Bactria and the transition to Islam — a workshop: final announcement

Bactria and the transition to Islam — a workshop

Saturday 10th May – Sunday 11th May, 2014

Ancient India and Iran Trust,                                                                                 23 Brooklands Avenue, Cambridge, CB2 8BG

in association with the Balkh Art and Cultural Heritage project, University of Oxford

ArabicDoc

During the last couple of years, researchers connected with the Oxford Balkh project (www.balkhheritage.org) have been researching the history of Balkh in the early Islamic era on the basis of archaeological and textual sources. At the same time, other scholars and teams have been studying an ever-increasing quantity of manuscripts, coins, pottery and other materials from pre-Islamic and early Islamic Bactria. These materials include texts in several languages: Arabic, Bactrian, Chinese and others. The translation of these texts and the analysis of these materials is shedding new light on the history of this important region in a period of transition. The aim of this seminar is to bring together the various groups of researchers interested in the history and culture of the period immediately before and after the Arab conquest and to discover whether their results are compatible and mutually illuminating.

Provisional Programme

Saturday afternoon, 2 pm

Frantz Grenet: Religious coexistence in Bactria-Tukharistan on the eve of the Islamic conquest: new material and new perspectives

Nicholas Sims-Williams: Geography and chronology of the Bactrian documents

François de Blois: Tax years and calendar years in the Bactrian and Arabic documents from Afghanistan

Geoffrey Khan: The Arabic documents from early Islamic Khurasan

Étienne de la Vaissière: ‘From Bactra to Balkh’ revisited, octagonally

Sunday morning, 10 am

Stefan Heidemann: Balkh: Coin Finds, Urban History, and Methodological Challenges

Edmund Herzig:  Balkh and the ‘Islamic City’ debate

Arezou Azad:  Sacred landscape in medieval Balkh

Shaul Shaked:  Eleventh-century Khorasan in the newly discovered documents from Bamiyan

There will be no charge for participation in the workshop, but since numbers are strictly limited, pre-booking is essential. Those who would like to take part are advised to register their interest as soon as possible by contacting Professor Nicholas Sims-Williams ns5@soas.ac.uk

The workshop will begin with lunch at 1 p.m. on Saturday 10th May and end after lunch on Sunday 11th May (both meals provided free of charge to all participants).

Nicholas Sims-Williams, AIIT (Cambridge)

Edmund Herzig, BACH (Oxford)

Bactria and the Transition to Islam — a workshop: 10 – 11 May, 2014

This workshop will be held on Saturday 10th May – Sunday 11th May, 2014 at the Ancient India and Iran Trust, 23 Brooklands Avenue, Cambridge CB2 8BG, in association with the Balkh Art and Cultural Heritage project, University of Oxford.

During the last couple of years, researchers connected with the Oxford Balkh project (www.balkhheritage.org) have been researching the history of Balkh in the early Islamic era on the basis of archaeological and textual sources. At the same time, other scholars and teams have been studying an ever-increasing quantity of manuscripts, coins, pottery and other materials from pre-Islamic and early Islamic Bactria. These materials include texts in several languages: Arabic, Bactrian, Chinese and others. The translation of these texts and the analysis of these materials is shedding new light on the history of this important region in a period of transition. The aim of this seminar is to bring together the various groups of researchers interested in the history and culture of the period immediately before and after the Arab conquest and to discover whether their results are compatible and mutually illuminating.

Confirmed participants/speakers include: Arezou Azad, François de Blois, Joe Cribb, Frantz Grenet, Stefan Heidemann, Edmund Herzig, Hugh Kennedy, Geoffrey Khan, Shaul Shaked, Nicholas Sims-Williams.

There will be no charge for participation in the workshop, but since numbers are strictly limited, pre-booking is essential. Those who would like to take part are advised to register their interest as soon as possible by contacting Professor Nicholas Sims-Williams: ns5@soas.ac.uk

The workshop will begin with lunch at 1 p.m. on Saturday 10th May and end after lunch on Sunday 11th May (both meals provided free of charge to all participants).

Nicholas Sims-Williams, AIIT (Cambridge)

Edmund Herzig, BACH (Oxford)

Ancient India and Iran Trust Easter Term Lectures

25 April: Geoffrey Greatrex (Ottawa)

  Procopius’ Persian Tales: entertainment, history or morality fable?


Geoffrey Greatrex will consider the opening chapters of the Byzantine historian Procopius of Caesarea’s Persian Wars, in which he introduces his theme, the wars fought between the Romans and Sasanian Persians in the sixth century A.D. He recounts a series of intriguing stories about the Persian court and Persian history in the fifth and early sixth centuries. The puzzle remains as to how seriously these tales should be taken…
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9 May: Nina Mirnig

The Religious Centre of Paśupatināth: Early Nepalese Śaiva Inscriptions in Context

The Paśupatināth temple in Kathmandu, dedicated to the deity Śiva Paśupati, is Nepal’s national shrine. The existence of this site and local Śaiva religious activities can be traced back to as early as the fifth century CE, and at the beginning of the seventh century the famous ruler Aṃśuvarman (fl. 605-621) introduced Paśupati into Nepal’s political rhetoric for centuries to come by styling himself as “favoured by the Venerable Lord Paśupati” in each of his inscriptions. The talk will address the formative period of early Śaivism in the Kathmandu Valley during the so-called Licchavi period (ca. 300-879 CE), and in particular focus on the rise of the Śaiva Pāśupatas in the kingdom’s religio-political landscape, using mainly inscriptions, but also some textual and iconographical material.

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 – Special Event for Friends of the Trust –

16 May: Nicholas Sims-Williams (SOAS)

Go east, young man! A personal journey

In this informal talk the Chair of the Ancient India and Iran Trust, Nicholas Sims-Williams will describe his research on the Sogdian language and literature, in particular on the Christian texts from the Turfan oasis in Western China, and will try to answer a question which he is often asked: What led you to study such an obscure subject?

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23 May: Touraj Daryaee (UCI)

The Sasanian Empire as a Garden: The Walls and Rivers of the Sasanian Empire


This lecture looks at the physical and ideological boundaries which the Sasanians created for the idea of Iranshahr. In this late antique construct, inside the empire, protected by walls and rivers was imagined as a garden where order and beauty was in existence. Outside of the walls and the rivers it was seen as place of wilderness and disorder. This binary division was at the centre of Sasanian ideology which projected peace and power inside, while danger for its people lay outside of its boundaries.

Lectures begin at 5.30pm with refreshments from 5pm.

23 Brooklands Avenue, Cambridge CB2 8BG

Please note:  For the Friends’ event on 16 May, booking is required.  To book, or to become a Friend, please contact the Administrator  tel. 01223 356841 or e-mail: infor@indiran.org

Zoroastrian text that preempted science’s latest discovery : Professor Almut Hintze’s Letter to the FT

March 19th’s Financial Times included a letter to the editor from AIIT trustee Professor Almut Hintze, in response to the previous day’s front page story ‘Bicep 2’s ‘ripples’ add muscle to Big Bang‘ – reporting the breakthrough discovery of measurable gravitational waves from the Big Bang:

‘Zoroastrian text that preempted science’s latest discovery’

From Prof Almut Hintze.

Sir, “At the beginning of time Ohrmazd created the world out of his own substance, which is eternal light.” This passage from a Zoroastrian Middle Persian text on cosmology, the Bundahishn, compiled in the 10th century CE but based on much older traditions, reads like a pre-scientific summary of the most recent discovery, made with telescopes in Antarctica, of measurable gravitational waves generated within a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of the second in which happened the birth of the universe 13.8bn years ago. This sensational breakthrough was reported on your front page on Tuesday (“Bicep 2’s ‘ripples’ add muscle to Big Bang”, March 18). The discovery of the gravitational ripples is very exciting indeed, but it should not be forgotten that the Zoroastrian pre-scientific explanation of the origins of the world not only pre-empted this discovery but also viewed it within the larger picture of the origins of the cosmos and of its goal, ideas which scientists are still a long way from verifying in measurable terms.

The recent scientific discovery brings into evidence two points. The first is that, alongside science, it is well worth being aware of the humanities, religious traditions in particular. Second, the study of ancient religious traditions requires great, especially linguistic, expertise in order to access sources that are written in obscure scripts and languages, and such expertise deserves to be valued as much as scientific explorations.

