Leaving home for my trip to the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, the morning was cool, still, and gray, but at the exhibition’s end, I stepped out into an afternoon turned sunny and warm, and the sky placid blue and fleecy.
The Secrets of the Silk Road exhibition was fascinating. One hundred fifty objects excavated from ancient burial sites along the fabled Silk Road route through western China. The Silk Road was not a single trade route but three major routes linking China with the West. Caravans carrying silk, spices, gold, silver, silk thread, brass, medicine, copper, sugar, and more traversed these routes through places with fabulously exotic names like Astana, Turfan, Loulan in Lop Nor, Niya, the oasis kingdoms Khotan and Yotkan, Tumshuk and Tokuz Saray, Kucha, a geographical crossroads, Karashahr, Gaochang, Gansu, and Chang’an–as a fantasy writer, these place names make me swoon, reminding me that this world has been and is a world within worlds.
The exhibition displayed objects recovered from the tombs of the Tarim Basin mummies, a Caucasian people who lived in northwestern China over 3000 years ago. More than 100 Caucasian mummies were found preserved by the desert sands. The highlight of the exhibition for me was “The Beauty of Xiaohe,” a well-preserved mummy of a young Caucasian woman. For 3800 years, she has lain serene in her boat-shaped coffin, gazing into eternity. Thank you to tibetanaltar for the photo.
Another touching mummy was of a baby with small flat blue stones placed over his eyes; he was swaddled in red wool and buried with a baby bottle of the time, and now I can’t remember what it was made of–goatskin maybe. There were so many beautiful, intriguing and fascinating things–exquisite textiles of silk imprinted with elegant designs, horse blankets of ornately worked wool, felt hats trimmed with fur, beautifully-patterned silk clothing, gold jewelry imbedded with rubies, agates, and turquoises, a bronze cooking pot carried by nomadic people, meticulously decorated game boxes, delicately pierced eye covers, similar to sunglasses but used only to shield the eyes of the dead, a fabulous gold mask of a man’s face rimmed with rubies, and a figurine of a lovely female dancer excavated from the tomb of a noble couple. She is made of wood, silk, clay, and paper. A fun fact about her is the archaeologists discovered that her arms were made from cancelled pawn tickets from the Tang capital of Chang’an. Old papers were often recycled as material for burial objects. Loved this exhibition!