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Digging for Napoleon-era treasure, Australian filmmakers found this Chinese Ming Period Buddha

Is the discovery of a bronze Buddha statue possibly dating back to the Ming dynasty in the sands of northwestern Australia evidence the Chinese visited and settled here 600 years ago?

Or is the small, very heavy object, which one expert has dated back to the early 1400s, a mere hoax?

Two filmmakers and adventurers have claimed they found the statue on a remote beach in Western Australia’s Gascoyne region.

Leon Deschamps, a second generation historian and photographer from Shark Bay in the Gascoyne, captured the statue’s unearthing with his Finn Films co-director and partner, Shayne Thomson.

The men discovered the statue using metal detectors during filming for a documentary about the early 1800s French exploration of Australia.

Deschamps and Thomson were looking for objects left behind during a Napoleonic-era voyage when they came across the Buddha, which weights 1kg despite its small size.

They have now described the find as possible “evidence the 1421 Chinese Ming Dynasty ‘Treasure Fleets’ exploration of Australia up to two centuries before Europeans”.

More here.

Gold coins unearthed from the Haihunhou Tomb
Image credit Jiang Dong/China Daily
In a Chinese Government press release, the excavation of the Haihunhou Tomb in Jiangxi Province, south-east China, has now been completed. The Haihunhou Tomb was constructed for the Marquis of Haihun (Liu He, 92bce – 59bce) during the Western Han Dynasty (206bce – 24ce) and contained a plethora of artefacts including gold coins, jade, lacquer ware, bronze bells and inscriptions written on bamboo and wood.
According to Chi Hong, Head of the Department of Culture for Jiangxi Province, the contents of the Haihunhou Tomb will go on display after conservation work on them has been completed.
An artist’s impression of Londinium, centre of the Roman Empire in Britain, circa 200ce
Across the river to the south of Londinium was a small suburb that would later become Southwark. It was here, in a Roman cemetery, that two skeletons dating from between the 2-4 centuries ce, and of East Asian origin (possibly Chinese), have been found.
It is not yet know if the two individuals were slaves, traders or something else. Trade between China and Rome was already well established through intermediaries by this time; in fact there is an example of Roman jewellery being found in a 5th century Japanese tomb.
More here. See also our earlier feature Caesaromagus: A place of unassuming mystery…
A little-known rock covered in Buddhist carvings in Sichuan Province, south-west China, is said to be all that remains of a temple complex
Image credit
Chen Binglin, writing in the South China Morning Post, reports on the damage being done to the 1,000 year-old carvings of Buddhas in south-west China –
A 1,000-year-old giant boulder covered with carved images of the Buddha statues has been severely damaged due to government neglect in southwest China, according to the official news website of Sichuan province. Local officials say they did not protect the site because they could not find any writings on the rock to tell them when it was created, reported.
Detail of the One Thousand Buddhas
Image credit
The intricate carvings were created between the mid-Tang Dynasty, more than 1,000 years ago, to the Qing Dynasty, according to archaeologists. Some farmers took rocks with carvings from the site to build or decorate their houses, archaeologists said. The main cause of damage to the relic was vandalism, although serious weathering also played an important role due to the lack of protection.
More here.
Stone circles in the Gobi Desert. The largest circle in this image is known as the Sun Circle
Sarah Griffiths, for the MailOnline, reports on the stone structures discovered in China’s Gobi Desert in 2003 –
Known as the ‘strange stone circles’ by locals in Turpan, the formations vary in size and shape with one intricate example resembling the sun. The circles are located in the Flaming Mountain in Turpan, north west China and cover more than two-and-a-half square miles (6.6 square km).
Dr Volker Heyd, an archaeologist at the University of Bristol, believes …the first of these Gobi stone structures might date back as early as the Bronze Age. This could make them up to 4,500 years old. Although the more complex formations are likely ‘younger and could have been constructed until the Medieval period.’
Full article here.
One of the 4,000 year-old gilded bronze masks from the Sanxingdui archaeological site in Sichuan, China
Image credit: momo – Flickr: Gold Mask (黄金面罩). Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
New three-part series beginning on BBC4 TV from 9:00pm, Wednesday 30 July.
Andrew Graham-Dixon pieces together the spectacular recent discoveries of ancient art that are re-defining China’s understanding of its origins. He comes face to face with an extraordinary collection of sophisticated alien-like bronze masks created nearly four millennia ago and travels to the Yellow River to explore the tomb of a warrior empress where he discovers the origins of calligraphy.
