Tag Archives: Central Asia

The Scythians

Cunliffe, Barry. 2019. The Scythians: Nomad warriors of the steppe. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Brilliant horsemen and great fighters, the Scythians were nomadic horsemen who ranged wide across the grasslands of the Asian steppe from the Altai mountains in the east to the Great Hungarian Plain in the first millennium BC. Their steppe homeland bordered on a number of sedentary states to the south – the Chinese, the Persians and the Greeks – and there were, inevitably, numerous interactions between the nomads and their neighbours. The Scythians fought the Persians on a number of occasions, in one battle killing their king and on another occasion driving the invading army of Darius the Great from the steppe.
Relations with the Greeks around the shores of the Black Sea were rather different – both communities benefiting from trading with each other. This led to the development of a brilliant art style, often depicting scenes from Scythian mythology and everyday life. It is from the writings of Greeks like the historian Herodotus that we learn of Scythian life: their beliefs, their burial practices, their love of fighting, and their ambivalent attitudes to gender. It is a world that is also brilliantly illuminated by the rich material culture recovered from Scythian burials, from the graves of kings on the Pontic steppe, with their elaborate gold work and vividly coloured fabrics, to the frozen tombs of the Altai mountains, where all the organic material – wooden carvings, carpets, saddles and even tattooed human bodies – is amazingly well preserved.

Source: The Scythians – Barry Cunliffe – Oxford University Press

Barry Cunliffe is Emeritus Professor of European Archaeology, University of Oxford.

New Research on Central Asian, Buddhist and Far Eastern Art and Archaeology

Juliano, Annette & Judith Lerner (eds.). 2019. Inner and Central Asian art and archaeology. Vol. 2. New research. Turnhout: Brepols.

This second volume of the series offers a broad range of subject matter from an equally broad range of regions. Michael Shenkar compares a particular type of deity from the Parthian West (Palmyra, Hatra) with the colossal image of a divinity from Akchakhan-kala in ancient Choresmia (part of modern-day Uzbekistan). Careful iconographic analysis of a sealing showing the god Mithra, found at Kafir Qala near Samarkand, allows Fabrizio Sinisi to suggest a Kushan origin for the seal that made the impression. Several contributions on Sogdiana concern its archaeology and early history (Bi Bo on Kangju and Sogdiana); the iconography of one of the major wall painting cycles at Panjikent (Matteo Compareti) as well as the city’s temples and deities worshipped (Markus Mode). By drawing on archaeological, ethnological and historical data, Sören Stark offers an extensive discussion of mountain pastoralism and seasonal occupation in northern Tajikistan, north of the Zerafshan River in what were borderlands for Sogdiana. Rounding out the first part of this volume is Suzanne G. Valentine’s publication of a Bactrian camel clay sculpture, excavated in the Sui-Tang capital of Xi’an, its saddlebags decorated with an unusual motif. The second and last part is guest-edited by John Clarke, convener of a Buddhist conference in 2010. This section contains updated or new papers by some of the participants—Naman P. Ahuja on Buddhist imagery in Bengal; Amy Heller on the impact of Kashmiri art on Guge and Ladakh; Deborah Klimburg-Salter on Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Afghanistan; and Michael Willis on sculpture from Sarnath in the British Museum—along with that of Chiara Bellini on the restoration of the Alchi Sumtsek and the dating of the Ladakhi temple.

Table of Contents
On Central Asian Art and Archaeology
·      Michael SHENKAR – “The Chorasmian Gad: On the “Colossal” Figure from Akchakhan-kala”
·      Fabrizio SINISI – “A Kushan Investiture Scene with Mithra on a Seal Impression from Kafir Qala, Samarkand”
·      BI Bo – “Recent Archaeological Discoveries Regarding Kangju and Sogdiana”
·      Matteo COMPARETI – “Simurgh or Farr? On the Representation of Fantastic Creatures in the Sogdian ‘Rustam Cycle’ at Panjikent”
·      Markus MODE – “In the Heart of the City: On Sogdian Temples and Deities at Panjikent”

