Category Archives: Student Blog Post 3

Terracota Triumph

This is a resubmission, I attempted to submit on Wednesday but could not find it on the page. with that being said I present my blog post: Terracota Triumph:

In our study of the Ancient Chinese civilization and it’s people I found much of the material to be difficult to grasp and to understand. Ultimately I found that it mainly had t to do with a lack of western understanding of the Chinese study. Regardless of the reason why I found it difficult to focus, one image in particular stood out to me having recognized it from its dozens, if not hundreds of appearances in popular culture. Namely the terracotta warriors or as they are also known the Terracotta Army.
The terracotta warriors are right up there with the dragons when it comes to appearances in popular culture of China. I wanted to know a little bit more about these magnificent figures and what exactly their ties to the the civilization were. These artifacts were created during the time of the First emperor Qin Shihuang who sought to become even more powerful and remember after his death. He chased his dreams of immortality through his construction of a massive tomb that took many years to finish, with construction of the tomb being done but upwards of 700,00 laborers and slaves who were sometimes put to death in order to keep the tombs secret location a secret. Inside this tomb were not only the famous warriors, but horses, weapons, and armor for them. To carry on into the next life The
The structure was first discovered in 1974 and is often hailed as on of the greatest agricultural find of all time. According to some of the more recent discoveries have shown that 1800 individual statues have ben uncovered, but most of the complex containing the magnificent warriors remains unexcavated.
The structure had four main pits that were associated with the army. These pits were allegedly designed so that the emperor would be defended from his conquered states hence why the army is faced to protect from the East. The second tomb was designed for cavalry and infantry unit and chariots, meant to symbolize the emperors royal guardians. The third pit contained righ ranking officers and another chariot. Pit four contained nothing and is widely believed to be have either been graverobbeed or far more likely it was left unfinished by the builders of the structure.
Ultimately I found the structure to be an eye-opening look into Chinese architecture. Each of these figures serves as an individual and illustrates how great art and memorials can transcend the barriers of the time they are created and serve as an illustrious example for generations to come.

A Brief History on Jade

During Monday’s lecture Professor Watrall lecture on The Ancient Chinese State he about the “Cong & Bi” and how it has significant representations in their culture. But really caught my attention was the material that they were made from-Jade. Usually when I hear someone talking about I instantly think about the old school kung fu movies where there is the “Evil Jade Emperor” and a young village boy who has to master a certain martial art to stop the emperor’s tyranny. Now I know the only reason for the emperor’s to have that jade in their name was to help show that they are elite and I’m not saying that jade represents anything evil but when professor was talking about it in class it peaked my curiosity so I did a little searching and found out some pretty sweet information its involvement with Chinese culture.

Although that jade is found in Central America, Brazil, Burma, India and Canada no other culture able to rival China’s vast amount of jade art and jewelry. The usage of jade in Chinese culture and History dates back to almost nine thousand years ago. During that time many Imperial families used it for grave goods, it was also used for adornment for kings, utilitarian and ceremonial objects. The milky green stone was viewed as a metaphor for human virtues because of its hardness, durability and beauty. There was a Chinese philosopher by the name of Confucius who famously said the good virtue of man is like jade. It represents dignity, blessing, fortune and longevity. White jade is the most highly valued, but the stone comes in a variety of translucent shades of green, brown and black. It was said that jade links both the spiritual and physical world, it encapsulates both the yin and yang qualities of heaven and earth which later gave way to it being nicknamed “The Stone of Heaven”.   There was a record from a 200 A.D. dictionary that defined jade as the “fairest of stones” and enriched with the five virtues charity, rectitude, wisdom, courage and equity. There is a lot of deep meaning with Jade and there is also superstitions that come along with it. Over time jade naturally changes color, it gradually shifts to a darker green. The Chinese believe that jade is a purifier, it helps with blood circulation and also it absorbs bad chi, hints its change to a darker shade. I found this article to really be interesting because I didn’t know that jade had such history and deep meaning.

