Thursday, 1 December 2016

Susan Whitfield Lecture: “Beyond Scrolls and Codices: Manuscript Formats on the Eastern Silk Road”

This Mellon Sawyer seminar is an interdisciplinary collaboration dedicated to mapping cultural exchanges across Eurasia from roughly 400-1450 CE, by focusing on the development, distribution and sharing of manuscript technologies.

Schedule of Public Lectures

Mellon Sawyer lectures are open to the public and will take place on the University of Iowa campus, Iowa City. Note that UCC refers to University Capitol Center and IMU refers to the Iowa Memorial Union.


Friday 2 December 2016 – 8:30am-4:45pm / 166 IMU Iowa Theater (Iowa Memorial Union)
William Johnson
Classical Studies, Duke University
“From Bookroll to Codex”
This talk will, first, offer an overview of the literary bookroll in ancient Greece and Rome, with deep dives into how technical details of form interact with production (writers, scribes) and consumption (readers, society). That overview will be foundational for the second part of the lecture, in which we will turn to the much discussed issue of the transition from bookroll to codex. There too an overview will be offered— with, however, a focus not so much on the question of “why?” but on what this transition might  say about instability and changes in the larger cultural matrix, and, more specifically, how this shift in the idea of the book might relate to changing attitudes towards authorship and writing practices on the one hand, and use and reading practices on the other.

Susan Whitfield
Director, International Dunhuang Project, British Library
“Beyond Scrolls and Codices: Manuscript Formats on the Eastern Silk Road”
Manuscripts in the tens of thousand have been excavated from first millennium AD sites of the eastern Silk Road. On various local media — birchbark, wood, palm leaf, silk, paper and others — and in over twenty languages and scripts, they reflect the diversity of the cultures in this period and place. This paper introduces the range of manuscript formats, materials, languages and scripts, and discuss their diffusion along the Silk Road. It also considers the lack of diffusion of some unique formats used in specific contexts and only found for relatively brief periods.

Marina Rustow
Khedouri A. Zilkha Professor of Jewish Civilization in the Near East, Princeton University
“Fatimid State Documents, Serial Recyclers and the Cairo Geniza”Among the many unexpected finds the Cairo Geniza has yielded are hundreds—possibly thousands—of medieval documents of state in Arabic script. Among these are decrees, rescripts, petitions, tax receipts and fiscal accounts from period of the Fatimid caliphs in Egypt and Syria (969–1171). Most of these Fatimid state documents were reused for Hebrew-script texts, hence their survival in the discarded manuscript chamber of a medieval Egyptian synagogue. In most cases, we can only speculate on the path they took from the government offices where they were produced to the synagogue where they were preserved. Nonetheless—and perhaps paradoxically given that they did not survive in an archive—they offer glimpses of the complexity and sophistication of medieval Middle Eastern techniques of archiving and deacquisition, as well as informal scribal habits in one of the largest and best documented Jewish communities of the Middle Ages.

Myriam Krutzsch
Aegyptisches Museum, Berlin
“Papyrus as an Ancient Writing Material: Its Structure, Production and Classification”
This lecture touches on the history of  ancient Egyptian papyrus, its production and use as a writing material. The structure of the papyrus sheet is explained, from the source materials [fibers, leaf shapes] to the making the papyrus roll. Special emphasis is focused on the diverse typology and classification of sheet joins, the places where individual papyrus sheets are connected to form a roll or scroll. Knowledge of these typologies not only gives us insight into ancient production technologies, but also can be used as a valuable tool for determining previously uncertain provenance and dating.

Mark Barnard
Senior Conservator Emeritus, British Library
“The Dunhuang Diamond Sutra of AD 868: A Conservation Approach That Goes Back to the Original”The Diamond Sutra of AD 868 is the world’s earliest dated printed ‘book’. This paper scroll was one of 6,000 items that came from Dunhuang’s cave 17 during Marc Aurel Stein’s 2nd expedition of 1911 to Western China. Brought back to the British Museum, London in 1914 its importance was soon recognized as it was put on display in 1914 along with other treasures from Dunhuang. From early images, its condition looked poor, with heavy staining and paper loss. It had also been repaired in antiquity. We believe that it had been restored up to three times before by 1972 when it was transferred to the New British Library. This presentation will chart a 20-year conservation project that involved ground-breaking research and a fundamental reassessment of traditional East Asian scroll mounting, and developed a new approach to the conversation about and preservation of the Dunhuang archive.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Terracotta Warriors: An Army for the Afterlife



