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contents winter 2010



9 By Daniel C. Waugh



23 By Victor H. Mair




By Angela Sheng

44 By J.P. Mallory


23 33 44


2 From the Editor 3 From the Director 4 Portrait—Dr. Elfriede R. (Kezia) Knauer ncient and Modern Foods 5 What in the World—Afrom the Tarim Basin 7 Research Notes—The Luohan that Came from Afar 54 Museum Mosaic—People, Places, Projects 55 Book News & Reviews—Before the Silk Road 57 Index for Volume 52 on the cover: Yingpan Man, excavated from Yingpan, Yuli (Lop Nur) County, dates to the 3rd to 4th century CE. His clothing is finely made, and his painted mask is decorated with gold leaf. (Photo credit: Xinjiang Institute of Archaeology Collection)

We welcome letters to the Editor. Expedition® (ISSN 0014-4738) is published three times a year by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Please send them to: Anthropology, 3260 South St., Philadelphia, PA 19104-6324. ©2010 University of Pennsylvania. All rights reserved. Expedition is a Expedition registered trademark of the University of Pennsylvania Museum. All editorial inquiries should be addressed to the Editor at the above Penn Museum address or by email to Subscription price: $35.00 per subscription per year. International subscribers: add 3260 South Street $15.00 per subscription per year. Subscription, back issue, and advertising queries to Maureen Goldsmith at publications@museum. Philadelphia, n . e d u / ePA x p19104-6324 edition 1 or (215)898-4050. Subscription forms may be faxed to (215)573-9369. Please allow 6-8 weeks for delivery. w w w . m u s e u m . u p e n Email:


From the Editor t he w il l ia m s dir e c t o r

Richard Hodges, Ph.D. w il l ia m s dir e c t o r s e m e r it u s

Robert H. Dyson, Jr., Ph.D. Jeremy A. Sabloff, Ph.D. de pu t y dir e c t o r

C. Brian Rose, Ph.D. c hie f o pe r a t in g o ffic e r

Melissa P. Smith, CFA c hie f o f s t a ff t o t he w il l ia m s dir e c t o r

James R. Mathieu, Ph.D. dir e c t o r o f de v e l o pm e n t

Amanda Mitchell-Boyask m e l l o n a s s o c ia t e de pu t y dir e c t o r

Loa P. Traxler, Ph.D. m e r l e -s m it h dir e c t o r o f c o m m u n it y e n g a g e m e n t

Jean Byrne dir e c t o r o f e x hib it io n s

Kathleen Quinn dir e c t o r o f m a r k e t in g a n d c o m m u n ic a t io n s

Suzette Sherman a s s o c ia t e dir e c t o r fo r a dm in is t r a t io n

Alan Waldt expedition staff e dit o r

Jane Hickman, Ph.D. a s s o c ia t e e dit o r

Jennifer Quick a s s is t a n t e dit o r

Emily B. Toner s u b s c r ipt io n s m a n a g e r

Maureen Goldsmith e dit o r ia l a dv is o r y b o a r d

Fran Barg, Ph.D. Clark L. Erickson, Ph.D. James R. Mathieu, Ph.D. Naomi F. Miller, Ph.D. Janet M. Monge, Ph.D. Theodore G. Schurr, Ph.D. Robert L. Schuyler, Ph.D.


ravel the silk road with the Penn Museum in this special expanded edition of Expedition magazine. This issue was created to compliment Secrets of the Silk Road, a significant new exhibition that opens on February 5 and runs through June 5, 2011. Penn Museum is the only East Coast venue for this remarkable collection of artifacts from East Central Asia. The Museum also has many exciting programs planned for the duration of the exhibition including lectures, family days, special weekend programs, and a major scholarly symposium. Check the Penn Museum website for further information: What follows is a collection of articles by experts in the field of Central Asian archaeology, art history, and linguistics. In our first feature article, “The Silk Roads in History,” Dan Waugh provides an overview of the famous trade routes that made up the legendary Silk Road, and the traders who traveled these routes. This is followed by Victor Mair’s fascinating look at some of the most noteworthy mummies discovered in the Tarim Basin, including those you will see in Secrets of the Silk Road. We then move to an article by Angela Sheng on the well-preserved textiles in the exhibition; Angela’s analysis reveals the cultural exchanges that took place among various groups that lived in this region. Our fourth article, by J.P. Mallory, discusses the linguistic complexity of the Tarim Basin; where did the people who lived there come from, and what languages might they have spoken? Several short articles round out this issue. E.N. Anderson writes on the preserved foods in the exhibition, and Nancy Steinhardt recounts the mystery behind a Luohan statue in the Museum’s Asian collection. Mandy Chan reviews a book on the prehistory of the Silk Road, the period before the establishment of the famed trade routes. We also include a portrait of Dr. Elfriede Knauer, who passed away this past summer. Kezia, as she was known to her friends, traveled the Silk Road for over 30 years, becoming an authority on this part of the world. This special Silk Road issue of Expedition would not have been possible without the assistance of Victor Mair—professor at Penn, curatorial consultant to the exhibition, and a scholar whose on-going interest in the burials of the Tarim Basin made Secrets of the Silk Road possible. Victor gave generously of his time in the initial planning and on-going production of this issue.

design Anne Marie Kane Imogen Design printing C&B Graphics


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jane hickman, ph.d. Editor

Secrets of the Silk Road was organized by the Bowers Museum, Santa Ana, California in association with the Archaeological Institute of Xinjiang and the Ürümqi Museum.

from the director

Extraordinary Discoveries along the Silk Road


ooking back over the last half-century as archaeology hodges has become more scientific, there have been paradoxically few truly great discoveries. The wonders of archaeology, so it seems, were found by Schliemann at Mycenae and Troy, by Carter with his discovery of Tutankhamun, by Bingham when he ventured high into the Andes to Machu Picchu, and by Maudsley, who effectively tamed the jungle to uncover the Maya. Their stories are told in sepia tone photographs, many of which have become iconic. Yet two great archaeological discoveries dominate the archaeology of our generation: a greater understanding of human evolution from its roots in Africa, and the incomparable wealth of the cemeteries from the Tarim Basin in the Uyghur territory of northwest China. The intellectual fascination of the findings in subSaharan Africa and their global significance cannot be denied. But for sheer emotional impact, no recent discoveries match those from northwest China. The East Central Asian mummies and associated grave goods are remarkable for their preservation and beauty. More than this, though, the Tarim Basin discoveries bring to light evidence of long-term connections between cultures that shaped both the East (as far as Japan) and the West (as far as the Mediterranean). The revelatory finds detail untold tales of intrepid mobility through trading and herding that we would normally associate with modern times. Yet plainly such mobility had its roots in the earliest nomadic and sedentary groups. Much is made of the ethnic and linguistic issues associated with these discoveries, but the really unexpected finds have been the wealth of clothing and other items of material culture recovered from the Tarim Basin graves. The exhibition Secrets of the Silk Road, then—of the great discoveries made

The Tarim Basin in East Central Asia was home to numerous cemeteries which contained naturally mummified human remains, colorful textiles, food, and other grave goods. The Xiaohe cemetery shown here is marked by tall wooden posts.

by archaeologists along this ancient tract—will cause us to rethink many of our accepted ways of understanding the roots of our civilizations. It will turn long-held beliefs upside down, and compel us to see interconnections and mobility as axiomatic to a past that greatly helped to shape both the GrecoRoman and Chinese worlds, as well as Gandharan India. We are at the beginning of a new world history, which may explain the incredible fascination with this amazing exhibition.

richard hodges, ph.d. The Williams Director

Victor H. Mair

by richard



3 J u ly 1926–


enn museum has lost a highly regarded author7 J une 2010 ity on the Silk Road by donald white just months before the appearance of this special issue of Expedition. Dr. Elfriede Knauer died after a long illness, shortly after agreeing to contribute to this issue. Kezia, as she was known to her family, friends, and colleagues, led an exceptional life. Born in Germany, she learned French, English, and Latin at an early age; her formal study of Classical Archaeology, Ancient History, the History of Art, and East Asian Studies eventually led to a Ph.D. from the Johann Wolfgang Goethe Universität, Frankfurt am Main, in 1951. That same year, she married Georg Nicolaus Knauer, now Professor Emeritus in the Department of Classical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. By her own account, her areas of specialization were Greek vase painting, the survival of classical themes in Renaissance art, the history of cartography, and classical influences on Central and East Asian art. The Knauers came to the University of Pennsylvania in early 1975. In 1983, Kezia was appointed Research Associate in the Mediterranean Section at the Penn Museum, and from 1986 onward, served as a Consulting Scholar. She had the distinction of being elected a member of the American Philosophical Society in 1999, and additionally belonged to the Archäologische Gesellschaft zu Berlin. In 2002, she received the Director’s Award for distinguished service to the Penn Museum. Knauer’s command of many subjects is reflected in her published work including Coats, Queens, and Cormorants (Zürich 2009), a compendium of articles dealing with the historical, cultural, and artistic interconnections between East and West. Her earlier book, The Camel’s Load in Life and Death (Zürich 1998), specifically dealt with trade along the Silk Road, much of which was based on her firsthand observations; this book received the prestigious Prix Stanislas Julien in 1999 as the best book in Sinology. Yet for this writer and others who for the past 30 years attended the same lectures and meetings as the Knauers, perhaps the greatest proof of the breadth of her knowledge


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came in the form of her questions and Elfriede R. (Kezia) Knauer, photographed by her husband in the early 1980s, just comments to the as their trips along the Silk Road began. speakers which reliably followed every talk. No matter the topic at hand, her questions were invariably models of perception and verbal lucidity, always delivered with disarming kindness and modesty to the very heart of the subject and leaving everyone better informed for having heard them. Her knowledge of the Silk Road grew out of a series of journeys undertaken by the Knauers beginning in the early 1980s and continuing until a short time before her death. Indefatigable and adventurous travelers, they visited nearly every European country as part of Georg Knauer’s library-based research into Latin translations of the Homeric epics, interspersed with excursions to Syria, Israel, Egypt, Tunisia, and the various Classical regions abutting the northern Mediterranean. The capstone to four decades of travel included trips to China, Tibet, South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, India, and Pakistan, as well as to the Crimea, Ukraine, Armenia, and Georgia. This enabled Dr. Knauer to examine the Silk Route from the east and the west, a study which ended up as an all-embracing passion. The fruits of this took the form of books, articles, and a host of memorable public lectures, all of which established her as a leading expert in subjects too often avoided by specialists as linguistically, historically, and even physically too challenging to undertake. For many of her friends, Kezia Knauer was part of a remarkable wave of European scholars who revolutionized the study of the classics, archaeology, and art history in this country during the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. Her reputation is destined to remain intact for years to come. One can only wish that she had been granted the time to write her recollections of travels along the Silk Road for this special issue. The Museum and all its friends shall miss her greatly. donald white is Professor Emeritus of Classical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and Curator Emeritus of the Mediterranean Section at the Penn Museum.

Georg N. Knauer

Dr. Elfriede R. (Kezia) Knauer

what in the world

Ancient and Modern Foods from the Tarim Basin by e. n.


Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Museum Collection

alking through the exhibition Secrets of the anderson Silk Road, one is amazed at the well-preserved mummies and colorful textiles. But perhaps the objects that we can identify with most are the food items that may have been meant to nourish the dead in the afterlife. Is that a spring roll? A wonton? Yes, and they are remarkably similar to what one would purchase in China today. The extremely dry climate in the Tarim Basin preserved this food. Few areas of the world can support populations in such an arid environment, so finds of actual food products—excavated more commonly in places like Egypt—are rare. Scholars that study ancient food must generally rely on mentions in ancient texts, animal bones or seeds, or, at best, food that was thrown into a bog where the airless, acidic environment preserves organic remains. Secrets of the Silk Road includes six small food items, all based on wheat. A fried twist of short spaghetti-like dough strands is dated to the 5th to 3rd century BCE. Such food can be found in northwest China today. One might assume that other noodle dishes, particularly soups, were regular fare dur-

Left, the dough in this spring roll was rolled out, wrapped around a filling, then fried. Right, a wonton is made of rolled dough that is wrapped around a filling and boiled. Wontons are often found in soups.

This twisted fried dough, over 2,000 years old, was found in a tomb on a red lacquer table. It was made from flour and twisted by hand.

ing antiquity, as they have been for a long time in the area. From the Tang Dynasty (7th to 9th century CE), we have part of a spring roll and wonton, both virtually identical to modern versions of the same food. Although we do not know exactly what is in each one, both were stuffed with a filling. A similar type of wonton, called a chuchure, is known as a traditional food in present-day East Central Asia. From both early and late periods, we have strikingly lovely modeled flowers: a chrysanthemum, a plum blossom, and a seven-petaled flower. These flowers were probably more ornamental than edible, since they were likely made from a stiff dough of wheat and water, and baked into rocky hardness. They may have served as religious offerings, since similar ornamental offering-pastries are produced in China today. Tang earthenware figurines also offer insight into food preparation in ancient East Central Asia. Women are depicted performing chores such as churning, baking or steaming, and rolling out dough. From earliest times until today, food in many areas of Central Asia was based on a classic Middle Eastern crop roster: wheat, barley, and sheep products, with cattle, horses, goats, camels, and other livestock playing important roles. Wheat was a staple, and barley was also heavily used. Barley does not

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bake well, but it does produce a good crop under conditions so dry or salty that nothing else will grow. Dairy products were probably far more important than meat, as in other traditional Central Asian societies. Grapes and other fruits are well known from historic sources. Two species of millets also came from China and were used for porridge. In Central Asia, however, they were always a minor crop, since they do not produce good baking material for bread, a staple that linked the region to the Western world. Rice, now a staple in the Tarim Basin, is not attested from early times. Judging by what is preserved, the diet in this region likely resembled that found in the most remote parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan up until a few decades ago: bread, a little yogurt, fruit, and some herbs to accompany the meal. On a rare festive occasion, meat, cheese, and butter might have also been eaten. Wine and beer were probably available. The rivers afforded some fish, known as laks or lakse in the Tocharian languages. Dumplings of all kinds remain important in this area. They are usually called by some variant of the word mantu, but they

e. n. anderson is a Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Riverside.

For Further Reading Anderson, E. N. The Food of China. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988. Chang, K. C., ed. Food in Chinese Culture. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977. Robinson, Cyril D. “The Bagel and Its Origins—Mythical, Hypothetical and Undiscovered.” Petits Propos Culinaires 58 (1998):42-46. Schafer, Edward H. “T’ang.” In Food in Chinese Culture, edited by K. C. Chang, pp. 85-140. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977. Trombert, Eric. “Between Harvesting and Cooking: Grain Processing in Dunhuang, a Qualitative and Quantitative Survey.” In Regionalism and Globalism in Chinese Culinary Culture, edited by David Holm, pp. 147-179. Taiwan: Foundation of Chinese Dietary Culture, 2010.

Painted ceramic figurines depict female servants in various stages of food preparation.


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Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Museum Collection

This flour dough dessert, in the shape of a plum blossom, originally contained fruit in its center. Some flowers like this may have been ornamental and not meant to be eaten.

are ashak in Afghanistan and momo in Tibet. Dumplings are of uncertain origin and span across Eurasia from quite an early period. The small dumpling would have been called mantou (or mantu) in China during this time, while today its name is jiaozi. A Persian-style flat bread—often sprinkled with sesame seeds and baked by sticking it to an oven wall—was probably the staple food in Central Asia. Its modern Farsi name, nan, is derived from the familiar pan. This bread reached China by the Tang Dynasty, brought by Iranian refugees and traders. Its descendents survive today as the shaobing, which is traditionally baked on a heated pot wall, and the huge sesame breads of northwest China, which are now steamed rather than baked. No one seems to know when the huge tandur-style oven was developed, but it is certainly very old in the region. With further discoveries of intact burials in the Tarim Basin, we will likely find more preserved food. Perhaps we will develop a greater understanding of how food traditions traveled along the many routes that made up the Silk Road.

research notes

The Luohan that Came from Afar

Penn Museum


mong the myriad objects of world art, there are always shatzman some that continue to capsteinhardt tivate the viewer and haunt the researcher. The tri-color glazed clay Luohan statue from Yi County (Yizhou), about 50 km southwest of the city limits of Beijing, is such an object in the Penn Museum. The mysteries that engulf this Luohan—a portrayal of a monk who was a disciple of the Buddha Sakyamuni—begin with a Chinese inscription reported to have been written in a cave in which the statue may have been hidden. In translation, it reads “All the Buddhas come from afar.” The story of the cave with this enigmatic inscription is recounted by German expeditionary Friedrich Perzynski in an essay from 1920. In 1912, Perzynski had been shown a similar Luohan statue by two Beijing art dealers. He then traveled to Yi County in search of the cave where a group of Luohan sculptures, according to the dealers, had previously been hidden. When he entered the cave, Perzynski found the inscription and concluded from this text that the statues had originally come from elsewhere and had later been deposited in the cave, perhaps for safekeeping. The Penn statue left China in 1913 through an arrangement made by German art dealer Edgar Worch. In June of 1914, the Museum purchased the statue from Worch. Perzynski meanwhile brought two other Luohan statues with him to Germany in November of 1913. One was bought by the German collector Harry Fuld and given to the Museum für Asiatische Kunst in Berlin, where it is believed to have been lost in the bombings of 1945. The other was purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Between 1914 and 1921, five similar Luohan statues were bought or acquired by museums, including the Metropolitan, the British Museum, the Royal Ontario Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and by nancy

the Nelson Gallery-Atkins Museum in Kansas City. Two more Luohan statues are believed to be part of this group. One was sold into a private collection in Japan as early as 1921, and the other is possibly in the Musée Guimet. Although the group of statues are similar in size, glaze, and form, the individual quality of each Luohan

This Luohan from China is 1.21 m in height. It can be viewed in the Chinese Rotunda in the Penn Museum. UPM #C66A,B.


challenges a viewer to connect with the person behind the face. The depth of portraiture seen here is almost unparalleled in Chinese art. This kind of portraiture is possible because a Luohan was considered mortal. Chinese for the Sanskrit word arhat, Luohan can be translated as “enlightened man” or as the adjective “venerable.” Yet there is no promise that an Arhat will attain the otherworldly status of Buddhahood. It is unknown if the Yizhou Luohan were portraits of specific individuals, although a goal of each sculpture clearly is an individual, human portrayal. It is also unclear how many statues were in the original group associated with the Yizhou cave, and when and where they were originally made. Legends from Buddhist literature tell of Luohan that appear in groups of 16, 18, and 500. Today, the Luohan statues that survive in their original temple settings, particularly in Japan, are often found in groups of these numbers. At least 8, and probably 10, of the tri-color glazed Luohan statues left China during a ten-year period, so the group might have originally numbered 16 or 18. The date of manufacture also is not certain. Although the statues were sold as objects from the Liao Dynasty (ca. 947–1125), chemical tests on the Penn Museum statue yielded


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nancy shatzman steinhardt is Professor of East Asian Art, Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Pennsylvania, and Curator in the Asian Section at the Penn Museum.

The gilt bronze statue of Guanyin holds a lotus bud in its left hand. It measures 71 cm in height. UPM #C400.

Penn Museum

Associated with the Liao Dynasty (947–1125 CE), this death mask (H. 21 cm) was made by beating a heavy sheet of silver. UPM #44-16-1A,B.

a date as late as the 12th century, meaning that it could have been made during the non-Chinese dynasty Jin (1115–1234) that succeeded Liao in northern China. Two other extraordinary Liao objects are on display in the Rotunda. One is a silver death mask, beaten to a thickness of no more than one cm. Not an individualized portrayal, the burial mask is instead evidence of a Liao funerary practice believed to have originated with North Asian nomads of the 1st millennium BCE. Another Liao object is the gilt bronze statue of the bodhisattva Guanyin, acquired by the Penn Museum in 1922. The bodhisattva is an enlightened being en route to Buddhahood who aids others in the attainment of their own Buddhist salvation. Guanyin is known for loving kindness and compassion, and is identified by the seated Buddha in its crown. The three pieces attest to the strength and boldness of Liao sculpture. The Luohan, however, supersedes the other two in its superlative, descriptive face, a visage that engages anyone who sees it, even though its provenance remains a mystery to this day.

The Silk Roads in History by danie l c. w aug h

Collection of the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg


cultures and peoples, about whose identities we still know too here is an endless popular fascination with little. Many of the exchanges documented by archaeological the “Silk Roads,” the historic routes of ecoresearch were surely the result of contact between various nomic and cultural exchange across Eurasia. ethnic or linguistic groups over time. The reader should keep The phrase in our own time has been used as these qualifications in mind in reviewing the highlights from a metaphor for Central Asian oil pipelines, and the history which follows. it is common advertising copy for the romantic exoticism of expensive adventure travel. One would think that, in the century and a third since the German geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen coined the term to describe what for him was a The Beginnings quite specific route of east-west trade some 2,000 years ago, there might be some consensus as to what and when the Silk Among the most exciting archaeological discoveries of the Roads were. Yet, as the Penn Museum exhibition of Silk Road 20th century were the frozen tombs of the nomadic pastoralartifacts demonstrates, we are still learning about that history, ists who occupied the Altai mountain region around Pazyryk and many aspects of it are subject to vigorous scholarly debate. in southern Siberia in the middle of the 1st millennium BCE. Most today would agree that Richthofen’s original concept These horsemen have been identified with the Scythians who was too limited in that he was concerned first of all about the dominated the steppes from Eastern Europe to Mongolia. The movement of silk overland from east to west between the “great civilizations” of Han China and Rome. Should we extend his concept to encompass striking evidence from the Eurasian Bronze and Early Iron Ages, and trace it beyond the European Age of Discovery (15th to 17th centuries) to the eve of the modern world? Is there in fact a definable starting point or conclusion? And can we confine our examination to exchange across Eurasia along a few land routes, given their interconnection with maritime trade? Indeed, the routes of exchange and products were many, and the mix changed substantially over time. The history of the Silk Roads is a narrative about movement, resettlement, and interactions across ill-defined borders but not necessarily over long distances. It is also the story of artistic exchange and the spread and mixing of religions, all set against the background of the rise and fall This detail of a pile carpet, recovered from Pazyryk Barrow 5 and dated 252–238 of polities which encompassed a wide range of BCE, depicts an Achaemenid-style horseman.

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Pazyryk tombs clearly document connections with China: the deceased were buried with Chinese silk and bronze mirrors. The graves contain felts and woven wool textiles, but curiously little evidence that would point to local textile production. The earliest known pile carpet, found in a Pazyryk tomb, has Achaemenid (ancient Persian) motifs; the dyes and technology of dyeing wool fabrics seem to be of Middle Eastern origin. Other aspects of the burial goods suggest a connection with a yet somewhat vague northeast Asian cultural complex, extending along the forest-steppe boundaries all the way to Manchuria and north Korea. Discoveries from 1st millennium BCE sites in Xinjiang reinforce the evidence about active longdistance contacts well before Chinese political power extended that far west. While it is difficult to locate the Pazyryk pastoralists within any larger polity that might have controlled the center of Eurasia, the Xiongnu—the Huns—who emerged around the beginning of the 2nd century BCE, established what most consider to be the first of the great Inner Asian empires and in the process stimulated what, in the conventional telling, was the beginnings of the Silk Roads. Evidence about the Xiongnu supports a growing consensus that Inner Asian peoples formerly thought of as purely nomadic in fact were mixed soci-

eties, incorporating sedentary elements such as permanent settlement sites and agriculture into their way of life. Related to this fact was a substantial and regular interaction along the permeable boundaries between the northern steppe world and agricultural China. Substantial quantities of Chinese goods now made their way into Inner Asia and beyond to the Mediterranean world. This flow of goods included tribute the Han Dynasty paid to the nomad rulers, and trade, in return for which the Chinese received horses and camels. Chinese missions to the “Western Regions” also resulted in the opening of direct trade with Central Asia and parts of the Middle East, although we have no evidence that Han merchants ever reached the Mediterranean or that Roman merchants reached China. The cities of the Parthian Empire, which controlled routes leading to the Mediterranean, and the emergence of prosperous caravan emporia such as Palmyra in the eastern Syrian desert attest to the importance of interconnected overland and maritime trade, whose products included not only silk but also spices, iron, olive oil, and much more. The Han Dynasty expanded Chinese dominion for the first time well into Central Asia, in the process extending the Great Wall and establishing the garrisons to man it. While one result of this was a shift in the balance of power between the Xiongnu

Daniel C. Waugh (both pages)

Xiongnu tombs contained various types of grave goods. Objects in this late 1st century BCE to middle 1st century CE burial from Mongolia included a bronze cauldron containing the remains of a ritual meal, pottery, and a Han Dynasty lacquer bowl with metal rim.


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The Qizilqagha beacon tower, northwest of Kucha, Xinjiang, dates from the Han Dynasty. It is located near an important Buddhist cave temple complex and stands approximately 15 m tall.

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and the Chinese in favor of the latter, Xiongnu tombs of the late 1st century BCE through the 1st century CE in north-central Mongolia contain abundant Chinese lacquerware, lacquered Chinese chariots, high-quality bronze mirrors, and stunning silk brocades.There is good reason to assume that much of the silk passing through Xiongnu hands was traded farther to the west. Although Richthofen felt that the Silk Road trade ceased to be important with the decline of the Han Dynasty in the 2nd century CE, there is ample evidence of very important interactions across Eurasia in the subsequent period when—both in China and the West—the great sedentary empires fragmented.

The Silk Roads and Religion During the 2nd century CE, Buddhism began to spread vigorously into Central Asia and China with the active support of local rulers. The earliest clearly documented Chinese transla-

Daniel C. Waugh, Emily Toner (map)

Right, the 19 m high Tang period statue of Maitreya, the Buddha of the Future, is located at Xumishan Grottoes, Ningxia Hui Antonomous Region, China. The cave temples here were first carved in the Northern Wei period. Below, this map charts major routes and sites of the Silk Road.


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Daniel C. Waugh

Maijishan or “Wheatstack Mountain,” in eastern Gansu Province, is a Buddhist cave site first established under the Northern Wei Dynasty in the 5th century.

tions of Buddhist scriptures date from this period, although the process of expanding the Buddhist canon in China and adapting it to Chinese religious traditions extended over subsequent centuries. Understandably, many of the key figures in the transmission of the faith were those from Central Asia who commanded a range of linguistic skills acquired in the multiethnic oasis towns such as Kucha. Buddhism also made its way east via the coastal routes. By the time of the Northern Wei Dynasty in the 5th and early 6th centuries, there were major Buddhist cave temple sites in the Chinese north and extending across to the fringes of the Central Asian deserts. Perhaps the best known and best preserved of these is the Mogao Caves at the commercial and garrison town of Dunhuang, where there is a continuous record of Buddhist art from the early

5th century down to the time of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty in the 14th century. One of the most famous travelers on the Silk Roads was the Chinese monk Xuanzang, whose route to the sources of Buddhist wisdom in India took him along the northern fringes of the Tarim Basin, through the mountains, and then south through today’s Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. When he returned to China after some 15 years, stopping at Dunhuang along the way, he brought back a trove of scriptures and important images. Many of the sites that we connect with this spread of Buddhism are also those where there is evidence of the Sogdians: Iranian speakers who were the first great merchant diaspora of the Silk Roads. From their homeland in Samarkand and the Zerafshan River Valley (today’s Uzbekistan and

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Tajikistan), the Sogdians extended their reach west to the Black Sea, south through the mountains of Kashmir, and to the ports of southeast Asia. Early 4th century Sogdian letters, found just west of Dunhuang, document a Sogdian network extending from Samarkand through Dunhuang, and along the Gansu Corridor into central China. Sogdians entered Chinese service and adopted some aspects of Chinese culture while retaining, it seems, their indigenous religious traditions (a form of Zoroastrianism). Their importance went well beyond commerce, as they served not only the Chinese but also some of the newly emerging regimes from the northern steppes, the Turks and the Uyghurs. The Turks for a time extended their control across much of Inner Asia and were influential in promoting trade into Eastern Europe and the Byzantine Empire. The Uyghurs received huge quantities of Chinese silk in exchange for horses. Sogdians played a role in the transmission of Manichaeism—another of the major Middle Eastern religions—to the Uyghurs in the 8th century, by which time both Islam and Eastern Christianity had also made their way to China. With the final conquest of the Sogdian homeland by Arab armies in the early 8th century, Sogdian influence declined. Muslim merchants of various ethnicities would replace the Sogdians in key roles controlling Silk Road trade.

Tombs of the 5th to 8th century, along the northern routes connecting China and Central Asia, contain abundant evidence of east-west interaction. There are numerous coins from Sasanian Iran, examples of Middle Eastern and Central Asian metalwork, glass from the eastern Mediterranean, and much more. By the time of the Tang Dynasty (618–906), which managed once again to extend Chinese control into Central Asia, foreign culture was all the rage among the Chinese elite: everything from makeup and hair styles to dance and music. Even women played polo, a game imported from Persia.

The Impact of the Arabs and the Mongols By the second half of the 8th century—with the consolidation of Arab control in Central Asia and the establishment of the Abbassid Caliphate, with its capital at Baghdad—western Asia entered a new period of prosperity. Many threads made up the complex fabric of what we tend to designate simply as “Islamic civilization.” Earlier Persian traditions continued, and the expertise of Eastern Christians contributed to the

Daniel C. Waugh

This view of the southern portion of the Mogao oasis, Dunhuang, includes a temple façade (on the right) that was restored in 1936. The façade covers a 30 m high statue of Maitreya commissioned at the end of the 7th century by the female usurper of the Tang throne, Wu Zetian. Fences added in recent years to reduce wind erosion are visible on the plateau above the cliff.


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Chronology of Selected Travelers 136–125, 119–115 BCE. Zhang Qian, emissary sent by Han Dynasty Emperor Wu Di to the “Western Regions,” who supplied important commercial and political intelligence.

is the best known and arguably most influential of the early European narratives about Asia.

629–645 CE. Xuanzang (Hsuan-tsang), Chinese Buddhist monk who traveled through Inner Asia to India, studied there, and once back in the Chinese capital Chang’an (Xian) was an important translator of Buddhist texts.

1325–1354. Abu Abd Allah Muhammad Ibn Battuta, Moroccan whose travels even eclipsed Marco Polo’s in their extent, as he roamed far and wide between West Africa and China, and once home dictated an often remarkably detailed description of what he saw.

