New Seminar: Ancient Cultures Along the Silk Routes
An interdisciplinary seminar on the material remains of the ancient populations of Inner Eurasia in their cultural and linguistic contexts.
Art History 206B/ 127
Professor Vyacheslav Ivanov
Professor Lothar von Falkenhausen
Tuesdays, 2-5 pm
Seminar Room, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology (Basement, Fowler Museum)
This interdisciplinary seminar discusses the material remains of the ancient populations of Inner Eurasia in their cultural and linguistic contexts. Geographically, it ranges from the Caucasus and the Urals all the way to China; chronologially, it spans the time from the onset of the Bronze Age (ca. 3500 BC) through the Mongol conquest in the thirteenth century AD; linguistically it includes a whole series of the culturally important languages discovered and studied during the last century such as Western Iranian (Parthian) and many Eastern Iranian written (particularly Saka Khotanese, Sogdian, Khwarazmian, Bactrian [most of the documents in which have been discovered in the last years]) and still spoken (e.g. Pamirian group and Yagnobi which is a direct descendant of Sogdian), dead Tocharian A and B, Tangut (the written language of the Xixia empire mostly studied by Japanese and Russian scholars in the last decades) etc. We will attempt to clarify the notion of the “Eurasian” linguistic unity (Sprachbund) in both its genetic and typological aspects. For the history of writing, new and complex perspectives are opened by considering the eastward spread of the Semitic systems and of their Indian syllabic derivates (particularly of Brahmi) and their manifold transformations along the way, as well the invention of completely new writing systems such as the character-based Tangut script and the syllabic system of the Old Turkic runes. From the point of view of the history of religion, the topic of the seminar is important for the understanding of the spread of the Buddhist texts, ideas, and iconography to Eastern and Western Turkestan and then to the East to China as also for the diffusion of gnostic concepts (including the religion of Light in its different forms), Zoroastrianism, Mitraism, Nestorian Christianity, and Judaism.
The early period studied at the seminar may be decisive for our view of the oldest Common Indo-European and later separate Tocharian and Eastern Iranian (Scythian) migrations. Recent discoveries of metal-producing centers like the Sintashta-Arkaim cities in the Southern Urals at the early II mil. B.C. bring new evidence for our study of the development of the material culture and its social implications, as well as the spread of many important features of civilization. The main objects of early exchange and trade (different types of jade, lapis lazuli, and then silk) are important because they highlight the economic importance of the Silk Routes. Many archaeological discoveries during recent decades have transformed our ideas about the interactions of steppe-dwelling nomads and in oasis-dwelling farmers and merchants in this vast region, and sophisticated models have been generated to explain the dynamics of culture contact, economic exchange, diffusion of religious ideas, and linguistic displacement through time. We hope to bring in a variety of different perspectives to discuss these developments comprehensively through time and space. Although the material studied at the seminar is related predominantly to Central Asia, some of the results will be important for the understanding of the social, cultural, material and biological (medical) history of neighboring parts of the world, particularly East Asia as well as Eastern and Central Europe.
The seminar is open to graduate students in all departments. A reading knowledge of at least one--preferably several--of the major research languages (Chinese, Farsi, French, German, Japanese, Russian) is strongly recommended. Participants will be required to produce a research paper (20-40 pp.) on a topic of their choice, to be discussed with the instructors. In-class presentations will also be required. Qualified undergraduates may be admitted upon an interview with the instructors.
For more info please contact:
Lothar von Falkenhausen
Published: Friday, February 14, 2003