Terracotta Warriors: An Army for the Afterlife
Thousands of terracotta warriors guard the tomb of the first emperor of China.
Credit: meanmachine77 / Shutterstock.com

Chinese workers digging a well in 1974 made a startling discovery: thousands of life-size terracotta figures of an army prepared for battle. Now called the Terracotta Army or Terracotta Warriors, the figures are located in three pits near the city of Xi'an in China's Shaanxi province. After the warriors were discovered, the site became a museum and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. 
The pits are situated less than one mile to the northeast of a pyramid-shaped mausoleum constructed for the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang (259 B.C. – 210 B.C.). According to UNESCO World Heritage Center, archaeologists suspect that the unexcavated tomb could contain an entire replica of the city of Xi'an, which the warriors guard. The three pits (a fourth pit was unfinished) contain an estimated 8,000 life-size terracotta figures of which about 2,000 have been excavated. The figures were created to serve the emperor in the afterlife and include a mix of chariots, cavalry, armored soldiers and archers. There are high-ranking officers (including nine generals found so far) and one of the pits, No. 3, actually served as a command post for the army and contains an honor guard and ornate chariot for the force's chief commander. All three pits are active archaeological sites and visitors can see excavations taking place. [Gallery: Ancient Chinese Warriors Protect Secret Tomb]
The details of the warriors are so intricate and individualized that it has been hypothesized that they were based on real soldiers who served in the emperor's army. Each warrior has uniquely styled hair and features; some have topknots while others have goatees; some have caps and loose tunics while others have armored vests and braided hair. They have different builds, expressions and postures. Another key feature is that the warriors were decorated in bright colors, which contributed to the individuation. New conservation techniques, performed on recently excavated figures, allow some of these patterns to be discerned. Every warrior contains a stamp of the name of the foreman in charge of his creation, so that mistakes could be tracked, according to the Field Museum
Curiously, when the emperor created this army he had it face east, not toward the frontiers of his empire but rather toward the territories he had already taken. Why he did this is a mystery, it could be because of the topography around his mausoleum or it could because he felt the real threat came from the lands he had conquered.

An army of clay warriors guards the tomb of China's first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, who died in 210 BC. The tomb is still under excavation near Xi'an, China.
An army of clay warriors guards the tomb of China's first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, who died in 210 BC. The tomb is still under excavation near Xi'an, China.
Credit: Clara Moskowitz/LiveScience 