The question of what the primordial light is within which the Big Bang happened is still to be explored – no doubt at an expense of unimaginable size – but pre-scientific answers are already there in religious traditions. One approach does not preclude the other, of course, and both are vital. But in the current climate that underrates and, as a result, underfunds the humanities, it is necessary to be open – and listen – to both.

Almut Hintze, Zartoshty Brothers Professor of Zoroastrianism, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, UK

To view this letter and any comments please click on FT.com

From the Financial Times. Wednesday 19 March, 2014.  ‘Zoroastrian text that preempted science’s latest discovery’. Prof. Almut Hintze.
© The Financial Times Limited 2014. All Rights Reserved.

 

Presentation of the RAS Medal 2014 to Dr Bridget Allchin

Thursday 13 March
Presentation of the Royal Asiatic Society Medal 2014 to Dr Bridget Allchin with a lecture in her honour:

From Oxus to Mysore: the Story of the Allchin Partnership in South Asian Archaeology by Professor Robin Coningham (University of Durham)

Royal Asiatic Society, 14 Stephenson Way, London NW1 2HD
T: 0207 388 4539

The lecture will start at 6pm and will be followed by a small reception.
All welcome.

http://www.royalasiaticsociety.org/site/?q=node/464

Research on ‘Decline of Bronze Age megacities linked to climate change’

Climate change may have contributed to the decline of a city-dwelling civilisation in Pakistan and India 4,100 years ago, according to new research.

Scientists have demonstrated that an abrupt weakening of the summer monsoon affected northwest India 4,100 years ago. The resulting drought coincided with the beginning of the decline of the metropolis-building Indus Civilisation, which spanned present-day Pakistan and India, suggesting that climate change could be why many of the major cities of the civilisation were abandoned.

The research, reported this week in the journal Geology, involved the collection of snail shells preserved in the sediments of an ancient lake bed. By analysing the oxygen isotopes in the shells, the scientists were able to tell how much rain fell in the lake where the snails lived thousands of years ago.

The results shed light on a mystery surrounding why the major cities of the Indus Civilisation were abandoned. Climate change had been suggested as a possible reason for this transformation before but, until now, there has been no direct evidence for climate change in the region where Indus settlements were located.

Moreover, the finding now links the decline of the Indus cities to a documented global scale climate event and its impact on the Old Kingdom in Egypt, the Early Bronze Age civilisations of Greece and Crete, and the Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia, whose decline has previously been linked to abrupt climate change.

“We think that we now have a really strong indication that a major climate event occurred in the area where a large number of Indus settlements were situated,” said Professor David Hodell, from Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences. “Taken together with other evidence from Meghalaya in northeast India, Oman and the Arabian Sea, our results provide strong evidence for a widespread weakening of the Indian summer monsoon across large parts of India 4,100 years ago.”

Hodell together with University of Cambridge archaeologist Dr Cameron Petrie (AIIT trustee) and Gates scholar Dr Yama Dixit collected Melanoides tuberculata snail shells from the sediments of the ancient lake Kotla Dahar in Haryana, India. “As today, the major source of water into the lake throughout the Holocene is likely to have been the summer monsoon,” said Dixit. “But we have observed that there was an abrupt change, when the amount of evaporation from the lake exceeded the rainfall – indicative of a drought.”

At this time large parts of modern Pakistan and much of western India was home to South Asia’s great Bronze Age urban society. As Petrie explained: “The major cities of the Indus civilisation flourished in the mid-late 3rd and early 2nd millennium BC. Large proportions of the population lived in villages, but many people also lived in ‘megacities’ that were 80 hectares or more in size – roughly the size of 100 football pitches. They engaged in elaborate crafts, extensive local trade and long-ranging trade with regions as far away as the modern-day Middle East. But, by the mid 2nd millennium BC, all of the great urban centres had dramatically reduced in size or been abandoned.”

Many possible causes have been suggested, including the claim that major glacier-fed rivers changed their course, dramatically affecting the water supply and the reliant agriculture. It has also been suggested that an increasing population level caused problems, there was invasion and conflict, or that climate change caused a drought that large cities could not withstand long-term.