Here’s a link if you want to know a little more about jade in Chinese culture and to also look at some pretty solid pictures of Jade art: http://history.cultural-china.com/en/182History6209.html

Unification

I thought it was interesting how Ancient China did not unify for a really long time, even though other states we have seen started out very separately too.  In Ancient Mesopotamia, there were many cultures that overlapped and exerted a lot of influence, and in the Ancient Indus Valley there were a lot of cultures that co-existed during the creation of the (possibly?) unified state.  Even though we do not know a lot about the Ancient Indus Valley, we think it was unified, though in a different way from Ancient Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt.  Ancient Egypt, on the other spectrum, did not seem to have multiple cultures.  The Lower Egypt culture became replaced by Upper Egyptian culture, so during unification, there was not really more than one type of culture the way there was in Sumerian, Akkadian, or Harappan culture.

There are multiple facets to why this interests me, the first being that the diversity of cultures and the difficulty of unification seems to increase as we move east across the globe.  Each of these cultures or sets of cultures we have talked about occur around river systems, and, aside from the Nile, we haven’t talked all that much about how the river worked, except that it was important for irrigation/agriculture.  It would be interesting to me to see if perhaps the changes in the river systems across these places could perhaps account for some of the differences in cultures and unification processes.  I am not really sure how these would work, but it does seem intriguing that the Nile was the only river we talked about in great depth and that was the one state we talked about with a pretty unified culture as well.

Another part of this that makes me wonder is the trade aspect of the state.  In each of the other states, especially the Indus Valley, we spent a good amount of time talking about how long distance trade affected the unification process and the fall of the state.  However, in Ancient China, we did not really mention trade as an important part of the growth of states.  We talked about how different cultures that grew into states were interconnected with other cultures through the idea of elite competition.  However, we did not talk about whether trade was another aspect to this interconnectedness.  It appeared in the Ancient Indus Valley that the inter-dependency on their trade network outside their state, which was a key factor in their collapse.  However, because Ancient China did not have this inter-dependency within trade networks, is it possible they did not become unified quickly because they did not need the extremely large-scale workings such trade would require of a state?  I guess what I am asking is what factors played into how China was able to stay so separate for such a long time when everyone around them was becoming unified.

Oracle Bones

In our lecture on the ancient Chinese State we briefly discussed Oracle bones; I found these items very interesting and wanted to do further research on them to get a greater understanding of their use and significance. In my research I came across quite a bit of interesting information about the bones that I wanted to share with those who might not know much about them.

Oracle bones are pieces of shell or bone, typically from ox scapulae or turtle shells due to their flat surfaces. They were used in as a form of divination in ancient China, mainly during the late Shang dynasty. The bones were used in a ritual where diviners would inscribe questions to deities regarding many things some of which being questions about: future weather, crop planting, military endeavors, and similar topics. The questions were carved onto the bone or shells using a sharp tool in a language known as oracle bone script. The process of carving used a metal rod put under intense heat and was applied to the bone or shell until it cracked due to thermal expansion.  The pattern of cracks would be interpreted by the diviner for meaning.  Later in time the preferred writing method became using cinnabar ink and brush to write on the bones which results in a lot of bones being unearthed blank.

The oracle bones are important because they bear the earliest form of ancient Chinese writing and contain historically important information. From oracle bones scholars have learned the complete royal genealogy of the Shang dynasty. In my research I learned that the Shang-dynasty oracle bones are thought to have been unearthed periodically by local farmers as early as the Sui and Tang dynasties. However, local inhabitants probably did not realize what the bones were and probably reburied them. In the 19th century, local villagers digging in the fields found the bones and used them as “dragon bones”.  Dragon bones are used in traditional Chinese medicine practice and are ground up Pleistocene fossils used in tonics and poultices. Turtle shell fragments were prescribed for malaria and other animal bones were used in a powdered form to treat knife wounds. The importance of oracle bones was first realized in 1899, when an antiques dealer from the Shangdong Province searching for Chinese bronzes in the areas acquired many oracle bones from locals and sold many to the chancellor of the Imperial Academy in Beijing. The chancellor was very knowledgeable of Chinese bronzes and is thought to be the first person in modern times to realize the oracle bones’ markings were an ancient Chinese writing.