His birth name was Ying Zheng and he was born at a time when China was divided into a number of warring states. One of these states, named Qin, was located in the western portion of ancient China and had been expanding for some time. 
An army of clay warriors guards the tomb of China's first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, who died in 210 BC. The tomb is still under excavation near Xi'an, China.
When Zheng's father, King Zhuangxiang, died in 246 B.C., Zheng took the throne at the age of 13. Over the next three decades he initiated a series of military campaigns that would see Qin conquer the other states and unify China for the first time. After the unification was complete in 221 B.C., Zheng took on the title of Qin Shi Huang which means, in essence, the "First Emperor of Qin." After his death in 210 B.C., his dynasty quickly collapsed with a new group of rulers known as the "Han Dynasty" coming to power.
According to the Field Museum, Qin Shi Huang spent a significant portion of his rule preparing for the afterlife, and even began construction of his mausoleum before he was coronated. It is estimated that the terracotta warriors themselves took more than 10 years to complete. 
In this ensuing period, the emperor's terracotta army may not have been looked upon kindly. Archaeologist Yuan Zhongyi writes in his book "China's Terracotta Army and the First Emperor's Mausoleum" (Homa and Sekey, 2011) that pit two was "partially burnt down," possibly by a rebel army that arose shortly after the first emperor's death.
Another researcher, Chen Shen, curator of a massive Terracotta Warriors show that appeared recently in New York, notes that historical records are silent about the warriors. Sima Qian, a Han Dynasty historian who lived about a century after the first emperor's time, doesn't talk about the warriors despite covering 3,000 years of Chinese history in his "Shiji" (Records of the Grand Historian). That could be because he didn't want to highlight the first emperor's achievement.
"Because the historian served an emperor whose ancestors overthrew the First Emperor's brief dynasty, he had to be conscious of presenting the past in a way that would not distress his ruler with unflattering comparisons," Shen writes in his exhibition book "The Warrior Emperor and China's Terracotta Army" (Royal Ontario Museum Press, 2010).
Indeed while terracotta figures were made by later Chinese rulers, none of them attempted to produce a large army of life-sized figures ever again.
Pit One, the largest pit, is rectangular and covers 14,000 square meters (150,000 square feet) of space, the size of almost three football fields.
"The floor of the passage ways and the surrounding corridors is paved with grey bricks. The roof is supported by thick and sturdy wood blocks, one closely next to another, on which is covered with mats, and upon that loess [a sediment]," writes Zhongyi in his book.
The portions excavated so far are filled with warriors. A map that University of London researcher Lucas Nickel published in his book "First Emperor: China's Terracotta Army" (British Museum Press, 2007) illustrates their formation.
At the front of Pit One is a vanguard of un-armored standing archers, three rows deep, which Zhongyi writes were mainly equipped with bow and arrows. Behind them, separated by earthen mounds, are 11 straight lines of figures, many of them armored warriors who would have been equipped with melee weapons such as the halberd. Interspersed with these armored warriors are war chariots that were made of wood (now decayed) with four terracotta horses each. Each of these chariots has a driver (wearing extra-long armor for protection) along with two warriors armed with either melee weapons or bows.
Zhongyi writes that this arrangement of a fast-moving vanguard, equipped with long-range weapons, which in turn is followed by a heavier force, is not an accident. He points out that the ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu wrote in his book the "Art of War" that the "the tip (vanguard) must be hard-hitting while the body must be overwhelming," a lesson the first emperor appears to have applied in the afterlife.

Emperor Qin Shi Huang was buried with everything he needed for the afterlife, including an army complete with life-size clay horses.
Emperor Qin Shi Huang was buried with everything he needed for the afterlife, including an army complete with life-size clay horses.
Credit: Clara Moskowitz/LiveScience 

Pit Two is located just to the north of Pit One and is about half its size and roughly square (with a bulging area in the northeast where the force's vanguard is located).
Emperor Qin Shi Huang was buried with everything he needed for the afterlife, including an army complete with life-size clay horses.
Like Pit One, its vanguard is made up largely of archers, in this case mainly carrying crossbows (again the wooden part is decayed). The figures in the front rows are un-armored and standing up, while the ones behind are kneeling. Again this is no accident, as Zhongyi points out that it takes time for an archer to load a new bolt for his crossbow. By having one line firing, and another kneeling to reload, a steady stream of fire could be kept up on the enemy.
The main force of Pit Two, the part meant to overwhelm the enemy, includes about 80 war chariots. Each has two riders and a charioteer and there are also some armored troops, equipped with melee weapons, intermixed.
Newly introduced in Pit Two is a squadron of cavalry. Located in the northwest of the pit, the saddled horses are male, life-size and each carries a rider. Zhongyi notes the armor of the riders stops short of the waist, that way "the lap won't touch the horse when the rider is seated." The riders would have been equipped with both bows and melee weapons.
At the front of the horse squadron are six "assistant chariots," as Zhongyi calls them. They have a charioteer with only one warrior, the empty space reserved for an officer.

Thousands of terracotta warriors guard the tomb of the first emperor of China.
Thousands of terracotta warriors guard the tomb of the first emperor of China.
Credit: meanmachine77 / Shutterstock.com

