Dr. Dolkun Kamberi
Thursday, February 27, 1997
Dr. Dolkun Kamberi, Visiting Scholar with the Department
of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Pennsylvania,
presented an extraordinary slide-illustrated lecture at Stanford
University on 27 February 1997. Dr. Kamberiís presentation
on his archaeological work in the Xinjiang Region of China was
attended by over 80 people who eagerly listened, watched, and
Dr. Kamberi began by giving the audience a brief
background of his education and work in this area. Kamberi has
worked for more than 10 years in China pursuing Bronze and Iron
Age art and culture of the Xinjiang region. The inspiration for
his work has come from his desire to search for the history of
his native Uighur culture.
For his talk, Kamberi began by showing maps of the
Xinjiang region and outlined the sites of all of his archeological
digs. Xinjiang is today known as the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous
Region of the Peopleís Republic of China, one of six territorial
regions of China. In the past, however, it has been known by
a variety of different names such as Inner Asia, Chinese Turkestan,
East Turkestan, Uighurstan, many of which conjure up images of
the silk road. On the south, Xinjiang is bordered by Tibet, to
the north and west is Russia, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tadjikistan
and Afghanistan. The region possesses an historical culture and
history all its own, as proven by the remarkable discoveries made
by Kamberi and his colleagues in ancient cemeteries.
Throughout its history, Xinjiang has been the meeting
ground for the civilizations of the east and west; Buddhism, Islam,
and Christianity were all practiced in the region; Indo-Iranian
languages, and Greek, Ural-Altaic, Tibetan, were all spoken here.
During the 19th century up until 1935, the region experienced
much archaeological activity from representatives of England,
France, Japan, Sweden and Germany, primarily concentrated along
the silk road and edge of the desert. However these early explorers
found the conditions too arduous for full scale digs, and resorted
to hiring local people to find artifacts. Thus, while much was
found during this period, careful records were not kept and many
of the artifacts have found themselves in foreign museums. In
some cases, artifacts are thought to have been lost during WWII.
One such artifact, the Bezeklik murals were thought to have been
destroyed through the bombing of Berlin, but may actually be in
SLIDES AND DISCUSSION
Kamberi described the location of Cherchan, where
his world-famous discovery of beautifully-preserved Caucasian
mummies took place. Kamberi showed a picture of the landscape
to give the viewers an appreciation for the harsh conditions which
have hampered past and modern-day explorers. But these same dry,
inhospitable conditions actually helped to preserve the ancient
cemeteries and Buddhist temples of which he showed numerous slides.
Transportation is still difficult, much of it conducted by camel.
However, the large quantities of cane and rushes found in the
burial sites indicate that once this region was well-watered.
Kamberi presented slides of numerous archaeological
sites, textiles, pottery and statues. The most pertinent slides
and discussions are summarized below:
In the Turfan region of Xinjiang, the best
known archeological site is Yarghol (Chinese Jiaohe). The
city was founded in the 7th century , but by 76 AD
had begun to decline. Last year UNESCO agreed to fund $1 million
for the city.
Another well-known site, Kroraina (Chinese
Lou-lan), located very near Lop Nur Lake and the nuclear test
site in southern Xinjiang, was excavated in 1979 and yielded 40
tombs. One of the tombs was constructed in the form of a round
kurgan (burial mound) with rays constructed of wood extending
from its perimeter. This gave archaeologists the impression that
these people worshipped the sun god. Dated to 2000 BC, this is
the earliest Bronze-age site in the Uighur Autonomous Region.
In the center of the burial tomb a grave was found that contained
a mummy originally carbon-dated to 6500 BC. However, this spawned
an argument between the archaeologists excavating the site and
Beijing. Subsequently, Beijing carbon-dated the mummy to 3,000
Cherchen Man was discovered near the small
town of Zogholuk which is mostly populated by Uighurs. The cemetery
near this village measures one kilometer from north to south and
750 meters from east to west, and contains approximately 800 known
tombs. Kamberi and his group have only been able to excavate
five thus far, due in part to financial constraints. In one of
the tombs was found a horse skull and its forelegs. The bones
from the forelegs had been removed and replaced with cane indicating
a ritual practice. Horse skulls and forelegs have been found
in other tombs in different regions, but none displayed this same
ritual practice of replacing bone with cane.
The tombs themselves are interesting. A vertical
trench is dug into the earth. In the bottom of the trench is
a smaller ditch, on top of which is placed wooden slats and reeds.
The body is placed on top of intricately woven reed mats alongside
felt articles, pottery, or even leather saddles. These items
are then covered with more reeds, another layer of wooden slats,
and then earth. The fact that the body did not touch the ground
directly, and that there was a small ditch underneath which allowed
for air flow, greatly helped with the natural preservation of
the body. Also, the salt had been used to line the walls, another
factor which helped with the natural preservation.
The Cherchen Man continues to remain a fascinating
figure. The slides of the body were absolutely incredible, showing,
as Kamberi said, a man that looked as if he could have died very
recently. The body is extremely tall, even by todayís
standards, at 2 meters (over six feet). The body was clothed
in a complete set of garments made of felt and he wore knee-high
deerskin boots with colorful socks. His beard and thinning dark
blonde hair were plainly visible. Cherchen Man possesses definite
Caucasoid features, and his temple is adorned with a decorative
painted red motif in the form of a sun (a round circle surrounded
by rays). This could be another sign that these people worshipped
the sun god. Spoons were found in the graves with a similar paint
on them, which suggests that the facial paint was applied after
death. Cherchen Manís hands were covered with black tattoos
and Kamberi postured that they could be some from of ancient script.