821. Tamim ibn Bahr, Arab emissary, who visited the impressive capital city of the Uyghurs in the Orkhon River valley in Mongolia.

1403–1406. Ruy Gonzales de Clavijo, Spanish ambassador to Timur (Tamerlane), who carefully described his route through northern Iran and the flourishing capital city of Samarkand.

1253–1255. William of Rubruck (Ruysbroeck), Franciscan missionary who traveled all the way to the Mongol Empire capital of Karakorum and wrote a remarkably detailed account about what he saw.

1413–1415, 1421–1422, 1431–1433. Ma Huan, Muslim interpreter who accompanied the famous Ming admiral Zheng He (Cheng Ho) on his fourth, sixth, and seventh expeditions to the Indian Ocean and described the geography and commercial emporia along the way.

1271–1295. Marco Polo, Venetian who accompanied his father and uncle back to China and the court of Yuan Emperor Kublai Khan. Marco entered his service; after returning to Europe dictated a romanticized version of his travels while in a Genoese prison. Despite its many inaccuracies, his account

1664–1667, 1671–1677. John Chardin, a French Hugenot jeweler who spent significant time in the Caucasus, Persia, and India and wrote one of the major European accounts of Safavid Persia.

silk road timeline 400 BCE 200 BCE


200 CE

400 CE

600 CE


Timeline: Anne Marie Kane, after Daniel C. Waugh

1200 CE 1400 CE

1600 CE

Byzantine Empire Sassanians

Seleucids Parthians

Northen India Pakistan Afghanistan

1000 CE

Roman Empire



800 CE

Islamic Dynasties




Kushans Sogdians

Central Asia

Sakas Xiongnu

East Asia

Han Dynasty Hu Peoples





Song Dynasty

Sui Northern Wei



Tang Dynasty


Tanguts (Xi Xia)


emergence of Baghdad as a major intellectual center. Even though Chinese silk continued to be imported, centers of silk production were established in Central Asia and northern Iran. Considerable evidence has been found regarding importation of Chinese ceramics into the Persian Gulf in the 8th through the 10th century. The importance of maritime trade for the transmission of Chinese goods would continue to grow as Muslim merchants established themselves in the ports of southeast China. The Chinese connection had a


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substantial impact on artistic production in the Middle East, where ceramicists devised new techniques in order to imitate Chinese wares. Conversely, the transmission of blue-andwhite pottery decoration moved from the Middle East to China. The apogee of these developments came substantially later in the period of the Mongol Empire, when in the 13th and 14th centuries much of Eurasia came under the control of the most successful of all the Inner Asian dynasties whose homeland was in the steppes of Mongolia.

Daniel C. Waugh

Left, Timurid tile work may have been influenced by Chinese lacquerware. This example of tile work is from the Mausoleum of Shad-i Mulk, ca. 1372, Shah-i Zinda, Samarkand. Right, a gilded silver Tocharian or Bactrian ewer from the 5th or 6th century CE depicts the story of Paris and Helen of Troy. The ewer was found in the tomb of Li Xian (d. 569) near Guyuan, Ningxia Hui Antonomous Region, China. From the Collection of the Guyuan Municipal Museum.

Under the Mongols, we can document for the first time the travel of Europeans all the way across Asia, the most famous examples being the Franciscan monks John of Plano Carpini and William of Rubruck in the first half of the 13th century, and Marco Polo a few decades later. Genoese merchant families took up residence in Chinese port cities, and for a good many decades there was an active Roman Catholic missionary church in China. The reign of Kublai Khan in China and the establishment of the Mongol Ilkhanid regime in Iran in the second half of the 13th century was a period of particularly extensive exchange of artisans (granted, most of them probably conscripted) and various kinds of technical specialists. While their long-term impact may have been limited, the exchanges included the transmission of medical and astronomical knowledge. There is much here to temper the view that the impact of the Mongol conquests was primarily a destructive one. Despite the rapid collapse of the Mongol Empire in the 14th century, under their Ming Dynasty successors in China and the Timurids in the Middle East, active commercial and artistic exchange between East and

The Mongol Ilkhanid palace at Takht-i Suleyman in northwestern Iran (1270–1275) was probably the source of this lusterware tile with a Chinese dragon motif. From the Collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum (no. C.1970-1910).

Daniel C. Waugh


This modern sculpture, shown with the Registan monuments, Samarkand, in the background, is evocative of the Silk Road. The buildings are the 15th century medrese (religious school) of Ulugh Beg and the 17th century Shir Dor medrese.

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relative value of overland and sea trade now changed, as did the identity of those who controlled commerce. Yet, despite growing political disorders disrupting the overland routes, many of them continued to flourish down through the 17th century. New trading diasporas emerged, with Indian and Armenian merchants now playing important roles. Trade in traditional products such as horses and spices continued, as did the transmission of substantial amounts of silver to pay for the Eastern goods. Among the Chinese goods now much in demand was tea, whose export to the Inner Asian pastoralists had grown substantially during the period of the Yuan and early Ming dynasties. Trade along the Silk Roads continued, even if transformed in importance, into the 20th century.

Re-discovery of the Silk Roads An important chapter in the history of the Silk Roads is the story of their re-discovery in modern times. Over the centu-

On the left is a Ming porcelain dish created in the Jingdezhen kilns, dated 1403–1424. It was donated to the shrine of Shaykh Safi al-Din at Ardebil (northwestern Iran) by Safavid Shah Abbas I in 1611. On the right is a blue and white ceramic imitation of Chinese porcelain, probably from Samarkand, dated 1400–1450, which was produced by craftsmen conscripted in 1402 in Damascus. Both dishes from the Collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum (no. 1712-1816; no. C.206-1984).


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Daniel C. Waugh

West continued into the 16th century. Timurid Samarkand and Herat were centers of craft production and the caravan trade. The early Ming sponsored the sending of huge fleets through the Indian Ocean, which must have flooded the markets in the West with Chinese goods, among them the increasingly popular celadon (pale green) and blue-and-white porcelain. The centers of Chinese ceramic production clearly began to adapt to the tastes of foreign markets, whether in Southeast Asia or the Middle East. The legacy of this can be seen in the ceramics produced in northern Iran, which decorated palaces and shrines, and in the later collections of imported porcelain assembled by the Ottoman and Safavid rulers in the 16th and 17th centuries. Persian painting, which reached its apogee in the 15th and 16th centuries, was substantially influenced by Chinese models. Conventional histories of the Silk Roads stop with the European Age of Discovery and the opening of maritime routes to the East in the late 15th century. Of course, there had already long been extensive maritime trade between the Middle East, South Asia, Southwest Asia, and East Asia. Undoubtedly the

Marco Polo’s Travels: Myth or Fact?


Marco Polo from The Silk Road on Land and Sea, 1989. China Pictorial Publications, p. 37, #20.

n his own lifetime and even today, Marco Polo’s account of his travels has been branded a falsification. A late medieval reader might have asked how it is that there could be such wonders about which we have never heard. Why is it, the modern critic muses, that Marco so often seems to get the facts wrong or fails to mention something we think he should have included such as the Great Wall or footbinding? Of course in any age, the first descriptions of the previously unknown are likely to engender skepticism. Accuracy in reporting may be conditioned by preconceived notions, the degree to which the traveler actually saw something or perhaps only heard about it secondhand, and the purpose for which an account was set down. Marco had his biases—he was an apologist for Kublai Khan and, it seems, really did work for the Mongols. As an official in their administration, he would not necessarily have mixed with ordinary Chinese. When he was in China, much of the Great Wall was in ruins and thus might simply not have seemed worthy of comment. Where he reports on Mongol customs and certain aspects of the court, he can be very precise. If his descriptions of cities seem stereotyped, the reason may have been that they indeed appeared equally large and prosperous when judged by European standards. In any event, to convey the wonders of the Great Khan’s dominions required a certain amount of hyperbole. It seems unlikely that Marco took notes along the way. Mistakes can thus easily be attributed to faulty memory as well as the circumstances in which a professional weaver of romances, Rusticello of Pisa, recorded and embellished Marco’s oral account while the two were in a Genoese prison. Even if Marco’s account still challenges modern scholars, there can be no question about its impact in helping to transform a previously very limited European knowledge of Asia.

ries, many of the historic cities along the Inner Asian routes declined and disappeared as a result of climate change (where water supplies dried up) or changes in the political map. Only episodically did the ancient sites attract the attention of local rulers; at best, oral tradition preserved legends which bore little relationship to the earlier history of the ruins. In Europe, it was travel accounts such as that of Marco Polo which helped to alert early explorers of Central Asia to the possibility of unearthing traces of Silk Road civilizations now buried beneath the desert sands. The foundation for modern Silk Road studies was laid between the late 1880s and the eve of World War I. Somewhat by accident, the Swedish explorer Sven Hedin discovered several of the ruined towns along the southern Silk Road, including Dandan Uiliq, north of Khotan, and Loulan, near the driedup bed of Lake Lop Nur. Inspired by such information and the trickle of antiquities that was now coming out of Central Asia, the Hungarian-born Aurel Stein, an employee of the

British Indian government, inaugurated serious archaeological exploration of the sites in western China. His most famous accomplishment was to purchase from the self-appointed keeper of the Mogao cave temples near Dunhuang in 1907 a significant part of a treasure trove of manuscripts and paintings discovered there only a few years earlier. A year later, the French sinologist Paul Pelliot shipped another major portion of this collection back to Europe. In the meantime, pursuing leads suggested by earlier Russian exploration, German expeditions had been active along the northern Silk Road. There they removed large chunks of murals from the most important Buddhist cave temples in the Turfan and Kucha regions and sent them back to Berlin. The Germans also found manuscript fragments and imagery from Christian and Manichaen temples. Such was the quantity and range of the textual and artistic materials obtained by these early expeditions that their analysis is still far from complete. Part of the challenge was to decipher previously unknown languages and scripts. The


Merchant Diasporas and Our Knowledge of Silk Road Trade


ur knowledge of the mechanisms for commercial exchange along the Silk Roads is still limited. Most commerce was “short-haul” between one oasis or town and the next, and probably never generated any written records. There were also long-distance caravans and merchant diasporas often located far from the “home office.” The Sogdians were involved in long-distance trade, documented first in Sogdian letters written by members of that diaspora in the early 4th century, and later from documents unearthed in the Turfan oasis, among them a famous example of a contract for the purchase of a slave. Religious affiliation may have bound communities of entrepreneurs who were otherwise isolated minorities in larger population groups. Thus Eastern Christians (Nestorians) played important roles in trade from the Middle East to India and beyond. With the rise of Islam, it was not long before Muslim merchants were resident in the ports of southeast China and in the Chinese capital of Chang’an. A vast repository of Hebrew documents preserved in Cairo describes the activities of a far-flung Jewish community all across the Mediterranean world into Eastern Europe and through the Middle East. Italian merchants were active all along the Silk Roads, even sending their representatives to China in the time of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty.

Although Middle Eastern silk production was by now very substantial, imports of Chinese raw silk were significant in the emergence of Italy as a major center of silk weaving. One of the most valuable sources about products and prices is a commercial handbook compiled by the Florentine agent Pegalotti in Constantinople in the 14th century. In it, he reports that the routes to China are generally safe for travel. By the late 16th and 17th centuries, Armenian Christians were placed in charge of the Safavid (Persian) silk trade. One of the most remarkable documents from this late period in the history of the Silk Roads is an account book by an Armenian, Hohvannes, who started at the home office in a suburb of Isfahan, traveled south to Shiraz, then on to the Indian Ocean coast, where he boarded a ship to India. Once he arrived in the Mughal Empire, he continued his buying and selling, aided by a mechanism for cashing in letters of credit and for shipping goods back home even as he went on, ultimately spending time in Lhasa before returning to India. Surprisingly, Hohvannes used double-entry bookkeeping and thus has left us an invaluable, detailed account of goods and prices.


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belated Chinese response to what they came to characterize as a plundering of their antiquities finally put a stop to most foreign exploration by the mid-1930s. In recent decades, new excavations have added substantially to our knowledge of this part of Asia. One focus of Chinese archaeology has been on the very early cultures of Inner Asia, which antedate the traditional “beginning of the Silk Roads.” The ongoing discoveries from locations such as the Astana cemetery, dating from the Tang period, are enabling us to now write a serious social and economic history of some of the flourishing oasis communities, in a time when silk was still a major currency that fueled commerce. Our knowledge of the cultures in the northern steppes commenced with the work of Russian archaeologists beginning at the end of the 19th century. Russian expeditions organized by the famous Orientalist Wilhelm Radloff documented sites in southern Siberia and northern Mongolia, providing some of the first evidence about “cities in the steppe” and helping to publicize the earliest texts in a Turkic language. Russian-Mongolian expeditions revealed the richness of Xiongnu elite burials at the site of Noyon uul (Noin Ula) in the mountains of north-central Mongolia, and were responsible for the first serious excavation of the 13th century capital of the Mongol Empire, Karakorum. Archaeology at sites throughout the Eurasian steppes has resulted in dramatic discoveries, and forced us to question many of our assumptions about when meaningful exchange across all of Eurasia began. Yet this is only part of the story, for equally dramatic discoveries have been made in recent years regarding maritime trade. From the East China Sea to the Mediterranean, nautical archaeology is documenting the cargoes of everything from scrap metal to fine porcelain. Excavations along the Red Sea and the East African coasts have expanded our knowledge

of contacts with India and the Far East. Although long known from Classical texts, the archaeological evidence of Roman trade with India continues to grow. Overall there is now a much greater appreciation of the importance of long-distance trade through the Middle East starting in the Bronze Age and continuing well into the era when first the Portuguese and then the Dutch and English began to dominate the Indian Ocean. Maritime trade throughout history has been an integral part of Eurasian exchange. So the “Silk Roads” did not begin when Han Emperor Wu Di sent his emissary Zhang Qian to the West in the 2nd century BCE any more than they ended when Vasco Da Gama pioneered the route to India around the Cape of Good Hope. Our current “Age of Discovery” concerning the history of the Silk Roads, employing sophisticated

Daniel C. Waugh

A mural brought back to Berlin by German archaeologists depicts Uyghur Buddhist devotees. It was found in Bezeklik, Temple 9, in the Turfan region, and dates to the 8th to 9th century CE. From the Collection of the Museum of Asian Art, Berlin (MIK III 6876a).

A mural of donors (Tocharian princes?) from Kizil Grottoes, Cave 8 (“Cave of the Sixteen Swordbearers”), has been C-14 dated to 432–538 CE. Note the red hair on the men and the intentional defacement of the mural. From the Collection of the Museum of Asian Art, Berlin (MIK III 8691).


analytical tools such as DNA testing and remote sensing from satellites, at the very least should persuade us that the study of this history is still young. Who knows what secrets remain to be uncovered from the desert sands? daniel c. waugh is Professor Emeritus in History, International Studies, and Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Washington in Seattle. He is the current director of the Silk Road Seattle Project and editor of the journal of the Silkroad Foundation.

