Cloth of Gold: Winged Lions and Griffins
c. 1240 - 1260
lampas, silk and gold thread
Measurements Overall: 124cm x 48.8cm
Beginning in 1211, Genghis Khan invaded the Jin Empire, then proceeded across Central Asia to conquer eastern Iran and the territories east of the Oxus River (today Amu Darya) known as Transoxiana. The artisans and master craftsmen from conquered citieswere enslaved and distributed among members of the Khan’s family and distinguished generals.
The nomadic Mongols took these artisans, who fashioned luxury items and other highly desirable articles, to cities in Mongolia and eastern Central Asia. Historical accounts and travel narratives of the period mention them, yet little has survived of the objects, particularly the textiles, they produced.
This magnificent cloth of gold is one of the few silk and gold textiles that can be associated with those craftsmen. It is woven with pairs of winged lions within aligned, tangent roundels and pairs of griffins in the interstices. The background is densely filled with scrolling vines and palmettes. Both the overall design and the animals are Persian; yet the cloud-like ornamentation of the lions’ wings, the cloud scrolls at the terminals of the vines filling the background of the roundels, and the dragons’ heads at the ends of the lions’ tails are based on Chinese models.
The synthesis of Eastern and Western elements is purely Central Asian, which is not surprising considering that captive craftsmen from the former Jin territories were working in the same cities as the captured artisans from eastern Persia and Transoxiana. The density of its design and the fact that the design was entirely woven with gold thread are characteristic of textiles produced during the Mongol period.
The artistic and technical quality of this textile is unsurpassed among the silk and gold textiles that have survived from the early Mongol period. Given that it was once preserved in a Tibetan monastery, this textile was probably woven during the middle of the thirteenth century.
The Mongols only began to make contact with Tibet in 1240 and did not sign a treaty until 1247. In honor of that occasion, gold, silver, and two hundred precious robes were given as imperial gifts to Tibetan monasteries. A few years later, starting in 1251, members of Genghis Khan’s family began to patronize different Tibetan sects, which involved presenting gifts that, in those days, always included precious textiles. A textile of the extraordinary quality and value of this cloth of gold would almost certainly have reached Tibet as an imperial gift.
This is the kind of cloth that this man would have been trading in. “Tartar Cloth”, made of silk and often gold threads, was one of the most highly prized trade goods throughout Europe in the Middle Ages.
This kind of cloth gave the Silk Road its name, and was introduced to Medieval Europe through Mongolian influence in the 1200s.
Richard III : The twisted bones that reveal a king
- When Richard was killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, he was said to have been buried in Greyfriars church, Leicester. But this church was lost until archaeologists excavated a car park and discovered medieval remains. Victorian foundations had almost destroyed the entire grave and the feet were lost, but the bones still promised to provide a treasure trove of information - would they also reveal a king?
- Richard III was portrayed by Shakespeare as having a hunched back and the skeleton has a striking curvature to its spine. This was caused by scoliosis, a condition which experts say in this case developed in adolescence. Rather than giving him a stoop, it would have made one shoulder higher than the other. Highlighted are the facing sides of the 10th and 11th thoracic vertebrae, showing uneven growth as the spine bent.
- Evidence of a number of wounds were found on the skeleton but the face area was largely unmarked, apart from a sliced cheekbone. The skull has undergone a CT scan and the results will be used to reconstruct the king’s appearance. No portraits made during his lifetime have survived and some later copies show signs of having been altered to make him appear more sinister.
- The back of the skull shows dramatic injuries. One consists of a hole near the spine, where a large piece of bone has been sliced away by a heavy bladed weapon such as a halberd. This, along with a smaller wound opposite, may well have been a fatal injury. A smaller dent which cracked the inside of the skull, is thought to have been caused by a dagger. There are a further five wounds on the skull, all inflicted around the time of death.
- The teeth of the skeleton have provided important information. As well as evidence of disease and tooth decay, calcified plaque can be analysed for evidence of diet and environment. He had lost several of his back teeth before he died, probably due to dental caries. DNA samples were extracted from the teeth and the right femur to compare with known descendants of Richard’s family. Despite the potential for DNA to degrade, a match was found.
The back of the skull shows dramatic injuries. One consists of a hole near the spine, where a large piece of bone has been sliced away by a heavy bladed weapon such as a halberd. This, along with a smaller wound opposite, may well have been a fatal injury. A smaller dent which cracked the inside of the skull, is thought to have been caused by a dagger. There are a further five wounds on the skull, all inflicted around the time of death.
