EURASIAN ORIGINS FOUNDATION

A non-profit corporation supporting archeological and ethnographic research in Central Eurasia

Prospectus

315 South Beverly Drive, Suite 302
Beverly Hills, CA 90212 USA

 
Tel 310 286-6830 Fax 310 286-6840

The Eurasian Origins Foundation (EOF) was founded to promote the development of archeology and anthropology in and of Central Eurasia. The EOF sponsors original field research, publications, conferences, and the dissemination of research results through traditional as well as digital media. The EOF is committed to exploration, discovery, and interdisciplinary, international collaboration: Sponsorship of research and publications is predicated on close collaboration between US-based and native scientists and scholars. The EOF is a non-profit corporation as defined under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION

GEOGRAPHICAL FOCUS

Central Eurasia’s potential for significant discoveries
Empires of Mounted Warriors: the historical importance of Central Eurasian civilizations
Mountain Shamans and Buddhist Kings: The Southern Silk Road in Yunnan

ARCHEOLOGY IN CENTRAL EURASIA

Historical Overview
Previously off-limits areas now open to international researchers
The Tarim Basin

AREAS OF INQUIRY

Earliest Origins of Eurasian Peoples
The Northern and Southern Silk Roads: conduits of trade, learning, and conquest

METHODS AND TECHNIQUES

The Archeologist’s Toolkit
Seeing under the Sand
Space Age Technologies: Satellite Photography and Radar Remote Sensing
Advances in Desert Field Equipment

FIELD PROJECTS: PHASE I

Dandan Oyliq
Old Cherchen
Yunnan: Yunlong, Jianchuan, and the Erhai Basin

CONCLUSION

Research Time-Line

BRIEF BIOGRAPHIES OF THE FOUNDING DIRECTORS


INTRODUCTION

Europe and Asia comprise a single, contiguous land mass. Yet for hundreds of years, the two continents have growing apart—not because of any geological upheaval, but through a clash of political, religious, and cultural ideologies.

The political, economic, and cultural rift between East and West wasn’t always so deep. For thousands of years, beginning well before the dawn of history, the vast, geographically complex regions between Europe and Asia hosted critical trade routes and entrepots. Witness to countless migrations, military expeditions, and trade caravans, the mountains, deserts, steppes, jungles, and fertile oases of Central and South-Central Eurasia became a vast arena of cultural interchange, a place of religious ferment, and a fiercely contested battlefield that gave rise to some of the greatest empires the world has ever seen.

As the ideological schism between East and West grew, so did the technology of maritime navigation. As the focus of trade shifted from land to sea, the trade-dependent cities and kingdoms of Central and South-Central Asia began to lose their power and luster. The memory of these once-thriving civilizations was kept alive in local folk legend and in travelers’ accounts. Here and there, the names of peoples, cities, and kingdoms were recorded in official documents and records. But as military conquest, declining economic resources, and climate change all took their toll, many once-glorious cities were literally swallowed up by the desert sands.

At the turn of the twentieth century, a handful of maverick explorers—archeologists Sven Hedin and Aurel Stein, geographer Ellsworth Huntington, botanist/ethnographer Joseph Rock, and paleontologist John Chapman Andrews, among others—roamed the continent’s interior. In Central Eurasia, Hedin and Stein discovered the ruins of vast cities, monumental tombs, temples and cave grottoes of a Buddhist civilization that had been lost for a thousand years. Rock’s ethnographic descriptions confirmed historical and archeological evidence suggesting that Yunnan, on China’s southwestern frontier, had also played a significant role in the exchange of goods and ideas—Buddhism in particular—between East and West.

The archeological and ethnological discoveries made during the first third of the twentieth century by Hedin, Stein, Rock, and others were truly astonishing. Unfortunately, as war and political upheaval swept across both Asia and Europe, this period of exploration and research came to an abrupt halt. Central Eurasia was once again sealed off from the outside world.