For Further Reading Baumer, Christoph. Southern Silk Road: In the Footsteps of Sir Aurel Stein and Sven Hedin. Bangkok: Orchid Press, 2000. Hulsewé, F. P., and M. A. N. Loewe. China in Central Asia: The Early Stage: 125 B.C.–A.D. 23. An Annotated Translation of Chapters 61 and 96 of the History of the Former Han Dynasty. Leiden: Brill, 1979. Jackson, Peter, and David Morgan, trans. and eds. The Mission of Friar William of Rubruck: His Journey to the Court of the Great Khan Möngke 1253–1255. London: Hakluyt Society, 1990. Juliano, Annette L., and Judith A. Lerner. Monks and Merchants: Silk Road Treasures from Northwest China: Gansu and Ningxia, 4th–7th Century. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., with The Asia Society, 2001.

Komaroff, Linda, and Stefano Carboni. The Legacy of Genghis Khan: Courtly Art and Culture in Western Asia, 1256–1353. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002. Qi, Xiaoshan, and Wang Bo. The Ancient Culture in Xinjiang along the Silk Road. Ürümqi: Xinjiang renmin chubanshe, 2008. Tucker, Jonathan. The Silk Road: Art and History. London: Art Media Resources, 2003. Whitfield, Roderick, Susan Whitfield, and Neville Agnew. Cave Temples of Mogao: Art and History on the Silk Road. Los Angeles: Getty Institute and Museum, 2000. Whitfield, Susan. Life along the Silk Road. London: John Murray, 1999. Whitfield, Susan, and Ursula Sims-Williams. The Silk Road: Trade, Travel, War and Faith. Chicago: Serindia Publications, 2004.

Websites Digital Silk Road ( Silk Road Seattle ( The International Dunhuang Project ( The Silkroad Foundation (

Daniel C. Waugh

About 130,000 ceramic vessels were recovered from a shipwrecked Chinese junk near Ca Mau, Vietnam. The tea bowls and saucers are from the Jingdezhen kilns and were made around 1725, apparently the year that the ship sank en route from Guangzhou to Batavia (Jakarta). From the Collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum (nos. FE.49:2 to 179:1, 2-2007).


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The Mummies of East Central Asia by vic tor h. mair

Xinjiang Institute of Archeology Collection


n 1988, while visiting the Ürümqi Museum in China, I came upon an exhibition which changed the course of my professional life. At the time, my academic career focused on the philological study of manuscripts from caves at Dunhuang, a site where the Silk Road splits, proceeding to the north and south. But after I walked through black curtains into a dark gallery that day, my fascination with the mummies of East Central Asia began. At first, I thought the exhibition was a hoax, because the mummies looked so lifelike. The colors of the textiles they wore were vibrant. The associated bronze tools and other objects from 3,000 to 4,000 years ago could not, I thought, have been found in this region at such an early period. At that time, I was not an archaeologist, but my general knowledge of Chinese history and Central Asian sites indicated that this did not make sense. I stayed in that gallery for probably five hours that day. I went back to my life at Penn as a scholar of medieval Buddhist literature and Chinese popular Buddhist literature. In the fall of 1991, while on sabbatical, I read of the discovery of Ötzi the Iceman in the Alps near the border between Austria and Italy. Ötzi, over 5,000 years old, had been naturally mummified in the Schnalstal glacier. That afternoon, I started making calls to organize an expedition to China to study the mummies that had been naturally preserved there. Since 1993, I have traveled to China numerous times with different kinds of scholars—archaeologists, geneticists, textile specialists, bronze experts—to study the Central Asian mummies and the cultures they represented.

The Beauty of Xiaohe is one of over 30 well-preserved mummies found at the site, and certainly the most famous.


As is true elsewhere in China and other parts of the world, wherever the construction of buildings, roads, and other public projects is carried out, archaeological discoveries are likely to be made. There has been an endless succession of finds in Xinjiang from the Bronze Age and Iron Age right up to modDuring the late 19th century, a large region of East Central Asia ern times. Because of its remoteness from the centers of early was forcibly incorporated into the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912) human development and its inaccessibility—in the form of through conquest by the Manchus. As a result, the region harsh deserts surrounded by formidable mountains—East became known as Xinjiang, which means “New Borders.” Central Asia was one of the last places on earth to be inhabited This area—referred to by the local Uyghurs (a Turkic ethnic by humans. Thus, the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods are group) as Uyghurstan or Eastern Turkistan—regained its poorly represented. From the Bronze Age (beginning ca. 2000 independence during the first half of the 20th century, after BCE) onward, however, this region was a key locus of interacthe collapse of the Qing Dynasty. The People’s Republic of tion between western and eastern Eurasia. During the 2nd and China (hereafter China), however, militarily asserted its claim 1st millennia BCE, the overwhelming majority of the traffic as the legitimate successor to most of the lands of the Manchu was from west to east, but starting around the beginning of the Empire during the second half of the 20th century, and reinCommon Era, transcontinental exchange gradually shifted, corporated this region as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous moving now more from east to west. Of course, some indiRegion (hereafter Xinjiang). viduals and groups continued to travel from west to east—for The region constitutes 1/6 of the whole of China and, example, for trade, diplomacy, and religion. The result of this apart from its obvious geostrategic significance, is blessed traffic, travel, and exchange across Eurasia was a great mixing with oil and other mineral resources, has rich agricultural of cultures and peoples, with East Central Asia constituting a lands (especially for animal husbandry), and is where China vital contact zone at the very center of the continent. tests its nuclear weapons. Consequently, since the late 1970s, Despite the inhospitable climate—temperatures range the Communist government has made a concerted effort to from -40 degrees C to +40 degrees C (-40 to 104 degrees F)— develop the region. tens of thousands of individuals poured into East Central Asia and settled down in oases, intramontane valleys, and wherever they could eke out a living. Since this area was so far from the steppes, the coasts, and the major plains and river valleys of Eurasia, there was not much competition for the settlements after they were established. Still, having found an ecological niche and having devised unique means for subsisting there, the inhabitants thrived, leaving behind large cemeteries. Hundreds of archaeological sites scattered across the length and breadth of East Central Asia date to every century starting from about This map shows archaeological sites in East Central Asia that are discussed in this article. 4,000 years ago. Many of these


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Emily Toner, after Victor Mair

A History of the Region: Where the Mummies Were Discovered

sites are cemeteries of considerable extent, often with hundreds of burials. Nearly all burial grounds in the region have yielded abundant skeletal remains. Due to the local conditions (extreme aridity and sandy, highly saline soil), dozens of cemeteries around the southern and eastern edges of the Tarim Basin contain extraordinarily well-preserved mummies, together with the textiles in which they were dressed and the artifacts that accompanied them to the afterworld. It should be noted that the so-called mummies of East Central Asia are actually desiccated corpses. Unlike Egyptian mummies, their lifelike appearance is due not to any artificial intervention on the part of those who buried them. Rather, it is the outcome of the special environmental conditions described above, with the best-preserved bodies being those who died in winter and were buried in especially salty, welldrained soils—all of which would inhibit putrefaction and prevent deterioration; after thousands of years, not even slight amounts of moisture penetrated these burials.

The cemetery site of Xiaohe, shown here with wooden posts and boat-shaped coffins, has been completely excavated.

The early inhabitants of this region did not belong to a single genetic and linguistic stock, nor did they come from a single source. Instead, they entered the Tarim Basin at different times and arrived from different directions. In earlier periods, they came from the north, northwest, west, and southwest. During later periods, these migrations continued, but groups came from all directions. Although the mummies from the first 2,000 years (2nd and 1st millennia BCE) were manifestly Caucasoid in appearance, careful physical anthropological and genetic studies reveal that they possessed a variety of characteristics linking them to diverse groups outside of the region. Beginning about the time of the Eastern and Western Han Dynasties (206 BCE–9 CE; 25–220 CE), the proportion of Mongoloid traits from the east progressively increased until now the Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kirghiz, and other non-Sinitic (non-Chinese) peoples in the region are between a 30/70% and 60/40% Caucasoid/Mongoloid admixture. During the more than 50 years of China’s rule over Xinjiang, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people of Sinitic (so-called Han Chinese) descent entering the region, such that the previously admixed Turkic and other non-Sinitic peoples—who used to constitute over 90% of the population—now amount to only about 50%, with the other half made up of rapidly in-migrating Han Chinese.

Xinjiang Institute of Archaeology

Cemeteries of East Central Asia The human history of East Central Asia begins about 3,500 to 3,800 years ago, with three sites just to the west of the fabled city of Loulan (also known as Kroraina in the Prakrit language, and Krorän in Uyghur), which lies to the northwest of the great dried-up lake known as Lop Nur. These sites are Gumugou (Qäwrighul), Tieban (Töwän), and Small River Cemetery 5 (SRC5, Xiaohe, Ördek’s Necropolis). While the burials are laid out somewhat differently at the three sites—Gumugou features hundreds of wooden posts radiating in what may be a solar pattern, Tieban has shallow burials on terrace land, and Small River Cemetery 5 is a striking 7 m high mound of sand with five layers of burials in the middle of the desert—proximity of time and place, plus a number of common features, certify that Gumugou, Tieban, and SRC5 belong to a single

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ne will never know what kind of person the Beauty of Xiaohe was in life. Death and time separate the Beauty from us like the shroud wrapped around her body. She seems to be part of two worlds: one of life, for she appears merely asleep, and one of mortality. The discovery of her mummy was a revelation, and yet much of her history remains an enigma. Even though she is thousands of years old, her youthful appearance is well-preserved. I was inspired to create this painting by the Beauty’s famed attractiveness and the mysteries surrounding who she may have been in life. Three drafts were created: the first an observational study; the second, a woman gazing at the viewer; and finally, a third draft that was ultimately painted, portraying the Beauty in a serene atmosphere with an inexplicable sense of both gentleness and isolation. Although artistic liberties were taken with her appearance, she could not be without her trademarks: that rakish felt hat and long flaxen hair. kailun wang is a member of the Class of 2012, College of Arts & Sciences, University of Pennsylvania. She is a student of Victor Mair.

cultural horizon. Among the shared features of these sites are plain-weave, natural color woolen mantles that serve as shrouds, felt hats with a feather inserted at the side, ephedra (a medicinal plant) deposited in the grave, finely woven grass baskets rather than ceramics, and evidence of bronze usage. Among the most spectacular of the mummies from Small River Cemetery 5 (hereafter Xiaohe) is a female that has come to be called “The Beauty of Xiaohe” (ca.1800–1500 BCE) (see page 23 and above). She is more than a match for “The Beauty of Loulan,” a mummy dated to ca. 2000 BCE that was found at Gumugou in 1980. The Beauty of Xiaohe is very well preserved and even retains flaxen hair and long eyelashes. She was wrapped in a white wool cloak with tassels and wore a felt hat, string skirt, and fur-lined leather boots. She was buried with wooden pins and three small pouches of ephedra. The Beauty of Loulan wears garments of wool and fur and a felt hood with a feather; she was buried with a comb, a basket, and a winnowing tray. Among the other striking aspects of the Xiaohe cemetery are six surrogate mummies made of wood, with leather for skin, hair, and mustache sewn on, and a full set of clothing. Since all six of these artificial mummies are male, and all six were buried at about the same time, we may speculate that they represent men who died away from home and whose bodies were never recovered. What is even more remarkable than the two “Beauties” or the connections between these three sites south of the


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The Beauty of Loulan was discovered in a grave along the Töwän River near Loulan. A wooden comb, woven basket, and winnowing tray were found with her.

Jeffery Newbury, Kailun Wang (sidebar)

The Beauty of Xiaohe, as painted by Kailun Wang.

Kuruk (Quruk) Tagh range is that a fourth site, the Northern Cemetery (Beifang Mudi), has recently been discovered about 600 km to the southwest. The resemblances to Xiaohe, in particular, are so close that there can be no mistaking their consanguinity, although the Northern Cemetery is thought to be slightly earlier than Xiaohe. The puzzle that remains to be solved, however, is how these two closely related sites, which are so far apart on the map, came to resemble each other so nearly. Since the people of both Xiaohe and the Northern Cemetery seem to have entered the Tarim Basin with their cattle, ovicaprids (goats and sheep), and wheat—all of which were domesticated in Southwest Asia thousands of years earlier—a great deal more research is necessary to determine whether the people of these two sites embarked from a common staging ground and separately went their own ways, or whether one of the two groups sprang from the other. Another noteworthy site with well-preserved mummies is that of Qizilchoqa (“Red Hillock” at Wupu [“Fifth Burg”]), about 60 km west of Qumul (Hami), an important, old Silk Road town in the far eastern portion of the region. Dated

This mummy, wearing a felt hat, was found in the Northern Cemetery.

Victor Mair (top), (bottom)

Preliminary excavations have taken place at the recently discovered Northern Cemetery (Beifang Mudi).

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Known as Chärchän Man, this 50- to 55-year-old male is unusually tall at well over 6’.


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to ca. 1200 BCE, the site of Qizilchoqa is distinguished by the presence of diagonal twill plaids, tripartite disk wheels for carts, and evidence of horse domestication. Again, the existence of all these cultural traits—with long distance connections to the west in such a remote desert location—calls for further investigation and explanation. Returning to the Tarim Basin, we find along its southeast edge the most extraordinary burial ground outside the small village of Zaghunluq, in Chärchän (Qiemo) County. Dated ca. 1000 to 500 BCE, Zaghunluq is home to three of the most striking mummies from East Central Asia. Clad in rich burgundy wool clothing, the individuals buried in Tombs 1 and 2 may be a family, due to the similarity of their burial garments. The group consists of a man about 50-55 years old, a woman, and an infant. The man wears white deerskin boots and striped felt leggings; a solar or sheep’s horn design is painted in ocher on his temples. The woman’s face is also painted with spirals and triangles. The infant is wrapped in a shroud, with a soft, fluffy bonnet of blue cashmere; he or she was buried with a cow horn

Jeffery Newbury (left), Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Museum Collection (right)

This infant died when he or she was less than a year old. Dark blue stones covered its eyes, and red woolen yarn was inserted into its nostrils. A cow horn and a bottle made from a sheep’s udder accompanied the infant.

cup and a sheep udder that may have been used as a nursing bottle. Because the soil of the Zaghunluq cemetery is particularly saline, all organic remains—human bodies, foodstuffs, and an astonishing variety of Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age textiles—have been extremely well preserved. Continuing westward along the southern rim of the Tarim Basin, we come to the ancient site of Niyä (called Jingjue Guo [Kingdom of Jingjue]). Here we find, along the Niyä River and into the desert, large cemeteries and extensive villages dating to roughly the 3rd to 4th century CE. The archaeological remains recovered from Niyä enable us to gain a vivid picture of life in a desert oasis nearly 2,000 years ago. Houses with elaborately carved woodwork, grape arbors, workshops for making nails, richly decorated Buddhist temples, and sealed wooden letters written in Kharoshti Prakrit all contribute to our understanding of a community on the outskirts of civilization. By the Middle Iron Age, elements of Chinese culture such as lacquerware and fine silks began to show up as grave goods, although the local culture was fundamentally composed of

a curious mixture of Indian, Western Classical, and West Central Asian characteristics. One very large wooden coffin from Niyä is of particular interest, since it contained a lovingly laid-out couple with exquisite silk face covers and an extremely rich assemblage of grave goods, including a bow and a quiver full of arrows, a knife in a sheath, pottery, goat/ sheep legs, fruit and other food, a lacquer box, a bronze mirror, cosmetics, needlework, and other objects, all of which indicated the status and the interests of the deceased. An indication of the ethnicity of the ancient people of Niyä may be found in the fair-skinned individuals with light blond hair one comes across in the villages of this area still today. Farther westward beyond Niyä lies the town of Khotan; outside of this large oasis is the ancient cemetery complex of Sampul (2nd century BCE to 3rd century CE), which stretches on for many kilometers. Like nearly all of the Bronze Age and Early Iron Age cemeteries encircling the Tarim Basin, the complex at Sampul lies on the gravelly tableland or terrace that is located between the desert floor and the foothills of

Victor Mair

A man and woman with masks covering their faces were recovered from a burial at Niyä. See Sheng, this issue, page 41 for details of the silk brocade covering the mummies.