In addition, small wooden rods with the ends bound in red wool
yarn were found in the tomb. This may have also been a fire symbol,
and may indicate that the ancient religion of the Cherchen people
was related to Zoroastrianism.
Similarly, the Charchan Lady was a remarkable find.
She is also extremely tall - 1.96 meters. She was wearing tall
boots, and wore garments of a designed woolen fabric. After
the body and cloth were cleaned, the brilliant red of the dress
shown through despite having been underground for almost 3,000
years. In addition, one tomb unearthed a baby, probably 3-4 months
old, which was perfectly preserved wrapped in its colorful blankets.
Small black stones were placed over his eyes at the time of burial.
Kamberiís group was only able to take a few
of the mummies to the Urumqi Museum due to lack of storage space.
Other mummies that were excavated were re-buried in the cemetery.
Kamberi then proceeded to display slides of
different pieces of fabric that have been carbon dated to 1,000
BC by Beijing. These pieces show intricate geometric patterns.
The textiles are important because they show a high woven quality
that was not found in other areas of the world at this time.
Other slides revealed several types of felt
hats, including one with a high point, found in the Taklamakan,
similar to those of the Saka nomads displayed on the Persepolis
reliefs in southern Iran. A bronze statue from the Altai mountains,
dating to the 5th century BC was illustrated wearing
a similar hat. The statue had Caucasoid features, and showed
similarities in dress. Thus, different regions of Xinjiang show
a consistent tie to each other across various time periods - a
theme that Kamberi repeated throughout his presentation.
An interesting slide showed a womanís
make-up bag, which held a bronze mirror in one side and a comb
in the other. According to Kamberi, this showed that the people
were beginning to be concerned with their appearance. Another
slide shows an ancient envelope (300 AD) - the earliest envelope
in the world The text is placed inside what looks like a wooden
box, with a sliding lid, and the envelope is then sealed with
Next, Kamberi showed illustrations of two
wool carpet fragments dating to around 300 BC. One illustrates
a centaur and the other was that of a face. Both demonstrate
the close ties with the Greek world at this time. These two
fragments had been made into a pair of pants, the centaur on one
leg, and the face on the other. Kamberi also showed one of three
complete carpets that also date back to 300 BC. The tomb which
contained this complete carpet also contained cookies and nan,
a round flat bread, which are still found today throughout Central
Asia. Some nan from difference sites has been dated to
600 AD, and it still looks the same today.
Kamberi then began discussing the famous Buddhist
temples at Bezeklik, near Turfan, which was built from the 4th
century on. The site consists of 83 different caves, which contain
early medieval art, and Uighur, Sanskrit, Chinese, and Tacharian
scripts. In 1981 further excavation uncovered some new sites
lower down the cliff.
Kamberi presented a slide of an illustrated
Manichaean scroll, in Sogdian language. Work is currently being
undertaken to translate the document by a Japanese scholar knowledgeable
of Sogdian, Yoshida-san. As an aside, Kamberi told the audience
that someone from Columbia University claims that there are still
people speaking this ancient language in the mountains of Tadjikistan.
Slides of Beshbaliq were shown, Beshbaliq
was one of the Uighur capitals. Mahmud Al-Kasghari said it was
built by Alexander the Great in 300 BC. It is currently only
50 percent excavated. The Buddhist temple near the city has produced
Uighur paintings. A very important painting was found there in
1981 which depicts an Uighur King and Queen leading their troops
on a journey and which contains medieval Uighur script along the
edge of the piece. The painting is a prime example showing medieval
Uighur language, culture and art.
Lastly, Kamberi displayed a slide of a stone
statute on which is a Sogdian inscription. Unfortunately, no
steps have been taken to preserve the statue from erosion or other
Kamberi is primarily interested in the Bronze and Iron Ages of the Taklamakian desert region. Prior to 1980, archeologists only hypothesized that Bronze and Iron-age civilizations occupied the Tarim Basin. Now they have proof that they actually did exist in the form of iron tools, bronze ornaments, painted pottery, and dwellings found in over 100 sites in the Tarim and Turfan Basins. Radio carbon-dating and comparison of Bronze age culture has yielded the following timeline for the Uighur civilization:
2,000 BC - 1,000 BC Bronze Age
1,000 BC - 100 AD Iron Age
These people were basically farmers who lived in
permanent structures. They were involved in some animal husbandry
which was independent from agriculture. Todayís Uighurs
still possess many of the Caucasian features of their ancestors
- dark blond hair, long noses, deep-set eyes.
Even before the Han Dynasty, the Silkroad was already
providing a medium for cultural exchange between east and west.
The tombs that Kamberi have excavated provide information on
history, culture and technology of the ancient inhabitants of
Xinjiang, China. What is fascinating about Kamberiís work
is that he shows that the Uighurs were entering the Iron Age approximately
300 years earlier than mainland China. Kamberiís work
also indicates that the Bronze and Iron Age cultures in Xinjiang
have distinctive elements as well as many common features with
neighboring cultures of the same period.
According to Kamberi, the Xinjiang region will remain an archeologistís dream well into the 21st century and will begin to play a role on the global stage. Oil from the Tarim Basin will effect world oil markets, and nuclear bases will pose new threats. ìTo summarize in the words of Kamberi, ìWithout Uighur history there can be no Central Asian history. Without Central Asian history, there can be no Asian history. Without Asian history, there can be no world history.
CREDIT: This transcript is researched and contributed by Katherine Kuhns.