Now, as the twentieth century draws to a close, the doors to Inner Asia are opening up once again. Increasing political openness, rapid economic development, and a commitment to scientific collaboration in key Eurasian nations, coupled with the availability of space-age technology, has produced unprecedented opportunities for archeological and anthropological research. Founded on the cusp of a new era in international cooperation, the goal of the Eurasian Origins Foundation (EOF) is to explore, discover, and decipher the long-hidden secrets of a continent’s ancient past

top | contents | introduction | geographic focus | archeology | areas of inquiry
methods | field work | conclusions | timeline | founder biographies.


GEOGRAPHIC FOCUS

(CLICK HERE TO SEE A MAP)

Central Eurasia’s potential for significant discoveries

Central Eurasia comprises the landlocked region east of the Caucasus, west of China’s Gansu corridor, south of Siberia, and north of the Indian Subcontinent. Significantly, this region includes most or parts of Xinjiang (Chinese Turkestan), Tibet, Qinghai, China’s Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region, and Mongolia. Historically and culturally, this area also encompasses all or parts of the Chinese provinces of Ningxia, Gansu, Shaanxi, Shanxi, as well as the westernmost edges of Sichuan and Yunnan, including the Himalayan foothills and the upper reaches of the Salween, Mekong, and Red River systems.

Remote and underdeveloped, Central Eurasia has become an economic backwater. Both central and local governments share an interest in developing these economic hinterlands. But even spectacular archeological finds and the colorful diversity of local culture are difficult to market in areas that lack any modern infrastructure. Far off the beaten track, the there are virtually no local resources available for archeological and anthropological research in most areas of Central Eurasia.

It is precisely this remoteness, however, coupled with the enormous potential for nearly endless discovery, that makes Central Eurasia the place where investment in archeological and anthropological research will produce the greatest return.

Empires of Mounted Warriors: the historical importance of Central Eurasian civilizations

Central Eurasia has not always been such an economic backwater. For thousands of years, until the ascendance of maritime trade, overland routes that crisscrossed these lands were the main conduits for movements of populations, goods, and armies. Across these vast steppes and plateaus, mounted armies of nomad warriors easily held sway over their more sedentary neighbors. Consequently, the inner regions of the Eurasian continent was dominated by a series of nomad-led empires—the Scythians, the Xiongnu, and Genghis Khan’s famous hordes. Their armies of mounted archers subdued peoples as far away as Korea and Eastern Europe. Much about these nomad empires is still incompletely understood, yet they have had a great impact on the shape of the world as we know it today. Moreover, there is ample and increasing evidence that these "barbarian tribes," so feared by the sedentary cultures they raided and conquered, constructed a highly complex and accomplished society. They created great art, invented writing systems, adopted and reinvigorated great religions such as Buddhism, and efficiently governed vast territories.

Mountain Shamans and Buddhist Kings: The Southern Silk Road in Yunnan

Less well-known, but just as important to the interchange of goods and ideas between East and West, the Southern Silk Road ran through the river valley systems on the eastern edge of the Himalayan massif. Cutting through western Sichuan, Yunnan, and Burma, these river systems empty into the Bay of Bengal. After traversing the rugged mountains of Yunnan and Burma, westbound traders and Buddhist monks who reached the Salween or Irrawady boarded river craft that took them downstream to could board ships for India, Persia, and beyond.

Perched on this threshold of Chinese, Tibetan, and Southeast Asian cultures, the kings of Nanzhao and Dali controlled the mountain passes and ruled the valleys of western Yunnan for nearly a thousand years, until they were, in turn, conquered by the Mongol armies. Like their counterparts from the steppes to the north, the fighters of Nanzhao were superior warriors who dominated their more sedentary neighbors. And, much like the nomadic warriors of the grasslands, having consolidated their territory, they easily assimilated new cultures and religions, combining them with their own indigenous practices. The Nanzhao and Dali kings saw themselves as paragons of Buddhist kingship. They built rock-carved temple complexes in the mountains, hired artists to paint religious scrolls and architects to build pagodas and shrines, leaving a rich legacy—only now coming to light—of Buddhist art and artifacts.