On Buddhist Sculpture:
Papers from a Symposium held at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, November 8 and 9, 2010, and Papers Inspired by the Symposium
·      John CLARKE (Guest Editor) – “Introduction”
·      Naman P. AHUJA – “Rethinking the History of Buddhist Imagery in Bengal, circa 200 BCE – 700 CE”
·      Michael WILLIS – “Markham Kittoe and Sculpture from Sarnath in the British Museum”
·      Deborah KLIMBURG-SALTER – “Buddhist Pilgrimage to India: Bamiyan, Kapisa
·      -Kabul, and Mes Aynak”
·      Amy HELLER – “Tracing the Impact of Kashmiri Art in Guge and Ladakh, Eleventh to Thirteenth Centuries”
·      Chiara BELLINI – “Some Other Pieces of the Puzzle: The Restoration of the Alchi Sumtsek by Tashi Namgyal and Other Considerations on the Dating of the Ladakhi Temple”

On Far Eastern Art and Archaeology
·      Bonnie CHENG – “The Underground Silk Road – Pictorial Affinities in Fifth-century Cave Temples and Tombs”
·      Heather D. CLYDESDALE – “Buried Towers: Artistic Innovation on China’s Frontier”
·      Suzanne G. VALENSTEIN with Annette L. JULIANO and Judith A. LERNER – “Hellenism in Sui-Tang Chang’an: Dionysiac Imagery on Mortuary Camels”
Young-pil KWON – “Note on Border Patterns Dividing the Earthly and Heavenly Realms in Goguryeo Tomb Paintings”

The Eastern Frontier

Haug, Robert. 2019. The eastern frontier: Limits of empire in late antique and early medieval Central Asia (Early and Medieval Islamic World). London: I.B. Tauris.

Transoxania, Khurasan, and ?ukharistan – which comprise large parts of today’s Central Asia – have long been an important frontier zone. In the late antique and early medieval periods, the region was both an eastern political boundary for Persian and Islamic empires and a cultural borderseparating communities of sedentary farmers from pastoral-nomads.

Given its peripheral location, the history of the ‘eastern frontier’ in this period has often been shown through the lens of expanding empires. However, in this book, Robert Haug argues for a pre-modern Central Asia with a discrete identity, a region that is not just a transitory space or the far-flung corner of empires, but its own historical entity. From this locally specific perspective, the book takes the reader on a 900-year tour of the area, from Sasanian control, through the Umayyads and Abbasids, to the quasi-independent dynasties of the Tahirids and the Samanids. Drawing on an impressive array of literary, numismatic and archaeological sources, Haug reveals the unique and varied challenges the eastern frontier presented to imperial powers that strove to integrate the area into their greater systems. This is essential reading for all scholars working on early Islamic, Iranian and Central Asian history, as well as those with an interest in the dynamics of frontier regions.

Ancient Chorasmia, Central Asia and the Steppes

Minardi, Michele & Askold I. Ivantchik (eds.). 2018. Ancient Chorasmia, Central Asia and the Steppes (Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia 24). Vol. 1–2. Leiden: Brill.

Table of Contents:

  • Claude Rapin: “Aux origines de la cartographie: L’empire achéménide sous Darius I et Xerxès”
  • Frantz Grenet: “Was Zoroastrian Art Invented in Chorasmia?”
  • Michele Minardi: “The Oxus Route toward the South: Persian Legacy and Hellenistic Innovations in Central Asia”
  • Fabrizio Sinisi: “Exchanges in Royal Imagery across the Iranian World, 3rd Century BC – 3rd Century AD: Chorasmia between Arsacid Parthia and Kushan Bactria”
  • Gairatdin Khozhaniyazov: “‘Long Walls’ in Ancient Chorasmia and Central Asia”
  • Alison V.G. Betts, Gairatdin Khozhaniyazov, Alison Weisskopf(†) and George Willcox: “Fire Features at Akchakhan-kala and Tash-k’irman-tepe”
  • Fiona J. Kidd: “Rulership and Sovereignty at Akchakhan-kala in Chorasmia”
  • Pavel B. Lurje: “Some New Readings of Chorasmian Inscriptions on Silver Vessels and Their Relevance to the Chorasmian Era”
  • Gian Luca Bonora: “A General Revision of the Chronology of the Tagisken North Burial Ground”
  • Johanna Lhuillier and Julio Bendezu-Sarmiento: “Central Asia and the Interaction between the Iranian Plateau and the Steppes in Late First Millennium BC: Case Study from Ulug-depe in Turkmenistan”
  • Laurianne Martinez-Sève: “Antique Samarkand or Afrasiab II and III: Differentiation, Chronology and Interpretation”
  • Barbara Kaim: “Storage Practices in the Merv and Serakhs Oases of the Partho-Sasanian Period”
  • Irina Arzhantseva and Svetlana Gorshenina: “The Patrimonial Project of Dzhankent: Constructing a National Symbol in the longue durée”