Interactive feature produced by Greig Watson, Christine Jeavans, Mick Ruddy, Sophia Domfeh and Paul Kerley.
Photographs by University of Leicester and Jeff Overs. Portrait of Richard III: Collection of the Society of Antiquaries of London.
On a related note, the Prime Minister said it’s up to the university whether or not they throw a state funeral: but come on, when are you ever going to get another chance to send off a king who has been missing for 500 years?
…Anybody feel like taking a field trip in a few months?
The Classic period Maya civilization did not really collapse, say some scholar-researchers. It was essentially transformed through societal reorganization, much of which manifests itself to this day through the modern Maya population. This suggestion challenges some long-held views by a broad spectrum of scientists and scholars who have theorized that the ancient Classic Maya civilization experienced a dramatic collapse between about 800 and 1,100 C.E.
In the paper, The Last Gasp: Demystifying the “Collapse” of the Terminal Classic Lowland Maya, published in the premier issue of AnthroJournal, author Elizabeth Votruba presents the arguments against collapse, suggesting that a different, more contextualized and holistic approach needs to be taken in researching, analyzing and interpreting the evidence of the ancient Maya existence and environment. Read more.
I get to spend an hour feeling smart as the prof explains urban development and labor specialization and agricultural surpluses to everyone else.
heck yes archaeology.
I just wish Linda Schele was still with us. I occasionally bring up the University of Texas webpage and stare creepily at the Art History grad admissions page because no matter how much I like to pretend I’m better than my art history friend, David Stuart would be worth it.
sidenote: I need a copy of The Blood of Kings like yesterday
sidesidenote: wonder if it’s too late to at least waitlist a histart class… I mean, class only starts in like four days or whatever
Eduardo Matos Moctezuma
This man is one of my heroes. He’s done work at some of the most important archaeological sites in the Americas, and for decades now he’s served as the director for both the excavations at the Templo Mayor and the accompanying museum. Additionally, he’s a prolific author. One book in particular, written with the equally-amazing co-authors Johanna Broda and Davíd Carrasco, completely revolutionized my understanding not only of the Templo and its builders, but religious architecture in general and the framework we use to understand how religion shapes us. It’s called The Great Temple of Tenochtitlan: Center and Periphery in the Aztec World and I would recommend it to anyone interested in religion, archaeology, Mesoamerica, or even just the way people work.
Sophie Schliemann, wife of archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, wearing jewelry excavated from ancient Troy, 1876.
Oh early archaeology. You so crazy.
Yeah I have a book on Egyptian Grammar - and what.
More importantly, why doesn’t everyone have a book on Egyptian Grammar.
Someone on OK cupid brought up Jurassic Park when I said I’m studying archaeology. Instant reject.
The Lost Cities
These are some of the amazing photos of the Ageless Cities.
Always Palenque in these sorts of photosets. Seriously, what does it take to get some Tula or Monte Albán all up in this bitch?
Whatevs, least it’s not more Chichen Itza.
I mean come on, describing it to an archaeologist from outside of this country must be slightly irritating. Especially if they come from somewhere like Scandinavia where there’s just so much information and archaeological evidence on the Vikings ready for you to dig up whenever you feel like it.
The oldest tattoos anywhere in the world were found in September 1991 in the Oztal Alps between Austria and Italy. The Chalcolithic man who has come to be known affectionately as Otzi the Ice Man (not to be confused with this tattooed Ice Man) was estimated to have lived around 5,200 years ago.
Otzi was the owner of several carbon tattoos, including, groups of short vertical lines across his lower back, a rough cross behind his right knee, two parallel lines on his wrist, various markings on his ankles and many more, adding up to a grand total of over fifty tattoos.
The tattoos were performed not by a method of needle use, instead they were created through a cutting the flesh and rubbing charcoal into the incision. It has been theorised that since Otzi’s tattoos are located in places where he would have suffered considerable strain, that the tattoos were intended not as symbols but rather a form of therapy leading to pain relief. Interestingly, the positioning of the ice man’s markings correspond to skin acupuncture lines. If this was the intended purpose of the tattoos it pre-dates the Chinese practice of acupuncture by over 2000 years.
Otzi’s body and his tattoos are now displayed in the South Tyol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, South Tyol, Italy.