Always seeking to understand art in its historical context, Andrew visits the tomb of the first emperor and comes face to face with the Terracotta Army. He ends his journey in western China, looking at the impact of the arrival of Buddhism from India on the wondrous paintings and sculptures of the Dunhuang caves.
More on the BBC website here.
“What has it got in its pocketses?” hissed Gollum to Bilbo in the Riddles in the Dark chapter of J R R Tolkien’s The Hobbit. We all know what it was – the ‘One Ring to rule them all.’ It was Gollum’s obsession with the One Ring that eventually led to his fall into the fiery depths on Mount Doom.
And that, in a nutshell is it. The obsession to ‘own’ something (or someone) and in so doing control its destiny. There’s something even worse than just ‘control’ however, it’s the owning of something and the not sharing of it with the rest of humanity. The denying to humanity its common heritage. We saw that recently with the sale at Christie’s in London of the Egyptian Sekhemka statue which was taken from the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery and sold to a private collector who now wishes to remain anonymous (the statue hasn’t been seen in public since the sale and may never be seen by the public again).
The Meiyintang “Chicken Cup” from the Chinese Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)
And now we have the curious case of the Shanghai-based art collector Mr Liu Yiqian who recently spent some £21 million ($36 million) at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong on a tiny porcelain cup decorated with a rooster, hen and their chicks. Mr Liu bought the cup at the Sotheby’s auction last week during a bidding war that lasted seven minutes. He paid the hammer price of $36.3 million by swiping his American Express card 24 times through the card reader and then took a celebratory sip from his new purchase. Images of Mr Liu sipping away went viral last weekend and sparked condemnation from Chinese observers. One Weibo user wrote, “You think you can drink from the cup and become immortal? Or that it will extend your life? In fact, isn’t it just a way to satisfy your vanity?” The same can be said for all who would satisfy their vanity by denying the rest of humanity their common heritage (whether art, wildlife or the natural world) and perhaps such people should remember the words of Gollum as he plunged to his death in the fires of Mount Doom –
‘Precious, precious, precious!’ Gollum cried. My precious! o my precious! And with that, even as his eyes were lifted up to gloat on his prize, he stepped too far, toppled, wavered for a moment on the brink, and then with a shriek he fell. Out of the depths came his last wail Precious, and he was gone.
Let’s hope Mr Liu (and others like him) will do the noble thing and donate, or put on permanent loan, his new acquisition. Shanghai Museum’s splendid Gallery of Chinese Ancient Ceramics might be the place to start. There, both his countrymen and people from around the world could, metaphorically speaking, also drink from the Meiyintang cup and toast the man who was willing to share it with them.
Bamboo strips dating from circa 305bce. When correctly aligned the strips reveal a table for multiplying numbers up to 99.5
Image credit: Research and Conservation Centre for Excavated Text, Tsinghua University, Beijing
The sources of our knowledge lie in what is written on bamboo and silk, what is engraved on metal and stone, and what is cut on vessels to be handed down to posterity
Mo Tsu (墨子) Chinese philosopher (470-391bce)
Nature reports that –
Five years ago, Tsinghua University in Beijing received a donation of nearly 2,500 bamboo strips. Muddy, smelly and teeming with mould, the strips probably originated from the illegal excavation of a tomb, and the donor had purchased them at a Hong Kong market. Researchers at Tsinghua carbon-dated the materials to around 305 bc, during the Warring States period before the unification of China.
Each strip was about 7 to 12 millimetres wide and up to half a metre long, and had a vertical line of ancient Chinese calligraphy painted on it in black ink. Historians realized that the bamboo pieces constituted 65 ancient texts and recognized them to be among the most important artefacts from the period. “The strips were all mixed up because the strings that used to tie each manuscript together to form a scroll had long decayed,” says Li Junming, a historian and palaeographer at Tsinghua. Some pieces were broken, others missing, he adds: to decipher the texts was “like putting together a jigsaw puzzle”. But “21 bamboo strips stand out from the rest as they contain only numbers, written in the style of ancient Chinese”, says Feng Lisheng, a historian of mathematics at Tsinghua. Those 21 strips turned out to be a multiplication table, Feng and his colleagues announced in Beijing today during the presentation of the fourth volume of annotated transcriptions of the Tsinghua collection. When the strips are arranged properly, says Feng, a matrix structure emerges. The top row and the rightmost column contain, arranged from right to left and from top to bottom respectively, the same 19 numbers: 0.5; the integers from 1 to 9; and multiples of 10 from 10 to 90.