 Pit Three: Command post
By far the smallest of the pits is Pit Three, used as a command post. It has an honor guard consisting of armored warriors holding long poles. At center is a grand command chariot manned by four warriors (including a charioteer). The "beautifully painted vehicle body was crowned by a round ornamented canopy indicating that this chariot had a special function," Lucas Nickel writes. "It may have been designed to carry the commander of the army."
The army commander is not included among the terracotta figures and researchers do not know his identity. One possibility is that the commander is no less than the emperor himself, who still lies buried in his tomb.
Non-military terracotta figures have been discovered in other pits. Like the army, they were meant for the afterlife and include terracotta civil servants, equipped with knives and bamboo tablets for writing, and even a group of terracotta acrobats meant for entertainment.
"According to the way they [the acrobats] perform we speculate they are not indigenous to central China, but probably come from the south — probably the Burma area," said archaeologist Duan Qingbo, who was in charge of excavations at the Terracotta Army pits, in translated comments that appeared in "The Independent" (UK).
For the first emperor's afterlife, nothing was spared. He had a large army in proper military formation and even entertainment brought in from afar.
For decades, archaeologists have pondered the techniques ancient artisans used to make thousands of individualized warriors in a relatively short period of time. According to National Geographic, some have suspected that a single artisan produced each warrior; others hold that the individualized faces were achieved by attaching a unique mix of pre-determined ears, noses, mouths, etc. to the heads, a la Mr. Potato Head. One recent theory suggests that they were inspired by Greek sculpture techniques they learned from travelers on the Silk Road, according to New Historian. Still others hypothesize that the warriors were created on an assembly line of convicts and conscripts. In this model, according to the Field Museum, workers used molds for the body parts and heads, adding individual flourishes before sending the sculpture into the kiln. At least 10 different head molds have been identified.
In 2014, a group of researchers at University College London analyzed 30 ears from the warriors to determine how different they were from each other. They theorized that if the warriors were supposed to portray real people, they should have distinct ears (forensic scientists can use ear-shapes to identify people, similarly to fingerprints). According to Smithsonian Magazine, no two ears analyzed were alike, though thousands more need to be assessed before archaeologists draw any specific conclusions. But it supports the theory that the warriors were based on a real army. 
The warriors are even more impressive when you consider that they are just one small part of Qin Shi Huang's mausoleum. Scientists have used remote sensing, core sampling and radar to discover that the tomb complex is almost 38 square miles (98 square kilometers). They suspect it contains a replica of the city of Xi'an, as well as its rivers and streams. In addition to clay inhabitants — warriors, acrobats, etc. — thousands of real people were also buried with their emperor. Many were craftsman and convicts who died building the mausoleum. Hundreds of concubines were also buried there, possibly to accompany their emperor to the afterlife, or possibly as part of an elaborate court intrigue, according to National Geographic
Sima Qian's writings describe the contents of the tomb complex: "The tomb was filled with models of palaces, pavilions and offices as well as fine vessels, precious stones and rarities." Rivers and streams were made of mercury, hills and mountains of bronze, and precious stones represented the sun, moon, and stars. According to National Geographic, tests on the dirt at the tomb reveal high levels of mercury, supporting Sima Qian's description. 
But we may never know for sure what lies beneath the tomb. Sima Qian warned that it was booby trapped, and modern archaeologists are kept away by the risk of damaging the site. Some artifacts could disintegrate rapidly if the tombs were opened. 
Additional reporting by Live Science Contributor Jessie Szalay, who toured the site in 2016.
Additional resources

Lecture: Achaemenid and Sassanian themes in Qajar tilework and related themes


27 November 2016
Friday 2 December at 5.30 at the AIIT: Jennifer Scarce (University of Dundee): "Qajar nostalgia: Achaemenid and Sassanian themes in Qajar tilework and related themes"

Iran has always been aware of her pre- Islamic past and its impressive pictorial record. The dramatic rock and stone sculptured reliefs of the Achaemenids, Parthians and Sassanids spanning the 6th century B.C. to the 7th century A.D. are permanent evidence of the achievements of the rulers, their courts and occupations. Later the Sassanian rulers, as transformed into romantic heroes in the Shahnameh of Ferdausi, the Iranian national epic are portrayed in various media such as painted ceramics and manuscripts illustrations from the 13th century onwards.
The Qajar shahs of the 19th century were well aware of the glorious past which they interpreted through a revival of monumental rock sculptures which, for example, depicted Fath Ali Shah (1797-1834) in the guise of a Sassanian ruler and later through the medium of glazed tilework of the late 19th century which concentrated on narrative panels inspired by the Achaemenid imagery of Persepolis.