The Persianate World: Rethinking a Shared Sphere

Amanat, Abbas & Assef Ashraf (eds.). 2018. The Persianate world: Rethinking a shared sphere (Iranian Studies 18). Leiden: Brill.
The Persianate World: Rethinking a Shared Sphere is among the first books to explore the pre-modern and early modern historical ties among such diverse regions as Anatolia, the Iranian plateau, Central Asia, Western Xinjiang, the Indian subcontinent, and southeast Asia, as well as the circumstances that reoriented these regions and helped break up the Persianate ecumene in modern times. Essays explore the modalities of Persianate culture, the defining features of the Persianate cosmopolis, religious practice and networks, the diffusion of literature across space, subaltern social groups, and the impact of technological advances on language. Taken together, the essays reflect the current scholarship in Persianate studies, and offer pathways for future research.

The Iron Age in southern Central Asia

Lhuillier, Johanna & Nikolaus Boroffka (eds.). 2018. A millennium of history. The Iron Age in southern Central Asia (2nd and 1st millennia BC). Proceedings of the conference held in Berlin (June 23–25, 2014). Dedicated to the memory of Viktor Ivanovich Sarianidi (Archeology in Iran and Turan 17). Berlin: Dietrich Reimer Verlag.

The volume gives a comprehensive insight into the Iron Age in southern Central Asia, whose beginning and end are marked by two major cultural changes: the end of Bronze Age urban societies with their large burial grounds and the conquest of Central Asia by Alexander the Great. Central to this is the incorporation of this region into the Achaemenid-Persian empire. Profound social changes in settlement, technology, and spiritual life can be linked to the emergence of the Avesta and the Zoroastrian religion, which became the official religion of the Persian Empire. A new look at texts and archaeological research demonstrates the complete incorporation of Bactria and Sogdia into the Achaemenid Empire during the 6th century BC.

Continue reading The Iron Age in southern Central Asia

Studies on the Sogdian Epistolary Tradition

Benkato, Adam. 2018. Studies on the Sogdian epistolary tradition (Berliner Turfantexte 41). Turnhout: Brepols.
Edition of Sogdian epistolary fragments discovered in Turfan as well as a wide-ranging comparative analysis of Sogdian epistolary formulae.

An important part of the Sogdian corpora which have come down to us are epistolary texts: both the earliest substantial Sogdian documents (the ‘Ancient Letters’) and the only substantial textual corpus found in Sogdiana itself (the Mugh documents). The Turfan collections of (especially) Berlin, Kyoto, and St. Petersburg, also preserve a number of letter fragments. Altogether, these texts attest different phases of a Sogdian epistographical tradition stretching over some seven centuries. The edition and analysis of both well-preserved and fragmentary texts can contribute to efforts to reconstruct parts of those traditions—and eventually connect them with those of Central Asia and Iran more broadly. The first part of this work is an effort to present a comprehensive edition of the Sogdian epistolary fragments in the Turfan collections of Berlin, Kyoto, and St. Petersburg. In the second part a comparative study of Sogdian epistolography is undertaken, based on the editions made in the first part, together with previously published work on other Sogdian epistolary corpora, including studies of layout, external addresses, and stamps. Additionally, an appendix by Simone-Christiane Raschmann contributes to the larger study of epistolary culture in Turfan with the edition and study of three Old Turkic fragments (two letters and one order) which shed light on the use of stamps.

