Sanxingdui: China’s lost civilization revises history

When you walk through the limited engagement collection of artifacts from China’s Sanxingdui (pronounced “sahn-shing-dwee”), or “three stars mound,” you feel an immediate connection to a looming unknown. Where these artifacts were discovered is clear enough, as is when they were created, but by whom, why and how are questions still puzzling archaeologists.

The artifacts, large, strange, and beautiful, with a verdant tarnish on the ancient bronze, depict human forms with large eyes, protruding pupils, and pointed ears. If these items were a direct imitation of the people who created them, they were an odd culture indeed.Bronze Head with Gold Mask copy

The relics were discovered in 1986 when a group of Chinese construction workers accidentally broke into the underground pit where the items had apparently been broken and dumped, yet another enigma. Were these items created with such meticulous effort sacrificed? If they were, then why?

Archaeologists found a second pit nearby. The items in both, Bronze Age masks, statues and charms, date back to the Shang Dynasty that existed between 1600 and 1046 BC, but no writing was buried with the artifacts, and dynastic texts make no mention of the culture, which existed at the same time.

More puzzling is the level of craftsmanship in the artifacts. The materials used to make the items reveals technology “that seems to arise out of nowhere,” to quote placard information. The Sanxingdui culture created huge figures like the eight-foot-tall statue that may depict a god or a shaman and the large masks that may have been attached to columns or walls.Standing Figure

Along with their size, some of the items were created using advanced techniques such as casting and soldering, similar to those used in the Central Plain, the location of the Shang culture, yet no foundries have been discovered. Even if these people had the knowledge to make the bronzes, where did they get the tools to manufacture them? Stranger still, after 500 years, the culture vanished for reasons unknown.

Archaeologists discovered a few answers in 2012 at Jinsha, where they unearthed artifacts depicting the same metallurgy and conception of the human form as those at Sanxingdui. The figures from Jinsha are much smaller, but they show the same standing or kneeling postures, tight clothing, almond-shaped eyes, braided hair, and hand positioning. Radiocarbon dating found these artifacts were made 500 years after the rise of Sanxingdui, in roughly the same time period of the Zhou Dynasty, 1045 to 650 BC. Perhaps no more than a mass migration is to account for their abrupt disappearance, but then why did they leave?

Archaeologists have concluded that the Sanxingdui culture must have existed alongside other Bronze Age cultures, trading techniques and perhaps other information. Whereas historians believed China grew from a central birthplace, the revision of history tells a story of multiple centers contributing to the development of Chinese civilization.mask with protruding eyes

Limited Engagement: Come see the story for yourself at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. China’s Lost Civilization: The Mystery of Sanxingdui is now on exhibition through Sept. 7.

Behind-the-scenes Tour: Join us for “The Bronzes of Sanxingdui” Tuesday, May 19 at 6:30 p.m. Tickets $37, members $27.

Distinguished Lecture: Dr. Liu Yang, curator of Chinese art at the Minneapolis Institute of the arts, will visit the HMNS to present “Unmasked: Mysteries of the Ancient Shu Kingdom and its Bronze Art” to shed further light on the artifacts from the Sanxingdui culture. Tuesday, June 2, 6:30 p.m.

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Discover new secrets of ancient Egypt with guest lecturers

This week, more than 400 folks interested in all things ancient Egyptian are making their way to Houston for the 66th Annual Meeting of the American Research Center in Egypt. Running from April 24 to 26, this is the first year the conference is being held in Houston, and perhaps it has something to do with the beautiful new Hall of Ancient Egypt at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

HMNS is excited to host a public three-part lecture featuring leading Egyptologists Dr. Salima Ikram, Dr. Josef Wegner, and Dr. Kara Cooney, who are in town for the ARCE conference. At the museum, each expert will give an update on his or her latest research project.-o6cwMJsxKVXL0Xx6UZa2Dl72eJkfbmt4t8yenImKBVvK0kTmF0xjctABnaLJIm9

You don’t have to be an academic to attend the lecture, or to register for the meeting. ARCE welcomes all fans of ancient Egypt, novice to authority. The lecture will be held Wednesday, April 22 at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $18 to the public and $12 for HMNS members.

Online registration for the ARCE meeting is now closed, but on-site registration at the DoubleTree Hilton Downtown Hotel will remain open from April 24 through the end of the conference.

Read on for more details about HMNS’s guest Egyptologists.

 

Divine Creatures, Animal Mummies Providing Clues to Culture, Economy and Science f3638a_3053bb27e037f77cbc56ea0f4b110a8c.jpeg_srz_305_260_85_22_0.50_1.20_0
by Salima Ikram, Ph.D., American University in Cairo

Animal mummies were amongst the least studied of Egypt’s treasures. Now scholars are using them to learn about ancient Egyptian religion, economy, veterinary science and environmental change. The world’s leading expert on animal mummies and founder of the Animal Mummy project at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, Dr. Salima Ikram, will present the different kinds of animal mummies and explain what we can learn from them.

 

 

 

Secrets of the Mountain-of-Anubis, A Royal Necropolis Joe_Egypt
by Josef Wegner, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania

The ongoing Penn Museum excavations has recently identified a royal necropolis at Abydos. A series of royal tombs located beneath a sacred desert peak, the Mountain-of-Anubis, belong to over a dozen pharaohs include Senwosret III and the recently identified king Senebkay. Dr. Josef Wegner will review the latest findings from the necropolis that spans Egypt’s late Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period (ca. 1850-1550 BCE).