Just as importantly, the Nanzhao and Dali kingdoms began a process of religious syncretism that continues in western Yunnan to this day. The ethnographic clues to the transmission of Buddhism along the Southern Silk Road and the transformation of Buddhism in China are just as fascinating—and significant—as the archeological evidence. Unlike the indigenous peoples of Central Eurasia, who long ago converted to Islam, the Bai and Dai peoples—direct descendants of the Nanzhao and Dali kingdoms—provide living clues to the complex, often obscure relationships among Indian/Southeast Asian, Tibetan, and Chinese Buddhism.

top | contents | introduction | geographic focus | archeology | areas of inquiry
methods | field work | conclusions | timeline | founder biographies.


ARCHEOLOGY IN CENTRAL EURASIA

Historical Overview

Around one hundred years ago, a motley of dauntless explorers and adventurers invaded western China in search of wealth and fame. Hailing from western Europe, America, Russia, and Japan, they roamed the Tarim Basin, one of the richest archeological treasure-troves of Central Eurasia, in a hotly-contested race to acquire the best artifacts for museums and collectors back home. China’s last imperial dynasty was in its death throes, and paid little heed to the tons of priceless national treasures that steamed out of its ports along with departing foreign expeditions. In Europe, the archeologist-explorers were toasted as heroes, but in China their plundering is still vilified as one of the most shameless raids of all time. By the mid-1920s the Chinese had had enough, and slammed the door on further exploration.

Subsequent events in China shut the "bamboo curtain" not just on archeologists, but on nearly all foreigners. As a nation lurching from war to political upheaval to war for more than fifty years, the Chinese have been ill-equipped to pursue the work themselves. Archeology in China has been in virtual hibernation for most of the 20th century.

Across the border to the north, the Soviet Union has produced a many brilliant archeologists. Despite the lack of opportunities for international collaboration, many Soviet archeologists were able to make considerable headway investigating sites in Soviet Central Asia. Yet funding was never sufficient, and field technology almost nonexistent. Foreign researchers were prohibited from collaborating with their Soviet counterparts, and had to depend solely on articles published in Russian journals just to get a glimpse of the sites themselves. Ultimately, most of territory within the former Soviet Union remains unexamined, its archeological potential untapped.

In Yunnan, home to twenty-six of China’s fifty-six recognized ethnic minorities, there was an effort in the 1950s to create an ethnographic record of the indigenous peoples. Since social science in China at that time was fully allied to the aims of the Stalinist program, the scope of the record was severely limited and distorted by the ideological bias of the project. Archeology fared a bit better (mostly through accidental finds), but many of the gains of the 1950s were subsequently wiped out in the frenzy of the Cultural Revolution. Provincial and local authorities have come to recognize the archeological and ethnographic richness of western Yunnan, and are eager to exploit its commercial potential. The rush to cash in has had a severely negative effect. Archeological sites are being plundered, while local customs are being packaged and sold to tourists.

Previously off-limits areas now open to international researchers

At the close of China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in 1976, China entered a period of relative stability, but few archeologists or ethnologists of the older generation had survived the intellectual holocaust with their materials and motivation intact. In the mid 1980s, however, a new generation of ethnographic and archeological scholars emerged. Eager and competent, they have been perpetually under-funded.

When China opened its doors to travel in the early 1980s, a few foreigners made their way to the Tarim Basin. There, they were taken to see fabulous ruins of ancient cities, only a few of which were then open to tourists. Many of those cities still showed signs of the "collecting" that had gone on 60 years before, a fact not lost on their hosts. The legacy of this plundering—deep mistrust and resentment—has made it particularly difficult for foreign archeologists and anthropologists to initiate collaborative work with their Chinese colleagues. Hundreds of known sites in Central Eurasia and South-Central Asia are still incompletely explored; cultural and religious traditions are disappearing before they can be documented and analyzed.