“We know that there was a clear shift away from large populations living in megacities,” said Petrie. “But precisely what happened to the Indus Civilisation has remained a mystery. It is unlikely that there was a single cause, but a climate change event would have induced a whole host of knock-on effects.

“We have lacked well-dated local climate data, as well as dates for when perennial water flowed and stopped in a number of now abandoned river channels, and an understanding of the spatial and temporal relationships between settlements and their environmental contexts. A lot of the archaeological debate has really been well-argued speculation.”

The new data, collected with funding from the Natural Environment Research Council, show a decreased summer monsoon rainfall at the same time that archaeological records and radiocarbon dates suggest the beginning of the Indus de-urbanisation. From 6,500 to 5,800 years ago, a deep fresh-water lake existed at Kotla Dahar. The deep lake transformed to a shallow lake after 5,800 years ago, indicating a weakening of the Indian summer monsoon. But an abrupt monsoon weakening occurred 4,100 years ago for 200 years and the lake became ephemeral after this time.

Until now, the suggestion that climate change might have had an impact on the Indus Civilisation was based on data showing a lessening of the monsoon in Oman and the Arabian Sea, which are both located at a considerable distance from Indus Civilisation settlements and at least partly affected by different weather systems.

Hodell and Dixit used isotope geochemical analysis of shells as a proxy for tracing the climate history of the region. Oxygen exists in two forms – the lighter 16O and a heavier 18O variant. When water evaporates from a closed lake (one that is fed by rainfall and rivers but has no outflow), molecules containing the lighter isotope evaporate at a faster rate than those containing the heavier isotopes; at times of drought, when the evaporation exceeds rainfall, there is a net increase in the ratio of 18O to 16O of the water. Organisms living in the lake record this ratio when they incorporate oxygen into the calcium carbonate (CaCO3) of their shells, and can therefore be used, in conjunction with radiocarbon dating, to reconstruct the climate of the region thousands of years ago.

Speculating on the effect lessening rainfall would have had on the Indus Civilisation, Petrie said: “Archaeological records suggest they were masters of many trades. They used elaborate techniques to produce a range of extremely impressive craft products using materials like steatite, carnelian and gold, and this material was widely distributed within South Asia, but also internationally. Each city had substantial fortification walls, civic amenities, craft workshops and possibly also palaces. Houses were arranged on wide main streets and narrow alleyways, and many had their own wells and drainage systems. Water was clearly an integral part of urban planning, and was also essential for supporting the agricultural base.

At around the time we see the evidence for climatic change, archaeologists have found evidence of previously maintained streets start to fill with rubbish, over time there is a reduced sophistication in the crafts they used, the script that had been used for several centuries disappears and there were changes in the location of settlements, suggesting some degree of demographic shift.”

“We estimate that the climate event lasted about 200 years before recovering to the previous conditions, which we still see today, and we believe that the civilisation somehow had to cope with this prolonged period of drought,” said Hodell.

The new research is part of a wider joint project led by the University of Cambridge and Banaras Hindu University in India, which has been funded by the British Council UK-India Education and Research Initiative to investigate the archaeology, river systems and climate of north-west India using a combination of archaeology and geoscience. The multidisciplinary project hopes to provide new understanding of the relationships between humans and their environment, and also involves researchers at Imperial College London, the University of Oxford, the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur and the Uttar Pradesh State Archaeology Department.

“It is essential to understand the link between human settlement, water resources and landscape in antiquity, and this research is an important step in that direction,” explained Petrie. “We hope that this will hold lessons for us as we seek to find means of dealing with climate change in our own and future generations.”

See more at: http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/decline-of-bronze-age-megacities-linked-to-climate-change#sthash.DUuJkC0v.dpuf

Limited access to AIIT Library 12-14 March

Due to refurbishment work, access to the Ancient India and Iran Trust’s library will be limited on 12-14 March inclusive.  Please contact the Librarian on tel. 01223 702095 or e-mail: library@indiran.org  if you are planning to visit on these days.