 

 

 

21st Dynasty Coffins Project, Recycled Coffins Offer the Socioeconomic InsightKara_Cooney_examines_Egyptian_coffin_
by Kathlyn (Kara) Cooney, Ph.D., UCLA

Dr. Kara Cooney will give an overview of the 21st Dynasty Coffins Project which studies the amount of “borrowing,” or reuse, a given coffin displays during this period of turmoil and material scarcity and seeks to contribute to the understanding of socioeconomics in ancient Egypt. Equipped with high definition cameras and working in cooperation with museums and institutions in Europe and the United States, Cooney takes her research team to investigate, document and study coffin reuse in the Third Intermediate Period. The data acquired will be compiled into a comprehensive database available to Egyptologists everywhere.

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Mark Your Calendars for these events happening at HMNS 4/20-4/26

Bust out your planners, calendars, and PDAs (if you are throwback like that), it’s time to mark your calendars for the HMNS events of this week!

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Lecture – Richard III Rediscovered By Sarah Hainsworth
Tuesday, April 21
6:30 p.m.
The discovery of the remains of King Richard III under a parking lot-next to a space marked “R”-has stirred much excitement. Richard’s remains speak to us in a way that texts or artifacts do not, reaching out to give us more accurate insights to his life, following years of calumny. Dr. Turi King, geneticists on the Richard II Project at the University of Leicester, will discuss the project’s findings and how history, archaeology and genetics were woven together to learn more about Richard III. After the talk, you’re invited to a festival featuring food, drink, dance and music inspired by the Renaissance. Tribute will be paid to William Shakespeare-Richard’s most controversial publicist, and a special guest will join the festivities! Renaissance attire is welcome.
This lecture is co-sponsored by Archaeology Institute of America – Houston Society.

Lecture – Update In Egyptology With Researchers: Salima Ikram, Joseph Wegner, Kara Cooney
Wednesday, April 22
6:30 p.m.
Salima Ikram, Ph.D. of the American University in Cairo, Joseph Wegner, Ph.D. of the University of Pennsylvania, Kara Cooney, Ph.D. of UCLA-leading Egyptologists in Houston for the American Research Center in Egypt’s Annual Conference-will give updates on their different areas of specialization. This lecture is co-sponsored by the American Research Center in Egypt.

India Trekkers
HMNS at Sugar Land
Saturday, April 25
4:00 p.m.
Travel with us on this family-friendly tour of India and explore the culture without the baggage fees or jet lag. Crafts, Rangoli, native cuisine and other entertainment inspired by India.

25th Anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope Celebration
George Observatory 
Saturday, April 25
April 25 will mark the 25th anniversary of the world-famous Hubble Space Telescope, and the George Observatory will celebrate with a debut of their restored 36-inch Gueymard Research Telescope, the largest specialized Cassegrain telescope open to the public, and the only one that chooses to use an eyepiece.

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King Richard III, Rediscovered: Forensic engineer to hold reburial lecture

The remains of King Richard III, the last English king to die in battle, were discovered under a parking lot and identified in 2013 using DNA, radiocarbon dating and the identification of his distinctive curved spine by a team from the University of Leicester. What science revealed from Richard’s skeleton has triggered a revival of scholarship regarding his reign.

Dr. Sarah Hainsworth, Forensic Engineer on the Richard III Project, will visit the Houston Museum of Natural Science Tuesday, April 21 to discuss the project’s findings and how history, archaeology and genetics were woven together to learn more about Richard III. Her lecture, “Richard III Rediscovered,” begins at 6:30 p.m.Richard III

Following the lecture, a real-life King Richard will join us for a festival featuring food, drink, dance and music inspired by the Renaissance. The event is cosponsored by the Houston Society of the Archaeological Institute of America.

For more fascinating insights into the Richard III Project and reinterment, check out “From the Trenches,” the blog of the AIA, Houston Society. Excerpts below:

Richard III’s “Rebirth” and Reburial

 Richard III – Defiled in death, reviled in history…today, reburied with pomp and circumstance. image001

On March 26, 2015 momentous events took place in Leicester, England as Richard finally received a burial fit for a king, 530 years after his death on the battlefield. A processional lead by armored knights on horseback winded through the streets of Leicester to the cathedral for a service that included the Archbishop of Canterbury, descendant Benedict Cumberbatch, and descendants of both the noble from the Wars of the Roses.

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Face to Face with History

With the discovery of the remains of King Richard III, a unique, exciting opportunity presented: the chance to discover Richard’s appearance. Perhaps at no other time in history, has it been possible to really know about the appearance of a ruler. The historian has textual evidence and artistic representations. These depictions are diluted through the opinions of the writer or the painter, often serving propagandistic purposes. The most famous portraits of Richard III, depicting him as dark-haired and steely eyed were painted 25 to 30 years after his death. However, archaeology has tools at its disposal that help to create a clearer portrait.

Richard III (Physiology & Experimental Archaeology)

One of the fascinating discoveries of the project was the physical evidence from the bones. For over 500 years, detractors (Shakespeare among the most famous) portrayed Richard III as a twisted, deformed tyrant. The remains that were found of the king put to rest the story of his skeletal deformities – it was immediately and dramatically apparent that Richard did indeed suffer from scoliosis.image004

New questions now emerged: could medieval armor be made to fit a person with that degree of scoliosis, how could a person with such deformities fight ferociously in battle, could he sit astride a horse? Anecdotal evidence mentions his fighting ability, his horsemanship, and his graceful dancing. Could these stories be true? Enter the field of experimental archaeology and physiology to work to arrive at answers. Today, we share the story of a young man who has the same type of scoliosis as Richard III. Researchers began working with him and the results are fascinating.

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