Fortunately, as the twenty-first century approaches, it is now possible for non-Chinese and Chinese scholars to forge long-term, collaborative relationships. Such relationships can yield significant results: Among the recent successes are a five-year program of collaborative research between Chinese and Japanese scholars at Niya (a site in the southern Tarim Basin), and a three-year joint Chinese-US research project on Buddhism and the popular religion of the Bai. As China pursues its policy of greater openness, China’s archeological and social science institutes are increasingly open to joint research.

Meanwhile, in the former Soviet Union, the close of the 20th Century has dealt a serious blow to the field of archeology. Archeological research was never well-funded even in the best of times, but the end of state funding has effectively halted all work at existing institutes. Salaries have fallen below subsistence—a typical senior archeologist in 1995 earned but $19 a month—and lack of equipment has restricted field work to warm regions. Excavations are staffed by volunteers who must spend almost as much time chopping firewood as they do on fieldwork. Not surprisingly, there is considerable openness to the promise of foreign funding and technology. Since 1990, there have been a handful of joint archeological ventures, notably those aimed at excavation of sites in Kazakhstan and southern Siberia, where the harsh climate had made earlier work difficult or impossible.

The Tarim Basin

One of the greatest archeological storehouses in Eurasia is the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Xinjiang is the westernmost province of China, occupying about one-sixth of its total territory. Crossed by important trade routes—the fabled Silk Road—Xinjiang was home to a succession of ancient civilizations. The ruins and relics of these ancient civilizations have been well-preserved by Xinjiang’s arid climate and remote location.

In the southwest quadrant of Xinjiang lies the Tarim Basin. Walled in on three sides by the glacier-bound peaks of the mighty Kunlun, Tianshan, and Pamir ranges, the basin forms an oval nearly 1500 kilometers long east to west, and approximately 600 kilometers across at its widest point. The center of the basin is dominated by the forbidding wastes of the Taklimakan Desert. The fineness of its sands and the nearly total absence of water makes most of the Taklimakan Desert uninhabitable.

How is it that people have lived—and civilizations thrived—in such a harsh setting? The key lies in the snow-capped mountains that surround the Tarim Basin: Watered by regular and abundant snowmelt, the periphery of the Tarim Basin is dotted with fertile oases that have attracted a long series of migrations and fostered a succession of cities and cultures in the region for at least four thousand years. The most recent inhabitants are the Uyghurs, a Turkic-speaking people who, in a manner virtually unchanged from that of their predecessors, keep sheep and goats, live in wattle-and-daub houses, and dig irrigation channels to water their wheat fields, grape arbors, and orchards. Yet because springs dry up and riverbeds shift over time, many ancient settlements and cities had to be abandoned. Soon forgotten and buried in the wind-blown sand, these "lost cities" are archeological treasure-troves awaiting discovery. Exploration and excavation of these lost cities of the Tarim Basin are among the first goals of the Eurasian Origins Foundation.

Outside Xinjiang, many other areas beckon exploration. Inner Mongolia, another autonomous region of China, has a rich archeological record preserved in the sands of the Gobi Desert. The now-independent nation of Mongolia contains relics of the empire founded by Genghis Khan. The nearby Altai Mountains hold clues about the origins of the Scythians and the Turkic peoples. Tibet’s harsh climate has so far deterred archeologists from searching for relics from the days when Tibetans ruled a greater part of Asia. And the archeological and ethnographic richness of Yunnan has just begun to be examined. The Eurasian Origins Foundation will sponsor scientific exploration and ethnographic fieldwork in these areas, as appropriate.

top | contents | introduction | geographic focus | archeology | areas of inquiry
methods | field work | conclusions | timeline | founder biographies.


AREAS OF INQUIRY

Earliest Origins of Eurasian Peoples

Little is known about the early evolution of human society on the Eurasian continent, but astonishing and sometimes contradictory clues abound. The 1979 discovery of mummies with "Caucasian" features in Xinjiang called into question long-standing assumptions about prehistoric migrations in Eurasia. Textiles also recently discovered show remarkable similarity to fabric technologies found in European archeological sites. These artifacts suggest possible answers to questions as fundamental as the origins, evolution, and spread of modern humans across the globe.