As I researched oracle bones further they became more and more interesting to me, everything from their preparation to how they were used in practice.  They give us a written record of history in a form that isn’t seen anywhere else in the world. And all the mystery that surrounds them makes them that much interesting to learn about.

Dragon Bones

I found myself fascinated recently by the concept of oracle bones, so I did a little research and found it so interesting that I couldn’t find it within myself to write a post on anything else.

The concept was not entirely foreign to me. I have had a great deal of exposure to something similar through anime/manga over the years, so the basics we already known to me. However, as is often the case with fictional portrayals, the facts weren’t quite accurate.

I was super relieved to find that they used animal bones, not human (which probably tells you just how out-there and inaccurate the stuff I had been reading was on this subject). The rest of popular anime-oriented myth follows these basics: the bones (human, and often recognizably leg, arm, or rib bones) are chanted over by a dark priest/priestess dressed in traditional flowing robes. The ceremony is elaborate, involves more chanting, occasionally requires the priest or priestess to slice a finger and dribble blood all over the place, and ends with casting the bones into the fire and examining the cracks. There is a milder variation, in which finger bones with symbols carved on them are used instead. This milder version is usually used by benign oracles, who chant over the bones, toss them, and then examine the patterns in which they fall and which symbols are facing up, in addition to which symbols land near each other. The questions addressed by such divination were often outcomes of battles, fates of key individuals, and the future of the world as a whole. I’m sure a lot could be said about what such portrayals say about the Japanese and how they perceive these traditions, but we’ll let that point rest here for the moment.

Let’s take a moment to compare this depiction with what we know to be reality: a divination using tortoise or ox bones, an absence of blood sacrifice, done by priests and later by kings themselves, regarding often arbitrary things like the weather and the harvest. No black magic. No half-demons lurking in the shadows and awaiting the answer. No fate-of-the-world stuff. Bones are done one at a time and may be reused. Chanting may or may not happen, but the questions and their answers are conveniently inscribed in the bones. Compared to the fictional representation, this variation seems to be more about asking the bones rather than asking a deity through the medium of the bones (although this is purely conjecture on my part).

I also found it interesting, during research, to discover that farmers in the 1800’s, upon finding these discarded oracle bones while working their fields, dubbed them “dragon bones” and proceeded to grind them up and use them as medicine. Obviously this didn’t help cure anybody (although a psych study or two might beg to differ). But I found it interesting that people could find a piece of their own history like that, falsely attribute its origin to an otherworldly being, and destroy it for the sake of medicine. I’m sure this is not the first time something like that has happened, over the course of the world and whatnot, but still I find it mind-blowing.

The Vertical Integration of Religion

Covering in the past few lectures was the Indus Valley Civilization.  As someone from the region, it is extremely interesting for me to hear how these particular ancient people lived.  The extremely organized city-state (the civilization’s most identifiable quality) we studied made me think of the island I come from in India, Sri Rangam.  The differences in infrastructure and public institutions between India and Western countries are so stark now.  Why is this?  What pivotal event(s) or state policy made it so; was it economic or institutional?  The island itself is extremely agricultural focused, and known internationally for being home to a relatively large, old Hindu temple.  And there apparent social stratification between not only socioeconomic levels, not only between gender but also between sex and gender.  Unlike most Western civilizations, culture in the Indian Subcontinent (ancient & modern) has impressions of religious rhetoric ingrained in it.  And its vertical integration into the Indus Valley Civilization is what led to the eventual collapse.

A perfect example of this, the story that Ethan talked about in the Rig-Veda that led the the collapse of the Indus Valley Civilization.  It was often was to me as a bedtime story, and like most traditions, was only passed down orally.  This oral nature of reciting history further reinforces the influence of religion on culture, as exemplified when Hindus call the Rig-Veda the “breath of Bhraman”.  This is one of the main reasons I think anthropologists are so unclear as to the true nature of collapse in the Indus Valley.