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Jeffery Newbury (left), Xinjiang Institute of Archeology Collection (right)

Above, the female mummies from Subeshi are known for their black pointed hats. Right, the trappings of Yingpan Man are in excellent condition. However, his remains have deteriorated.

Victor Mair

6’6”) and most resplendently garbed mummy—Yingpan the mountains beyond, the source of the meltwater from the Man— was discovered here. Yingpan Man’s amazing clothglaciers that sustains life in the oases. Among the unusual ing, with its Greco-Roman motifs and extravagant embroidery aspects of the Sampul cemetery are the mass burials, with as (see Sheng, page 39 this issue, for a detailed description of the many as 170 bodies thrown in chaotically—perhaps the victextiles), marks him as a man of tremendous wealth and fartims of a massacre. The hair of the individuals was mostly reaching connections. Although his seriously decomposed light brown, but the population was probably heterogeneous body no longer lies within its sartorial shell (his remains were as it is today. The ancient inhabitants of Sampul undoubtedly recently removed during conservation and study of his clothhad vibrant interactions with peoples of West Central Asia ing, and have since been stored separately in Ürümqi), we and even further west, since their magnificent textiles possess know from earlier descriptions that he was a Caucasoid with motifs, dyes, and weaves that are characteristic of cultures that brown hair. Considering his riches, international aura, and the lie in that direction. strategic trading spot where he was buried, it is not unlikely Probably the most intriguing mummies in East Central that Yingpan Man was a Sogdian merchant. The Sogdians Asia are the “witches” of Subeshi, who wear very tall, pointed were a Middle Iranian people who were known as traders par black hats that look like the iconic headgear of their sisters in excellence throughout Eurasia. popular culture. Subeshi is located to the east of the important city of Turfan, in the basin of the same name, which is home to the second lowest spot (-154 m) on earth (after the Dead Sea at -422 m). There are also a number of impresA geneticist from Jilin University works on obtaining bone samples sive male mummies from Subeshi, from a skeleton at a burial outside including a man wearing a felt helof Turfan. met (perhaps a soldier) and another man whose chest has been stitched up with horse hair in an early (4th century BCE) example of surgery in the region. Subeshi lies high up in the Tuyuq Gorge. When we come down out of the mouth of the gorge and proceed along the floor of the Turfan Depression, we soon arrive at the site of Yanghai (or Yangkhay). Among the mummies from Yanghai are a little boy whose chin is tucked under on his chest, and a shamanlike figure smothered in cannabis, with bells on his boots. Another man from Yanghai had a well-preserved harp by his side. Traveling southwest along the main trade route leading from Turfan, we come to the old caravan site of Yingpan. The tallest (nearly

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This has been a very brief overview of the amazingly wellpreserved mummies of East Central Asia. The significance of these ancient human remains is not simply their uncannily lifelike appearance. More important are the physical and material attributes which link them to cultures far and wide. Indeed, these mummies have filled what was previously an enormous gap in the prehistory and history of east-west cultural interactions. It was evident all along that civilizations from both eastern and western Eurasia had not arisen in isolation, but the mechanisms of cultural transmission were poorly understood. With the discovery of the Bronze Age and Early Iron Age mummies of East Central Asia, however, the actual agents of transmission—the people, together with their cultural attributes—have finally been recovered. It is certain that the inhabitants of the Tarim Basin did not arise from the soil of the region, but that they came from elsewhere and brought with them the technologies, ideas, and practices of their homelands. Ensconced in their new surroundings, the early denizens of East Central Asia adapted and modified their cultures to fit the new local conditions they encountered. Careful examination of the mummies, using ancient DNA analysis and physical anthropology, as well as continuing study of associated artifacts, allow us to put together an increasingly clear picture of the origins of the Bronze Age and Early Iron Age peoples of the Tarim Basin and their interactions with the peoples of the surrounding areas. Western explorers first came face-to-face with the desiccated bodies of the earliest inhabitants of the Tarim Basin over a century ago, while Chinese and Uyghur archaeologists uncovered increasing numbers of them beginning in the late 1970s. But it was not until the 1990s that serious international investigation of the mummies and their cultures occurred. During the coming decades more cemeteries with mummies will surely be discovered, and research on the findings from them will undoubtedly flourish, with the result that the prehistory and history of Eurasia and its peoples will become ever more comprehensible and distinct. victor h. mair is Professor of Chinese Language and Literature in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a curatorial consultant and the catalog editor of the exhibition Secrets of the Silk Road, as well as author and/or editor


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of numerous books including The Tarim Mummies: Ancient China and the Mystery of the Earliest Peoples from the West (2000), with J.P. Mallory.

For Further Reading Anthony, David W. “Tracking the Tarim Mummies: A Solution to the Puzzle of Indo-European Origins?” Archaeology 54.2 (2001):76-84. Barber, Elizabeth Wayland. The Mummies of Ürümchi. New York: W. W. Norton; London: Macmillan, 1999. Debaine-Francfort, Corinne, and Abduressul Idriss, eds. Keriya, mémoires d’un fleuve: Archéologie et civilisation des oasis du Taklamakan. Suilly-la-Tour: Findakly, 2001. Mair, Victor H., ed. The Mummified Remains Found in the Tarim Basin. Special issue of The Journal of Indo-European Studies 23.3-4 (1995). Mair, Victor H., ed. The Bronze Age and Early Iron Age Peoples of Eastern Central Asia. 2 vols. Journal of Indo-European Studies Monograph Series, 26. Washington, DC and Philadelphia: The Institute for the Study of Man in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania Museum Publications, 1998. Mair, Victor H. “Genes, Geography, and Glottochronology: The Tarim Basin during Late Prehistory and History.” In Proceedings of the Sixteenth Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference. Los Angeles, November 5-6, 2004. Journal of Indo-European Studies Monograph Series, No. 50, edited by Karlene Jones-Bley, Martin E. Huld, Angela Della Volpe, and Miriam Robbins Dexter, pp. 1-46. Washington: Institute for the Study of Man, 2005. Mair, Victor H. “The Rediscovery and Complete Excavation of Ördek’s Necropolis.” Journal of Indo-European Studies 34 (2006):273–318 Mair, Victor H., ed. Secrets of the Silk Road. An Exhibition of Discoveries from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China. Santa Ana, California: Bowers Museum, 2010. Mallory, J. P., and Victor H. Mair. The Tarim Mummies: Ancient China and the Mystery of the Earliest Peoples from the West. London: Thames & Hudson, 2000. Millward, James A. Eurasian Crossroads: A History of Xinjiang. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006. Wang Binghua, ed. Xinjiang gushi: gudai Xinjiang jumin ji qi wenhua (The Ancient Corpses of Xinjiang: The Ancient Peoples of Xinjiang and Their Culture). Victor H. Mair, tran. Ürümchi: Xinjiang Renmin Chubanshe, 2001.

Textiles from the Silk Road Intercultural Exchanges among Nomads, Traders, and Agriculturalists

by ange l a s heng

Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Museum Collection


ilk was one of the most luxurious commodities traded along the many routes of the Silk Road. But one should not assume that only silks were traded, or that silks were the most important of all exchanged goods. Since the late 19th century, archaeologists have unearthed textile fragments made of other fibers such as wool, cotton, and hemp from sites around the Taklamakan Desert in Central Asia. In this article, different types of cloth found in Central Asia will be described and illustrated by photographs of artifacts from Secrets of the Silk Road. The first evidence for weaving silk appears 5,000 to 7,000 years ago in China. Any evidence of silk outside China proper at this time would strongly suggest that the non-Chinese traded with the Chinese for this much sought-after textile. Chinese silks were prized in ancient Rome, which led to the forging of a trade route between the East and West. Whereas scholars have amply documented the complex long- and shortdistance trade between China and the Mediterranean world and between China and Korea and Japan, few have examined the contemporaneous exchange of goods to the north and south, such as between the pastoral nomads, who roamed seasonally across the pastures to the north of ancient Iran and China, and the sedentary agriculturalists in China. The extensive representation of nomadic legacies in Secrets of the Silk Road—in the form of practical as well as extraordinary wool textiles—addresses this imbalance. A fragment of a tapestry shows a centaur blowing a horn and a warrior carrying a spear. See pages 38-39.

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READING CULTURE IN TEXTILES Textile patterns attract the eye, and textile textures invite the hand. Textiles can further reveal much about their makers, traders, and users. For example, a specific kind of fiber would suggest the maker’s way of life. Pastoral nomads sheared wool off domesticated sheep that required large pastures. Sedentary agriculturalists reeled silk off silkworms that necessitated the planting of the mulberry for feeding the silkworms. Each type of textile construction required different kinds of tools, some portable such as a back-strap loom, others less so, such as a treadle loom. Design and ornamentation revealed the source of inspiration for textile-makers: stylized flora and fauna or imagery with figures suggest myths and narratives, perhaps seen on other objects transported by traders from faraway places. The study of cloth manufacturing leads us to understand how various peoples— nomads, traders, and agriculturalists—contributed to the development of textile art and technology. ––––––––––––––––––––––––– A glossary of terms shown in bold is provided to help you understand words like warp and weft: the language of textile production. Also, objects are not shown to scale.


Textile historian Elizabeth Barber dates the domestication of sheep at 7000 BCE, or perhaps as early as 10,000 BCE. In ancient times, woolen fibers were short, scaly, and much rougher than they are today. Normally, short woolen fibers would require twisting and spinning into long, continuous yarn before they could be woven into textiles. The scaly surfaces of early wool fibers, however, allowed textiles to be manufactured without weaving. The fibers interlocked when felted or compressed by the combined application of damp heat and kneading pressure. The scaly surfaces of these fibers also meant that a felted textile contained a myriad of tiny air pockets between the kinks of the fiber. These air pockets retained body heat when the wool mass was made into clothing and worn in bitterly cold winters.



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(1, 2) Xinjiang Institute of Archaeology Collection, (3) Victor Mair


The Language of Textile Production: A Glossary of Terms Back-strap loom Any loom, often requiring the weaver to be seated on a platform or the ground, with a strap behind the weaver’s back so that the weaver uses his or her body as weight to maintain the stretched warp taut for weaving. The warp ends are attached to the strap at one end and at the other end, to a fixed pole or stick.

Brocading To weave with a brocading weft, a supplementary weft introduced to a ground weave.

Complex pattern loom Any loom that is equipped with shafts and patterning rods for the repetition of patterns in both the warp and weft.

Double-weave, tabby-based

selvage but are carried back and forth in small areas, one color at a time (by means of a shuttle), interweaving with the warp of that colored area only. The binding is usually tabby and weft-faced (where you do not see the warp).

Treadle loom Any loom with a treadle, or foot pedal, for the raising and lowering of a shaft holding warp ends by the seated weaver. The number of foot pedals would correspond to the number of shafts.

Warp The longitudinal threads of a textile, stretched between the beams on a loom.

Warp-faced compound tabby

A weave in which either the warp or the weft is composed of two series and the binding structure is the tabby; better known as double-faced weave.

A warp-faced weave with complementary warps of two or more series (usually of different colors for patterning purposes) and one weft. The ground binding weave is in the tabby.

Felted wool

Warp-faced compound twill

Wool compressed by heat and moisture to form an interlocked surface.

Same as above except the ground binding weave is in the twill. Also known as samitum.

Knotted pile weave


A weave that is made with supplementary weft yarns wrapped around the warp ends; the wrapped yarns are then cut to make a “knotted” pile standing above the surface of a ground weave.

Yarn drawn through the warp ends by means of a shuttle.

Tabby ground weave The structure of the textile is tabby, the basic binding system based on a unit of two warp ends and two weft picks in which each warp end passes over one and under one weft pick.

Weft beater A sword beater or a comb beater to beat the weft densely so that the weft picks are even and the textile compact.

Weft-faced compound tabby A weft-faced weave with complementary wefts in two or more series, usually of different colors for patterning purposes and a main warp and a binding warp. The ground binding weave is in the tabby. Also known as taqueté.

Tapestry weave A weave of only one warp and one weft but composed of threads of different colors that do not pass from selvage to

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Felted wool was used to make clothing and furnishings, such as hats, capes, carpets, and even saddle blankets for both functional and aesthetic purposes. This example of a short conical hat (1) dates to ca. 1800–1500 BCE. It is made of very dense felt in its original off-white hue, and is conspicuously stitched with a red cord going around the hat several times as if marking a pathway. The hat was further adorned with feathers and two weasel pelts. A red cord attached to the rim of the hat afforded the wearer a chin strap. Similar red wool cords are found on other objects from the same time period. Here you see a red cord used to string a jade bead as a bracelet (2). Pastoral nomads used felt headgear to mark distinct social status, and many hats, as shown here in the Xinjiang Musuem, have been recovered from burials (3). This tall, peaked hat (32.7 cm) (4) was excavated in 1985 from Tomb No. 5 at Zaghunluq, Chärchän, an oasis on the Chärchän River to the south of the Taklamakan Desert. Dated to ca. 800 BCE, it is made of two thick brown felt pieces sewn with buff stitching. To stiffen the peak and prevent it from collapsing, the tip was stuffed with tufts of felt. The use of buff yarn (natural color faded over time) for both functional and decorative stitching shows that the maker of this unusual hat was aware of aesthetic needs (form and color) while frugal with resources. Note that the peak curls backward in contrast to the forward curl of the peaked hat worn on the bronze figurine of a kneeling warrior (5) from a tomb dated to ca. 500 BCE in Xinyuan county of Ili Vally—a mountain valley to the northwest of the Taklamakan Desert. The peaked brown felt hat is only one of ten hats associated with the famous mummy known as “Chärchän Man” from Tomb No. 2 at Zaghunluq, Chärchän (see page 28 in this issue). He was buried in a wool trouser suit with pale red piping. His legs and feet were wrapped in hanks of combed wool (in primary colors: red, yellow, and blue) underneath white deerskin boots. Elizabeth Barber speculates that felting might have been discovered when a man, wearing hanks of wool such as these, inadvertently compressed the wool inside his boots; sweat given off as he moved would have fused the fibers creating felt. A type of felt similar to that used for Chärchän Man’s leggings was made into a blue bonnet with red edging for




Felted Wool

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(4,5,7) Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Museum Collection, (6) The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg © The State Hermitage Museum/photo by Vladimir Terebenin, Leonard Kheifets, Yuri Molodkovets


(8, 10) Xinjiang Institute of Archaeology Collection, (9) The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg © Photograph at The State Hermitage Museum/photo by Vladimir Terebenin, Leonard Kheifets, Yuri Molodkovets

a 3-month-old infant found in Tomb No. 1 at Zaghunluq, Chärchän (see page 28 in this issue). Similar textiles were found on both the man and the infant, including the twisted red and blue wool cord tied over the clothing and around the arms of the man and around the small shroud of the infant. Larger felt textiles—such as carpets and saddle blankets—allowed space for more intricate designs. An outstanding example (6) (not in exhibition) is a felt saddle from Kurgan (burial mound) No. 1 at Pazyryk in the Altai Mountains of Siberia, which dates to the second half of the 4th century BCE. It features a crested griffin, horned feline heads, and a goat or ram intertwined in transformative combat. Such animal designs as nomadic expressions were more commonly found in metal ornaments, like this gold plaque with a tiger design (7). Pastoral nomads created their own textile patterns as well as adapting complex motifs from others. The peripatetic lifestyle of the nomads ensured widespread transmission of motifs, resulting in many local variations. One example of the sharing of designs is found on a wooden container, carved with quadrupeds, that dates to the 5th century BCE (8). Rows of triangles at the top and bottom of the vessel recall the design of the crown worn by a seated female figure (goddess?) in the earliest pictorial felt carpet, also from Pazyryk, Kurgan No. 5 (9) (not in exhibition). Anne Farkas and others have already traced various motifs on this large carpet (measuring 4.5 by 6.5 m) to ancient Iranian designs, notably those seen at Persepolis, such as the throne of the goddess on the felt carpet which recalls a carved stone relief of Persian King Darius’ throne. Such similarities reveal the contact between pastoral nomads in the north with the neighboring centralized empire to the south—a pattern also found in the nomads’ trade with or raiding of the Chinese for silk, described below.