Central Eurasia provides important evidence for the origins of fundamental human technologies such as agriculture, animal husbandry, tool and textile making. The processes of creating wealth, trading it, keeping track of it, and safeguarding it are all signs of culture evolving into civilization.

The Northern and Southern Silk Roads: conduits of trade, learning, and conquest

Mesopotamian, Scythian, Roman, Kushan, Chinese, Persian, and Mongol—along with the rise of powerful empires all across Eurasia arose the need to guarantee safe travel over long distances. To meet the increasing demand for dependable, safe communication and trade among empires East and West, a system of trails soon extended across what is now Xinjiang and western China. This system of roads and trails—eventually known as the "Silk Road"—evolved as more and more people, goods, and ideas were transported from one end of the continent to the other.

Despite having a beaten path to follow, the journey was arduous and often dangerous. Traders and their camel caravans carrying silk, gems, gold, silver, spices, and medicinal herbs had to navigate precipitous, snow-clogged mountain passes, cross treacherous deserts, and fight off marauding bandits. Records tell of travelers who, uncertain of the way, had only to follow the trail of sun-bleached bones lying along the path.


Ruins of Jiaohe, an ancient kingdom on the Silk Road, located near the modern-day city of Turpan.

By 750 AD, traffic along the Silk Road was at its peak, fueled by a continent-wide hunger for exotic goods and, perhaps even more importantly, a thirst for new horizons and novel ideas. Buddhism was among the earliest cultural exports. Moving east from its birthplace in the Himalayan foothills to China and beyond, Buddhism took root in countless towns and villages along the way. In the Tarim Basin, scholars have collected thousands of manuscripts in a multiplicity of scripts, many containing texts not found anywhere else in the world. In towns like Jiaohe and Dunhuang, Silk Road travelers erected temples to house exquisitely-made frescoes, statues, and reliefs—offerings given in hope of heaven’s blessing for the long, dangerous journey. These treasures display artistic influences ranging from Greek to Indian to Tibetan, and provide intriguing clues about cultural exchange in the ancient world.

Starting in about 1120 AD, seagoing trade began to eclipse the Silk Road’s overland routes. Islam was one of the last overland imports to reach the Tarim Basin before the mountain passes fell into disuse. The new religion was spread by a combination of assimilation and conquest, and it swiftly enveloped much of central Eurasia. In Xinjiang, it erased what the Buddhists had built, consigning the temples, cave grottos, and scrolls to the shifting sands of the Taklimakan.

The Southern Silk Road is not nearly as well-known as its northern counterpart, but it is nearly as ancient. Running through what is now western Yunnan Province into present–day Myanmar (Burma), there is evidence of intercontinental trade along this route as early the second century BCE. Like the better-known Silk Road through Xinjiang, trade activity along the Southern Silk Route reached its zenith during China’s "cosmopolitan age," the Tang dynasty. Although access to the route was largely controlled by non-Chinese polities such as Nanzhao and Dali, these kingdoms had close political and cultural contact with the Tang court. Nanzhao and Dali absorbed Theravada and Tantric Buddhist influences from South and Southeast Asia that were later transmitted to China. As in Dunhuang, votive offerings made by travelers in hopes of safe passage have been found in great numbers in western Yunnan. As important as these artifactual finds are, however, the most compelling evidence for the importance of the Southern Silk Road can be found in the texts, art, oral history, and religious practice of the Bai and Dai peoples that still live in the area.

top | contents | introduction | geographic focus | archeology | areas of inquiry
methods | field work | conclusions | timeline | founder biographies.


METHODS AND TECHNIQUES

The Archeologist’s Toolkit

The last century has seen steady advances in archeological techniques. Previously mysterious scripts have been deciphered, allowing scholars to search ancient texts for new historical clues. Refinements in stratigraphy (analysis of layers of rock and sediment) now allow archeologists to date sites and artifacts with much greater accuracy. Radio-carbon and potassium argon dating allow ethnobotanists to analyze microscopic remains, evidence that archeologists of an earlier era could scarcely have imagined.

