Food and Wine Frescoes from the Wei and Jin Tombs

In an inhospitable area between the Gobi and the Taklimakan Deserts northeast of Jaiyuguan, China a time capsule was buried almost 2000 years ago. Underneath the treeless, grey sand that blankets the region today are a series of over 1000 tombs from the Wei-and Jin period (265-420 ACE). The walls of the tombs are decorated with frescoes that depict details from everyday life in a … Read more

Cooking with the Kazakhs

While still in Uzbekistan, I had a yurt homestay with an extended family of Kazakhs. Ever since I was a child, dreaming of Central Asia and Mongolia, I have wanted to stay in a yurt. A wooden frame wrapped in skins and decorated with colorful fabrics. The sometimes elaborate carved or painted wooden doors. Simple on the outside and dark and mysterious within. All of … Read more

Uzbek Homestay in Paradise

I’ve just returned from a homestay in a small mountain village in Uzbekistan’s Nurata mountains. For a couple of days, I was welcomed into the life of a family in a small house perched amongst steep rocky hills. Sitting on the porch of the house, one can hear a symphony of birds with occasional accompaniment from barking dogs, lambs calling for their mothers and donkeys … Read more

Traveling the Roads of Arabia

For the past forty years, archaeologists on the Saudi peninsula have been piecing together a pre-Islamic past featuring great city-states that had cultural and commercial connections with the cities of ancient Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt, Greece and Rome. These ancient trade cities are one of the foci of a new exhibit at the Sackler in Washington, DC, called Roads of Arabia. The other set of “roads” … Read more

New Year, New Day

The large brush laden with water is drawn from the bucket by the old, steady hand and moved in deliberate strokes across the pavement. One stroke, two, three or more until the complete character develops. Luminous lines, black on grey stone he moves onto the next character. The words from the ancient Tang poem begin to take shape. Even in the afternoon sun its bone … Read more

Caveat Venditor (Merchant Beware!)

“O thunder-and-lightning-hurling Iao, strike, bind, bind together Babylas the greengrocer . . . As you struck the chariot of Pharaoh, so strike Babylas’ offensiveness . . . O thunder—and-lightning-hurling Iao, as you cut down the firstborn of Egypt, cut down his livestock!” A delightful, if not a bit frightening artifact from everyday life in Roman Antioch has recently been deciphered to reveal a curse against … Read more

The Real Sinbad the Sailor

The Voyages of Sinbad tell of giant, magical creatures: whales the size of islands, snakes so large that they could swallow elephants, and rukh (roc) birds so large that they could carry a caravan of men on their backs. Tales of these creatures repeated across cultures and through the ages has made most readers assume that they were simply pigments of a colorful imagination – … Read more

Silk Road Sojourners

The University of Pennsylvania Museum displays artifacts from Caucasian travelers on the Silk Road. In a desolate, eastern world of salt and sand, where blinding windstorms were common and potable water was rare, the mummified remains of people from the west have been found. Why they died, where they came from and where they were traveling to is unclear, but for a short time, they … Read more

Ye Ga’nna Ba-al (Merry Ethiopian Christmas)

“It comes without ribbons. It comes without tags. It comes without packages, boxes or bags. . .” Christianity arrived in North Africa in the first or second century, coming first to Alexandria – the great melting pot of culture and scholarship. From there, it spread across North Africa and down the coastal cities to the east until it reached Ethiopia and was adopted as the … Read more

A Mosque of One’s Own

Muslim Communities in Central China have female religious leaders as well as their own unique food culture.    Despite a deep historical tradition of female religious leadership beginning with Ayesha, the wife of the Prophet Mohammed, modern China is one of the only countries in which Muslim women are widely accepted as heads of their religious communities.  These female religious leaders also fulfill most of the … Read more

Silk Road Resource #1 – The Yale Silk Road Database

I’ve sometimes wished that I had gone to Yale. I’ve wondered if my life would be different had I studied there? Where might I be standing now if I had applied? Given my natural inclinations for dogged research, I might have become an archivist working with rare books and tablets or I might have become a preparator who restores and studies precious artifacts . . … Read more

Silk Road Roma

“We always knew the Gypsies were coming when we heard the light tinkling of silver bells coming up the lane. The sound of the bells was delicate and light and fell in rhythm with the trot of the horses pulling the covered wagon. We didn’t know where they came from, there were no Gypsy encampments nearby, but they came to the house two or three … Read more

Ibn Battuta in IMAX

“. . . If I am to die, then what better place to do so than on the road to Mecca,” declares a very young and confident Ibn Battuta to his family and friends who saw him off on his first great journey. Time and the realities of travel in the fourteenth century soon tempered his youthful bluster as Battuta made his way across the … Read more

The Jews of the Great Silk Road

In previous posts I’ve extolled the virtues of Arab traders in keeping the engine of global commerce and subsequent cultural exchange alive along the Silk Road. Although the Arabs were indeed an important part of trade along the Silk Road, many other nationalities and ethnicities were as well. There were Chinese, of course, Greeks, especially along the maritime trade routes, Europeans, and Jewish merchants situated … Read more