AIIT launches new website and blog!



The Ancient India and Iran Trust is very excited to be able to announce the launch of its brand new website and blog at!

We have been eager for some time to redesign the website and in addition to improved access and overall design, the site also has some great new resources including a brand new Library page, with information on our Manuscript and Photographic Collections, as well as Private Papers and Archives.  You can also search our catalogue of over 30,000 books online, via Cambridge University Library’s brand new search facility iDiscover.

Take a look at What’s On or Who’s Who at the Trust on our new People page and do get in touch to let us know what you think of our new site.

You can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or Subscribe on the Blog page to receive all the latest news from the Trust.

The new look blog, in addition to being integrated into our main website, also includes new feature categories; Book News and Stories from the Collection. Look out soon for some additional People pages that will give you unique insights into the founding trustees and their archives at the trust!

As a result of the launch of our new website and blog, no further news or features will be added to this blog site.  If you have previously subscribed to this AIIT blog, we would ask you to please follow the link above to the new blog and re-subscribe there for all our latest news.




Annual Allchin Symposium on South Asian Archaeology

Annual Allchin Symposium on South Asian Archaeology

2-3 December 2016, Cambridge
VENUE:  The McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, &  The Ancient India and Iran Trust

About the Symposium

The Annual Allchin Symposium on South Asian Archaeology was established to commemorate the work of Raymond and Bridget Allchin, and the outstanding contribution that they made to development of South Asian studies in the United Kingdom.

The United Kingdom is currently home to the largest community of scholars working on South Asia outside of South Asia itself. Yet, until recently, there has been no regular forum to meet, exchange ideas and share research. The Annual Allchin Symposium provides an opportunity to bring together UK-based scholars working in South Asian Archaeology, and also those researching South Asian History and the History of Art and Architecture, including established lecturers as well as post-doctoral researchers and PhD students. It creates a much-needed forum for the presentation and discussion of current research as well as methodological and theoretical concerns that affect research in South Asia. Discussions will strengthen existing research, foster new ideas and promote synergies between different areas, periods and subjects of study. This will be of great benefit to staff and students alike, many of whom work as isolated researchers within larger departments and institutions where the needs and questions relevant to the study of ancient South Asia do not necessarily correspond with mainstream agendas, and, at times, are overlooked. This is especially critical now that the British Academy has withdrawn its funding for South Asian Studies, and scholars of South Asia are being asked to compete for funding on an increasingly uneven playing field.

A keynote address, India’s global interconnections: looking west during the Roman period, will be presented by Dr Roberta Tomber (The British Museum), on the evening of Friday 2nd December, in the McDonald Institute Seminar Room (Downing Site Courtyard building). The main symposium will take place on Saturday 3rd December at the Ancient India and Iran Trust, Cambridge.

The cost of registration will be £15. Further details regarding registration and the venue, can be found on the Symposium website. It will be possible to register on the day, but if you wish to register beforehand, please contact Margaret Widdess, Administrator, Ancient India and Iran Trust, at, or telephone 01223 356841 (Mon-Fri 9.30-13.00). All other enquiries should be addressed to the organisers at

Cameron Petrie, University of Cambridge
Jason Hawkes, The British Museum
Margaret Widdess, Ancient India and Iran Trust

Organised in association with:screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-19-26-57


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AIIT: Michaelmas Term Lecture Programme 2016

Lectures begin at 5.30pm. Refreshments from 5pm. All welcome.


The mango tree that walked. Photograph: Dr Rukshana Nanji

  • 14 October: Special event for Friends of the Trust (Advance booking required: email
    Conor Jameson (RSPB): Save Asia’s Vultures
  • 21 October: Sudeshna Guha (Shiv Nadar University): ‘Nineveh’ in Bombay and histories of Indian Archaeology
  • 28 October: in association with the Cambridge Festival of Ideas:
    Alan Williams (University of Manchester): Migration and the Mango Tree that Walked: the Arrival of Persian Zoroastrians in Eighth-century India. Advance booking required from Cambridge Festival of Ideas.
  • 18 November: Christian Sahner (St John’s College, Cambridge): Zoroastrians and Christians under early Muslim rule
  • 2 December: Jennifer Scarce (University of Dundee): Qajar nostalgia for Sassanians

Lectures are held at

  • Ancient India & Iran Trust
    23 Brooklands Avenue
    Cambridge CB2 8BG

If you wish to attend the Friends’ event on 14th Oct., the Festival of Ideas event on 28th Oct., or would like a Friends’ application form, please contact the Administrator on or tel. 01223 356841.

Charles Bawden and his Gift to the Trust

It is with great sadness that the trust learned of the death of distinguished Mongolian scholar Professor Charles Bawden on the 11th August. Charles Bawden was Professor of Mongolian at SOAS from 1955 to 1984 and his published works on Mongolian literature and history include a Mongolian-English dictionary, published in 1997, which is considered by many to be the most comprehensive ever written. In 1955, he also translated and annotated the Mongol chronicle Altan tobči or ‘Golden Summary’ from old Mongolian script; a 17th century text of the history of the Mongol dynasties or Khans.


Charles Bawden, Mongolia 1958. Reproduced with the kind permission of Richard Bawden.

Professor Bawden built his book collection over many years, acquiring books also during his several trips to Mongolia, most notably in the 1950’s and 1960’s. He donated a substantial part of his library to the Ancient India & Iran Trust in March 2001 and the remainder of his collection more recently in 2014, including his working papers, correspondence and an important collection of photographs and slides, many of which were taken by him on his travels to Mongolia.

The collection is an invaluable resource for the study of Mongolian language (there are more than 40 different Mongolian dictionaries), literature, history, religion and culture of Mongolia. The history of modern Mongolia is particularly well represented through a variety of materials, including also books and periodicals (scientific and popular) published in Mongolia which give insight into politics and life in Mongolia during the communist period.

Professor Charles Bawden (1924-2016)


Charles Bawden, Mongolia 1958. Reproduced with the kind permission of Richard Bawden.

The Silk Road: A New History with Documents

Hansen, Valerie. The Silk Road: A New History with Documents. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.
ISBN: 9780190208929


I was recently delighted to receive the new edition of Valerie Hansen’s Silk Road: a New History, originally published in 2012. The original edition was already much acclaimed for being eminently readable and accessible — my much-thumbed edition accompanied me faithfully on two visits around China — as a guide to the Silk Road, based on up to date scholarship of archaeological and historical sources. It was largely the stories contained in the primary sources which the author drew on that made this such a ‘gripping’ account. The special value of this new edition is that it has been expanded to include 138 pages of those primary sources, many of which were previously only available in a wide range of specialist academic publications. Some are translated into English for the first time.

The sources range from documents dating from the 1st century BC written on woodslips found at Xuanquan Fort to excerpts from Charles Blackmore’s travel account Crossing the Desert of Death (1995). They include memoirs of medieval monks, letters written by women, inscriptions, prayers, legal contracts, and many others. A full list of the documents is available here. The new edition also includes an eighth chapter which takes the history up the period of Mongol rule.

Confusingly published with a copyright date of 2017, more information can be had from OUP’s US site. The book is however available in the UK from Amazon. A copy has also been added to the AIIT Library, shelfmark: AIIT.a.1819.

Ursula Sims-Williams

New to the AIIT

A Dictionary: Christian Sogdian, Syriac and English

A Dictionary: Christian Sogdian, Syriac and English / Nicholas Sims-Williams. Wiesbaden : Reichert Verlag, 2016
17.0 x 24.0 cm, 408 p., cloth
148,00 €
ISBN: 9783954901753
Ancient India & Iran Trust Library shelfmark: AIIT.a.1802

9783954901753This recent publication by our Chairman Nicholas Sims-Williams represents a landmark in the study of Christian Sogdian and at the same time is designed to be accessible both to Iranists, whether or not they know Syriac, and to Syriacists, whether or not they know Sogdian.