Space Age Technologies: Satellite Photography and Radar Remote Sensing

This dramatic technical progress over the last few decades has transformed the field of archeology. A true revolution, however, has come with the application of technologies that let us to look at the big picture: the earth itself.

Radar remote sensing and satellite photography both allow us to produce images of the earth’s surface. There is a crucial difference, however: Unlike satellite photography, which uses visible or infrared light, radar remote sensing utilizes artificial illumination at wavelengths invisible to the human eye. Microwave radiation is generated by a transmitter carried aboard an aircraft, the Space Shuttle, or a dedicated satellite. The electromagnetic energy bounces off the earth’s surface and is collected by a sophisticated antenna. Real-time computer analysis of the signal then allows us to generate a visible image.

Because the radar reflectivity of an object depends on such factors as size and orientation, radar imaging provides us with a very different—and very valuable—view of an archeological site. When combined with satellite photography, radar images can reveal unusual surface features such as ancient water channels and buildings. Such a "treasure map" opens up new avenues of exploration in vast, inhospitable areas like the Taklimakan, where a thorough ground search would be hazardous and impractical.

Seeing under the Sand

Radar imaging, or Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), affords a particular advantage for archeological exploration of arid regions. Certain radar wavelengths are able to penetrate fine, dry sand. Instead of scattering from the surface, they penetrate the sand and reflect objects buried as much as two meters deep. In 1992, archeologists searching the Omani desert used this feature of SAR to find the lost city of Ubar, an ancient center of frankincense trade. The radar system that provided the data used in that search was a second-generation, Space Shuttle-borne system called SIR-B.


SIR-C image of Taklamakan dunes

In 1994 a system called SIR-C, the most advanced radar apparatus ever flown, was carried by Space Shuttle Endeavor into earth orbit during two missions. Data was acquired for specialists in many disciplines, including geologists, forestry experts, oceanographers, and even urban planners. During these missions, images of the southern Tarim Basin and several surrounding areas were acquired. That data has been made available to the Eurasian Origins Foundation by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and scientist Dr. Pamela Logan, who is experienced in its analysis. Supplemented by other forms of remote sensing data, the radar imagery promises to be an important aid in Central Eurasian desert discovery.

Advances in Desert Field Equipment

Archeological research in extreme environments (such as the Taklimakan) has been greatly enhanced by technological advances in outdoor survival gear as well. Deep desert explorers face a myriad of logistical problems: steep dunes up to 75 meters high, fierce winds that drive sand grains into eyes, ears, and fragile equipment, lack of potable water, extremes of heat and cold, featureless terrain, and difficulty communicating with the outside world. In the past, these factors greatly limited the time archeologists could spend at such field sites.

The transportation problem has been partly solved with the advent of the Mercedes-Benz Unimog—the vehicle of choice for oil prospectors and desert fighters—are specialized balloon-tired trucks that can carry people and gear—including food and water supplies—with ease over steep dunes. Several petroleum companies are already using them in the Taklimakan. Goretex and other "miracle" fabrics protect workers from cold (although summer field work in the Taklimakan is still untenable). Global Positioning (GPS) receivers have made navigation easier, and satellite and cellular technologies mean that desert workers can consult with colleagues or summon aid at any time, should the need arise.

top | contents | introduction | geographic focus | archeology | areas of inquiry
methods | field work | conclusions | timeline | founder biographies.


FIELD PROJECTS: PHASE I

Dandan Oyliq

After more than a week of trekking into the forbidding and vast Taklimakan, on January 24, 1896, the great Swedish explorer Sven Hedin arrived at the ruins of the ancient city of Dandan Oyliq, known in legend as the "houses built with ivory." Hedin was barely able to survey the frescos on temple walls and pick up a few stray artifacts before breaking camp. Exhausted, short on supplies, and facing the desert’s bone-cracking winter cold and treacherous dunes, Hedin and his team reluctantly broke camp and surrendered the city once more to the desert.