This lecture will survey and analyse the main themes of this Qajar revival in terms of the choice of images and the techniques used to illustrate them including polychrome tilework, and the innovations of lithography and photography.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

New discoveries unearthed at Terracotta Warriors site

By Bi Nan | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2016-11-25



New discoveries unearthed at Terracotta Warriors site
Emperor Qinshihuang's mausoleum [File Photo]
Stone helmets, armor and the remains of thousands of animals and relics related to animals are among the latest archaeological finds at Emperor Qinshihuang's mausoleum in Shaanxi province, according to CCTV.com.
The items were found in excavations at the celebrated site, which is home to China's iconic Terracotta Warriors.
More than 400 pits, stone helmets and armor discovered
Zhou Tie, the head engineer of the Emperor Qinshihuang's Mausoleum Site Museum, said that during a recent excavation, the archaeological team learned the general structure of the mausoleum and a large number of pits were discovered. More than 400 pits were found in the mausoleum and dozens of small pits and tombs were found around the site.
A large number of stone helmets and armor were found surrounding the mausoleum.. Experts believe these were not used in actual war, but their real function still needs to be researched.
New discoveries unearthed at Terracotta Warriors site
Terracotta warriors and horses in the Emperor Qinshihuang's Mausoleum Site Museum [File Photo]
An "animal world" discovered in the mausoleum
Ancient people of the time used animals as burial objects and the emperor's mausoleum was no exception.
The new archaeological findings reveal that thousands of animal-related relics have been found in the mausoleum; that makes it the tomb in China with the most animal species so far.
"Different animal species were unearthed in Emperor Qinshihuang's mausoleum, including real animals and those made of pottery or iron," Wu Lina, from Emperor Qinshihuang's Mausoleum Site Museum said. During the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) people gradually grasped animals' habits and learned the skills necessary to raise and train them to some extent.
According to preliminary statistics, the most unearthed animal in the mausoleum is horse. Horses come in many forms: pottery, copper, horse bones unearthed from stable pits. Other animals unearthed include rare birds and beasts and water fowl. Yet to be identified are animal bones.
Wu Lina said that after years of excavation, the animals unearthed from the mausoleum include deer, muntjac deer, figures of copper fowl, such as cranes, swans and swan goose, plus the bones of sheep, chicken, fish and turtles, as well as shellfish ornaments.
Animal and human beings have existed side by side since ancient times, and the concept of biodiversity should be advocated even vigorously nowadays, Hou Ningbin, the museum's head, said.
New discoveries unearthed at Terracotta Warriors site
A stable pit at the Emperor Qinshihuang's Mausoleum Site Museum [Photo/sanqin.com]



Guarding the Spirit of Our Ancestor, Genghis Khan

For eight centuries, my people, the Darkhad, have protected the relics of the Mongol Son of Heaven.


