exhibition features a number of interactive programmes, such as the interactive map of Maritime Silk Road, "My merchant ship" and "Guess the ancient places" etc. which aim to provide the audience with different museum experiences and deeper understanding of the exhibition subject.
The base with brown patterns on white glazed coloured vessel from the Cizhou Kiln
Collection of Penglai Ancient Ships Museum 
Amethyst beads
Collection of Hepu Han Dynasty Cultural Museum 
Bronze mirror with seahorse and grape patterns
Collection of Yangzhou Museum 
Yue kiln neriage porcelain pillow with lingzhi pattern and a mythical animal
Collection of Ningbo Museum 
Jingdezhen kiln green-glazed blue and white porcelain gourd-shaped vase
Collection of Fuzhou Museum 
Cizao kiln black-glazed vase with carved designs and two handles
Collection of Quanzhou Maritime Museum 
Spanish Netherlands silver coin
Collection of Zhangzhou Museum 
Armorial dish in Canton enamels
Collection of Guangzhou Museum

Courting to contract: love and marriage in Iran: British Museum until 20 November 2016

Detail, Lovers in a garden. Painted in the style of ᶜAbd Allah. Ink, opaque watercolour and gold on paper, Bukhara, c. 1560–1570. Bequeathed by Percival Chater Manuk and Miss G M Coles and funded by the Art Fund, 1948,1009,0.57

‘A heart without love is a body without a soul. A soul lives forever because of love.’ So wrote the Persian poet, scholar and mystic, Jami (1414–1492), on love – of all subjects, perhaps the most universal to humankind. In Persianate culture, the theme of love has permeated literature, art and music for thousands of years.
In the display, love and courtship are explored through drawings, illustrated manuscript pages and objects, depicting intimate scenes and classical Persian accounts of celebrated romances. Illuminated Persian marriage contracts (ghabaleh), along with a Judaeo-Persian example (ketubbah) and an Old Babylonian contract carved onto a clay tablet, reflect the legal and social aspects of marriage and its roots in ancient tradition. The works are complemented by a number of richly embroidered textiles, including wedding garments and accessories.
Dating mainly between the 1500s and the 20th century, these objects situate love and marriage within the histories, narratives and contexts of people from the Middle East and Central Asia.

Bridal outfit of Esther Manassah. Silk, cotton and gilded lace. Baghdad, Iraq, about 1865. Gift of Mrs R.E. Rea, As1971,09.2-3

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Chinese archaeologist refutes BBC report on Terracotta Warriors

Source: Xinhua | October 18, 2016

A Chinese archaeologist recently refuted a BBC report about northwest China's Terracotta Warriors, saying that the article has quoted her out of context and overstated her remarks about Western influence on the 8,000 life-sized figures.
The BBC report, released October 12, said archaeologists have found that inspiration for the Terracotta Warriors, found at the Tomb of the First Emperor near today's Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, may have come from Ancient Greece.
The article quoted Li Xiuzhen, senior archaeologist from the Emperor Qin Shi Huang's Mausoleum Site Museum, as saying, "We now think the Terracotta Army, the acrobats and the bronze sculptures found on site were inspired by ancient Greek sculptures and art."
Li, however, said that the BBC quoted her out of context, as the article ignored much of what she told BBC reporters.
"I think the terracotta warriors may be inspired by Western culture, but were uniquely made by the Chinese. BBC overstated my remarks about Western inspiration and ignored main points I made during the interview," Li told Xinhua.
Li said the local nature and cultural environment, such as soil, craftsmen and traditional funeral culture, all contributed to the creation of the Terracotta Warriors.
She also pointed out that the article put her quotes right before those of Professor Lukas Nickel from the University of Vienna, whose opinion is contrary to her own, but makes it seem as if they share the same idea.
According to the article, Prof. Nickel said, "I imagine that a Greek sculptor may have been at the site to train the locals."
"I am an archaeologist, and I value evidence. I've found no Greek names on the backs of Terracotta Warriors, which supports my idea that there was no Greek artisan training the local sculptors," Li said.