Many works of Syriac literature were translated into Sogdian, a Middle Iranian language originating in the region of Samarkand and widely spoken along the so-called “Silk Road”. This Christian Sogdian literature, which includes biblical, liturgical, ascetic and hagiographic texts, is chiefly known from a cache of manuscripts discovered in 1905 at the site of the ruined monastery of Bulayïq in the Turfan oasis. It is important for Syriac studies, since the Sogdian translations were often made on the basis of earlier recensions than those which survive in Syriac and since some texts are no longer extant in Syriac. It is no less important for Sogdian and Middle Iranian studies, since those texts whose Syriac originals can be identified provide a firm basis for the understanding of the Sogdian language; moreover, the material in Syriac script, with its elaborate system of vocalic points, is a unique source of information on the pronunciation of Sogdian.

The present Dictionary consists of two main sections followed by a comprehensive English index. Part 1, arranged by Sogdian lemmata, provides a complete listing of all words attested in published Christian Sogdian texts, both in Syriac and in Sogdian script, including variant spellings, full parsing of all inflected forms, and details of their equivalents in the most closely corresponding Syriac parallel text. In Part 2 the same material is arranged by Syriac lemmata. The two parts together make it possible to see what Syriac form or forms any Sogdian word can represent and how any Syriac word or idiom is translated into Sogdian. The dictionary thus fulfils a range of functions. Firstly, it will provide a reliable guide for anyone who wants to read the extant Christian Sogdian texts; secondly, it will assist future editors in identifying, restoring and translating Christian Sogdian texts; and thirdly, it will contribute to the study of the transmission of literature from Syriac into Sogdian and the techniques of the translators.

The majority of the Christian Sogdian texts from which the dictionary is compiled can be viewed online on the Turfanforschung Digital Archive or on the International Dunhuang Project Database.

Mapping Ming China’s maritime world

針路藍縷 = Mapping Ming China’s maritime world / Zhen lu lan lü = Mapping Ming China’s maritime world /  Hong Kong Maritime Museum. 2 vols. Xianggang : Zhonghua shu ju (Xianggang) you xian gong si, 2015
Hardcover: 808 pages
ISBN-10: 9888366564
ISBN-13: 978-9888366569
Ancient India & Iran Trust Library shelfmark: AIIT.a.1803

611MVvmyMILIn a recent post on facebook, we highlighted Professor Fung Kam Wing’s donation of this two-volume publicatin of  the Hong Kong Maritime Museum. Based on a 2014 international exhibition and symposium: Mapping Ming China’s Maritime World – The Selden Map and Treasures from University of Oxford, this 2-volume set presents a multidisciplinary approach to the sixteenth-century map bring to light the latest research on the historical implications of the Selden Map of China and rutters, underwater archaeology, seafaring and maritime trade, and the relationship between China and Southeast Asia during the Ming dynasty. The book set also reprints in colour the Selden Map and other navigation charts, manuscripts of two Chinese rutters, and a selection of export porcelain.

Volume I is primarily a catalogue of the exhibition, and volume II contains the proceedings of the nineteen papers presented at the symposium.

Further information about the Selden map is available on a dedicated website:


Some recent acquisitions

Arts of the Hellenized East : precious metalwork and gems of the pre-Islamic era

Arts of the Hellenized East: precious metalwork and gems of the pre-Islamic era / Martha L. Carter ; with contributions by Prudence O. Harper and Pieter Meyers. London: Thames & Hudson, 2015. The al-Sabah Collection, Kuwait.

Hardcover | ISBN 9780500970690 | December 2015
424 pages | 350+ colour illustrations | 9 in x 11.2 in x 1.7 in

artsofhellenizedeastThis is the sixth volume in Thames & Hudson’s series exploring the treasures of The al-Sabah Collection, Kuwait. The al-Sabah Collection houses one of the world’s most spectacular collections of ancient silver vessels and other objects made of precious metals and gems, dating from the centuries following Alexander then Great’s conquest of Iran and Bactria in the later 4th century BCE up to the advent of the Islamic era.

Leading expert Martha Carter discusses eighty spectacular bowls, drinking vessels and other luxury items from the Hellenistic East, including many rare and important objects never before reproduced in print. The decorative motifs of these objects…testify both to the astonishing skill of their craftsmen and to the complex interconnected cultural histories of Greece, Iran and Central Asia. These connections are explored further in two illustrated essays. Prudence O. Harper’s discussion of a group of Sasanian and later Central Asian works of art and an essay by Pieter Meyers on the technology of ancient silver production.

Martha L. Carter holds a doctorate from Case Western Reserve University and has taught and curated at institutions including the Cleveland Museum of Art and the University of Wisconsin. She has published extensively on the art and archaeology of India, Iran, and Central Asia.

Prudence O. Harper is Curator Emerita in the Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Pieter Meyers is an independent scholar and Senior Research Chemist at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where he was formerly Head of Conservation – publisher.

The Ancient India and Iran Trust was delighted to host the UK launch of this visually stunning and informative book in February 2016 and a copy is available at the trust for visitors to view – Shelfmark: AIIT.a.1741

Persian Painting: the arts of the book and portraiture

Persian Painting: the arts of the book and portraiture / Adel T. Adamova and Manijeh Bayani. London: Thames & Hudson, 2015. The al-Sabah Collection, Kuwait.

Hardcover | ISBN 9780500970676 | 2015
552 pages | 450+ colour illustrations |

persianpaintingPersian miniature painting is among the most well-established and celebrated traditions of Islamic art. Written by two eminent scholars specializing in Persian painting and epigraphy, respectively, Persian Painting catalogs more than forty masterpieces of Persian miniature painting, manuscript illustration, and bookbinding in The al-Sabah Collection, Kuwait.

Coauthors Adel T. Adamova and Manijeh Bayani place the works in an artistic and historical context and demonstrate their significance in the development of Persian painting. From a historical perspective, they document the movement of manuscripts through their owners’ seal impressions and librarians’ notes, and identify various works by scribes and illustrators involved in the production of these manuscripts and miniatures.

Richly illustrated and including rare examples from the pre-Mongol invasion period never before reproduced in print, the book (the seventh in Thames & Hudson’s series exploring treasures from the al-Sabah Collection) also includes illustrated folios detached from important fourteenth- and fifteenth-century manuscripts and paintings from dispersed Safavid and post-Safavid albums, as well as seventeenth-century bookbindings and oil paintings from the Zand and Qajar periods.

Adel T. Adamova is a curator at the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, and a prominent author of numerous books and articles on Persian painting.

Manijeh Bayani is a specialist in Persian epigraphy and has contributed to numerous publications and articles on Persian manuscripts and inscriptions. – publisher.

A copy of Persian Painting is available for reference use at the trust – Shelfmark: AIIT.b.159

The Silk Road – Volume 13 (2015)

The Silk Road is the journal of The Silkroad Foundation, published annually and supplied to academic libraries free of charge. There is also a free online version of the journal available.


Volume 13 of The Silk Road includes a selection of images of Palmyra, a tribute to the memory of Khaled Mohamad al-Asaad, Syrian archaeologist and Head of Antiquities for the ancient city of Palmyra. Khaled al-Assad ‘…devoted much of his life to studying and protecting the antiquities of Palmyra, the World Heritage site in Syria which UNESCO cited as “a great city that was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world.” Al-Asaad’s dedication and what it symbolized cost him his life, when Daesh publicly beheaded him on 18 August of this year.’—In Memoriam, page v, The Silk Road.

Contents of vol. 13:

  • In Memoriam: Khaled al-Asaad, 1932-2015
  • Safe Journey! A Very Short History of Shoes from Korean Tombs, by Youngsook Pak
  • The Emergence of Light: A Re-interpretation of the Painting of Mani’s Birth in a Japanese Collection, by Wang Yuanyuan 王媛媛
  • When Herakles Followed the Buddha: Power, Protection and Patronage in Gandharan Art, by Jonathan Homrighausen
  • Ancient Iranian Decorative Textiles: New Evidence from Archaeological Investigations and Private Collections, by Matteo Compareti
  • Nomads and Oasis Cities: Central Asia from the 9th to the 13th Century, by Xinru Liu
  • Maes Titianus, Ptolemy, and the “Stone Tower” on the Great Silk Road, by Igor’ Vasil’evich P’iankov
  • The Location of Ptolemy’s Stone Tower: the Case for Sulaiman-Too in Osh, by Riaz Dean
  • The Test Excavation of the Nanhai No. 1 Shipwreck in 2011: a Detail Leading to the Whole, by Xu Yongjie 许永杰
  • The Archaeological Assessment of Pajadagh Fortress (Qal’a-e Tashvir), Tashvir Village, Tarom County, Zanjan Province, by Ali Nourallahi
  • Khermen Denzh Town in Mongolia, by Nikolai N. Kradin, Aleksandr L. Ivliev, Ayudai Ochir, Lkhagvasuren Erdenebold, Sergei Vasiutin, Svetlana Satantseva, and Evgenii V. Kovychev
  • The Chinese Inscription on the Lacquerware Unearthed from Tomb 20, Gol Mod I Site, Mongolia, by Chimiddorj Yeruul-Erdene and Ikue Otani
  • The Ancient Tamga-Signs of Southeast Kazakhstan and Their Owners: The Route from East to West in the 2nd Century BCE – 2nd Century CE, by Alexei E. Rogozhinskii and Sergey A. Yatsenko
  • Museum Collections: Assyrian-style Seals of the Silk Road and Their Relationship to Ties between Iran and Mesopotamia, by Amir Saed Mucheshi
  • “I was born a dervish and a Flying Dutchman.” Sven Hedin and Ferdinand von Richthofen: Introduction and Presentation of Unpublished Letters, by Felix de Montety
  • Museum Collections II: Berlin’s “Turfan Collection” Moves to the Center
, by Lilla Russell-Smith
  • The Mezquita: A Photo Essay, by Daniel C. Waugh

Jal Edulji Amrolia’s gift to the Library

We were sad to hear last week of the death on 12 May of Jal Amrolia, a long-standing friend of the Ancient India and Iran Trust. Jal Edulji Amrolia was born in Zanzibar on 22nd August 1929 to Tehmina and Edulji Amrolia, one of three siblings with two sisters Khurshed and Sheru. He went to boarding school in Nargol, Gujarat, and then to Technical College in Surat where he met his future wife Banoo (Armin) whom he married in 1955. He returned to Dar-es Salam and got a job in the Tanganyika Electrical Supply Company with postings in Mwanza and Kigoma. In 1961 he came to the UK and worked for the Central Electricity Generating Board with postings at Brunswick Wharf, Hackney and finally as Charge Engineer at Battersea Power Station.

In his spare time Jal studied Avestan with Nicholas Sims-Williams at SOAS and took up silversmithing, specialising in reproductions of Achaemenid and Sassanian works of art. Two of his most successful works were exhibited in the exhibition Everlasting Flame: Zoroastrianism in History and Imagination held first at the Brunei Gallery, SOAS, in 2013 and more recently at the National Museum Delhi.

Amrolia rhytonA modern reproduction of a gold rhyton found in Hamadan (Ecbatana) in the 5th century BC now in the National Museum Tehran. Collection Z. Amrolia

Amrolia bowlA modern reproduction of a gold Achaemenid bowl found in Hamadan (Ecbatana), engraved with the name of the Persian king Xerxes I, c. 4th-5th century BC now in the National Museum, Tehran. Collection Z. Amrolia

We also benefited from his generosity at the Trust where he donated several books. The most interesting of these is a Gujarati translation of the story of the Zoroastrian hero Arda Viraz (‘the righteous Virazʼ), or Viraf as he is called in Persian and Gujarati. Originally written in Pahlavi (pre-Islamic Persian) in the early Islamic period, the story was translated into Persian verse at the end of the 13th century by Zartosht Bahram Pazhdu. The Gujarati version we now have thanks to Jal’s generosity, is a very rare book. It was printed in Bombay in 1871 using – as we are told in the introduction – an earlier published translation of Zartosht Bahram’s poem, but with the addition of 59 drawings copied directly from an unspecified Persian manuscript.

AVliesdown_2000Arda Viraf lies in a trance while his soul travels to the world of the dead. Public domain

heroes_2000Arda Viraf sees the souls of warriors in Heaven. Public domain

evildeana_2000Arda Viraf sees the soul of a male sinner as he meets his ‘daena‘, a female personification of his evil deeds on earth. Public domain. Public domain

slackers_2000The souls in Hell of those who were slack in carrying out the rules of the religion. Public domain

Jal Amrolia is survived by his two sons Zarathustra born in 1963 and Persis in 1964.