Woven Wool The woolen cloak from Small River Cemetery 5 (Xiaohe) (10), dated to 1800–1500 BCE, is woven in the simplest plain weave of tabby ground; it features horizontal bands achieved by inserting a darker yarn through as weft at

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regular intervals—a simple method of ornamentation that shows an acute sense of aesthetics. While plain wool garments were more common (11), dyed textiles were also sewn together to form bold patterns, as on the skirted dress (12) from Tomb No. 55 at Zaghunluq. Both garments date to the 5th to 3rd century BCE. More elaborate designs were woven using the knotted pile and tapestry weaves. In 1984 a woolen saddle blanket, measuring 76 by 74 cm, was unearthed from Horse Pit No. 2, Cemetery 1, at Shanpula (Sampul) near Khotan on the southern route (13). This blanket has regularly patterned leaves in several colors, knotted as pile over a plain tabby ground weave. Dated to the 1st or 2nd century BCE, the leaves seem of local design. They foreshadow a popular Sogdian (from ancient Iran) and more evolved silk design of later times: the brocaded tree-leaf. Fragments of the Sogdian design, discussed in more detail below, were discovered in Astana tombs near Turfan, dated to 551 CE (14). Pictorial representations were also woven as tapestry, a method that afforded maximum flexibility to the weaver in making motifs with wefts of different colors. An interesting example is the contemporaneous remains of trousers showing a human-headed horse moving through a field of stylized flowers, and a larger warrior with a spear (15). The trousers were created from a large wall hanging with a celebratory theme. Although the human-headed horse might have been inspired by the mythological Centaur of Hellenistic origin, Elfriede Knauer indicated that the warrior was Parthian, based on the animal-headed weapons tucked into his belt (not shown on the section in the exhibition). This tapestry fragment was unearthed from Shanpula, Tomb No. 2, near the Horse Pit tomb where the saddle blanket was found. The pastoral nomads and settlers who inhabited the oases around the Taklamakan Desert most often wove tapestries in narrow bands that they used to embellish clothing and accessories. Many such fragments came to light in Shanpula, broadly dated from 100 BCE to 300 CE. The exhibition includes an example of stylized flora in a tapestry weave as the central decoration of a cosmetic bag with strap (16). The bag contained a bronze mirror, an iron clasp, red yarn, a bag of rouge, and hair when it was




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(11, 13) Xinjiang Institute of Archaeology Collection, (12) Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Museum Collection


(14) Si chou shi lu: Han Tang shi wu, pl. 23. Beijing: Wen wu chu ban she, 1973, (15) Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Museum Collection

unearthed in 1995 from Tomb No. 5 of Cemetery 1 at Niyä on the southern route. The strap clearly made it portable, essential for a lady on the move. Lastly, spectacular wool garments were found on Yingpan Man (see cover and page 30 in this issue). He was unearthed in 1995 from Tomb No. 15 near Yingpan, south of Korla to the north of the Taklamakan Desert. He was approximately 30 years old and was buried supine in a wooden coffin that was painted with flowers on the outside and covered with a woolen pile carpet with designs of lions. Inside the coffin, the man’s head rested on a silk pillow in the shape of two back-to-back roosters, metonymical of the rooster’s crowing at dawn to imply the re-awakening after death. His face was covered with a painted mask embellished with gold leaf. His body was clothed in a silk robe and embroidered wool trousers underneath a woolen robe of exceptional artistic and technical competence. On his feet he wore felt boots with silk insteps also embellished with gold leaf. Miniature silk funerary garments, the purpose of which is unknown, were placed at his waist and on his left side. Judging by his exotic burial dress and the square of brocaded silk with the word shou, or longevity, placed by his head, he may have been a rich merchant familiar with Chinese customs. In addition, the Sasanian cut-glass bowl buried with him would indicate that he traded with partners from farther west. The embroidered patterns on his brown woolen trousers show arrays of stylized flora: four directionally oriented long petals in red and green separated by four smaller sprigs in buff (faded) surrounded by large dots forming a diamond. When examined closely, the slight irregularities of the shapes and stitching, though still remarkable, would suggest either the handiwork of a group or an amateur effort. It contrasts sharply with the professionalism of the red and yellow woolen robe worn as an overcoat, clearly the product of an accomplished workshop. The robe shows spectacular motifs of paired bulls, goats, and human figures interspersed with fruit-bearing pomegranate trees in yellow on a red ground. Cut as a caftan with crossed lapels, but closed on the right in a Chinese style, it features naked males with muscular bodies and prominent genitalia, some wearing a fluttering scarf. Each male figure






HIGHLIGHTS OF THE SILK FINDS The discovery of artificially cut silkworm cocoons (Bombyx mori) dated to the Neolithic Yangshao Culture in China traces the awareness of silk as a textile fiber back to at least 5000–3000 BCE. Textile finds from Chu


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(16, 17) Xinjiang Institute of Archaeology Collection, (18) ©Abegg-Stiftung, CH-3132 Riggisberg, 2004, inv. nos. 5073 and 5175, photograph by Christoph von Viràg

has curly hair and big eyes above a high nose—definitely not of Chinese ethnicity. Emma Bunker has identified the conventionalized poses of these putti as derived from Late Antique motifs inherited from earlier Hellenistic and Roman times. Such designs on silver cups or shields traveled from Roman-Western to Parthian-Eastern lands. The bulls and goats are also portrayed in typical Near Eastern pose: standing on their hind legs with their forefeet lifted in the air and their heads turned backwards. Elfreide Knauer points out that the bulls are encircled with garlands, indicating they were to be sacrificed. Based on the adaptation of similar motifs on Late Antique (3rd to 7th century) metalware, Emma Bunker suggests that this woolen robe was woven locally near Yingpan. The structure is a double-weave (tabby-based), woven with two sets of weft, one in yellow and the other in red. The pattern repeat consists of six alternating rows of animals and figures in the weft and in the warp, the reverse of each combination of an animal, half of a tree, and a figure. Both the structure and the pattern repeat indicate technological mastery of a complex pattern loom. The tight weave could have been enhanced with the weft beater (17), where the teeth of the comb would have been inserted among the warp threads so as to press the weft down. The motifs closely resemble those found on a woolen textile fragment, also unearthed from Xinjiang, with a dendro-calibrated C-14 date of 430–631 CE; naked and winged figures chase butterflies amid scrolled vines (18) (not in exhibition). Even the structure of the textile is similar: weft-faced compound tabby. Thus, the Yingpan woolen robe can probably be dated to a similar time period, from the mid-5th to the mid-7th century. This coincides with the radical developments in silk weaving at precisely the same time, as evidenced by silk finds from the Astana tombs of Turfan, to which we now turn.


(19, 20) Xinjiang Institute of Archaeology Collection, (21) Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Museum Collection

Tomb No. 1 (340–278 BCE) of Jiangling at Mashan in Hubei reveal a technical mastery of brocading silk with pictorial patterns in the warp (warp-faced compound tabby) by weavers in royal workshops. This technique persisted, yielding textiles of many motifs. The motif of dogwood blossoms on a face cover (19) probably originated in central China, where burial finds include textiles with exquisite designs. Auspicious wishes for longevity and progeny were soon added in Chinese characters, such as “May this one-of-a kind jin silk bring the parents generation after generation of descendants” (20). Fragments of such exotic brocaded silks have surfaced far from China, attesting to their broad appeal and bearing witness to the efforts of the Han court to appease marauding nomads. Such treasured silks were made into mouth covers and gloves. Similarly, auspicious words also appeared on shoes (21): “Wealth and prosperity suitable for a prince; may heaven grant longevity.” These words were densely woven in thick silk warps on narrow strips. The strips were then sewn together as the shoe-face. The round-toe style was Han Chinese, in contrast to the upturned-toe style of distinct Turkish influence fashionable in the later Tang dynasty. During the 4th or 5th century, northerners of nomadic ancestry fled westward from the ravages of war in China to Turfan, an oasis on the northern route. Simultaneously, Sogdians also moved eastward from their homeland in search of long-distance trade. I have argued elsewhere that exceptional circumstances brought Chinese and Sogdian weavers to live and work together in Turfan. Experimentation in weaving workshops led to new designs and new weaving techniques, as evidenced by cloth made by both groups. For example, the brocaded robe with small blue and gold checks (22) was woven in the traditional Chinese weave of warp-faced compound tabby, unknown to the Sogdians. This robe was unearthed in 1995 from Tomb No. 3 in Cemetery No. 1 of Niyä on the southern route. The checkered pattern cannot be traced to any Chinese antecedent; however, it can be seen on the robe worn by the historical Buddha as painted on a mural in a Kizil cave (23). Note that the robe is cut in a non-Chinese style, with narrow cuffs and a wide skirt, that is more convenient for




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horseback-riding than the straight Chinese cut, suited to a more sedentary lifestyle. A more obvious Central Asian motif—paired birds and rams around the tree-leaf pattern—was also woven in the same warp-faced compound tabby (24). Although one brocaded silk might look like another, each may have been woven differently. A new weave structure emerged in the 5th century: the warp-faced compound twill. The astounding example in the exhibition was discovered in 1972 in Astana Tomb No. 177, belonging to the Northern Liang royal heir, Jüqü Fendai, who died in 455 CE (25). This fragment features dragons, deer, qilin (a type of unicorn), camels, and peacocks facing each other under arches and between columns, in red and yellow on a navy ground. This weave structure was used extensively in the later Tang Dynasty to make patterns that combined various cultural styles (26). Whereas the pearl-roundel on this fragment derived from Sasanian designs, the four-petaled flowers recall the embroidered flora on the woolen robe worn by the Yingpan Man. And the overall balanced and symmetrical placement of those two repeating motifs was grounded in Han Chinese aesthetics. Over the next two centuries, two very complex brocaded silk weave structures were developed: the weft-faced compound tabby (taqueté) and the weft-faced compound twill (samitum). The taqueté is the weave structure of the spectacular red and yellow woolen robe worn by Yingpan Man. Silks woven in these new weaves often featured the Sasanian pearl-roundel circling an animal such as a bird, deer, horse, peacock, or as shown on the face cover in the exhibition, a boar’s head (27). The face cover, woven in the samitum, was excavated from Astana Tomb No. 332 and dates to the early 7th century. Controversy exists as to where it was produced, either in Sogdiana or in Central Asia. I have argued that it is Turfan. The boar’s head may have served as a metonymical device to encourage honesty in an official. In Sogdian mythology, the deity Verethraghna assumed the shape of a boar when he went to earth to punish liars. Certainly, the boar was a central motif for Sogdian rulers, the Sasanians. Still other artifacts show improved dyeing techniques brought by traders from South Asia. This orange skirt with stylized flora was probably stencilled with wax as a dye




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(22) Xinjiang Institute of Archaeology Collection, (23) Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz / Art Resource, NY; Museum für Asiatische Kunst, Staatliche Museen, Berlin, Germany, Photograph: Iris Papadopoulas, (24) Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Museum Collection


resist (28). Many similarly dyed thin silks have surfaced at various sites. Some show patterns tied and dyed. The dyes and dyeing methods could be replicated far more easily than complex weaving. Thus, their designs imitate the popular woven textiles. Secrets of the Silk Road presents a wide range of textile motifs and techniques found on cloth recovered from burial sites around the Taklamakan Desert. Peoples of fundamentally different ways of life optimized their resources to create clothing and furnishings to meet their functional and aesthetic needs. Their legacies reveal the extent to which they learned from each other and thus enriched their material expressions, with far-reaching implications.



angela sheng is Associate Professor of Art History and Director Chair of The Confucius Institute for Culture, Language, and Business at McMaster University.

For Further Reading Bunker, Emma. “Late Antique Motifs on a Textile from Xinjiang Reveal Startling Burial Beliefs.” Orientations 35.4 (2004):30-36. Cammann, Schuyler. “Notes on the Origin of Chinese K’o-ssu Tapestry.” Artibus Asiae 11 (1948):90-109. Curtis, Vesta Sarkhosh. Persian Myths. London: British Museum, 1993.

(25, 26, 27, 28) Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Museum Collection

Farkas, Anne. “Filippovka and the Art of the Steppes.” In The Golden Deer of Eurasia: Scythian and Sarmatian Treasures from the Russian Steppes, edited by Joan Aruz, Anne Farkas, Andrei Alekssev, and Elena Korolkjova. New York and New Haven: Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University Press, 2000.


Gervers, Michael, and Veronika Gervers. “Felt-making Craftsmen of Anatolian and Iranian Plateaux.” Textile Museum Journal 4.1 (December 1974):14-29. Keller, Dominik, and Regula Schorta, eds. Fabulous Creatures from the Desert Sands: Central Asian Woolen Textiles from the Second Century BC to the Second Century AD. Riggisberg: Abegg-Stiftung, 2001. Knauer, Elfriede R. The Camel’s Load in Life and Death. Zurich: Akanthus, 1998. Schorta, Regula, ed. Central Asian Textiles and Their Contexts in the Early Middle Ages. Riggisberger Berichte 9. Riggisberg: AbeggStiftung, 2006.


Sheng, Angela. “Reading Costumes as ‘Texts’ and Decoding Ethnic Visual Culture of Southwest China.” Writing with Thread, pp. 13-41. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Art Gallery, 2009. Zhao, Feng. Treasures in Silk. Hong Kong: The Costume Squad Ltd., 1999.


Bronze Age Languages of the Tarim Basin by j. p. m al lory

West meets East at Bezeklik in the 9th to 10th century CE. Here we see a “western” and an oriental monk depicted together.