Friday, 21 October 2016

The Culture of Appreciating and Collecting Art at the Mongol Yuan Court

Elegant Gathering of the Princess: The Culture of Appreciating and Collecting Art at the Mongol Yuan Court

On the 23rd day of the third lunar month in the third year of the Zhizhi reign in the Yuan dynasty (corresponding to April 28, 1323), a prominent Mongolian princess by the name of Sengge Ragi held an elegant gathering at Tianqing Temple south of the capital Dadu (modern Beijing). Li Shilu, Director of the Imperial Library, was responsible for the gathering and members of the princess's imperial household assisted in organizing it. During the event, she took out works of Chinese painting and calligraphy from her collection for the appreciation of those in attendance and invited them to write inscriptions. This elegant gathering has come to be seen as a means for the ruling Mongols to proclaim their acceptance and appreciation of the high arts of Chinese painting and calligraphy. Modern scholars have also studied surviving and recorded works with the princess's collection seal, "Library of the Imperial Elder Sister," to compile a list of painting and calligraphy that was once in her collection. From the perspective of cultural history, their research offers a way to analyze the acquired tastes of appreciating and collecting art on the part of the Mongol rulers.

Princess Sengge Ragi was the great-granddaughter of the renowned Kublai Khan. Her grandfather was Prince Zhenjin and her father Darmabala, both also important figures in the Mongol Yuan ruling clan. She was also not the only member to take part in activities related to collecting art. Her son-in-law, Tugh Temür, who became Emperor Wenzong, established the Kuizhang Pavilion. There, he viewed rare books and participated in the appreciation of art with academicians, using seals with the "Tianli" (for his reign name) and "Kuizhang" characters to mark his collection. Later, Togon Temür (the last Yuan emperor known as Shundi) used the seal "Treasure of the Xuanwen Pavilion" on Chinese painting and calligraphy at his court. These three figures all had important works of the Song and Yuan dynasties in their collections.

This special exhibition features 43 works, many of which are masterpieces from the Song and Yuan dynasties. Since some are of "restricted" status, they must be rotated to accommodate shorter display periods. The exhibit is not merely an opportunity to present famous artworks from the collections of these three members of the Mongol Yuan imperial clan. By providing a glimpse of the imperial holdings, the display demonstrates, from a Yuan cultural perspective, the significance of Mongol rulers' involvement in Chinese painting and calligraphy. In contrast with previous studies emphasizing the sinicizing role of Chinese art on Mongol rulers, this exhibit focuses on showing the unique interaction among ethnic groups at the time, allowing audiences to witness in concrete terms a new cultural vision of "toleration and acceptance."