A Zoroastrian Funerary Building of Ancient Chorasmia

Minardi, Michele & Shamil Amirov. 2017. The Zoroastrian Funerary Building of Angka. Topoi 21. 11–49.
This paper presents the results of the 2016 field campaign of the Angka-kala Archaeological Expedition (AGKE) at Angka Malaya (“Small Angka”), a particular site of which the original function is here assumed to have been of funerary nature. The ruins of Angka Malaya (27 km north of the modern city of Turktul) stand close by the larger stronghold of Angka-kala in today’s Republic of Karakalpakstan (northern Uzbekistan), a territory once part of the antique Iranian polity of Ancient Chorasmia.

How Objects Tell Stories

Linduff, Katheryn & Karen Rubinson (eds.). 2018. How objects tell stories. Essays in honor of Emma C. Bunker (Inner and Central Asian Art and Archaeology 1). Turnhout: Brepols Publishers.

Inner and Central Asian Art and Archaeology is a new series launched providing a major forum for discussion and publication of current international research projects and fieldwork concerning the art and archaeology of Central and Inner Asia. Uniquely the series covers the vast regions flanking the ancient Silk Roads from the Iranian world to western China and from the Russian steppes to north-western India. The series mainly focuses on the pre-Islamic period of art and archaeology of Inner Asia. Related scholarly articles on language and history are also published.

Table of Contents

INTRODUCTION

  • Katheryn M. LINDUFF and Karen S. RUBINSON, “How Objects Tell Stories: Essays in Honor of Emma C. Bunker”

I. OBJECTS AND CULTURAL INTERSECTION

  • Trudy S. KAWAMI, “A Steppe Warrior in Achaemenid Employ? Grave 4.28 at Choga  Mish, Khuzistan, Iran”
  • Annette L. JULIANO, “Restructuring Reality: Zoomorphs, from Fantastic to Hybrid”
  • Catrin KOST, “Changed Strategies of Interaction: Exchange Relations on China’s Northern Frontier in Light of the Finds from Xinzhuangtou”
  • Judith A. LERNER, “All That Glitters…Foreign Jewelry in Chinese Tombs: from Han into Tang”
  • Katheryn M. LINDUFF, “Guardians of the Brave/Keepers of the Empire: Horses in the Han imaginary”
  • Jessica RAWSON, “Gold, an Exotic Material in Early China”
  • Karen S. RUBINSON, “The Authority of Horse-Rider Iconography: Imagery as the Power of the Past (The Eurasian Steppe and Yunnan in the late Millennium BCE)”

II: OBJECTS, TECHNOLOGY AND CROSS-CULTURAL EXCHANGE

  • CHIOU-PENG TzeHuey, “Early Copper-base Metals in Western Yunnan”
  • HAN Rubin and WANG Dong-Ning,  “Study of Tin-enriched Ancient Bronzes from the Northern Grassland of China”
  • Sergey MINIAEV,  “Xiongnu Bronze Metallurgy in the Trans-Baikal Area”
  • Vincent C. PIGOTT, “The Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC), the Seima-Turbino Horizon and a Possible Eastward Transmission of Tin-Bronze Technology in Later Third and Early Second Millennium BCE Inner Asia”

Source: How Objects Tell Stories

Silk, Slaves, and Stupas

Whitfield, Susan. 2018. Silk, slaves, and stupas: Material culture of the Silk Road. Oakland, California: University of California Press.

Following her bestselling Life Along the Silk Road, Susan Whitfield widens her exploration of the great cultural highway with a new captivating portrait focusing on material things. Silk, Slaves, and Stupas tells the stories of ten very different objects, considering their interaction with the peoples and cultures of the Silk Road—those who made them, carried them, received them, used them, sold them, worshipped them, and, in more recent times, bought them, conserved them, and curated them. From a delicate pair of earrings from a steppe tomb to a massive stupa deep in Central Asia, a hoard of Kushan coins stored in an Ethiopian monastery to a Hellenistic glass bowl from a southern Chinese tomb, and a fragment of Byzantine silk wrapping the bones of a French saint to a Bactrian ewer depicting episodes from the Trojan War, these objects show us something of the cultural diversity and interaction along these trading routes of Afro-Eurasia.

Susan Whitfield, author of Life Along the Silk Road, is a scholar, curator, writer, and traveler who has been exploring the history, art, religions, cultures, objects, exploration, and people of the Silk Road for the past three decades.