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From the Editor

When did the “Silk Road” begin? To a considerable degree, the answer depends on how we interpret the archaeological evidence about Inner Asian nomads and their relations with sedentary peoples. Long-accepted views about the Silk Road situate its origins in the interaction between the Han and the Xiongnu beginning in the second century BCE, as related in the first instance in the Han histories. As the stimulating recent book by Nicola Di Cosmo reminds us though, if we are to gain an Inner Asian perspective on the development of nomadic power we need to distinguish carefully between the picture drawn from those written sources and what the archaeological evidence reveals. Although this is not the direct concern of Di Cosmo’s book, others with an Inner Asian perspective argue that we really should think of the “Silk Road” as part of a continuum of nomadic movement and interaction across Eurasia dating from much earlier times.

Archaeological Explorations of Bronze Age Pastoral Societies in the Mountains of Eastern Eurasia

Throughout history, nomadic societies of the Eurasian steppes are known to have played a major role in the transfer of technology, commodities, language, and culture between East Asia, the Near East, and Europe (e.g. The Silk Road). However, the organization of Eurasian steppe societies in prehistory is still poorly understood. The problem lies in the lack of scientifically analyzed archaeological data from the region, and in the ineffectiveness of previous archaeological

On the Antiquity of the Yurt: Evidence from Arjan and Elsewhere

For all the considerable interest that has been taken over the years in the nature and uses of the yurt — in, for example, its wide distribution (which stretches from Mongolia to Anatolia), in its prefabricated, eminently portable elements, and in the variety of different terms that are used to define its component parts — very little has been done to try to uncover the more remote history of this long-lived, highly adaptable type of dwelling. Thus, while Peter Andrews’ Nomad Tent Types in the Middle East, mentions all significant references to yurts in the Middle East that occur in documents of early Islamic date or in travellers’ accounts, these and other sources cited in this magisterial work are not enough to carry the story of the yurt back to any moment before 700 CE.

The Burial Rite: an Expression of Sogdian Beliefs and Practices

As a sequel to contributions on the life and times of the Sogdians, highlighted in volume 1/2 of this Newsletter, this article focuses on the treatment of the dead in a funerary monument from Sogdiana. In a review of the archaeology of Sogdiana in that Newsletter, Boris Marshak has brought attention to a change in the funerary practices of the Sogdians marked by the appearance, from the fifth century, of vaulted surface burial chambers (Marshak 2003). These chambers, which were built until the eighth century at Panjiket, Samarkand and Bukhara, housed ossuaries in which were collected and placed the bones of the dead in accordance to a manner that Marshak there com-pares with the Zoroastrian Persian custom. Marshak also draws attention to the appearance of the Zoroastrian-type fire cult in some Sogdian temple complexes that date to the fifth century. These observations now justify reexamination of the artistic context, meaning and function of a remarkable funerary rite associated with a Sogdian royal personage, depicted in a mural from the sanctuary of the Temple II complex, at Panjikent, dated to the early sixth century CE.

Palmyra as a Caravan City

Generally the caravan trade leaves few traces except for some anecdotal literature and what remains of the goods carried by it to its destinations. Hence the existence of Palmyra, which is recognized by even the most critical historians as a true caravan city, is an important resource in the study of the Silk Road. There are of course the impressive remains (Fig. 2) brought to light by travellers, first in 1678, and by archaeologists in more recent times. Even more importantly, there are the bilingual inscriptions in Aramaic and Greek which give first-hand information about at least one relatively short stretch of the Silk Road. Of added interest is the romantic story of Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, who is so celebrated in the works of Roman historians, in Chaucer’s “Monk’s Tale,” in art and in drama.

The “Ancient Tea and Horse Caravan Road,” the “Silk Road” of Southwest China

The “Tea and Horse Caravan Road” of Southwest China is less well known than the famous Silk Road. Its route crosses some very high and dangerous terrain. It begins from Sichuan and Yunnan provinces in Southwest China, runs along the eastern foothills of the Hengduan Mountains, a center of tea pro-duction in China, then crosses the Hengduan mountain range and deep canyons of several major rivers, the Yalong, the Jinsha (the upper reaches of Yangtze), the Lancang (Mekong), and the Nu (Salween), thus spanning the two highest plateaus of China (Qinghai-Tibet and Yunnan-Guizhou) before finally reaching India south of the Himalayas.

Klavdiia Antipina — a Tribute to the Ethnographer of the Kyrgyz

Born into nobility near Moscow, Russia, Klavdiia Ivanovna Antipina died at the age of 92 in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. In those decades, she had seen the beginning and the end of the Soviet Union. Initially she had shared the exhilaration of the Marxist and the Leninist doctrines of Communism with fellow students in the finest and most selective of Soviet universities, Moscow State University. A happy marriage and promising career in the 1930s were soon destroyed by Stalinist repres-sions. Her husband was arrested and disappeared; she and her young son were exiled to Central Asia. “The stone must lie where it has fallen” is a Kyrgyz saying, an explanation for the acceptance of fate. Klavdiia Ivanovna lived in Kyrgyzstan for the remainder of her life, becoming a much-respected ethnographer of The Kyrgyz.

Mongolia: a different view

The typical foreign tourist or consultant who spends two weeks or so in the central sections of Ulaanbaatar and is escorted, on the weekends, to tourist ger(yurt) camps or to historic sites on the outskirts of the city may conclude that Mongolia, free of Soviet influence for more than a decade, is booming. Indian and Korean and faux Japanese, German, Italian, and Thai restaurants have sprouted in the city center. Markets, displaying canned goods and fresh vegetables and fruits, mostly imported from China, line Peace Avenue, the main thoroughfare, and adjacent areas. Computer stores and even a “Grease Salon” (i.e. beauty parlor) advertising the latest hairdos reflect Western influence in a country that had been one of the most isolated in the world. Discos blaring forth rock and rap music offer additional evidence of the Western impact. One local wag has asserted that Mongolia has more “tigers” (the Mongol word for “bar”) than Korea, Taiwan, or the other so-called tiger economies. More than 60,000 cars and SUVs clog the streets of a capital city which ten years ago hardly boasted any privately owned vehicles.

British Library Symposium on “The Kingdom of Khotan to AD 1000: A Meeting of Cultures”

An important scholarly meeting on the archaeology, literature, languages, history and culture of ancient Khotan took place at the British Library, London, on May 10 and 11, 2004. The symposium, organized by Ursula Sims-Williams and Susan Whitfield, was held in conjunction with the library’s spectacular special exhibit on “The Silk Road: Trade, Travel, War and Faith” (May 7 to September 12, 2004). Thirteen prominent scholars from France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and the United States presented illustrated lectures on such diverse topics as art history, numismatics, geography, recent archaeological explorations, folk legends, historical chronology, and manuscript studies. (See the full list of presenters and lecture titles at the end of this article.) The audience consisted, in addition to the participants themselves, of some forty invited guests, many from abroad. Many specimens of the types of materials — manuscripts, paintings, coins, textiles, and the like — that were discussed in the lectures were also represented in the accompanying exhibits, which had the effect of vividly bringing to life the presentations about the world of Khotan.

Guidelines for Contributors

We welcome contributions, which may be submitted either to the Silkroad Foundation at its address in California, or, better, sent directly to the current editor of The Silk Road: