Published: January 25, 2011
On February 5, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Art and Anthropology, 3260 South Street, will open the exhibition, “Secrets of the Silk Road.” On view through June 5 at its only East Coast venue, the exhibition was organized by the Bowers Museum, Santa Ana, Calif.
This historic exhibition of objects drawn from and organized with the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Museum and the Xinjiang Institute of Archaeology in Urumqi, China, reveals surprising details about the people who lived and traded along the ancient Silk Road †between 700 and 3,800 years ago.
Strikingly well-preserved mummies, tall in stature and fair in complexion, have lain in the parched Tarim Basin of western China for 3,800 years. Wearing Western-influenced textiles and possessing surprising technologies and customs, the identity of these extraordinary people is a mystery.
For the first time, “Secrets of the Silk Road” includes two mummies and the full burial trappings of a third, representative of three different periods of time: the much celebrated, 6-foot, 6-inch “Yingpan Man,” circa Third⁆ourth Century AD, with his gold-foil and white mask and opulent robes (the mummified remains of his body were too fragile to travel); an infant, circa Eighth Century BCE, wrapped in a still vibrant blue bonnet and burgundy woolen shroud similar to that found in northern Europe; and the “Beauty of Xiaohe.” With graceful eyelashes, long flaxen hair and serene expression, the “Beauty of Xiaohe” seems to have just fallen to sleep †yet she last closed her eyes nearly 4,000 years ago. She was found in 2003, one of hundreds of spectacularly preserved mummies buried in the desert sands of the vast Tarim Basin.
A wide array of more than 100 ancient objects †including clothing and textiles, gold jewelry and coins, figurines, tools, burial goods and even perfectly preserved food †help illuminate the history and prehistory of the famous Silk Road. It is where lavish goods, technologies and ideas between East and West were adopted and exchanged †including what may be the worlds first sunglasses †being practiced in the inhospitable lands of the Tarim Basin where East meets West.
The discovery of these ancient people has helped scholars better understand the settlement of ancient Central Asia and has opened up a window to understanding the very early exchange of important technologies, life-improving inventions and ideas and customs. The advanced metallurgy and textile traditions of these mystery mummies are of particular note, according to archaeologists.
Penn Museum’s presentation will provide a new context for the “Secrets of the Silk Road” material. New interactive components in the exhibition are designed to engaged visitors of all ages with the ancient artifacts and principal themes. A full schedule of complementary Silk Road programming continues throughout the exhibition.
For information, 215-898-4000 or www.penn.museum .
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