Indian Art Circle London: Adam Hardy, Temples of Ashapuri

On Wednesday 5 March, Professor Adam Hardy (Professor of Asian Architecture, Welsh School of Architecture, Cardiff University) will speak on The Temples of Ashapuri: resurrecting a Pratihara/Paramara site in Madhya Pradesh

The Brunei Gallery, SOAS (Room B104) at 7pm

The talk will include a discussion of Ashapuri in relation to the gigantic, unfinished temple at nearby Bhojpur, analysed in Dr Hardy’s forthcoming book,  Theory and Practice of Temple Architecture in Medieval India

Queens’ College Cambridge Arts Seminar on Sexual paradigms in ancient India and postmodern society

On Wednesday, March 5th, Dr Daniele Cuneo of the Sanskrit Manuscripts Project will be speaking at the Queens’ Arts Seminar on the subject of Why orgies will set you free: Sexual paradigms in ancient India and postmodern society.

Ancient India is well known as the land and civilization of renouncement and asceticism, a land where passions and desire cannot but play the role of the villains, the worst enemies to be defeated in the spiritual path leading to perfection and liberation from all suffering. However, this clear-cut worldview seems to be easily disproved by the mere existence of two crucial Sanskrit words you may have stumbled upon while snooping around the shelves of bookshops here in the UK: namely, Tantra and Kāmasūtra, the first being a religious and cultural movement and the second being the title of an incredibly renowned work. This presentation will focus, on the one hand, on the role and meaning of sexuality in Tantra and its crucial connection to the religious doctrine of liberation, and, on the other hand, on the role and meaning of sexuality in the Kāmasūtra (and related texts) and its pretty loose connection to any soteriological dimension, with a few reasoned exceptions. Finally, Dr Cuneo will attempt to outline the theoretical and historical accidents that determined the proliferation, in many contemporary western bookshops and websites, of titles such as “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Tantric Sex” or “The Cosmo Kama Sutra: 77 mind-blowing Sex Positions”. To trace this phenomenon, he’ll revisit the sixties and seventies in the US and follow the cultural transplant of Indian spiritual and erotic ideas, how they blended in with a very different social reality and contributed to the origin of a plethora of new religious products in the globalized ‘market of religions’ we currently live in.

The talk will take place in the Erasmus Room at Queens’ College at 7:30 PM, followed by questions and discussion over wine. All are welcome!

AIIT Friday Lecture Series: 14th February 2014

Eleanor Sims

Heinrich Friedrich von Diez’s “Little Collection of Paintings Illustrating Firdausi’s Shahnama”

The Prussian Royal Library, the Königliche Bibliothek, in Berlin was greatly enriched in 1817 with the bequest made by the former Prussian ambassador to the Sublime Porte, Heinrich Friedrich von Diez: virtually his entire Orientalist library, nearly 17,000 books, manuscripts, albums, unpublished dissertations and an extensive coin-collection.  Largely overlooked, until planning for the Firdausi Millennial was well under way in Berlin, was that Diez had also bequeathed to the Prussian Library a small “collection of Eastern paintings, for the most part scenes from Firdausi’s Book of Kings, the Shahnama.”  These Shahnama illustrations are the subject of Eleanor Sims’ lecture at the Ancient India and Iran Trust.

 

The art historian Eleanor Sims is a leading expert on Persian painting. She was educated at Mills College, in Oakland, California, and took both an M.A. and a Ph.D. at the Institute of Fine Arts in New York City. She has worked in the Department of Islamic Art at the Metropolitan Museum and has taught the history of Islamic art in both the US and the UK. In the US she organized a traveling loan-exhibition of Islamic art to celebrate the 1400th anniversary of the Hijra. She has published widely: her volume on the sources and modes of Iranian imagery, Peerless Images, won a British-Kuwait Friendship Prize in 2003; she co-edited the journal Islamic Art with her late husband, Ernst J. Grube (the first Curator of Islamic Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art). Currently she is finishing the volume on Shahnama and historical paintings in the N. D. Khalili Collection.

 

The lecture will begin promptly at 5.30pm, with refreshments from 5pm.

Ancient India and Iran Trust 

23 Brooklands Avenue, Cambridge, CB2 8BG 

tel: 01223 356841    e-mail: info @indiran.org

All are welcome.