For more information, click HERE

Thursday, 20 October 2016

The Age of Islam and the Mongols by Christoph Baumer

  • Written by  John Hare
  • Published in Books
THE HISTORY OF CENTRAL ASIA: The Age of Islam and the Mongols by Christoph Baumer
For the layman, the history of Central Asia is complex. When I first visited the Buddhist cave grottos, dating from the 5th to the 14th century, at Bezekilk in Xinjiang province, China, I was struck by the destruction wreaked on them by those whose religion proscribes figurative images of sentient beings
When and by whom had the vandalism of these exquisite and colourful portraits been done? I later learnt that the Buddhist Uyghurs of the Kingdom of Qocho and Turfan, in which Bezekilk was situated, were converted to Islam by conquest during a holy war at the hands of the Muslim Chagatai Khizr Khwaja. Not easy information to assimilate.
Genghis Khan and the Mongol horde’s activities are widely known but not always in detail. What dynasties did they sweep away on their destructive paths of pillage and conquest? Many of the dynasties they conquered were under the influence of Islam. Yet in their turn, these Muslims had overcome Sogdian princedom resistance in the 9th century. Central Asian history can be extremely confusing for the non-specialist.
Into this Central Asian complexity and confusion steps Dr Christoph Baumer with a masterly third installment in his four-volume series on Central Asia covering the Age of Islam and the Mongols. With his consummate academic and archaeological professionalism, Baumer cuts through the historical smokescreen and gives a detailed and authoritative account appropriate for both scholar and layman alike.
Baumer cuts through the historical smokescreen and gives a detailed and authoritative account appropriate for both scholar and layman alike
He explains that prior to the 8th century, Islam had established itself in Central Asia through a combination of Iranian book and Turkish sword. Turkic-Muslim dynasties were established and Islam offered an ideological method to break down borders between warring clans and tribes. By the mid-11th century, science, scholarship and the arts flourished as this newly-established Central Asian hegemony spread to other parts of the Muslim world. This cultural development in turn was followed between 1000 and 1220 AD by a complete reconfiguration of the region – ethnically, linguistically and politically – by further Islamic Turkic migrations and through dynasties they established such as the Seljuks, the Karakhanids, and the Ghaznavids.
However, from the mid-12th to the mid-13th centuries, Genghis Khan and his successors abruptly and comprehensively extinguished this cultural Islamic renaissance with the establishment of the largest land empire ever known, more than three times the size of the United States. This empire remained in a mutated form until the last great Mogul of India was deposed in 1857.
The Mongols were secular rulers with no regard for any one particular religion and had a great inquisitiveness about all of them. Not for them the eradication of Buddhist images. ‘Just as God has given the hand several fingers, so he has given mankind several paths,’ explained the religiously broad-minded Great Khan Monke to a Franciscan monk in 1254. But unlike the Muslims, the Mongols did not create political structures in their territories. Their subsequent destructive forays into Russia and Europe brought them into contact with constantly warring European dynasties and principalities, yet not a single Mongol regime was established. What did flourish in the aftermath of their invasions was trade. When in the 1270s the Mongols encountered stern opposition from the Egyptian Mamelukes they abandoned their role of ruthless conquerors and tried to treaty with European kings and popes for military alliances. This was a development of huge consequence for Europeans, which led to the spread of geographical knowledge of an unknown region and more importantly trade with Central Asia.
Many have written about Genghis Khan and his successors’ national and international military campaigns. But seldom has the prose been so lucid and the illustrations so illuminating. In the Great Khan’s own words, ‘All the face of the Earth from the going up of the sun to its going down [has been] given [to me by God].’ Under Baumer’s expert guidance and firm hand, historians, religious scholars and the non-specialist can follow Genghis Khan’s Islamic predecessors and the Mongols along the surface of the Earth.
This review was published in the October 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.

Ancient Chinese 'export-quality porcelain' discovered in Mexico's Acapulco port

 Source:Xinhua/ Global Times.cn  15 October 2016

Photo taken on Oct. 5, 2016, shows antique Chinese porcelain fragments in the city of Acapulco, Mexico.

A new archaeological find announced on Friday in Mexico attests to China's age-old vocation as an exporting powerhouse. Mexican archaeologists have uncovered thousands of fragments of a 400-year-old shipment of Chinese "export-quality porcelain" that was long buried in the Pacific Coast port of Acapulco. (Xinhua/Meliton Tapia/INAH)

A new archaeological find announced on Friday in Mexico attests to China's age-old vocation as an exporting powerhouse. Mexican archaeologists have uncovered thousands of fragments of a 400-year-old shipment of Chinese "export-quality porcelain" that was long buried in the Pacific Coast port of Acapulco. The shipment of rice bowls, cups, plates and platters dates from the reign of the Ming Dynasty's 13th emperor, Wanli (1572-1620), and is believed to have arrived in Acapulco aboard the China Galleon, which regularly sailed between Asia and the New World.

"During its 250 years of cabotage along the coasts of the Pacific in the Americas, the China Galleon left an indelible trail," Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), said in reporting on the find. In an on-site interview posted on INAH's website, archaeologist Roberto Junco said "we discovered there were four or five models or styles ... characteristic of a type of ... export-quality porcelain that the Chinese made, mainly in the factories of Jingdezhen, and exported around the world." According to Junco, the white-and-blue porcelain, painted with images of birds, beetles, swans, ducks, deer and other depictions of nature, was made in Zhangzhou, capital of south-central Fujian province, and Jingdezhen, in Jiangxi province, which is known as China's "Porcelain Capital."

