Ancient Tomb with ‘Blue Monster’ Mural Discovered in China
By Owen Jarus, Live Science Contributor | May 1, 2017 06:40am ET
A blue monster, a winged horse and a nude deity known as the master of wind are just a few examples of fantastic images that archaeologists recently discovered in a 1,400-year-old tomb in China.
“The murals of this tomb had diversified motifs and rich connotations, many of which cannot be found in other tombs of the same period,” a team of archaeologists wrote in an article recently published in the journal Chinese Archaeology.
The meaning of some of the imagery is not fully understood. The archaeologists did not speculate on why the master of wind is shown nearly naked while running in the general direction of a burial chamber, or what the vivid-blue, monster-like creature (as archaeologists call it) represents. [See Photos of the Fantastical Murals and Ancient Tomb]
Archaeologists first learned of the tomb in the spring of 2013, finding that “the tomb had been recently looted,” the archaeologists wrote. A team from Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology excavated the tomb, which is located in modern-day Xinzhou city, in 2013 and 2014.
The archaeologists found that the tomb’s burial chamber had been heavily looted, with the bodies of the tomb occupants missing and only a few coffin fragments remaining. However, the team found that parts of a passageway and corridor had not been robbed and a number of artifacts, as well as many well-preserved murals, remained untouched.
The murals the team found included not only fantastic mythical imagery but also more grounded scenes, such as people trading horses, hunting and working in a gatehouse.
“Themes on ascending to heaven, horse trading, hunting, [a] grand gatehouse and the rich styles of costumes all provide valuable information for the [research] on the social life, history, culture and military practices,” the archaeologists wrote.
Race against time
Numerous archaeologists have noted that China’s hot antiquities market, in which artifacts fetch prices sometimes reaching into the millions (in USD), has fuelled an increase in the looting of ancient tombs.
Law-enforcement officers and archaeologists in China have often found themselves in a race against time to discover and excavate ancient tombs before thieves take the artifacts and sell them on the antiquities market, many archaeologists and media outlets have reported. Large law-enforcement operations have also taken place to try to retrieve stolen artifacts. In 2015, the Xinhua News Agency reportedthat one massive law-enforcement operation resulted in the recovery of more than 1,100 artifacts and the arrest of more than 170 people allegedly involved in the looting of ancient tombs.
The archaeologists who recently excavated the 1,400-year-old tomb in Xinzhou reported their findings, in Chinese, in 2015 in the journal Kaogu. That report was translated into English and was recently published in the journal Chinese Archaeology.
By Alina Bradford, Live Science Contributor | May 1, 2017 09:09pm ET
About 11 million people worldwide, according to theNew York Times, and about a million in the United States, according to Time, belong to an ethnic group known as the Roma or Romani. They are more commonly called Gypsies or travelers.
Often, many groups are lumped together into the classification of “Gypsy.” The Romani people can include ethnic groups who are spread out all over the world, according to Open Society Foundations. Their cultures may vary somewhat, but they have common ties. Some groups that are considered Roma are Romanichals of England, Beyash from Croatia, the Kalé of Wales and Finland, Romanlar from Turkey and Domari from Palestine and Egypt. The travelers of Ireland are not Roma, but they are considered Gypsies by many.
The Romani people faced discrimination because of their dark skin and were once enslaved by Europeans. They have been portrayed as cunning, mysterious outsiders who tell fortunes and steal before moving on to the next town. In fact, the term “gypped” is probably an abbreviation of Gypsy, meaning a sly, unscrupulous person, according to NPR.
Also, as a matter of survival, the Romani were continuously on the move. They developed a reputation for a nomadic lifestyle and a highly insular culture. Because of their outsider status and migratory nature, few attended school and literacy was not widespread. Much of what is known about the culture comes through stories told by singers and oral histories.
“A people’s culture needs to be looked at in the context of that people’s development, and no culture [should] be judged to be intrinsically superior or inferior to another,” Cristina De Rossi, an anthropologist at Barnet and Southgate College in London, told Live Science.
In addition to Jews, homosexuals and other groups, the Roma were targeted by the Nazi regime in World War II. The German word for Gypsy, “Zigeuner,” was derived from a Greek root that meant “untouchable” and accordingly, the group was deemed “racially inferior.”
Romani were rounded up and sent to camps to be used as labor or to be killed. During this time, Dr. Josef Mengele was also given permission to experiment with on twins and dwarves from the Roma community.
According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Nazis killed tens of thousands of Roma in the German-occupied territories of the Soviet Union and Serbia. Thousands more Roma were killed in the concentration camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Sobibor, Belzec, Chelmno, and Treblinka.
There were also Gypsy camps called Zigeunerlager that were intended just for the Roma population. These camps were long-term holding areas where hundreds of Roma died.
It is estimated that up to 220,000 Roma died in the Holocaust.
For centuries, stereotypes and prejudices have had a negative impact on the understanding of Roma culture, according to the Romani Project. Also, because the Roma people live scattered among other populations in many different regions, their ethnic culture has been influenced by interaction with the culture of their surrounding population. Nevertheless, there are some unique and special aspects to Romani culture.
The Roma do not have an official faith, and in the past they typically disdained organized religion. Today, they often adopt the predominant religion of the country where they are living, according to FRUA, and describe themselves as “many stars scattered in the sight of God.” Some Roma groups are Catholic, Muslim, Pentecostal, Protestant, Anglican or Baptist, according to Open Society Foundations.
The Roma live by a complex set of rules that govern things such as cleanliness, purity, respect, honor and justice. These rules are referred to as what is “Rromano.” Rromano means to behave with dignity and respect as a Roma person, according to FRUA. “Rromanipé” is what the Romani refer to as their worldview.
Though the groups of Roma are varied, they all do speak one language. This language is called Rromanës, or the Romani language. Rromanës is related to a northern Indian dialect, called Punjab, and is spoken by about 5 to 6 million Roma people throughout Europe and the United States, according to FRUA.
Typically, Gypsies love opulence. Roma women often wear gold jewelry and headdresses decorated with coins as a display of prosperity and generosity towards others, according to the FRUA.
Weddings are huge affairs with large, custom-made wedding dresses. Often, the girls in a group will compete to see who can have the largest, most extravagant wedding dress. Some of this has been documented in the American show “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.”
Traditionally, anywhere from 10 to several hundred extended families form bands, or kumpanias, which travel together in caravans. Each band is led by a voivode, whom the families elect for lifetime. This person is their chieftain. A senior woman in the band, called a phuri dai, looks after the welfare of the group’s women and children.
Smaller alliances, called vitsas, are formed within the bands and are made up of families who are brought together through common ancestry.
The Roma place great value on extended families, according to FRUA. Families typically involve multiple generations living together, including unmarried young and adult children and a married son, his wife and their children. By the time an older son is ready to establish his own household, a younger son often will have married and brought his wife and children into the family.
Romani typically marry young — often in their teens — and many marriages are arranged. Weddings are typically very elaborate, involving very large and colorful dress for the bride and her many attendants. Though during the courtship phase, girls are encouraged to dress provocatively, sex is something that is not had until after marriage, according to The Learning Channel. Some groups have declared that no girl under 16 and no boy under 17 will be married, according to the BBC.
The Roma have a long history of training, trading and caring for animals. They also have worked as metal smiths, and repaired utensils and sold household goods they made themselves, according to FRUA. Many worked as traveling entertainers, using their rich musical background to earn money.
The Roma today
While there are still nomadic Roma, most use cars and RVs to move from place to place rather than the horses and wagons of the past.
Today, most have settled into houses and apartments and are not readily distinguishable. Because of continued discrimination, many do not publicly acknowledge their roots and only reveal themselves to other Romani.
While there is not a physical country affiliated with the Romani people, theInternational Romani Union was officially established in 1977. In 2000, The 5th World Romany Congress in 2000 officially declared Romani a non-territorial nation.
When director and photojournalist Kate Brooks began filming The Last Animals, which premiered last month at the Tribeca Film Festival, there were seven Northern White Rhinos left on the planet. Now there are only three, all living under 24-hour armed protection at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. Sudan, the last male Northern White Rhinoceros, recently appeared on Tinder as the “most eligible bachelor in the world” in a campaign to raise money for reproductive technology research. After unsuccessful attempts at natural breeding, scientists are frantically trying to stave off the species’ extinction using in vitro fertilization.
The Last Animals is an ambitious, agonizing documentary that weaves the plight of the dwindling Northern Whites into the illegal ivory and rhino horn trade and its connection to international trafficking organizations and armed groups like the Lord’s Resistance Army and the SPLA. The film, shot by a team of mostly women, covers the trial of Feisal Mohamed Ali, one of Interpol’s most wanted fugitives, who was eventually sentenced to 20 years on ivory smuggling charges. “The foot soldiers doing this work are cogs in a much bigger machine,” Brooks said. That machine, it’s noted in the documentary, wouldn’t run quite so smoothly without government assistance.
The scope of the film is wide—we’re spirited across southeast Asia, Africa, the Czech Republic, even a lab in Seattle—but it never veers far from the deeply emotional core of this subject. The camera gazes delightedly as a trio of squeaking baby rhinos toddle curiously over; catches the gleaming sweat running down a park ranger’s face; drinks in the quiet, radiating fury of tireless zoologist Sam Wasser as he stands surrounded by the tusks of a thousand dead elephants. At its world premiere screening, Brooks and the rangers featured in the film received the Disruptive Innovation Award for their work combating illegal wildlife trafficking.