“Such an elaborate multiplication matrix is absolutely unique in Chinese history,” says Feng. The oldest previously known Chinese times tables, dating to the Qin Dynasty between 221 and 206 bc, were in the form of a series of short sentences such as “six eights beget forty-eight” and capable of only much simpler multiplications. The ancient Babylonians possessed multiplication tables some 4,000 years ago, but theirs were in a base-60, rather than base-10 (decimal), system. The earliest-known European multiplication table dates back to the Renaissance.
Full article here. Chinese writing developed from characters written on bamboo strips using a brush loaded with a carbon-based ink. Chinese texts are still written vertically and read from top to bottom today. For further reading see Written on Bamboo and Silk by Tsuen-Hsuin Tsien. The University of Chicago Press, 1962.
A scholar carrying a bundle of bamboo strips. Reproduced from a tomb tile dating from 300bce and now in the collection of the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto
Constructed through mountainous terrain in the third century bce the Jingxing Ancient Road was the main artery connecting Hebei and Shanxi provinces until the 1940s
Photo credit Yu
Shen Ting,, reports last month that –
One century older than the Roman road Via Aurelia, the Jingxing Ancient Road remained as the national road connecting Hebei and Shanxi provinces until the 1940s. Though bleak and desolate now, this cultural relic holds a lot of stories still relevant to the current generation.
A scenic spot in Hebei Province’s Jingxing County was named “Qinhuang Ancient Road.” Qinhuang, the first Qin emperor who united China in 221 B.C., ordered his subjects to build a national road network stretching to every corner of his realm — Jingxing Ancient Road was a key part of that network. Jiang Chunxia, a guide at the scenic spot, introduces the best-preserved part of the ancient road, where two tracing ruts are still deeply branded into the flagging road.
“In ancient times, this flagging was a national road, bustling and crowded with people and vehicles. Since the distance between carriage wheels were made the same and this particular section of road was very narrow, repeated travel by carriages made grooves into the road. Workers were called on to flatten out the bulges left by wheeled vehicles of the time. As a result, the original was two meters higher than the current road.”
Blessed with such rare historic relics, the local government cherishes this treasure. Since 1998, the Jingxing County government has invested three million yuan in preserving the road. Likewise, a general protection project with a 2.3 million yuan investment is in the pipeline. Du Xianming, head of the County Relics Preservation Institute, says, “The project aims to protect the relics in general, including two parts of the ancient road, as well as the surrounding vegetation, houses and villages. The investment comes from the central government and the project will last for eight months.”
Full article here.
China’s Culture Deputy Minister Li Xiaojie (right) and Cyprus’ Communications Minister Tasos Mitsopoulos
The Global Times reports on 30 October 2013 that China and Cyprus have signed a protection of cultural property agreement –
Cyprus and China signed here Tuesday a bilateral agreement for the prevention of the theft, the clandestine excavation and illicit import and export of cultural property between the two countries. Chinese Deputy Culture Minister Li Xiaojie and Cypriot Communications and Works Minister Tasos Mitsopoulos signed the agreement on behalf of their respective governments. The agreement tells the ways of strengthening cooperation between the two countries in relation to the prevention of the theft, clandestine excavation and illicit import and export of cultural property, like the exchange of information, relevant legislation and good practices.
Mitsopoulos said after the signing ceremony this is a very important moment for Cyprus. He noted that Cyprus has suffered serious damage from illicit transport and the smuggling of its antiquities.
More here.
Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk 搗練圖卷 (傳 宋徽宗)
Chinese, Northern Song dynasty, early 12th century
Attributed to Emperor Huizong (1082–1135)
Beginning today (26 October) at the Victorian and Albert Museum in London, a unique opportunity to see some of China’s most stunning pictorial treasures –
Presenting one of the world’s greatest artistic traditions, Masterpieces of Chinese Painting 700 – 1900 is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see rare surviving works of art drawn from collections around the world. Explore over 70 of the finest examples of Chinese painting, from small-scale intimate works by monks and literati through to a 14-metre-long scroll painting, many of which are shown together for the first time.
More here. See also the The Art of Chinese Painting on BBC’s iPlayer here. Available only until 9:29pm on Wednesday, 30 October 2013.
The tomb of Shangguan Wan’er (664–710), an influential female politician and poet during the regime of Empress Wu Zetian (690-705)
Beijing (AFP) reports that –