The find, located no more than a meter and a half below ground near Acapulco's Cathedral, in what is known as the Old Quarter, included fragments of a coarser type of ceramic used to make containers for shipping provisions, such as spices and liquids. Mexico's ports were often targeted by pirates, which could explain why the shipment appears to have been destroyed.

 The discovery coincides with an exhibit at Mexico City's Franz Mayer Museum called "Return Voyage: The China Galleon and the Baroque in Mexico," which highlights China's artistic influence on the New World through trade.
While Mexico and China are separated by a great distance, trade ties have linked the two regions for centuries. The China Galleon regularly sailed between Acapulco, and other Mexican ports, and Manila, in the Philippines, and today's Taiwan, China where it would load up on Chinese spices and silks, and other goods.
Fabricio Antonio Fonseca, a researcher at the prestigious Colegio de Mexico, says the initial encounter between Mexico and China occurred when the galleon first sailed into a Mexican port. The discovery of new maritime routes linking Asia, the New World and Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries launched an era of unprecedented global trade and cultural exchange. Evidence even shows that starting in 1565, the return trips to Mexico were manned by Chinese crews, said Fonseca.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

The Legacy of the Ancient Kings. Ctesiphon and the Persian Sources of Islamic Art

The Legacy of the Ancient Kings. Ctesiphon and the Persian Sources of Islamic Art

15.11.2016 to 02.04.2017 
Berlin Germany

How did Islamic cultures and Islamic art arise? Where do their roots lie? Like the Islamic religion itself, Islamic art also built on its predecessors in the Middle East. Focussing on Ctesiphon, a vast landscape of ruins south of Baghdad, this exhibition is devoted to the Persian legacy inherited by Islam.
Dominated by the monumental vaulted hall of the royal palace, the Taq-e Kesra, the city today is an emblem of the grandeur and downfall of the mighty Sassanid empire, a great power in ancient Persia about which little is known today. For centuries it competed with Rome and Byzantium. In the 7th century CE, however, the conquests by the Arab armies fundamentally changed the political balance of power. Culturally, too, a transformation took place – "Islamic art" was born. But had everything really changed?
The exhibition shows that the existing culture did not simply disappear and that the new culture did not arise out of nothing. Starting with a panoramic view of the world around 600 CE, it introduces a multi-cultural cultural landscape and illustrates how old techniques, ideas and motifs lived on. Many things were adopted to serve as the basis for new innovations – while others disappeared into the darkness of history. The exhibition also invites the visitor to consider the purely practical problems of researching the past. How can cultural change be identified from archaeological objects? What difficulties do archaeologists encounter when trying to reconstruct the past and what new opportunities are there for us today? Belonging, as they do, to a cultural legacy shared between Iraq and Iran and a cultural heritage currently under threat, and bearing witness to the birth of Islamic culture, the objects on display raise concrete questions for the present day.

Siberia's Stone Idols

2,400 year old Ust-Taseyevsky idol 'underwent racial realignment early in Middle Ages', losing his European looks.
Ust-Taseyevsky stone idol. Picture: Yuri Grevtsov
But why this medieval plastic surgery? And the next puzzle: how come he had Caucasian features almost two millennia before the Russian conquest of Siberia?
An inscrutable face stares at us from the deep past. This idol - in fact a cluster of idols - has been gazing precisely east-southeast from a crest on a sandstone hill since several centuries before the birth of Christ, even if modern man only chanced upon him in 1975.
The main stone sculpture visible today shows a man with widely spaced almond-shaped eyes and ocher-coloured pupils. 
He has a massive nose with flared nostrils, wide open mouth, a bushy moustache and a beard. And yet all is not quite as it seems, for this sculpture, the most northerly of this genre in Asia, underwent an historic version of plastic surgery perhaps 1,500 years ago to give him a less Caucasian and more Asian appearance, according to experts. 
2,400 year old idol 'underwent racial realignment early in Middle Ages', losing his European looks
An inscrutable face stares at us from the deep past. Picture: Yuri Grevtsov