“There were a lot of people who were like, you can’t make a film about elephants andrhinos,” Brooks told Jezebel in a interview last month. “[But] why not? It definitely complicated things, but if you’re in a healthy ecosystem, elephants and rhinos live side by side.”
Healthy ecosystems are tough to find these days. Between 2007 and 2014, the African elephant population declined by 30%, and the African rhino population has declinedover 97% since the ‘70s. In South Africa, home to 80 percent (about 20,000) of the world’s remaining rhinos, a court recently overturned a national ban on the domestic sale of rhino horns, a move activists warned would spur an increase in poaching levels. The last Northern White Rhino was seen in 2006 in Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where much of the film takes place, and the remaining elephants in the park are being annihilated in increasingly militarized and sophisticated attacks along with some of the park rangers fighting to protect them.
In Garamba, “it’s like a war zone—you have days and weeks and months where it’s totally calm, and then all hell breaks loose,” Brooks recalled. “So that’s the fear that rangers have every day.” One of the major characters in the film, the brisk, crinkly-eyed Colonel Jacques Sukamate Lusengo, was killed by poachers along with three rangers in 2015, shortly after the film crew left the park.
As a conflict journalist, Brooks has witnessed an enormous amount of death and misery. But “all of the loss of life I’ve seen in various conflicts that I’ve experienced certainly hasn’t made me numb to it,” she said. “When I woke up to the news [of the colonel’s death] that morning, I just wept and wept for days.”
Over time, Brooks did begin to more carefully consider which assignments to pursue. “Having lost a lot of colleagues and lost a lot of friends, I’m very cognizant of the risks I take and deciding whether or not it’s something I’m really willing to put my life on the line for,” she said. “With this particular project, it was worth the risk.”
What draws a person to such dangerous work? “Even though I started working in war zones when I was quite young, I also quite cautiously moved in that direction,” she explained. “On a journalistic level, on an emotional level, I was always amazed what war photographers were able to capture, but never was completely convinced that it was something that I was brave enough to be able to do.”
In the late ‘90s, at age 20, Brooks published shocking photographs exposing the brutal conditions inside Russian orphanages, where children were permanently institutionalized if they were classified as an “imbecile” or “idiot.” A few years later, shortly after the 9/11 attacks, she was sent to Pakistan for a few weeks on a story, and decided to stay to continue documenting conflict across the Middle East, where she was based until last year. Brooks became interested in covering wildlife issues while on vacation in Kenya several years ago—prior to the trip, she’d been embedded in southern Afghanistan with a medevac unit “essentially photographing double and triple amputees day in and day out.”
“I was with the Maasai Mara, and this herd of elephants walked by while I was completely consumed with my thoughts of what I had just witnessed [in Afghanistan],” she recalled. “It made me sit up. It just reminded me that in spite of all the human destruction on the planet, there’s still a natural order. It really led me to want to help these animals.” She’d long felt “a gravitational pull” towards filmmaking; after exploring the basics in a video workshop, she had been invited to shoot The Boxing Girls of Kabul on “virtually no experience.” That same year, in 2012, she was awarded the Knight Wallace Fellowship at the University of Michigan, where she began researching the connection between terrorism and the ivory trade.
Brooks is well-acquainted with shooting desperation at close range, and The Last Animals is, above all, a story about desperation: of the researchers and activists trying to maneuver some of our most beloved and iconic large mammals away from extinction, of the heroic park rangers regularly hurling themselves into the line of fire, and of the poachers themselves, who are often poor locals. “It’s tragic. I mean, it’s all happening because somebody wants to buy a bracelet?” she marveled.
It’s notable, too, the occasionally brutal level of intervention necessary to try and outpace the destruction reaped by our own species. One devastating scene shows scientists tagging a tranquilized, half-conscious Southern White Rhino they’d hoped to use to cross-breed with one of the remaining Northern Whites. Shortly after being dehorned (for protection from poachers) with a chainsaw, the shaking, terrified animal turns immobile and dies as five grunting men attempt CPR.
Although Brooks remains hopeful that more can be done—“I don’t feel that this is a lost cause,” she emphasized during the interview—The Last Animals inevitably carries within it a tone of deeply felt grief.
“You asked yourself whether time was spent wisely,” IZW senior scientist Dr. Robert Hermes says in the film, a note of despondence in his voice, amid failing efforts to breed new Northern Whites.
“It’s an abstract process, because extinction doesn’t happen in front of your eyes, it just happens by disappearance,” he explains. “In this very example, extinction happens in front of our eyes. We have the last of their kind in front of our eyes.”
Go to thelastanimals.com to learn what you can do if you live in one of the 44 states in the U.S. that haven’t passed strict legislation restricting ivory and rhino horn sales. To support a ranger, click here.