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Archive for the ‘World Heritage Sites’ Category

Check out THIS 2005 documentary film about the Bamyan Buddhas.

It’s been out for a while, but I figured I’d draw your attention to it, since Columbia University’s Center for Archaeology recently hosted a discussion panel about it. It’s a good introduction to some of the problems facing archaeological sites in Central Asia.

It’s also available for purchase on DVD. I know what’s on my Christmas list!

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Today, the official statement of concern about the ongoing demolition of Old Kashgar was released by SAFE (Saving Antiquities for Everyone). It can be found HERE.

The letter is addressed to  Mr. Francesco Bandarin, the director of UNESCO World Heritage based in Paris, France, which is in charge of the nomination of World Heritage sites around the world. The Silk Road has been on the nomination list for several years, and this letter urges the World Heritage committee to reconsider adding Kashgar to The Silk Road nomination (the reasons for why Kashgar was not orignally a part of the Silk Road package speaks volumes about how political these nominations can be…).

A copy of the letter has reproduced here. Just for you. Enjoy, and once again, please sign the petitions linked in the right-hand columns of this page if you want to voice your concerns about the destruction of archaoelogical and cultural heritage in Kashgar.

THROUGH COORDINATED ACTION AND MEASURED DIALOG, THE UNDERSIGNED BELIEVE THAT WE CAN SAVE ONE THE JEWELS OF THE SILK ROAD BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE.

July 6, 2009
Mr. Francesco Bandarin
Director
UNESCO World Heritage Centre
7, place de Fontenoy
75352 Paris, France

Dear Mr. Bandarin:

We write to convey our profound concern for the ancient city of Kashgar in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of Northwest China and urge you to exert your influence to have the city included in the Chinese portion of the Silk Road being considered for the World Heritage List.

Reportedly, 85% of the ancient portion of the city is under demolition. The stated reason is that the old buildings are susceptible to earthquakes and pose a danger to residents. Though we support taking measures to ensure the safety of citizens, we are concerned that the demolition of Old Kashgar will deal a serious blow to the cultural heritage and archaeological patrimony of the Uyghur people, China, and all mankind.

Since Old Kashgar was a key transit point on the Northern Steppe Route of the Silk Road, it is startling to discover that this fabled oasis city has not been included in the World Heritage List proposal. Besides having been an important Silk Road trading post, Old Kashgar is an historic center of Islamic and Uyghur culture, being the home of China’s largest mosque as well as the holiest Muslim site in Xinjiang, the tomb of Abakh Khoja. According to historian George Michell, author of the 2008 book Kashgar: Oasis City on China’s Old Silk Road, Old Kashgar is “the best preserved example of a traditional Islamic city to be found anywhere in Central Asia.”

Given the city’s vast tangible and intangible cultural heritage, we believe that considering the Silk Road for the World Heritage List without including Old Kashgar would be an incomplete designation. According to the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention, “To be deemed of outstanding universal value, a property must also meet the conditions of integrity and/or authenticity and must have adequate protection and management system to ensure its safeguarding.” We believe Old Kashgar meets the criteria for cultural heritage under the Assessment of Outstanding Universal Value.

China’s present treatment of Kashgar is all the more perplexing when one considers that as recently as 2007, the country appeared to be committed to preserving the old city in a way that respected its heritage and complied with international expectations. In that year, according to published reports, the Xinjiang Construction Department organized a group of experts to begin assessing an urban preservation plan for Kashgar. Among the topics discussed were how to preserve the old town, how to further study the relationship between Kashgar’s modern condition and its rich cultural past, and how to protect Kashgar’s tangible and intangible cultural heritage.

The fact that this seminar was held with official sanction proves that China is capable of protecting historical sites within its borders if it so chooses. In fact, Chinese law supports our view. Articles 16-18 of the Law of the People’s Republic of China for the Protection of Cultural Relics, as amended and adopted in 2002, stipulate that protective measures for immovable cultural relics must be taken before beginning any and all construction activities, including drilling, digging, or blasting. These articles also require that devices for the preservation of cultural relics must be included in the design plan of any new construction project undertaken.