Archeologist Yuri Grevtsov said: 'Analysis of the sculpture's micro-relief showed that the original image went through some improvements. The first 'edition' was made by knocking, charring and the polishing the lines. Most likely it was all made by one person who seemed to have a very strong hand and a good taste.'
'Finds of ancient tools, weapons and bronze mirrors  in grottos surrounding the sculpture suggest this and other more weathered and fallen idols were hewn out of the sandstone as a place of worship between the second and fourth century BC. 
'But in the early Middle Ages a 'less experienced sculptor' got to work on the idol and  'sharply delineated and narrowed the sculpture's asymmetric eyes. The nose bridge was flattered with several strikes. The nose contour was altered to form 'two deep diagonally converging grooves. 
'The moustache and the beard were partially 'shaved'.'
2,400 year old idol 'underwent racial realignment early in Middle Ages', losing his European looks

2,400 year old idol 'underwent racial realignment early in Middle Ages', losing his European looks

2,400 year old idol 'underwent racial realignment early in Middle Ages', losing his European looks
Ust-Taseyevsky ritual site, and the idol. Pictures: Yuri Grevtsov, Anna Kravtsova

So the original European look of the idol was changed to a more Asian countenance. Why would this happen?
'Judging by archeological finds found inside the grottos, this anthropomorphic idol was made during the Scythian time,' Yuri Grevtsov said. 'The first change came when the more European looking face was transformed to make it appear more Mongoloid was likely to have happened in the early Middle Ages with a shift of the population in the Angara River area,' he said.
In other words, incoming ethnic groups preferred the idol to be more akin to their own looks.
The third transformation must have happened with the arrival of Russian people and them introducing the locals to tobacco and pipes. 
Another change in the idol came later: a conical hole 1.5 cm in diameter was drilled in the sculpture's mouth.
2,400 year old idol 'underwent racial realignment early in Middle Ages', losing his European looks
Ust-Taseyevsky stone idol. Picture: Anna Kravtsova

This transformation 'must have happened with the arrival of Russian people, introducing the locals to tobacco and pipes'.
The Russian conquest of Siberia reached this region - in modern day Krasnoyarsk - in the 17th century. 
Senior researcher Grevtsov said the stone idol is the only one of its kind in the taiga so far north: the closest analogues would be 500 kilometres to the south in Khakassia.
Why, though, would the original face have distinctly European features - seen by some as Slavic - when modern-day native Siberian groups have a more Asian appearance? 
The answer may be that the Scythian peoples -  a large group of Iranian Eurasian nomads who held sway in many Siberian regions at this time - did indeed have this more European visage. 
Reconstructions of faces from permafrost burials, for example in the Altai Mountains, shows this to be the case.
2,400 year old idol 'underwent racial realignment early in Middle Ages', losing his European looks
Comparing Ust-Taseyevsky stone idol to other stone statues in Asia. Picture: Yuri Grevtsov

'The rich archeological material found at the site can be divided into five main groups,' Grevtsov said. 'Weaponry - stone, bone and metal arrowheads, knives and axes; bronze mirrors; harnesses and their decorations; fragments of bear and elk skulls with traces of rituals, for example when their lower jaws were cut off; and ritual elements like a shaman crown made of deer antlers,' he said.
'All the finds bear traces of fire. Given the type, the concentration and the locations of the finds we conclude that they were used for ritual purposes. 
'The grottos were sacrificial places where all offerings were buried.'
The so-called Ust-Taseyevsky Idol (or Taseyevsky) is on the left bank of the Taseyeva River, some 4 km from its confluence with the Angara, and 10 km from the village of Pervomaisk, some 300 km north from regional capital Krasnoyarsk. 
In all there are four sculptures, along with a 'carving table' and a spot where sacrifices of bears and elks were made. It lies 480 metres from the river bank, and 104 metres above the water level, a crest on a 300 metre hill.
The local calcareous sandstone led to rocks weathering into a quaint and somewhat anthropomorphic shapes, said the archeologist.
2,400 year old idol 'underwent racial realignment early in Middle Ages', losing his European looks
Ust-Taseyevsky stone idol. Picture: Anna Kravtsova