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Tocharian. If his travels took him south to Khotan, he would have to deal in Khotanese Saka. Here, if he had been captured by a raider from the south, he would have had to talk his way out of this encounter in Tibetan or hoped for rescue from an army that spoke Chinese. He could even have bumped into a Jewish sheep merchant who spoke Modern Persian. And if he knew which way the wind was blowing, he would have his

Albert von Le Coq, 1913, Chotscho, Berlin, D. Reimer, 21.


he earliest accounts of the Tarim Basin depict a society whose linguistic and ethnic diversity rivals the type of complexity one might otherwise encounter in a modern transportation hub. The desert sands that did so much to preserve the mummies, their clothes, and other grave goods also preserved an enormous collection of documents, written on stone, wood, leather, or— employing that great Chinese invention—paper. A German expedition to the Tarim Basin in the early 20th century returned with texts in 17 different languages. We can get some appreciation of the linguistic complexity if we put ourselves in the place of a traveling merchant working the Silk Road in the 8th century CE. A typical trader from the West may have spoken Sogdian at home. He may have visited Buddhist monasteries where the liturgical language would have been Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit, but the day-to-day language was

Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Museum Collection (top), James R. Mathieu (bottom)

sons investing their time in learning Uyghur, the language of a major Turkish tribe who would descend on the Tarim Basin in the 9th century to form its next major ethno-linguistic group. The many languages of the Tarim Basin can be approached in a variety of ways. Normally, a linguist would first examine them in terms of their genetic relationship by language group. But here, where we are attempting to relate them to the mummies and artifacts of the Bronze and Iron Ages, another approach may be more efficient. Some of the languages were clearly intrusive, derived from outside of the Tarim Basin, and their use was probably confined to certain contexts; others may have been “native” (i.e. spoken over broad areas of the Tarim Basin since the Bronze Age) and, consequently, may have been the spoken languages of the people whose mummified remains have captured so much attention. This discussion of languages begins with those that are liturgical, the languages for which we find sacred texts or the accounts of specific religious communities. For example, followers of the Iranian prophet Zarathustra entered the Tarim Basin in the 7th century CE to establish their fire temples in Khotan; they conducted their services in the ancient Iranian language of Avestan. Buddhist missionaries possessed liturgical texts in what is known as Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit, a language originating in northern India. Sogdian, whose homeland is west Central Asia, was employed not only by merchants but also for the religious documents of Buddhists, Manicheans, and Nestorian Christians. Whether from India or greater Iran, all of these languages were carried into the Tarim Basin by religious communities or merchants from outside the region during the 1st millennium CE. A second group of languages are associated with documents that were not exclusively religious, but also administrative. This may indicate that the languages were spoken by considerable numbers of the local population. Buddhists in the region of Krorän (Chinese Loulan), for example, employed an Indic language, Prakrit, in administration. Tocharian was used both to translate Buddhist texts and as an administrative language, which suggests that it was spoken by a wider range of people than exclusively monks. Another major language was Khotanese Saka, the language spoken in the south of the Tarim Basin at the site

Above, this text is an example of the Sogdian language and records a bill of sale for a female slave, dating from the Gaochang Kingdom (639 CE). Sogdian merchants traded throughout Eurasia and were important players in the economy and culture along the Silk Road. Below, modern tourists along the Silk Road take a camel ride up the Flaming Mountain near the Bezeklik Buddhist Cave complex.


This text is in Khotanese Saka. (KS 01 from the Berlin-Brandenburgischen Akademie der Wissenschaften in der Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin–Preussischer Kulturbesitz Orientabteilung, published at

of Khotan as well as at northern sites such as Tumshuq and Murtuq and possibly Qäshqär, the western gateway into the Tarim Basin. The Khotanese texts date to the 7th to 10th century, but they belong to a much wider group of Saka languages spoken across the Eurasian steppe. And unlike Tocharian, which became extinct, there were small pockets of Saka speakers who survived in the Pamir Mountains. Among them are the Sarikoli who relocated to the Tarim Basin to settle near Tashkurgan. Finally, there was a third and obvious ethnolinguistic group that had been established in the region: the Han Chinese. Before the Han Dynasty the Tarim Basin was, according to Chinese history, very much in the huang fu or “wild zone”: the frontier world of fabulous peoples and beasts. We do not begin to obtain good evidence of this region until the Han Dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE), when Zhang Qian made his famous journeys to the west. How much earlier Chinese had settled in the Tarim Basin is estimated by archaeological and anthropological evidence. In addition to these major players, the presence of some groups of people can only be confirmed from about the time of the Han Dynasty. These were nomadic peoples who were variously in alliance or confrontation with the world of ancient China. Most formidable were the Xiongnu, the horseriding warriors of the steppe whose repeated attacks prompted the Chinese to build major sections of the Great Wall. The Xiongnu also controlled the Tarim Basin during the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE, until they were finally routed and replaced by the Chinese at the end of the 1st century CE. They left no written records, but if the Xiongnu were the historical Huns, they probably spoke an Altaic language related to Turkish or Mongolian. Among the “peoples of the bow” who were tem-


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porarily subjected to the leadership of the Xiongnu were the Wusun; this group settled the northern part of the Tarim Basin in the first centuries CE in a territory previously occupied by Saka tribes. Once one excludes all the languages imported by foreign missionaries, outside merchants, Chinese administrators, and later Turkic invaders, we are effectively left with two main language groups in the Tarim Basin that might be associated with at least some of the Tarim mummies of the Bronze Age and Iron Age: Khotanese Saka (or any other remnant of the Scythians of the Eurasian steppe) and Tocharian. Of course, totally different languages may have been spoken by these populations, especially if they were derived from native Neolithic groups, whose languages did not survive into the historical record. Saka belongs to the eastern branch of the Iranian languages, which was one of the most widespread of the IndoEuropean family of languages spoken in most of Europe, Iran, India, and other parts of Asia. Our primary knowledge of this language group derives from documents from ancient Iran. However, the borders of the language vastly exceeded those of ancient Persia or modern Iran, as it was spread over most of Central Asia and across the Eurasian steppelands from the Danube to the Yenisei River. The sub-branch to which Saka belongs also included Sogdian, Bactrian, and Avestan. Most archaeologists and linguists believe that the Iranian languages appeared earliest in the steppelands and only later moved southward through the agricultural oases of Central Asia into the region of modern Iran. The Iranian language group is very closely related to Indo-Aryan, the branch of Indo-European that occupies the northern two thirds of India; these language

James R. Mathieu, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Museum Collection (inset)

Above, the Buddhist temple complex in the ancient city of Gaochang is near Turfan and in the region where Tocharian A appeared. Left, this text is written in Tocharian A. (THT 677 from the Berlin-Brandenburgischen Akademie der Wissenschaften in der Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin–Preussischer Kulturbesitz Orientabteilung, published at


This chart compares Saka and Tocharian B with Latin, another IndoEuropean language; except for English “ask,” all other English words listed here are also cognate with the Latin and the languages of the Tarim Basin, that is, they derive from the same Proto-Indo-European source.


Tocharian B











trai ´ stwer








kante pacer macer



















bos fero




päte mata brate


bear (carry)

groups presumably shared a common origin in the steppe region during the Bronze Age, perhaps about 2500 BCE. The other major language group in the Tarim Basin is Tocharian, which is subdivided into two languages: Tocharian A, found in documents near Turfan and Qarashähär, and Tocharian B, found mainly around Kucha in the west but also in the same territory as Tocharian A. The documents, dating from the 6th to the 8th centuries CE, suggest that Tocharian A was by that time probably a dead liturgical language, while Tocharian B was still very much in use. In addition to Tocharian, administrative texts have been discovered in Prakrit, an Indian language from the territory of Krorän; these documents contain many proper names and items of vocabulary that would appear to be borrowed from a form of

James R. Mathieu

A market scene in modernday Kucha, a city where Tocharian B once flourished.


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J. P. Mallory

Tocharian (sometimes known as Tocharian C) spoken by the native population. The Kroränian documents date to ca. 300 CE and provide our earliest evidence for the use of Tocharian. For our purposes here, it is also very important to note that the earliest evidence for the mummified remains of “westerners” in the Tarim Basin is found in cemeteries at Xiaohe (Small River) and Qäwrighul, both of which are located in the same region as Tocharian C. Tocharian documents consist primarily of translations of Buddhist texts, but also include secular documents such as permits for caravans to pass through the territory. Two important features about Tocharian make it stand out among all the languages of the Tarim Basin. The first is that it has no outliers: no evidence of an outside source such as that which can be found for any of the Iranian, Turkish, Chinese, or Tibetan documents. Tocharian is only known in the Tarim Basin. Second, although the Tocharian languages belong to the great Indo-European family The cross-hatched areas of this map show the distribution of evidence for the Saka language and archaeological sites, identified as Saka or earlier Iranian, in of languages, they are not closely related to the only the Tarim and Jungghar basins. other group of Indo-European languages in greater Asia: the Indo-Iranian languages. Indeed, many linguists prefer to seek out the closest relatives of Indo-Iranian ern steppes, famous as horse-riding nomads who periodically among European languages such as Greek or Germanic, or challenged the civilizations to their south. They are attested they argue that Indo-Iranian separated from the rest of the in historical and archaeological sources from about the 8th Indo-European world at a very early date. From a linguistic century BCE, and are identified with ancient regional cultures point of view, it is difficult to imagine that the Tocharians such as the Tagar of the Minusinsk Basin (8th to 1st century originated in the same place and time as Iranian-speaking Saka. BCE), located to the north of the Tarim, or cemeteries to its west such as Shambabay/Xiangbaobao on the Chinese side of the Pamirs. Saka cemeteries generally involve inhumation burial within Iranians some form of timber chamber—anything from a solid piece of wood to a timber-built chamber—covered by a kurgan or From a linguistic point of view, we need to explain how lanmound. The identification of Saka tombs in the environs of guages from two major Indo-European language groups manthe Tarim Basin itself includes Zhongyangchang in the Tian aged to spread into the Tarim Basin, and evaluate as far as posShan, where there are about 30 kurgans (ca. 550–250 BCE) sible whether they were the languages spoken by those Bronze attributed to the Saka before the area fell to the Wusun. The Age individuals whose remains were mummified. Purely from site of Alwighul/Alagou is a multi-period and apparently a geographical perspective, neither language is likely to have multi-ethnic cemetery; the latest burials (3rd to 2nd century entered the Tarim Basin from either the east (where we find BCE) are assigned to the Saka, as they are found in pine-built Chinese) or the south (Tibetan), thus limiting their approach chambers and accompanied with animal-style art famous to either the mountains to the west or the steppes to the from Scythian/Saka tombs across the Eurasian steppe. On the north. We also know that the Saka were known to the ancient Keriya River we have both the fortified settlement of Yumulak Greeks as Scythians, and were clearly a people of the north-

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Kum/Yuansha and adjacent cemeteries. One of the cemeteries goes back to the 7th century BCE and is believed to have been associated with the Saka, based on evidence including timberbuilt tombs, high peaked hats, Europoid physical type, and Saka-compatible pottery. In terms of distribution, the Saka sites tend to lie to the north, east, or south of where most of the mummified remains have been recovered; however, they have also been identified among the later burials at Alwighul. The tall hats of the female mummies from Subeshi might also pass for a Saka trait, and so identification of some of the mummies with the Saka or Iranian speakers in the northeast Tarim is a serious possibility. But here we are dealing with people and languages which, if our archaeological identifications can be trusted, date only to the last half of the 1st millennium BCE. Can we determine an earlier date for Iranian speakers in the Tarim? The Bronze Age antecedent to the Iron Age Scythians/Saka is the Andronovo cultural complex, a series of related cultures that spanned the area between the Urals and the Yenisei from ca. 2000–900 BCE. Its linguistic identification is somewhere within the general Indo-Iranian branch of languages and, at least within the steppeland regions, it is presumably Iranian before the 1st millennium BCE. The Andronovo cultural complex provides a broad umbrella of cultural traits which importantly include the use of tin bronze, an extensive series of char-


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Tocharians The one language group that is most clearly anchored in the Tarim, Tocharian, lacks any obvious external source. So the line of reasoning that might link linguistic evidence with the archaeological record becomes even more dubious. To render matters even more difficult, Iranian speakers from the Andronovo culture of the Iron Age could enter the Tarim Basin from both the north and the west, so this would seem, at first, to remove any potential homeland for the Tocharians since they should not have come from precisely where we derive another language group. There are two ways out of this problem. The first involves suggesting a long and untraceable trek across the Eurasian steppe to the Tarim Basin. As

J. P. Mallory

The distribution of the Andronovo cultural complex is shown on this map.

acteristic metal implements and ornaments, the use of chariots, and distinctive horse-gear. Economically, the culture was versatile: in some regions, it was clearly semi-nomadic, while in others, it adopted irrigation agriculture. Its presence is attested in the Jungghar/ Zhunge’er Basin at cemeteries at Sazicun and Adunqiaolu, where the ceramics are clearly related to the Andronovo complex. People associated with this cultural complex may have lived in the Tarim Basin, although the evidence is strongly circumstantial. We do not have clear examples of Andronovo settlements marked by its distinctive ceramic styles. While some of its burials share what may be generic elements with those found in the Tarim—use of timber chambers or stone cists—the Andronovo type of east Kazakhstan, the Fedorovo culture, practiced cremation as well as inhumation. In short, direct evidence for Andronovo sites is so far absent from the Tarim Basin. It must be noted that Andronovo metalwork has been recovered from a number of sites, e.g. Xintala, Qizilchoqa, and Yanbulaq as well as the Agarshin hoard from Toquztar. In addition, the initial appearance of horses and wheeled vehicles in the Tarim, and the introduction of the chariot to China, are all attributed to Andronovo contacts. This evidence dates from ca. 1300 BCE onwards and advances considerably the potential presence of Iranian speakers in the Tarim, although it does not provide us with the settlements and burials that might better constitute a “smoking gun.”

J.P. Mallory

Above, the distribution of the Tocharian languages in the Tarim Basin and the locations of some of the most significant discoveries of mummified remains are shown here. Right, Afanasievo burials are in pits surrounded by circular or rectangular stone enclosures. They may be single or collective burials.

the Andronovo culture is sister to the Timber-grave culture of the European steppe— also seen as the antecedent to Iranianspeakers—this trek would have to start somewhere to the west of the Dnieper and would rival prehistoric journeys such as the migration of southern Athabascans from Canada to the American Southwest. Such an extraordinary historical event is rarely the type of solution that is likely to satisfy either archaeologists or linguists. The alternative approach is to select a staging area much closer to the Tarim Basin that predates any of the proposed Iranian-associated migrations. One culture that might fit the bill is the Afanasievo culture of the Altai and Minusinsk regions. This was an Early Bronze Age culture which may have appeared before 3000 BCE (the start date is a serious problem) and continued to ca. 2500 BCE. The Afanasievo is known from settlements that practiced both cereal agriculture and the raising of domestic livestock; however, most evidence of this culture comes from about 50 cemeteries. The Afanasievo burials are in pits, either single or collective, surrounded by stone enclosures, both rectangular and circular. Grave goods include ceramics that are generally decorated over much of their body; shapes are large pointed base vessels and small footed vessels

that have been interpreted as censers for burning either an aromatic or hallucinogenic substance. The Afanasievo culture is linguistically attractive because its own antecedents appear to lie in the European steppe, the same region that provides the point of departure for the Indo-Iranian expansion some thousand years later. This provides a convenient explanation for why the Tocharian languages are ultimately related to Indo-Iranian as members of the Indo-European language family, but also as to why they are very different, in that they separated from the rest of the Indo-Europeans at an early date. Admittedly, this still requires an enormous trek from the Volga-Ural region east to the Yenisei with very little evidence of intermediate “stop-overs” other than an Afanasievo cemetery near Karaganda. The Afanasievo culture apparently expanded to the south. Recent excavations by Alexei Kovalev and Diimaajav Erdenebaatar have uncovered Afanasievo burials in northwest Mongolia at the site of Khurgak-Govi that date to ca. 3000–2500 BCE. Of great importance was the discovery of the


Some have compared this type of basket from the Qäwrighul cemetery with the ceramics of the Afanasievo culture (see previous figure, object C).