So China has a demonstrable commitment to protecting her past. What the country needs now is international support. Thus we ask the World Heritage Convention to confer with its colleagues in China to clarify the plans for Kashgar’s fate, and also to reconsider including this important historical site as part of the Chinese portion of the Silk Road nominated for World Heritage Site status.

In addition, we respectfully urge the World Heritage Convention to try to persuade the Chinese authorities to heed the Xinjiang Construction Department’s suggestions to either preserve Kashgar or conduct salvage archaeology to mitigate the destruction. For example: has a detailed photographic survey or documentation of Old Kashgar been conducted so that it would be possible to reconstruct the ancient quarter?

Finally, we urge the Chinese government to consider conducting a serious evaluation of the cultural and historical importance of what is left of Old Kashgar, utilizing professional archaeologists in the area and volunteer experts who, we are convinced, will consult if given the opportunity. Not doing so would violate the spirit and letter of the World Heritage Convention.

In so many other contexts, the Chinese government has shown it knows the country’s past belongs to all the Chinese people and indeed all the people of the world. It is important that the material remains of China’s long and illustrious past be protected, conserved, and studied so that the world might know of its great contributions to human society. Destroying the ancient portions of Kashgar without first undertaking a comprehensive photographic survey and salvage archaeology will damage China’s reputation for scholarship and result in the loss of an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of China’s role in the history of Central Asia. It is for these reasons that we voice our very grave concerns about the destruction of Old Kashgar.

Respectfully,


Dr. Claire Alix, Research Associate, Alaska Quaternary Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks

Dr. Graeme Barker, Director, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research

Joyce Clark, Board member of Heritage Watch

Lawrence S. Coben, Executive Director, Sustainable Preservation Initiative

Dr. Clemency Coggins, Professor of Archaeology and of Art History, Boston University

Dr. Margaret Conkey, President, The Society for American Archaeology

Dr. Laura Flusche, Assistant Academic Dean, University of Dallas

Dr. Donny George, Stony Brook University, former Director of the Iraq Museum

Cindy Ho, President, SAFE/Saving Antiquities for Everyone

Dr. David Koester, Director of Global Studies and Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Alaska Fairbanks

Dr. Richard M. Leventhal, Cultural Heritage Center at Penn, University of Pennsylvania

Dr. Tod A. Marder, Professor II, Department of Art History, Director, Certificate Program in Historic Preservation, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Susan McCabe, President, Society for Asian Art

Dr. Dougald O’Reilly, Director, Heritage Watch

Dr. Richard M. Pettigrew, President and Executive Director, Archaeological Legacy Institute

Professor Lord Colin Renfrew, Senior Fellow, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research

Dr. C. Brian Rose, President, Archaeological Institute of America

Dr. Lawrence Rothfield, former Director, Cultural Policy Center, University of Chicago

Dr. Lucille A. Roussin, J.D.

Dr. Donald H. Sanders, President, The Institute for the Visualization of History, Inc.

Barnea Levi Selavan, Co-Director, Foundation Stone

Alim Seytoff, General Secretary, Uyghur American Association/Uyghur Human Rights Project, Representative for the World Uyghur Congress and the International Uyghur Human Rights and Democracy Foundation

Dr. Charles Stanish, Director, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA

Dr. Gil J. Stein, Director, the Oriental Institute and Professor, University of Chicago

Nadia Tarzi, Executive Director Association for the Protection of Afghan Archaeology

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A short announcement came out on the 24th of June that China was nominating 2 sites to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in an attempt to replace Germany’s Dresden Elbe Valley, which was removed due to construction of a bridge in the centre of the valley.

Yesterday, Xinhua.net announced that Mt. Wutai was successfully inscribed on the list, saying that “the buildings on the site present a catalogue of the way Buddhist architecture developed and influenced palace building in China over more than a millennium.”

