Research Associate Karen Rubinson Presents at the European Associate for Asian Art and Archaeology Conference


ISAW Research Associate Karen Rubinson presented a paper, together with her colleague Katheryn Linduff (University of Pittsburgh), at the European Associate for Asian Art and Archaeology Conference, convened at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, at the end of August. The paper, “On the Edge: The Politics of Death in the Borderlands, c. 100 C.E.,” examined burial assemblages from two borderland regions, Tillya Tepe in modern Afghanistan and Guoxi and Guobei in what is today Xinjiang, China. 

In both regions, the burials were of regional leaders, Tillya Tepe posited to be remains of the Yuezhi, a mobile pastoralist group described in Chinese texts as having been pushed west from the borderlands of China, and in the Chinese case, rulers known from texts to belong to the Kingdom of Cheshi. Both groups of elite burials contained objects from regions outside of their place of deposition, including Han Chinese mirrors and Roman glass at Tillya Tepe and the single earring illustrated here from Guoxi, clearly an object from Central Asia, as can be seen by comparing it to the many bracteates from Tillya Tepe. 

The paper discussed other kinds of interconnections, including technology transfer, and concluded that such exotic objects and knowledge from afar enhanced the status and power of the individuals buried at these sites. The paper was part of a two section panel “Territorial Borders, Cultural Margins and the Identity of Tomb Occupants in Early Dynastic, Imperial and Medieval China.”

Photo 1: Map showing the location of Tillya Tepe and the Cheshi Kingdom
Photo 2: Golden earring Inlaid with turquoise and white paste, Guoxi, Jiaohe, Xinjiang, 1st c. CE
Photo 3: Gold bracteates inlaid with turquoise and pyrites, Burial 1, Tillya Tepe, Afghanistan, 1st c. CE

Prior to traveling to Zurich, Karen and Katheryn stopped in Iceland, visiting the  excavation of a Viking longhouse of the 10th century CE, now preserved as a museum, together with an exhibit of zooarchaeological remains from Viking times. The Vikings brought both sheep and horses to Iceland, including horses with a special “ambling” gene (the gait is called tölt in Icelandic) (see Warke et al, “The Origin of the Ambling Horse,” Current Biology 26 (15), 2016:R697-R699). The gait is so smooth and fast that in 982 the Vikings restricted any further imports of horses to Iceland, in order to preserve the breed for travel in the often difficult landscape.