The predominately auditory characteristic could be why the civilization died out: no meticulous agricultural records or weather patterns by the state (or other institutional authority).  Assuming the state placed some sort of tariff/tax on agricultural utility, citizens must have realized that the land had gone over usual yield.  If this is the case, then the “State” does not seem that powerful: a perfect explanation for why smaller settlements became a more popular form of community rather than urbanism.

Coming back to Sri Rangam’s infrastructure, architectural design of the community is in direct correlation with that of the temple.  A sanctum sanatorium surrounded by bands that decrease in importance.  Thus, socioeconomic stratums are literally built (along with the caste system which came much later).  But does this drive competition, which is necessary for social innovation and cultural progressivism.  How long is it before this civilization collapses upon itself?

Okios

The beginning of “A changing way of life: The okios-based economy of the third millennium”, the okios economy was not too much different from what it is today. People were moving away from areas and because of this, extracting tribute in the form of products was declining. People where losing their jobs because of the move. You also have the families that still remained in their own home and you also have a family that contained more than just a standard two-parent two children home. The homes were more nuclear or extended. You also have temples, which would consist of important public officials. The only difference from then to now is that the okios wanted to live that way. Many Americans would rather live off on their own but because of the economy, it’s just not possible financially. So we turn our households into the way okios live, sometimes just to keep our homes. I want to call their political system the government because those are the people that regulate things here, but the government, like always, likes to quickly take over what ever they possible can.

What may have started off as a tribute household, soon turned into an oikos based house hold because of the economic situation. A tribute household was mad of a male, a female and a child, normally all related, while the oikos house hold was made of many family members, some even extended family members. With all of that, age and gender affected the way the social position and the economic benefit, structurally. In an Oikos household was built off of need and that is what the third millennium Mesopotamia. Each household was accountable for their own production of goods for them to use, storing the products and then form all critical exchanged goods.  In the fourth and fifth millennia, the “government” goal was to take control of everything a lot different from how the okios did things.

What I would like to have read about from the beginning is how things start to fall? I know how it says at the beginning that people were moving away and things just started to move down hill from there, but I would like to know what started that? Was it because of some bad decisions that were made? Even though everyone did not work for an okio or live with them, were they better off this way?

Figurines the new “Writing”

What I found to be interesting in the last couple weeks was in relation to the Harrappan Society who reside within the Indus Valley, in particular a focus on their material culture.  The Harrappan Society is one of shrouded in mystery because of the lack of knowledge from writings. There is still no known bilingual object or “Rosetta Stone” for this ancient writing so the ancient tablets go unread, Though there has been progress on the writings by use of a computer program that was initiated by  an assembly of computer scientist from universities in India and the United States. The use of the program is to find patterns within the writing in hopes to be able to construct a script of the writing. Even though most of the Ancient Empires information that have been discovered comes from ancient writings, the Harrappan have another way to show their “society”.

Yet the Harrappan society has another way for understanding. The material culture of the Harrappan society is consistent of ceramics, figurines and beads. The figurines in particular are a way for the ancient world to be open to the eyes of the modern world. Most of the figurines are made out of terracotta. They carved into animals or gods , and are painted over with reds and blacks in some cases. Averaging in about 6 inches in height, the figurines are distinctive in their designs. They could be used to help understand certain aspects of the Indus Valley empire.

Figurines can be seen through out many ancient culture and states. They can be used to help learn about ancient cultural norms or constructs such as ideas about fertility, dress or even about their sub-cultures. Some of the earliest Harrappan figurines are stylized seated females with exaggerated buttocks and thighs.  These type of figurines have been found all over the world and are thought to symbolize fertility. Especially in a time where plumpness meant healthiness and wealth.

Other figurines also are portrayed as women. The figurines portrayed what could be seen as traditional dress. Showing the design of  headdress, necklaces, skirts and even bangles on some. On some of the figurines the designs were carved into the actual figurine, where other were painted in the traditional reds and blacks. The actual headdress are actually very detailed in design showing braided cords, and flowers.

These figurines can be seen as a way instead of written texts that past empires can be researched. As well as discovering new cultural aspects of certain cultures that sometimes can not be seen in writings. Do to the normal social inequality that is a part of writing.

 

http://www.harappa.com/figurines/5.html

http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1919795,00.html