Indeed, Mt. Wutai, which is located in the province of Shanxi, China, is one of the most important Buddhist sites in China, with over 53 sacred monastaries situated around its 5 rounded peaks. It is also home of China’s oldest extant wooden structure, which dates to the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 A.D.). Another important individual site located on the mountain that UNESCO aims to protect is the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 A.D.) Shuxiang Temple that “contains a huge complex of 500 statues representing Buddhist stories woven into three dimensional pictures of mountains and water.”

In my opinion, this is all well and good, but what about Kashgar?

Image of some of the Buddhist temples situation around Mt. Wutai's 5 peaks

Image of some of the Buddhist temples situated around Mt. Wutai's 5 peaks

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A news article came out today that rescue excavations will commence immediately at the Zhoukoudian Cave Site that is located 50 kilometers SW of Beijing.

Location of of the Zhoukoudian Cave Site

Location of of the Zhoukoudian Cave Site

According to the report, the excavation will last for 4 months, and is intended not only to shore up a large fracture that has appeared on the ceiling of the cave due to natural erosion, but also to answer some important research questions that had not been fully explored when the cave was last excavated in the 1980s.

The Zhoukoudian site is most well known was being the place where Peking Man was discovered in the 1920s, first by Swedish archaeologist Johan Gunner Andersson, and later on by Chinese scholars. Peking Man is considered to be one of the oldest hominid fossils yet discovered in China, and puts human occupation in north China as early as 500,000 years ago.

Gao Xing, a Paleoanthropologist from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) says that:

The excavation will help us understand in a more detailed way when humans settled down in the cave, when they began to use fire, what and when major climate changes occurred.

One of the most debated and interesting aspects of Peking Man, and Locality 1 at Zhoukoudian, is Peking Man’s supposed use and mastery of fire. This is an idea that is still widely accepted and believed in China, though some western scholars have begun to doubt this claim’s validity. In the late 1990s, a team of archaeologists lead by professor Paul Goldberg of Boston University conducted micromopholocial analysis on the soil layers of the site, and found that the ashy deposits that scholars had until then been believing were evidence of hearths and fire burning activities at the site were in fact washed in by water, and not evidence of burning at all. The report of what they found can be read HERE, at Boston University’s website for their Department of Archaeology.

Image of Zhoukoudian Locality 1. Taken from:http://people.bu.edu/paulberg/china_zh.html

Image of Zhoukoudian Locality 1. Taken from:http://people.bu.edu/paulberg/china_zh.html

The archaeologists working at the site this time around hope that by conducting rescue archaeology, they will be able to prove, once and for all, whether or not these deposits are evidence of fire usage, and if fire was ever mastered by Peking Man.

It should be noted that the Zhoukoudian site IS listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, and thus its protection should be of the highest priority.

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Just got wind of yet another set of initiatives aimed at garnering attention and awareness of the ongoing demolition of Old Kashgar that has been in the news lately (if you’ve been paying attention to the side headlines in your national newspaper).

HERE is yet another “SAVE KASHGAR” Facebook group that posts some interesting events coming up. It was started by a student at the University of Toronto and already has over 150 members.

HERE is another petition on petitiononline.com that aims to petition the UNESCO World Heritage Committee to consider making Kashgar a World Heritage Site. Sounds a lot like what the people over at SAFE are trying to do as well, draw attention to the fact that Kashgar not only deserves to be, but frankly should have been made a World Heritage Site sooner, and NOT after its demolition begins.

Anyways, the petition will herein be permenantly linked on the RIGHT (under “Petitions”). It has over 6000 signatories already, let’s make it 7000!

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For anyone who can read Chinese (simplified), or who wants to practice their Chinese, HERE is an interesting article from www.popyard.org, a popular Chinese news website that discusses whether or not the Tomb of Qinshihuang should be excavated.

The famous mausoleum of Qinshihuang, the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty (221 B.C. – 206 B.C.), has reentered the news recently because of the 3rd excavation on the terracotta warriors pits that commenced earlier this month.