Archaeologists have discovered the tomb of a 7th-century female politician who was one of the most powerful women in China’s ancient history, local media said on Thursday. Shangguan Wan’er — who lived from 664 to 710 in the Tang dynasty — was a trusted aide to China’s first empress Wu Zetian and is sometimes described as effectively her prime minister.
The site was discovered near an airport in Xianyang, in the northern province of Shaanxi, and confirmed by an inscription, China Radio International said on its website. Pictures showed deep excavations of ochre-coloured earth, arched passageways and a number of ceramic horses. “The discovery of the tomb with the epitaph is of major significance in the study of the Tang Dynasty,” the China Daily said, citing a historian specialising in the era, Du Wenyu.
More here.
Germany’s Friederike Moll-Dau examines bones excavated from a site in Shaanxi Province. Source: Radio86
Stina Björkell, writing in the gbtimes in 2008, reports that –
Jiao Nanfeng is the president of the Shaanxi Archaeology Institute in Xi’an. An archaeologist himself, Jiao headed the team of scientists that in the 1990s discovered the massive Yangling Tomb, an imperial mausoleum of Western Han Emperor Jingdi and Empress Xiaojing (206 BCE to 24 CE). China is undoubtedly an archeologist’s dream. With more than 4,000 years of uninterrupted civilization, the territory presents a bottomless treasure chest for scientists seeking to uncover clues to events of the past.
“The preservation and protection of cultural relics is a major part of our work. We assist related organizations in building museums and display rooms, and to ensure cultural relics are stored under optimal conditions. Preservation is becoming a very important part of our work today,” Jiao says.
Full article here. See also the video here.
Dunhuang mural as revealed under multispectral imaging
China Central Television reports Thursday that –
As a key stopover on the ancient Silk Road, the Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes in Northwest China’s Gansu Province have major historical significance. Now, a new technique has been adopted to preserve the ancient murals in the caves. What’s more, it can also help visitors see the murals in all their original glory.
The murals have suffered from on-going degradation 
However, with the help of a multi-spectral imaging technique, the original colourful paintings can now easily be seen. “We can’t see any paintings on this wall, but by using the multi-spectral imaging technique, all the layers of paintings can be ’reproduced’,” said Su Bomin, director of Conservation Institute of Dunhuang. Using this technique, archaeologists discovered several paintings featuring exquisite costumes.
Full article and video here. See also our earlier feature on The International Dunhuang Project.
As early as 2007 Reuters and the Nanjing Morning Post reported that some ten ancient tombs, dating back nearly 1,800, years had been destroyed by construction workers building an IKEA branch in Nanjing, south-eastern China –
The tombs — from the “six dynasties” period from AD 220 to 589 — were uncovered on the outskirts of the ancient capital in Jiangsu province, the Nanjing Morning Post said. City archaeologists told the newspaper the tombs might have been those of a wealthy family of the period as the workmanship was of high quality. The tombs were constructed of green bricks embroidered with ornate lotus patterns.
The tombs were destroyed by excavation machines and bulldozers making way for an outlet for the Swedish IKEA home furnishings chain, according to the report. “The tops of some of the tombs were chopped off by bulldozers, disclosing some green bricks,” it said, citing a witness. “The situation of another tomb was even more miserable, because it was dug from the centre by an excavator, leaving only part of the coffin hanging on the mud wall,” it said.
A spokesman for IKEA was not immediately available for comment.
Then in 2012 The Guardian reported  on “China’s tomb raiders laying waste to thousands of years of history. Bulldozers and dynamite used to strip priceless artefacts from remote sites, with booty sold on to wealthy collectors.” The damage and desecration to China’s ancient sites continues with today’s report by Zheng Caixiong in the China Daily that –
Five ancient tombs were destroyed overnight in Guangzhou’s Luogang district to make room for a metro project on Saturday, raising concern over the protection of relics as economic construction in the Guangdong provincial capital speeds up. Zhang Qianglu, an official with the Guangzhou Archaeological Institute, said the destroyed tombs were pre-Qin (the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period, 770-221 BC) era and were valuable for archaeological study and research of the city’s ancient past.
Many archaeologists and workers were still investigating at the site in Luogang’s Dagong Mountain area on Friday afternoon, before the tombs were found to have been bulldozed on Saturday morning, with many artifacts destroyed or damaged, Southern Metropolis Daily reported on Sunday.
More here and here.


May 2022
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