Won­der who made the Ter­ra­cotta War­riors? Read the sig­na­ture

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSS AMERICAS - By CHRIS DAVIS in New York chris­davis@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

The best thing about science is that it’s all about solv­ing mysteries.

A new one comes from the world of archaeology and it’s al­ready mak­ing head­lines around the world.

Ev­i­dence sug­gests Xi’an’s fab­u­lous 8,000-man, 300 BC Ter­ra­cotta Army may have been in­flu­enced by an­cient Greek sculp­tures, the head­lines read.

“The fig­ures’ star­tlingly life­like ap­pear­ance could have been in­flu­enced by the ar­rival in China of an­cient Greek sculp­tures,” The Guardian re­ported. Greek sculp­tors them­selves may have made their way to teach their tech­niques, one of the re­searchers sug­gested.

The sci­en­tist cited DNA ev­i­dence that Euro­peans were min­gling genes in Xin­jiang in the sec­ond cen­tury BC, when the Silk Road of­fi­cially opened (1,500 years be­fore Marco Polo hit it), so the time frame can be nailed down.

Li Xi­uzhen, an ar­chae­ol­o­gist at the Xi’an site, said, “We now think the Ter­ra­cotta Army, the ac­ro­bats and the bronze sculp­tures found on the site have been in­spired by an­cient Greek sculp­tures and art.”

There’s ap­par­ently no prior tra­di­tion of Chi­nese ar­ti­sans mak­ing life-sized hu­man fig­ures, but new an­cient ar­ti­facts are turn­ing up in China all the time — and re­mem­ber archaeology’s car­di­nal rule: Ab­sence of ev­i­dence is not ev­i­dence of ab­sence.

Pro­fes­sor Lukas Nickel, chair of Asian art history at the Univer­sity of Vi­enna, told Fox News that “the mas­sive em­ploy­ment of sculp­ture in the mau­soleum is to­tally un­prece­dented in the Chi­nese tra­di­tion” mak­ing it “likely that the skills nec­es­sary came not from China but from the out­side”.

Nickel also had some writ­ten ev­i­dence in the form of a record writ­ten about 100 years after the death of Em­peror Qin, the ruler the 8,000-man Ter­ra­cotta Army was crafted over four decades to pro­tect.

“It states that the first sculp­tures the em­peror made were in­ten­tional copies of other fig­ures the Chi­nese had found at the west­ern end of the Chi­nese world,” he said.

A few days after the ar­ti­cle went vi­ral, Li Xi­uzhen re­futed the re­port, say­ing her re­marks had been taken out of con­text and clar­i­fied to Xin­hua.

“I think the Ter­ra­cotta War­riors may be in­spired by West­ern cul­ture,” she said, “but were uniquely made by the Chi­nese.”

Dr Fan Zhang, Chi­nese art cu­ra­tor at the Asian Art Mu­seum in San Fran­cisco, said that the whole ar­gu­ment fuses at least two or more is­sues and makes a con­clu­sion without any strong ev­i­dence.

“1) Did com­mer­cial or cul­tural con­nec­tions be­tween the Mediter­ranean world and China ex­ist be­fore 200 BCE?” he wrote in an email to China Daily, and “2) Were Chi­nese crafts­men in­spired by Greek ar­ti­sans to cre­ate life-size round sculp­tural work in a nat­u­ral­is­tic style?”

The an­swer to ques­tion one, he said, is yes, for sure. “Chi­nese ar­chae­ol­o­gists have al­ready found some ev­i­dence in the past three decades to prove trade be­tween East and West around 200 BCE,” he said. “There were not only con­tacts over land, but also on the seas.”

As for the sec­ond ques­tion, there is no di­rect ev­i­dence, but he agrees that, “as some schol­ars have pro­posed decades ago, some artis­tic in­flu­ence from the Hel­lenis­tic world can be ob­served in Chi­nese art dur­ing the late War­ring States pe­riod”.

“Ar­ti­sans from the Hel­lenis­tic world, pos­si­bly South, Cen­tral or even West Asian peo­ples, might have ended up in China by 200 BCE,” he said. “We de­pend on more ar­chae­o­log­i­cal finds to shed light on many in­ter­est­ing is­sues.”

Gwen Ben­nett, ar­chae­ol­o­gist and as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of an­thro­pol­ogy and East Asian stud­ies at McGill Univer­sity, also de­cried the lack of data sup­port­ing the claims, writ­ing in a Face­book post, “I think they are ref­er­enc­ing the Xin­jiang mum­mies without say­ing it, but their DNA ev­i­dence only in­di­cates that they are most sim­i­lar to Cen­tral Asian pop­u­la­tions. It’s a hor­ri­ble stretch to claim they are Greek.”

Ben­nett also notes that the Ter­ra­cotta Army fig­ures were made by the same crafts­peo­ple that worked at the fac­to­ries that pro­duced the pipes and tiles used for the city’s drainage sys­tem. And ev­ery crafts­man left his mark on ev­ery tile — and war­rior — they made.

“And the names are Chi­nese names,” she writes. “For­eign­ers in China at the time had dis­tinc­tive names, so they can usu­ally be iden­ti­fied.”

As Li told Xin­hua, “I am an ar­chae­ol­o­gist, and I value ev­i­dence. I’ve found no Greek names on the backs of Ter­ra­cotta War­riors.”

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