The mausoleum of the famed emperor himself has not yet been excavated, however, due to several competing arguments for and against it. First off, as the popyard opinion piece fervently opens with, “excavating the tomb of an ancient emperor for the sake of boosting curiosity and tourism is (should be) absolutely forbidden;” many Chinese feel that excavating this tomb would be akin to sacrilege, and that the tombs of the ancients, especially an ancient as well-known, respected, and somewhat feared as Qinshihuang should be left in peace and admired from afar. Second, even those who advocate for excavating the tomb are hesitant because they fear the corrosive effects of exposing whatever treasures the tomb may have to offer to the air, which has already been demonstrated on the paint once covering the terracotta warriors.

In addition, there are many myths and stories surrounding what may be contained inside that enormous mound that makes up the tomb, including poisoned arrows, rivers of mercury, and a plethora of guardian spirits. All of these stem from the well-known idea that Qinshihuang, during his lifetime, was obsessed with immortality, and took endless pains to ensure that his body and spirit would be preserved long after his death. If the grandiosity of the terracotta warrior pits so far found are any indication of how seriously Qinshihuang might have been about wanting his mortal remains to be protected, the sheer size of his mausoleum has been an effective deterrant for even the most curious Chinese scholar.

On a more practical level, the amount of tourism that the site has garnered in the last several decades has required the Chinese to ensure its protection. As a result this tomb is one of rare exceptions in China that has NOT been looted to within an inch of its life.

The question now is, what benefit would excavating the tomb bring not only to China, but also to the international community? Is the mausoleum better off untouched? Given all of the arguments against excavating it, dangers contained within, issues of conservation and preservation, and the dangers from without (looting), it is hard to imagine that any information about Qinshihuang and his time period that the tomb could tell us would be worth losing such a treasure. Even hard-nosed archaeologists and people who are pro-information gathering, sometimes have a difficult time speaking up against the tide that upholds the importance of keeping THIS tomb intact.

What are your thoughts on the matter?

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A June 10th news post on Xinhua.net has announced that a third excavation shall begin this weekend at the world-famous Qin Terra Cotta Warriors site near the ancient capital of Xian in Shaanxi Province, China. The site is a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site, which means that it fulfills UNESCO’s criteria for being a shining example of “human creative genius.”

Location of the ancient city of Xian, Shaanxi Province, China. (Map courtesy of airexpresstravel.net)

Location of the ancient city of Xian, Shaanxi Province, China. (Map courtesy of airexpresstravel.net)

Image inside Pit No. 1

Image inside Pit No. 1

The first day of excavation began on June 13th, and is intended to uncover and preserve approximately 2,152 square feet (~2000 square meters) of Pit No. 1, the largest of three pits containing the famed life-size terracotta warriors over the course of 5 years. This year, China’s State Administration of Cultural Relics has approved the opening of approximately 200 square meters of the site.

Pit No. 1 in the center

Pit No. 1 in the center of the image

According to CBS news, “special care will be taken to preserve the figures’ painted details, which have faded almost entirely in those already taken from the earth and exposed to air.”

The first day of excavation, on June 13th, 2009, began at 1:00 pm and lasted for approximately 5 hours. During this time, Chinese archaeologists uncovered 2 four-horse chariots.

One of the main problems with excavating these pottery sculptures is that preservation of their pigmentation has been notoriously difficult. when the warriors were first discovered in 1974, they were supposedly richly colored, though exposure to the air has caused much of this original painting to corrode. According to Xinhua news, preservation has been taken into consideration much more carefully this time around, and is currently “better than thought.”

Poor conservation methods has also been one of the reasons why the rest of the terracotta warriors were not excavated earlier in time. In addition, the bulk of Qin Shihuang‘s actual tomb and burial chamber remains untouched, and it is unsure when or how archaeologists in China plan to excavate it.

Exterior image of the mound that is Qin Shihuang's unexcavated mausoleum

Exterior image of the mound that is Qin Shihuang's unexcavated mausoleum

Qin Shihuang’s tomb site is one of the most important archaeological and cultural heritage sites in China (and in the world), and it is certainly one of the most frequented and well-known. This new excavation is sure to bring in quite a large amount of new tourists, and probably boost the popularity of this site in the coming years.

Hopefully the plans for preserving the color on these newly excavated warriors will be successful.

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