I am grateful to Malcolm Deboo for supplying biographical information.

Ursula Sims-Williams ©

‘The Multimedia Yasna’ research project awarded European Research Council grant

Good news for Zoroastrian and Avesta studies! AIIT trustee Almut Hintze, Zartoshty Brothers Professor of Zoroastrianism at SOAS University of London, has been awarded a European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Investigator Grant of just under €2.5 million (ca. £2 million) for a project on the Yasna, the core ritual of one of the most ancient and influential living religions, Zoroastrianism.

Andheri Yazishn Gah 03The yazishn-gah (‘place of worship’), where the Yasna ritual will be filmed. Andheri Athornan Institute, Mumbai. Photo: Almut Hintze

‘The Multimedia Yasna’ (MUYA) focusses on the interpretation and ritual of the Yasna which dates from between the mid to late second millennium BC and  includes the oldest part of the Zoroastrian sacred texts. Composed in the ancient Iranian language Avestan, the texts were transmitted orally and not written down until the fifth or sixth century AD. The oral tradition continues to be central to the religion and the daily Yasna ceremony, the most important of all the rituals, is recited from memory by Zoroastrian priests. The interpretation of the Yasna has long been hampered by out-dated editions and translations of the text and until now there has been no documentation and study of the performance of the full ritual. The project will examine both the written and oral traditions. It will film a performance of the Yasna ritual and create a critical edition of the recitation text examining the Yasna both as a performance and as a text attested in manuscripts. The two approaches will be integrated to answer questions about the meaning and function of the Yasna in a historical perspective.

Mss Ave 17_f127vA 16th-century manuscript copy of the Yasna sadah (Yasna ceremony) copied in India (British Library MSS Avestan 17, ff. 127v–128r, Yasna 43.4–7). Public domain

Arundel 54
A 17th-century Yasna Sadeh from Iran showing the beginning of Yasna 44 in which Ahura Mazda, the supreme God , is questioned about the creation (British Library Arundel Or 54, f.97r). Public domain

Combining models and methodologies from digital humanities, philology and linguistics, the project will produce a subtitled, interactive film of the Yasna ritual, an online platform of transcribed manuscripts and editorial tools together with print editions, translations and commentaries of the Avestan Yasna. Information which was formerly restricted to students of Iranian philology and practicing Zoroastrians will now be accessible to a wider audience through digital humanities.

Pupils practising  recitation of the sacred texts at a priestly school in Mumbhai. Photo: Almut Hintze

The project, based at SOAS, will run from October 2016 to September 2021. Headed by Almut Hintze with an international team of researchers in the UK, Germany, India and Iran, it will provide positions for three full-time and one part-time postdoctoral researchers, in addition to three fully funded PhD scholarships.

AIIT’s Flavour of the month…

When the trust was invited by Alan Alder, one of the regular presenters on Cambridge105’s Saturday food programme Flavour, to participate in a feature on food-related books in Cambridge libraries, we thought why not.

Although we are not known for our gastronomical collections, it was interesting to note how many books we discovered that were not just cookery books, but also included content on the social and cultural aspects of food in Indian, Zoroastrian and Central Asian life and history.

AIIT food books
From the collection of two of our founding trustees, Raymond and Bridget Allchin, there are cookery books such as Punjabi Cooking (Gill, P.T., 1984), and South Indian Recipes (Neela, Miss R., 1950); small volumes, mostly un-illustrated (with the exception of The Dalda Cookbook / Dalda Advisory Service, Bombay, 196?, see photo below) and densely packed with everyday recipes for roti, rice, dals, pickles, koftas and halwas; as well as many vegetarian and meat recipes for more substantial meals, including one for ‘curried partridge’ (p.67, Punjabi Cooking / P.T. Gill).

Dalda cookbook
Less unusual titles from the collection of two eminent archaeologists, are those on ancient food gatherers, hunters and farmers in ancient India, including; Food and Drinks in Ancient India (Prakash, Om, 1961, N F32B 12) and From Hunting and Food Gathering to Domestication of Plants and Animals: Beginnings of Agriculture (Sharma, G.R. et al, 1980, N F31E 15), which illustrate the story of subsistence from the earliest civilisations of the Indian subcontinent up to 1200 A.D.