'Some of the rocks collapsed, forming natural  constructions with grottos and corridors, and making for a scenic site. In the centre of a 22 metre long sandstone ridge there is a four metre high rock, which looks a bit a like a human profile.'
It was to the left of this that archeologists found two grottos 'both full of archeological finds'.
To the right is the idol with the human face and in front, covered with moss, there was a roughly-made petroglyph depicting another human face. 
'To the right of the human face statue there is another large rock with no traces of human influence, yet looking quite like a woman's head covered with a hood.'
The area is so rich in iron ore that springs are visible with rusty-coloured water. 
2,400 year old idol 'underwent racial realignment early in Middle Ages', losing his European looks

2,400 year old idol 'underwent racial realignment early in Middle Ages', losing his European looks
Scheme of the site and its location marked on the world map. Pictures: Yuri Grevtsov, The Siberian Times 
Explorer Maksim Fomenko who visited the site this year with a Yenisei TV film crew said: 'A compass dances frivolously with its needle going as much as 20 degrees off course. Locals also say that the hills act like a magnet to lightning bolts during storms. I wonder if this was the same in earlier times and if people that lived here saw it as a good sign to choose the site for their rituals.'
Grevtsov spoke about the moment in the early 1990s when he realised the site contained more than the idol.
'I got between the rocks to measure them. At some point to get the height I had to lie down on my back,' he said. 'I felt as if my coat had caught a tree branch and wouldn't let me move freely, (and) I reached out behind my back and felt the  handle of a bronze knife.
'It wasn't immediately under the big idol, but to the left of it. The soil was so soft and loose that I started to dig deeper with my hands, and within minutes found an arrowhead and a bear's fang. 
'My colleagues joined me and during the first few days we found a bronze axe, pendants, badges shapes like griffons and ram's heads. 
'I couldn't sleep for two nights, so strong was the feeling of excitement.
'There was a path leading up the hill. One of the rocks that looks like a table was used to carve carcasses of bears and elks. Judging by the bones we found, they cut off bear paws and heads, then separated jaws from the rest of the skull and performed some procedure in between the rocks.
'Then they had a meal and burned the skulls and paws inside a different pit.'
2,400 year old idol 'underwent racial realignment early in Middle Ages', losing his European looks
'I couldn't sleep for two nights, so strong was the feeling of excitement', archeologist Yuri Grevtsov 

In fact, the idol that is so visible and striking today was not the main figure in the complex. The central character worshipped by the people of the past is in the middle of the composition, above all other stones. It has one eye, a nose and something looking like a beard. 
There is disagreement about what it shows: some see the face of a man, others an animal, perhaps even a bird, most likely a raven. It is surmised that the idol that is prominent today was a 'helper'  and probably not the recipient of  ancient  offerings. 
Next to the helper there is a round-shaped rock which researchers refer to as the 'helper's wife'. 
The carving table is to the left of the helper and his wife. 
Behind the main sculpture there is a 'guard' - the biggest rock of all on the site - whose role was seen to be to overlook the ritual site. 
2,400 year old idol 'underwent racial realignment early in Middle Ages', losing his European looks

2,400 year old idol 'underwent racial realignment early in Middle Ages', losing his European looks

2,400 year old idol 'underwent racial realignment early in Middle Ages', losing his European looks
Stone and bronze finds discovered at the Ust-Taseyevsky ritual site. Picture: Yuri Grevtsov

After each of the rituals, the offerings were hidden in niches between the rocks and piled on top of the remnants of the previous offerings. 
The 'guard' stone stood by the richest of the niches that had the most intriguing finds.
Interestingly, the hierarchy of how the idols were set on the site is similar to the ways of the Khanty and Mansi peoples, whose geographical location is some 2,000 kilometres to the north east. 
Their idols were made of wood but the order they were arranged was similar - the main idol was in the middle, a helper and his wife were to the left, a guard was to the right.