I am one of the Darkhad people of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, and I am a guardian of Genghis Khan. For nearly 800 years, my people have guarded the spirit of the greatest Mongol emperor. Mine is the 36th generation to have this honor.
I am now 48 years old. When I was a very young man, my father always reminded me of what it meant to be a Darkhad, and how important it was to carry on the sacred duty our forefathers had bequeathed us: guarding the eight white yurts that house the Great Khan’s relics. His fourth son, Tolui, first had these portable mausoleums built on the Mongolian grasslands. 
People have always been curious about where Genghis Khan’s final resting place is located. Every few years, the media jumps on a new story reporting the discovery of his tomb. However, these stories only underline the outside world’s limited understanding of Mongol culture.  
Traditional Mongolian shamanism espouses that every living being has a soul. When a person dies, their soul does not die with them; instead, it lives on in the objects they used during their lifetime. Therefore, we the Darkhad believe we guard the living soul of the Son of Heaven.
It is said that as Genghis Khan lay on his deathbed, a shamanic doctor plucked a hair from the forehead of a white male camel and placed it in his mouth. After the fur absorbed Genghis Khan’s last breath, the shaman placed it in a bag as a token of his soul. In Mongolian, we call this event the cindariin hurrcag.
However, we are not sure whether the strand of camel hair is actually contained within the eight white yurts. The Darkhad have never fully opened the box to check, as we believe that doing so is to court disaster. We may only open the box a tiny crack on the fifth day of our Spring Festival sacrifice, and then we must shut it again. 
Easily transported, the eight white yurts are a testament to our nomadic lifestyle, to Mongolian spiritualism, and to the local environment. They ensure that people across the steppe can continue offering sacrifices to their ancestors. Their mobility also allows the Darkhad to respond flexibly in times of disaster or threat.
Genghis Khan is not only a deity in the minds of the Mongolian people; to the Chinese as well, he is a highly respected ruler. The Yuan dynasty of the 13th and 14th centuries, established by Genghis Khan’s grandson, Kublai, is accepted as a period of so-called native Chinese rule, despite the fact that its imperial line originally hailed from the steppes beyond the country’s northern border. For his part, Genghis united the disparate Mongolian tribes and captured a vast swath of northern China from the enervated Jin dynasty.
During the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Japanese attempted to commandeer the yurts as a means to subdue China’s Mongolian population, but they were met with fierce resistance. To protect the holy relics from destruction, the Darkhad people asked the ruling Nationalist government to move the yurts westward.
For the Darkhad, the Ordos region’s recent flourishing economy is a blessing from Genghis Khan’s spirit.
In 1939, the government dispatched a military escort to relocate the coffin and its relics to Gansu province in northwestern China. During their passage through Yanan, a Communist Party stronghold, people from all political backgrounds participated in a mass memorial service. They even constructed a memorial hall complete with a personal dedication from Chairman Mao himself.
After 14 years which saw the reunification of China under Communist Party rule, the relics of Genghis Khan were sent back to the Ordos region of Inner Mongolia. With the completion of the official Mausoleum of Genghis Khan in 1956, relics from across Ordos, including portraits, spear-shaped sulde totems, swords, and saddles, were gathered in the city of the same name. This made the once-mobile sacrificial customs performed by the Darkhad and the Golden Family — Genghis Khan’s direct descendants — fixed, centralized, and open to the public.
No matter the course that history has taken, the Darkhad people have always been entrusted with protecting Genghis Khan’s spirit through the ages. When his mausoleum was built, the local authorities delegated eight Darkhad people to organize daily offerings of food, alcohol, and incense, and to watch over the relics. In return, they received food and money. Today, the mausoleum remains primarily under the supervision of the Ordos tribe of the Mongol ethnic group, with Darkhad members in leadership positions.
For the Darkhad, the Ordos region’s recent flourishing economy is a blessing from Genghis Khan’s spirit. It signifies that our regional leaders have paid Genghis Khan due respect through their offerings. In return, his spirit is allowing the Ordos people to prosper.
However, economic prosperity brings its own problems, particularly through conflict with traditional culture. Today, Ordos relies on the cultural resources of Genghis Khan’s mausoleum to foster the development of the tourism industry. As a result, his mausoleum — sacred ground to the Mongolian people — has naturally become a popular stomping ground for visitors.
But non-Mongolians come to the area only for travel, and they often don’t understand the full significance of Genghis Khan to us. Sometimes, when they see us in traditional dress making real sacrificial offerings, they think it’s all for show.
We can only insist on hosting the rituals for Genghis Khan. These include daily and monthly offerings, weekday sacrifices of mutton and goat meat, larger festivals during the Year of the Dragon or the Year of the Snake, and other diverse, rich ceremonies.
Day after day, the Darkhad work tirelessly at the mausoleum. My role is to lead the rituals. I oversee use of the various sacrificial vessels, prepare and arrange the ceremony, and chant the traditional odes in homage to Genghis Khan.
We have the highest regard for all those who have visited the cemetery of Genghis Khan, but religious believers and ordinary travelers are treated differently. The former enter the mausoleum free of charge, with their status ranked according to the type and size of their offerings. The latter, meanwhile, have to pay for tickets. Preferential treatment — such as priority in making offerings, chanting blessings, and so on — is given to Ordos residents.
Price alone does not determine the value of the offering. For instance, a bottle of good maotai liquor costs far more than an entire sheep, but liquor does not merit the same blessings because Mongolians regard a whole sheep as a higher form of ceremony meant only for grand occasions. Mutton also doubles as food that the Ordos tribe — especially those of Darkhad lineage — serves only to distinguished guests.
Of course, we all recognize that times are changing. Of the approximately 6,000 Darkhad people alive today, many are no longer guardians. Instead, we are academics, government officials, farmers, herdsmen, private landowners, and much more. However, for some of us, certain things are constant: We try to remain steadfast in our beliefs and to worship our gods in the hope that they will bless us as their loyal subjects.