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J. P. Mallory

Above, the Afanasievo culture expanded to the south, as depicted by the cross-hatched area on this map. Below, these drawings show a comparison of material culture (bowl and “censer”) from Qiemu’erqieke (A, B) and Afanasievo (C, D) sites.

remains of a wheeled vehicle in one of the graves. Before this, the only evidence that the Afanasievo culture possessed vehicles was found engraved on stones within their cemeteries. Also, in the foothills of the Jungghar Basin— the natural approach to the Tarim Basin from the north— we find the Qiemu’erqieke (Turkish Shamirshak) culture. Although so far not precisely dated, this culture’s ceramics (both pointed base vessels and footed ones) are similar to those known in the Afanasievo, and here too graves may be marked off with rectangular stone enclosures. Another linking trait is that some of the burials lie on their backs but with their legs flexed: this peculiar posture is also known both in the Afanasievo culture and among the burials of the European steppelands, but it is very rare anywhere else. Similarly, the footed bowls—interpreted as lamps in China but as “censers” in the Afanasievo culture—are also linked to the east European steppe. Finally, the Qiemu’erqieke, Afanasievo, and European steppe cultures all share a tradition of erecting stone anthropomorphic stelae. Although the Qiemu’erqieke is located in the far north of the Jungghar Basin, similar pottery has been recovered from the site of Xikan’erzi, not far from both Ürümchi and the territory of the Tocharians. Further Afanasievo influence is difficult to substantiate. Our earliest cemeteries with Caucasoid populations are at Xiaohe and Qäwrighul, and their connection to the Afanasievo culture is hardly robust, although a case can be made. A key problem is that neither cemetery employed ceramics as grave goods; consequently, the most sensitive

The Silk Road on Land and Sea, 1989. China Pictorial Publications, p. 128, #2.

index of cultural affinity at this time is absent and may suggest profoundly different cultural behavior. However, among the baskets deposited with the burials, some certainly bear a generic resemblance to Afanasievo vessels both with respect to shape and ornament. While we do not find the characteristic stone enclosures of the Afanasievo graves, Qäwrighul does reveal concentric rings of timber posts that may have served a similar purpose. Moreover, one might argue that the spectacular wooden figures recovered from Xiaohe are related to the erection of stone stelae in the Qiemu’erqieke, Afanasievo, and European steppe cultures. The fact that the deceased are Caucasoids has also been regarded as circumstantial evidence that they must have come from either the north or the west, although their actual place of origin is still in question. Analyses of the physical type of the Qäwrighul population have produced mixed results, with physical anthropologist Han Kangxin suggesting that they are closest to the Afanasievo, but Brian Hemphill arguing that they do not resemble any neighboring population. More recent ancient DNA analysis indicates that the population from the Xiaohe cemetery derives from two sources: some individuals bear the same haplogroup type widely found in eastern Europe, and others possess a type more at home in the east Eurasian steppe of Siberia. Thus, there is good circumstantial evidence that might associate the

earliest Bronze Age mummies with an expansion of Tocharian speakers from the north who were formerly settled in the region of the Altai mountains and Minusinsk Basin. j. p. mallory is Professor of Prehistoric Archaeology at Queen’s University, Belfast, Northern Ireland. Author of numerous articles and books, his most recent book, with D.Q. Adams, is The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World (2006). He is also the author, with Victor H. Mair, of The Tarim Mummies: Ancient China and the Mystery of the Earliest Peoples from the West (2000). For Further Reading Jia, Peter Wei Ming, Alison V. G. Betts, and Xinhua Wu. “Prehistoric Archaeology in the Zhunge’er (Junggar) Basin, Xinjiang, China.” Eurasia Prehistory 6 (2009):167-198. Kuz’mina, Elena E. The Origin of the Indo-Iranians. Leiden: Brill, 2007. Lebedynsky, Iaroslav. Les Saces. Paris: Éditions Errance, 2006. Li, Chunxiang, et al. “Evidence that a West-East Admixed Population Lived in the Tarim Basin as Early as the Bronze Age.” BioMedCentral 8, 15. Mallory, J. P., and Victor H. Mair. The Tarim Mummies: Ancient China and the Mystery of the Earliest Peoples from the West. London: Thames & Hudson, 2000.

The concentric circles of timber posts found at Qäwrighul have been compared with the stone enclosures surrounding Afanasievo burials (see page 51 in this issue).

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museum mosaic

People, Places, Projects Gift from Euseba and Warren Kamensky Endows NAGPRA Position

Warren Kamensky (seated on left) on the Penn Museum’s Susan H. Horsey Deck, with American Section staff, clockwise from top left, Stacey Espenlaub, NAGPRA Coordinator; William Wierzbowski, Associate Keeper; and Lucy Fowler Williams, Ph.D., Keeper.


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International scholars from ten countries participated in the Southeast Asian Ceramic Archaeology workshop.

Penn Museum Co-hosts International Workshop on Southeast Asian Ceramic Archaeology From November 4 through 8, 2010, the Penn Museum, in partnership with the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Galleries, co-hosted the International Workshop on Southeast Asian Ceramic Archaeology: Directions for Methodology and Collaboration. More than 30 international scholars from Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam, as well as Japan, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and North America gathered to view a special exhibition Taking Shape: Ceramics in Southeast Asia in Washington, DC, and, in Philadelphia, to examine and discuss one of the most significant collections of legally excavated ancient Southeast Asian pottery outside of the region—more than 500 vessels including material from Ban Chiang, Thailand. The workshop was co-organized by Dr. Joyce C. White, Associate Curator, Asian Section, Penn Museum, and Director of the Museum’s Ban Chiang Project and its Middle Mekong Archaeological Project and Louise Allison Cort, Curator of Ceramics at the Freer and Sackler galleries. The program was made possible with funding from the Henry Luce Foundation and the University of Pennsylvania Research Foundation.

So ph ia P er lm an ( le ft ), R ob er t Ha rr el l, Fr e er + S ack l er, Smi t hso n ian I n s t i t u t i o n ( r i g h t )

Penn Museum is pleased to announce a generous gift from Mr. Warren F. Kamensky, long-time Penn Museum member and volunteer, to endow the position of NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) Coordinator. The gift will directly support the full-time staff position currently held by Stacey Espenlaub. The position’s new title will be the Euseba and Warren Kamensky NAGPRA Coordinator of the American Section. Penn Museum’s NAGPRA Coordinator position, established initially in 1995 on a part-time basis, was formalized as a full-time duty in 1997. It has proven to be of increasing importance to the Penn Museum’s mission, not only in the care of the collection, but also in developing and maintaining relationships with tribes and Native American communities across the United States.

book news & reviews

Before the Silk Road The Prehistory of the Silk Road by E. E. Kuzmina. Victor H. Mair, ed. (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007). 264 pp., 73 illustrations, cloth, $65.00, ISBN 978-0-8122-4041-2 r e v ie w e d b y ma n d y c h a n , Ph.D. student in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania. Few regions in the world have captured popular imagination as much as the “Silk Road,” the overland trade routes that connected the great cities of Xian and Rome through the Central Asian oases. However, long before silk was traded as a commodity along this fabled route, intensive cultural interaction between the East and the West had been taking place, from as early as the Bronze Age (ca. 2000 BCE) in the Eurasian Steppe. In The Prehistory of the Silk Road, eminent Russian archaeologist Elena Kuzmina presents a critical overview of the cultural conditions in Eurasia’s past that may have precipitated the establishment of the Silk Road, and how these conditions, in turn, profoundly impacted the development of the Old World. This book marks the first major scholarly effort that synthesizes a large body of interdisciplinary subject matter on Eurasian archaeology into a comprehensive account. The book begins with an introduction to steppe ecology, emphasizing the interrelationship between the environment and the cultural development of Copper and Bronze Age Eurasian communities. Kuzmina views the emergence of a mobile economy on the Eurasian Steppe as an adaptive strategy devised by early populations to counterbalance unfavorable ecosystems, as evidenced by the first major migration of Indo-Europeans from the Pontic Steppe into Central Asia in the 3rd millennium BCE, which coincided with a period of climatic shift in the steppe grassland. With the advent of this new economy, the spread of wheeled transport technology intensi-

fied, laying the foundation for semi-nomadic pastoralism as the predominant lifestyle of the Eurasian Steppe. To provide a proper cultural context, Kuzmina discusses the complex cultures of Bronze Age Eurasia and their regional interactions. She specifically references the Andronovo culture, known for its spoked-wheeled chariots and metallurgy, whose cultural influences were felt as far as the Shang Dynasty in China. Kuzmina argues against the idea that the horse-drawn chariot first appeared in the Near East. Instead, she proposes the Eurasian Steppe as the chariot’s place of origin. To support her argument, the author cites the evidence of the early remains of spoked-wheeled chariots, cheek pieces, and bones of sacrificed horses discovered at the graves of the Sintashta-Petrovka culture in the Ural Mountains. Though a consensus has yet to be reached on the chariot’s origin, the extensive amount of data presented in support of her hypothesis has nevertheless demonstrated the central role of prehistoric Eurasian populations in the diffusion of cultural and technological ideas throughout the region. The last part of the book examines the role of Indo-Europeans in the development of Xinjiang and its neighboring territories. Looking at funerary customs and craniological research from the Gumugou burials in Xinjiang, Kuzmina identifies the population at this site as Tocharian. In addition, the author discusses different indigenous archaeological cultures along the northern and southern rims of the Tarim Basin—the routes that correspond to those of the future Silk Road—to illustrate the intensity of the historical process that transpired there. As a student in the archaeology of China, I benefited immensely from the book’s analysis of the complex prehistory of the Silk Road. It provides not only an account of Eurasian prehistory, but also insight into mankind’s ability to adapt and innovate. Kuzmina’s research provides a much-needed framework to bridge the theoretical vacuum between Chinese and Western scholarship on the transcultural phenomenon of Bronze Age Eurasia. While some of her hypotheses still await corroboration from future archaeological research, her effort to make Eurasian archaeology more accessible to a broad audience makes this book an indispensable resource. Scholars will find this book a helpful research summary and reference guide to Eurasia’s prehistory, and informed readers will find a gateway through which to further explore the rich cultural tapestry of the steppe.

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UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA MUSEUM PUBLICATIONS ORIGINS OF AGRICULTURE IN WESTERN CENTRAL ASIA An Environmental-Archaeological Study David R. Harris Archaeologist David R. Harris addresses questions of when, how, and why agriculture and settled village life began east of the Caspian Sea. The book describes and assesses evidence from archaeological investigations in Turkmenistan and adjacent parts of Iran, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan in relation to present and past environmental conditions and genetic and archaeological data on the ancestry of the crops and domestic animals of the Neolithic period. It includes accounts of previous research on the prehistoric archaeology of the region and reports the results of a recent environmental-archaeological project undertaken by British, Russian, and Turkmen archaeologists in Turkmenistan, principally at the early Neolithic site of Jeitun (Djeitun) on the southern edge of the Karakum desert. 2010 | 328 pages | 8 1/2 x 11 | 102 illus. | Cloth | $65.00

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volume 52 – 2010 U n i v e r s i t y o f P e n n s y l v a n i a m u s e u m o f a r c h a e o l o g y a n d a n t h r o p o l o g y

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No. Page 5 Anderson, E. N. – What in the World: Ancient and Modern Foods from the Tarim Basin



Museum Mosaic: People, Places, Projects



Museum Mosaic: People, Places, Projects


55 Chan, Mandy – Book News & Reviews – Before the Silk Road



Museum Mosaic: People, Places, Projects


4 Gürsan-Salzmann, Ayse, ¸ and Evin H. Erder – From the Field: A Conservation Management Plan for Preserving Gordion and Its Environs


9 Ousterhout, Robert G. – Archaeologists & Travelers in Ottoman Lands: Three Intersecting Lives


31 Hendrickson, Carol – Ethno-Graphics: Keeping Visual Field Notes in Vietnam


4 Pezzati, Alessandro – From the Archives: The Pennsylvania Declaration



Hickman, Jane – From the Editor


40 Possehl, Gregory L. – Research Notes: Ernest J. H. Mackay and the Penn Museum



Hickman, Jane – From the Editor




Hickman, Jane – From the Editor

22 Raczek, Teresa P., and Namita S. Sugandhi – In the Heart of the Village: Exploring Archaeological Remains in Chatrikhera Village, Rajasthan, India



Hodges, Richard – From the Director




Hodges, Richard – From the Director



Hodges, Richard – From the Director

9 Romano, David Gilman, and Mary E. Voyatzis – Excavating at the Birthplace of Zeus: The Mt. Lykaion Excavation and Survey Project


44 Hodges, Richard – Book News & Reviews: Off the Beaten Path in England and Spain




33 Sheng, Angela – Textiles from the Silk Road: Intercultural Exchanges among Nomads, Traders, and Agriculturalists


7 Steinhardt, Nancy Shatzman – Research Notes: The Luohan that Came from Afar


33 van der Sluijs, Marinus Anthony, and Anthony L. Peratt – Astronomical Petroglyphs: Searching for Rock Art Evidence for an Ancient Super Aurora


9 Waugh, Daniel C. – The Silk Roads in History


4 White, Donald – Portrait: Dr. Elfriede R. (Kezia) Knauer


´ 21 Zrałka, Jarosław, and Wiesław Koszkul – New Discoveries about the Ancient Maya: Excavations at Nakum, Guatemala



6 Hamilton, Elizabeth – From the Field: Penn Museum in Laos


5 Hughes, Heather – What in the World: A Hidden Gem at the Penn Museum


43 Jensen, Erin, and Jennifer Reifsteck – Around the Museum: Summer in the City


48 Kauer, Jane – Book News & Reviews: The World of Soy


8 Lertcharnrit, Thanik – From the Field: An Early Ivory Bracelet from Central Thailand


23 Mair, Victor H. – The Mummies of East Central Asia


44 Mallory, J.P. – Bronze Age Languages of the Tarim Basin

Sharer, Robert – Portrait: Remembering Bill Coe

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expedition magazine

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university of pennsylvania museum

february 5 - june 5, 2011

The landmark exhibition Secrets of the Silk Road tells a tale of long-forgotten cultures along the world’s most legendary trading route, featuring the most amazingly preserved mummies ever found, and rare artifacts never before seen in the West.

Photographs courtesy of the Cultural Relics Bureau of Xinjiang and Wang Da-Gang. Exhibition organized by the Bowers Museum, Santa Ana, California in association with the Archaeological Institute of Xinjiang and the Urumqi Museum.

Expedition magazine - Silk Road Issue  

Since 1958, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology has also published Expedition magazine (ISSN 0014-4738), a...

Expedition magazine - Silk Road Issue  

Since 1958, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology has also published Expedition magazine (ISSN 0014-4738), a...