The Lure of Gold and Iron: China and the Steppe in the First Millennium BC

Chariot fitting from a Xiongnu tomb, 2nd -1st century BC in Mongolia. Photo courtesy of Jessica Rawson.

The Lure of Gold and Iron: China and the Steppe in the First Millennium BC

Eighth Annual Leon Levy Lecture Sponsored by The Peter Jay Sharp Foundation

Jessica Rawson (University of Oxford)

We are now at capacity for this event and will only be adding people to the waiting list.

While ancient Chinese ritual implements were made of bronze and jade, the peoples of the steppe favoured gold and iron, most especially from 700 BC. The talk will discuss cultural boundaries between the Chinese and their steppe neighbours. Major archaeological discoveries at Majiayuan in Gansu province, where large tombs have been excavated, have enabled a reassessment of the ways in which these two groups interacted; there the occupants, outsiders with links to the steppe, were decked in gold, silver and beads; they carried iron weapons and were accompanied into the afterlife by chariots and horse and cattle heads. Such groups introduced gold and iron to the Chinese of the Central Plains, who took over these materials, but used them in new ways. The Chinese did not favour solid gold, but gilded their bronze vessels and luxurious bronze chariot parts; iron they cast, rather than working it cold, as their neighbours did. This major technological innovation, used for tools in particular, encouraged the opening up of new lands for agriculture. As they had before, over many centuries, the Chinese and their northern neighbours remained distinct and separate.

Seating is limited, registration required to

Jessica Rawson is Professor of Chinese Art and Archaeology in the Oxford Centre for Asian Archaeology Art and Culture in the School of Archaeology, University of Oxford. She graduated from Cambridge University in History and from London University in Chinese Language and Literature. She became Deputy Keeper of the Department of Oriental Antiquities in 1976 and Keeper of the Department in 1987. Prior to her current position, she was Warden of Merton College, Oxford University 1994-2010.

Profesor Rawson was appointed a Fellow of the British Academy in 1990 and elected a member the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2012. She is an Advisor to the Centre of Ancient Civilisations, Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Science.

Her current work concerns major changes in Chinese material culture as a consequences of interactions with Siberia and Inner Asia in the Zhou, Qin and Han period (1000BC – AD200) and she has also written extensively on Tang dynasty (AD 618 – 906) silver and ceramics, and especially on Chinese ornament and design. She currently holds a five year (2011-2016) Leverhulme Trust grant on China and Inner Asia, 1000-200 BC: Interactions that Changed China.

There will be a reception folowing the event.

This is a public event.

To RSVP, please email