(Header image: The traditional winter ceremony at the Mausoleum of Genghis Khan in Ordos, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Nov. 14, 2015. Courtesy of the Mausoleum of Genghis Khan)

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Cave Temples of Dunhuang: Buddhist Art on the Silk Road

Cave Temples of Dunhuang: Buddhist Art on the Silk Road Hardcover – 7 Jun 2016



  • Hardcover: 302 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (7 Jun. 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1606064894

The Mogao grottoes in northwestern China, located near the town of Dunhuang on the fabled Silk Road, constitute one of the world's most significant sites of Buddhist art. In some five hundred caves carved into rock cliffs at the edge of the Gobi desert are preserved one thousand years of exquisite wall paintings and sculpture. Founded by Buddhist monks in the late fourth century, Mogao grew into an artistic and spiritual center whose renown extended from the Chinese capital to the far western kingdoms of the Silk Road. Among its treasures are 45,000 square meters of murals, more than 2,000 statues, and some 50,000 medieval silk paintings and illustrated manuscripts. 

This sumptuous catalogue accompanies an eponymous exhibition which will run from May 7 through September 4, 2016 at the Getty Center. Organized by the Getty Conservation Institute, Getty Research Institute, Dunhuang Academy, and Dunhuang Foundation, the exhibition celebrates decades-long collaboration between the GCI and the Dunhuang Academy to conserve this UNESCO World Heritage Site.It presents, for the first time in North America, a collection of objects from the so- called Library Cave, including illustrated sutras, prayer books, and other exquisite treasures, as well as three full-scale, hand- painted replica caves. This volume includes essays by leading scholars, an illustrated portfolio on the replica caves, and comprehensive entries on all objects in the exhibition.

Neville Agnew is principal project specialist at the Getty Conservation Institute. Marcia Reed is chief curator and head of Special Collections at the Getty Research Institute. Tevvy Ball is an editor at Getty Publications.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

The Ruins of Kočo: Traces of Wooden Architecture from the Ancient Silk Road

The Ruins of Kočo: Traces of Wooden Architecture from the Ancient Silk Road

Holzfliese aus Ruine Alpha, Kočo, Xinjiang, China, 11. Jh. © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum für Asiatische Kunst / Foto: Jürgen Liepe
More than 100 years after the return of the last Berlin researchers from Central Asia (1914), great discoveries are still being made among the finds of that time. Painted wooden beams, some inscribed with Buddhist texts, which Albert Grünwedel brought back with him in 1903, saving them from use as firewood, have now been identified as pieces of a ceiling and door construction. This discovery led members of the museum staff to Xinjiang, to the temple city of Kočo (Chinese: Gaochang) near Turfan, in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, China. There they searched for traces of wooden architecture and compared reports and photographs from the three Turfan expeditions with structures still visible at the location today. This project, funded by the Gerda Henkel Stiftung, has led to a new understanding of the monastery buildings, as is demonstrated in this exhibition.
Kloster Beta in der Ruinenstadt Kočo, Foto: Anfang 20. Jh. © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum für Asiatische Kunst
The documentation of photographic material from yesterday and today and the accounts of researchers from 1902–1907 compared with contemporary observations afford rare glimpses into the work of modern scientists. The exhibition is also a preview of the Humboldt Forum: the unique objects that were found in the three buildings analyzed in Kočo will be shown in this exhibition and then in the Humboldt Forum in their new display context. Paintings, texts and sculptures that came to light in Buddhist and Manichaean monasteries, as well as architectural elements and everyday objects, can speak to us today in new ways.
 Geschnitztes Holzkapitell aus Ruine K, Kočo, Xinjiang, China, 8. Jh. © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum für Asiatische Kunst / Foto: Jürgen Liepe

Kloster Beta in der Ruinenstadt Kočo, Xinjiang, China im Jahr 2015 © Foto: Lilla Russell-Smith