On December 17, 1900, another great explorer, Sir Aurel Stein, arrived to pick up where Hedin had left off. His team was better prepared: They camped at the site for three weeks of intensive fieldwork. Although the area he excavated was probably less than 2% of the city’s entire extent, his finds—painted tablets, frescoes, statues and reliefs—were nevertheless extraordinary. His accounts of the ruined city half-covered in sand fired the imagination of the European public. But key issues—not the least of which were the date of Dandan Oyliq’s founding and the reasons it was abandoned—remained unresolved.

Remarkably, with the exception of one small German expedition in the 1930s, no one has returned to explore the site in the nearly one hundred years that have passed since Hedin’s and Stein’s discoveries. Located in the midst of a vast, undulating sea of dunes, Dandan Oyliq poses a formidable logistical challenge to field researchers. Advanced desert vehicles such as Mercedes Unimogs are needed for efficient desert travel, and modern camping equipment will permit a team to remain for the entire two-month Taklimakan field season. A considerable amount of the ancient city is undoubtedly concealed by sand, and without advanced sensing techniques such as radar imagery, the odds of finding sand-buried ruins are small.

Old Cherchen

Silk Road caravansaries dot the periphery of the Taklimakan like beads on a string. With the help of local guides, most of the largest sites have been identified, though not all have been thoroughly excavated. One major Silk Road site, however, remains elusive: the old city of Cherchen. There are a number of references to the city in ancient texts, and reports of sightings north of modern Cherchen have been circulating for at least half a century. As recently as 1996 some Chinese archeologists ventured out to the place where Old Cherchen was thought to exist, but they found nothing. Have the dunes moved to cover up the city’s remains? Or is it in some other location altogether? Only a combination of remote sensing data, historical detective work, and old-fashioned searching can resolve this critical missing piece of the Silk Road puzzle.

Yunnan: Yunlong, Jianchuan, and the Erhai Basin

Principal EOF projects include both archeological and anthropological fieldwork. The importance of living, indigenous cultures is central to the EOF’s program in Yunnan. Ethnographic documentation of contemporary material culture and religious practice will be combined with archeological fieldwork and analysis of already-collected artifacts.

All societies and cultures, both modern and ancient, comprise a dizzying complex of tangible and intangible elements. Just as history gives us insight into the present, research on contemporary, living societies can often help us decipher the fragmentary material traces left behind by ancient civilizations. This is particularly important in the case of the Southern Silk Road. Here, the contemporary cultures of the minority peoples of Yunnan—in particular, the Bai and Dai—provide invaluable clues to the mysteries of the region’s ancient history. Some of these clues, however, are literally dying away: Buddhist Priest-Shamans—the azhali masters—are unique to Bai religious practice. Only a handful of azhali masters and highland shamans have survived the decades of political upheaval, war, and modernization (the old Burma Road runs through the heart of Bai country), which makes the work of documenting these traditions all the more critical.

Complementing archeological research into the origins and development of intercontinental trade, the interchange of goods and ideas across the Southern Silk Road, the ethnographic component of the EOF’s work in Yunnan will concentrate its efforts primarily on the visual documenting and description of the religious and material culture of the indigenous peoples of the Erhai Basin, Jianchuan County (site of a significant Tang-era Buddhist cave temple complex), and Yunlong County.

top | contents | introduction | geographic focus | archeology | areas of inquiry
methods | field work | conclusions | timeline | founder biographies.


CONCLUSION

Now is a particularly propitious time to initiate international, cooperative efforts in the archeology and anthropology of Central Eurasia. A much-improved and stable political climate, rapidly growing regional economies, and technological advances in the field have opened up previously unimagined possibilities for research.

Excavating Central Eurasian archeological sites and undertaking ethnographic field studies in southwestern China are critical for understanding the history, peoples, and cultures of Central Eurasia. But this work has implications far beyond the region’s borders. Exotic and remote as it may seem, Central Eurasia holds the keys to the origins of our own civilization. As we approach a new millennium, there has never been a more opportune time for exploring Central Eurasia’s—and our own—ancient past.

top | contents | introduction | geographic focus | archeology | areas of inquiry
methods | field work | conclusions | timeline | founder biographies.


