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How Interconnected was the ancient World?

by Michael Shepherd


New research reveals that the famous terracotta warrior army buried near Xi’an, China was directly influenced by ancient Greek sculpture.  There has been no previous archaeological record or written evidence of interaction between these cultures.  Yet students of history are familiar with many legends and myths that hint at a network of ancient travellers that disbursed technical and cultural advancements around the world.

terra cotta warriors reflect ancient Greece


Marco Polo managed to make it home to Venice to write about his fantastic adventures.  How many other such adventurers did not survive to tell the tale?  I am of the school that throughout the eons of human existence there was a great deal of interaction that we can only guess at.  Yet, by definition, the evidence is nearly all circumstantial; very little is documented.


Perhaps the most famous speculation involves Jesus and his connection to Buddhism.  Historical evidence as well as quotes within the Bible indicates that Jesus was well acquainted with Buddhism.  If Jesus did not travel to India during his “lost” years, then at least Indian ideas traveled to Judea and Jesus. This region was a center for trade between India and the West both by land and by sea. Overland routes extending to Persia and western India were well established after Alexander's invasion of India 360 years before Jesus and just a few years before the statutes were created in China.


The First Emperor of China marked his ascent to the throne in 221 BC with the erection of twelve giant bronze sculptures outside his palace.  Later he had the vast terracotta army manufactured for his future tomb. The bronze sculptures were destroyed by his successors as were all records of his tomb which was not discovered until 1974.


The army figures are truly amazing.  Although mass produced they contain a great deal of variety as well as individualized features.  In addition to soldiers, generals, chariots and horses there are acrobats and musicians; many showing very advanced sculpture techniques.  The majority has not yet been uncovered in order to preserve their paint and details but it is estimated there are about 9000 figures.


Such life size or larger art was not part of Chinese culture before or after this brief period.  So where did the skills come from?  It took the ancient Greeks over a thousand years to reach that point of artistic development.  The newly translated ancient Chinese documents clearly point to a connection with the far west of China near where Alexander the Great’s army had brought its sculpture traditions.


Here too there would have been a great deal of undocumented interaction along the trade routes.  Artists, explorers, criminals, whoever wanted to move on the fringes of society would both learn from and teach those people whom they travelled among.  Which leads me to a question only the future can answer:  How many more discoveries of which history bears no record, such as the buried Chinese army, will be made with modern technology or purely by chance?


These ideas rely on the original work of Lukas Nickel, University of London: The First Emperor and sculpture in China. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 76, pp 413-447

 

Print Your Own Artifacts:

3D printing has long been touted in the investment news as the wave of the future but it didn’t hit home to me until I saw this headline for a CNET article: “3D print your own ancient artefacts for a home museum” That article was about a startup company that went to various museums to scan their artifacts and sell downloadable templates for your home or office 3D printer.


The article comments led me to discover than many museums offer a similar service, including the British Museum and Smithonian.  Another museum offers free 3D models on their web site of Egyptian Archaeology.


Since this is all new to me it does carry a big WOW factor.  The potential for education is immense; for home decoration even more lucrative.   And that is just what I can think of immediately.  How would YOU benefit from a 3D artefacts and artworks?

 

Colossal marble bust of Zeus by britishmuseum on Sketchfab

 

Until I get a comment form organised please contact me with your comments or suggestions for other content. Cheers

 

 

 

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