Friday, 18 November 2016

Iconic Buddha in Swat valley restored after nine years when Taliban defaced it

Dawn.com FAZAL KHALIQ — PUBLISHED Nov 07, 2016







The iconic seventh-century defaced Buddha at Jahan Abad, Swat, at last, got its face back after a nine-year-long wait following a scientific restoration process conducted by Italian archaeologists.
The 7th century Buddha seated in a meditative posture which is considered one of the largest rock sculptures in South Asia was attacked in September 2007 by the Taliban, who blew up half the statue's face by drilling holes into the face and shoulders and inserting explosives. 
The explosives in the face, when detonated, destroyed half its face, but the explosives in the statue's shoulders failed to detonate.
The defacement of the Buddha sparked worldwide anger and concern among the Buddhist community, historians and archaeologists. 
The defacement of the Buddha had sparked worldwide anger and concern.
The defacement of the Buddha had sparked worldwide anger and concern.
The Italian Archaeological Mission in Pakistan were able to restore the statue to its original form after six scientific missions.
"It was our professional and moral obligation toward the people and heritage of Swat and Pakistan which forced us to restore the Buddha. It took about five missions of about a month each from 2012-2016 in its complete conservation program," said head of the Italian Archaeological Mission, Dr Luca Maria Olivieri, adding that international experts worked on the restoration process.
“Two restorers/trainers, two 3D scan experts/trainers, one chief restorer, five local restorers, 20 field workers, two carpenters, and three watch-keepers were involved in the restoration process, while the 3D equipment was provided all-inclusive by the University of Padua, Italy,” he said
"It was restored under the Archaeology Community Tourism (ACT) Field School project funded by Italian government, a joint project of the Directorate of Archaeology and Museums of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Italian Archaeological Mission," Olivieri added.
Fabio Colombo, a restorer and member of the Italian Archaeological Mission who has vast experience in the field of conservation and who worked on-site in Bamyan, Afghanistan, said that he enjoyed the work at Jahan Abad as it was a very important historical site where the locals also gave him love and respect.
The explosives had destroyed half its face.
The explosives had destroyed half its face.
"It is one of the biggest rock sculptures in the region and different traces showed that it was once a central Buddhist location in the past. The surrounding of Buddha statue is peaceful, picturesque and serene. Owing to its historical, religious and archaeological importance," he told Dawn
"I hope local people understand its value as it is one part of their history which also belongs to the entire world.”
Syed Niaz Ali Shah, an official and representative of the Archaeology department with Italian Archaeological Mission in the ACT project, said that Tibetan pilgrims who visited Swat in the past mentioned about the Jahan Abad Buddha along with a Buddhist temple here.
“Some of the highly technical and experienced Italian experts worked in the conservation and restoration process using 3-D technology for which we are thankful to them."
He said that the site would, once again, become a tourist spot as it was in the past. “I hope Buddhist visitors and other tourists will once again visit this place, not only to enjoy the area serenity but the rich cultural heritage of the region here,” Niaz Ali Shah hoped. 
He said that the Buddha sculpture would play a vital role in the revival of International and national tourism.
Russian tourists said they were excited to visit the iconic Buddha.
Russian tourists said they were excited to visit the iconic Buddha.
After restoration of the Buddha the first foreign delegation which visited the site was Russians, who appreciated the classic sculpture art and the scenic location.
Yury Zhorno, a Russian tourist who visited Swat valley to see Buddhist archaeological monuments and rock carvings, said he was excited to visit the iconic Buddha.
“The Buddha sculpture is really amazing not only for its history but also for its nifty carving. The view from the foot of Buddha is also amazing as Swat valley is beautiful,” he told Dawn.
He invited people from across the world who took interest in Buddhism and natural beauty and said there was no need to be afraid as there was perfect peace.
Another Russian tourist who is tour agent in Moscow and brings Russian tourists to Pakistan also liked the location of Buddha and said that it was good sign that the situation in Pakistan was improving.
“The security situation here in Swat valley is very good and when we came here so the army assisted us everywhere and we feel safe here,” he said, adding that Pakistan had huge potential for tourists with diverse landscapes and rich culture heritage and people from across the world should visit it. 
Abdul Bari a resident of Gilgit Baltistan and an owner of the tourist company said Swat was the most beautiful place in Pakistan with oldest Buddhists records in form of archaeology.
“People of the valley are also hospitable so I want tourists to come here and discover all these things at the same time,” he said, adding that the government must promote tourism and attract tourists from across the world here.
— All photos provided by the author.