RESEARCH TIME-LINE

  1. Preliminary analysis of radar images. Meetings with Xinjiang, Yunnan, and Beijing officials. Survey of nearby roads and modern settlements to obtain georeferencing data near Dandan Oyliq and Old Cherchen. Securing of funding from government and corporate sources.
  2. Xinjiang: First field season at Dandan Oyliq. Site identification, survey, and mapping. Correlation of finds with radar features.
  3. Yunnan: Survey of sites in Erhai Basin and Jianchuan. Computerized cataloging of Dali Prefectural Museum holdings. Ethnographic fieldwork and filming in Dali and Yunlong.
  4. Xinjiang: Second field season at Dandan Oyliq. Excavation of most promising ruins. Search parties for Old Cherchen. Refinement of site map. Preliminary publications.
  5. Yunnan: Continued ethnographic fieldwork in Yunlong and Jianchuan. Editing and digitizing of photographic and video data. Preliminary publications.
  6. Xinjiang: Third field season at Dandan Oyliq. Further excavation and cataloguing of finds. Further search parties for Old Cherchen, or survey and site map.
  7. Publications. Reconnaissance for projects at other locations. Refinement of remote sensing techniques as applied to desert archeology.

    top | contents | introduction | geographic focus | archeology | areas of inquiry
    methods | field work | conclusions | timeline | founder biographies.


BRIEF BIOGRAPHIES OF THE FOUNDING DIRECTORS

Adam Kessler, Ph.D. (USA) is an archeologist specializing in northern and western China. His Ph.D. in archeology was awarded by the University of California. A curator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, he was curator of the critically-renowned exhibition "Empires Beyond the Great Wall: The Heritage of Genghis Khan." He has worked closely with archeologists and officials in China, and has visited and surveyed many important archeological sites in Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang. His many publications include articles on ancient Chinese ceramics and Xia/Shang culture, and he is the author of one book.

Avron Boretz, Ph.D. (USA), is an anthropologist specializing in Chinese popular religion. He holds the Ph.D. in sociocultural anthropology from Cornell University. Since 1987, Boretz has designed, participated in and/or directed several extended field projects (both independently and in collaboration with Chinese research institutions) in Taiwan and Yunnan. Trained as a documentary filmmaker, he has produced videos on subjects ranging from martial shamans in Taiwan to the Torch Festival in Dali (Yunnan). Boretz is Assistant Professor of Chinese and Asian Studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York, and a Visiting Scholar at Cornell University’s East Asia Program.

Dolkun Kamberi, Ph.D. (China) is a native of Xinjiang, China, and a member of the Uyghur nationality. He was educated in the United States, and holds a Ph.D. from Columbia University. Dr. Kamberi is one of the foremost archeological and cultural anthropological experts on the ancient Tarim and medieval Chinese and Central Asian history and cultures. He is the author of one book and co-author of another, and has published more than forty research papers since 1980 on art, archeology, history, languages and literature, paleography, and religion. He is proficient in six modern languages including Chinese, English, Uzbek and Turkish, as well as several extinct languages. He presently holds a position in the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

 
Kessler and Kamberi on expedition in northwest China

Huang Ying-feng (Taiwan) is a businessman and philanthropist with a long-time interest in Asia’s past. As the founder of the Evergreen Foundation, he has supported a variety of cutting-edge anthropological research efforts, principally in Yunnan and Guangxi Provinces of China.

Pamela Logan, Ph.D. (USA) is an aerospace scientist with a passion for exploring Asia. With a Ph.D.. in aeronautical and astronautical sciences from Stanford University, she has held the position of Director of Research for the Hong Kong-based China Exploration & Research Society (Hong Kong) since 1994. Among her other responsibilities, she has been working with NASA to utilize radar imagery for archeological research in Xinjiang, and directing an architectural restoration project on the Tibetan plateau. She has also participated in an archeological dig in southern Siberia, and is the author of a book on eastern Tibet.

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