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11/21/2017 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

NYU Shanghai Lecture: A Tale of Two Tombs

Tang-Turkic Diplomacy and Ritual in Mongolia

Jonathan Skaff

Burial goods and an epitaph recently excavated from two contemporary Tang-style tombs in central Mongolia provide a rich record of political and cultural interactions between Tang and Turkic political elites in the mid-seventh century. One tomb contained the Chinese-language epitaph of a Tang ally, Pugu Yitu (635-678) and the scattered remains of some grave goods left by looters. The other tomb, only eleven kilometers away at Ulaan Khermiin, lacked an epitaph, but was undisturbed, retaining a full complement of rich burial objects. Though the epitaph’s rhetoric provides a conventional Tang-centered narrative of Pugu’s subservience to the dynasty, a careful examination of the epitaph and contents of the two tombs provides evidence of reciprocity and cultural compromises in the political relationship. On one hand, the design of the tombs, funerary ritual described in the epitaph, and many burial goods were typical of the Tang. On the other hand, both funerals have signs of local practices and tastes including cremations, a gold hoard in the coffin of the Ulaan Khermiin tomb, and some unusual wooden and terracotta figurines.
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