Our collection from another archaeologist, Gregory Possehl, also includes both archaeological and anthropological books with themes that include: ancient farming and food-production, in Farming in Prehistory (Bender, B., 1975, FP592); cultural comparisions of the development of culinary practices around the world in Cooking, Cuisine and Class: a study in comparative sociology (Goody, J, 1982, FP771); studies of the development of food production in Aspects in South Asian Food Systems: Food, Society and Culture (Khare, R.S. & Rao, M.S.A., eds., 1986, FP599) and the superbly titled Human Evolution Cookbook (Dibble, Harold L., Williamson, D. & Evans, B.M., 2003, FP975), which claims to combine “…a dash of prehistory, a sprinkle of recipes, and a generous helping of humor…” and includes tempting recipes such as ‘Serengeti Scavenged Stew’ (see photo below), ‘Neanderthal Nibblers’ and ‘Glacial Gravlax’!

IMG_3425 IMG_3423
Two of the more unusual food-related titles in our collection are from the collection of Mongolian studies material, donated to the trust by Charles Bawden. Published in Cyrillic script, Malyn tsusyg khu̇nsėnd khėrėglėkh nʹ  (translated as ‘Using animal blood in food’) by TS. Gėndėnzhamts (1986, M F28H 18) and Khu̇nsniĭ bu̇tėėgdėkhu̇u̇n khadgalakh mȯsȯn zoorʹ  (translated as ‘Food products [of/in] cold storage’) by N. Lonzhid (1986, M F28H 23) are guides to the processes involving the preservation of blood for use in food, rather than books that contain specific culinary references. Historically, dating back to Genghis Khan, it was seen as taboo in Mongolia to spill or waste blood (see Francis Woodman Cleaves, The Secret History of the Mongols (Cambridge, MA, 1982, A15G 27), 140; also, Marco Polo, The Description of the World, eds. Moule & Pelliot (London, 1938, F44F 2) I, 199-200;) and thus publications that instruct on the preservation and use of blood do not seem that unusual in the reference collection of a Mongolian scholar.

Within the trust’s Persian collection are many references to Parsi food. There are guidelines in the Videvdad (Vendidad), within the sacred texts of the Avesta (B8A 60), emphasizing that people should eat and drink well so as to prevent their bodies from becoming weak and diseases to develop. Two articles on ‘The eating habits of the Parsis’ (Chalo, Jamva, pp 521-534) and ‘Parsi cuisine in the villages of Gujarat’ Dalal, Katy, pp 535-539), in A Zoroastrian Tapestry: art, religion & culture (eds. Godrej, Pheroze J. & Mistree, Firoza Punthakey, 2002, B8A 61). Both articles are illustrated and include some wonderful photographs of ‘…early twentieth century advertisements of the well known Irani bakeries and cafes in Bombay.’ (529, photo below).

parsi bakers ads final
The selection of books discussed on the programme ranged from Indian cookery books of the 1950s (all filled with recipes and nutritional advice); to Mongolian practical guides on how to store blood for cooking; to Parsi cuisine and the contrast between advice in the ancient Zoroastrian Videvdad texts and an online book of Zoroastrian recipes for feasts, celebrations and religious ceremonies, entitle Eat, Live, Pray. This recent publication included a feature on wine, which reminded us that Shiraz is a city in southwest Persia, and the grape was exported from there to countries around the world. It also has a recipe for Chai Creme Brulee, stating that it is also known as ‘Trinity Cream’ or Cambridge Burnt Cream, after the college where it debuted – something we thought was well worth a mention!

That the discoveries we made, whilst researching for this feature, were so diverse and not all scholarly in content highlights that when we accept collections of books into our library they can be eclectic and go well beyond the realm of the subject specialism, or that academic’s area of expertise.

For those of you who haven’t already tuned in to Flavour, it is aired fortnightly on Cambridge105 at 12pm and you can listen to a podcast of the edition that featured Alan’s conversation with our librarian, Jo Salisbury, which aired on Saturday 14th May.

Jo Salisbury