Category: michael-kan

After Bowers Museums, Tarim Mummies move to Houston Museum of Natural Science

One of the biggest archaeological discoveries ever made in China landed in America earlier this year. A trio of Tarim Mummies was brought to the United States for the first time in a special exhibit at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California.

The mummies are renowned for their unique appearance: while the ancient bodies were found well-preserved in Chinas western region, some of them bear more of a physical resemblance to early Europeans.

People will have until July 25 to view the ancient bodies, but the American public will have two more chances to view the exhibit later this year and in 2011.

The exhibition, called Secrets of the Silk Road: Mystery Mummies of China is slated to move across the country. Its next stop will be at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, where the exhibition will be on display from August 28, 2010 to January 2, 2011. Then it will be held at Philadelphia’s University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology from February 5, 2011 to June 5, 2011.

The exhibit provides a look at how cultures from the East and West were interacting with each other along the Silk Road. The 150-plus items on display – many dating back thousands of years – come from thecollections of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Museum and the Xinjiang Institute of Archaeology in Urumqi in northwest China.

The three ‘caucasian’mummieson showinclude the Xiaohe Beauty, a mummy that dating more than 3,800 years. The body is so well-preserved that its eyelashes are still intact. Also being shown is an infant wrapped in a woolen blanket, and the Yingpan Man, who wears a gold-foil and white mask.

Treasure-laden Ming Shipwreck May Have Smuggled Arms

Archaeologists are uncovering troves of cultural artifacts from an ancient Chinese vessel still sitting at the bottom of the sea. The sunken merchant vessel is located off the coast of China, near the city of Shantou. Called Nanao One, the ship is dated to be from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

Archaeologists have been carrying out a salvage operation since September, but it wasn’t until this Monday that they were able to enter the cabin of the ship, and extract the relics inside. Here are some of the first pictures of the artefacts discovered.

In total, more than 1,000 artifacts have been retrieved from the vessel since it was discovered. The items include different kinds of porcelain, such as dishes, cups, bowls and vases, as well as copper plates, canons and guns.

Ten Thousand More Arefacts Could Still be Found

But archaeologists believe there could be as many as 10,000 cultural relics still being stored inside the ship, but difficult weather conditions have slowed down the salvage operation. Sun Jian, director of the salvage team from the National Underwater Cultural Heritage Protection Center said to the local media, We’ll try to remove all the relics from the sunken vessel within 90 days.

Archaeologists first became aware of the vessel three years ago when local fishermen caught pieces of porcelain while fishing off the coast. The discovered artifacts were later determined to be from the Ming Dynasty era.

The ship itself has been measured to be at least 25 meters long and 7 meters wide. In spite of lying beneath the sea for hundreds of years, the ship is still intact, with only the upper floors of the vessel rotting.

Relic of the Marine Silk Road

By studying the ship and its contents, archaeologists expect to learn more about the marine silk road, which was a series of maritime trade routes China used to reach Europe and Africa, linking both East and West.

Historical records say these maritime trade routes were in use since the Han Dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD) – the same as the land Silk Road was in operation. The Chinese ships would set sail for India, where then their goods would be shipped to Rome and Egypt.

But only in recent years has actual evidence of these trade routes been found with the discovery of shipwrecks in the South China Sea. Archaeologists discovered the sunken ship Nanhai One, from the Song Dynasty (960-1279), in 1987. Experts speculate there could be hundreds more ships still at the bottom of the sea yet to be found.

As for Nan’ao One, archaeologists have been surprised to find such a ship dating to the late Ming Dynasty. During this era, China had at times issued strict rules banning maritime trade, possibly in an attempt to stop piracy.

But the Nan’ao One ship shows that some Chinese merchants were ignoring the ban, and even shipping copper, a good the Ming Dynasty government had prohibitied from being traded. Archaeologists are already theorizing that the vessel may have been used to secretly smuggle arms. Guns and canons have been found in the wreckage. But archaeologists note that a vessel carrying such arms would have been common for this era.

Four New Museums Planned in Xi’an City Wall Renovation

The famous city walls surrounding the ancient Chinese capital of Xian could be in store for a major makeover. Last week, the city publicized a plan to invest about $1.75 billion to renovate the already well-preserved walls, which have stood for centuries.

The plan is meant to better restore the walls and beautify the area. It will also feature the construction of four new museums at the walls main entrances. Each of the museums will center on four different dynasties that include the Zhou, Qin, Han and Tang. (Pictures of the proposed plan can be found here.)

Wang Tian, a representative for the projects developers, said the plan comes as the city walls have been widely recognized as a protected cultural site. At the same time, the walls are also a display of Chinas heritage and a major attraction for tourists and the local people.

Still, the plan is only in its early stages, with no firm date of when construction might begin. Nothing has been finalized and we are still working to receive the input from the people, Tian said.

Home of the Terracotta Warriors

“This project will eat from the rice of Xians history. But in doing so, the renovation will also destroy the plate from which this history comes from”

Xian is a former imperial capital of China and has become a major tourist destination, most famous for the incredible terracotta army discovered in the mausoleum of China’s First Emperor, Qin Shi Huang. The Shaanxi History Museum, Bampo Museum, and Big Wild Goose Pagoda all draw a great number of tourists.

The existing walls that stand today were constructed during the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644) and built on the ruins of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) capital Changan. The walls themselves are about 12 meters tall (39 feet) and surround the inner city of Xian to a length of 13.7 kilometers (8.5 miles).

But even as the publicized plan is not meant to damage the walls, not all think the proposed renovation is a good idea. Some Chinese netizens have said on Internet forums they are impressed with the plan and wish to see it move forward. Yet others say they see little need for the renovation.

I hope I dont see the walls become too commercialized, one user worried.

This is not necessary, another user said. Cultural artifacts should look as how they originally did.

One article from the Chinese media also pointed out that Xian may be going too far to capitalize on the citys history.

Some netizens believe the citys economy has thrived off its history. So this project will eat from the rice of Xians history. But in doing so, the renovation will also destroy the plate from which this history comes from.

Thinking of visiting Xi’an? Check out insiders’ visitor guide, as well as our top picks for stunning sites off the beaten track, and swot up on your knowledge of the Terracotta Warriors before you go.

Beijing Modernisation is Like Building Hotels in the Forbidden City

The area is also the home to many shops and traditional residences known as hutongs. Photo provided by Michael Kan.As parts of old Beijing modernize and turn into new high-rises and shopping centers, preservationists are hoping to draw the line with one of the capitals historical districts. Last night, the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center spoke with journalists about stopping the redevelopment of the citys ancient Drum and Bell towers. Now the group is seeking to rally public support and pressure backers of the project to give up the plan.

I think allowing it to happen in such an important neighborhood would be a great waste, said He Shuzhong, chairman and founder of the group. That would be akin to building hotels in the Forbidden City.

The towers a pair of city landmarks more than 700 years old are slated to be the site for an upcoming restoration expected to start later this year. According to Chinese media reports, the project would cover 12.5 hectares and include building public squares and a museum in the surrounding area.

Living Heritage

In spite of the projects goal to revitalize the area, He and his group have come out against what they say is a government-led plan. They argue that the project will inevitably lead to the bulldozing of the existing historical homes present in the area. Many of the surrounding neighborhoods are made up of traditional residences called hutongs, which preservationists have worked to protect.

These neighborhoods are special in that they encompass all the important elements of historical heritage in China… It is living heritage.

These neighborhoods are special in that they encompass all the important elements of historical heritage in China, He said. It is living heritage.

Not only does He want to prevent such so-called “restoration” projects from spreading, but he also believes the project violates the countrys laws governing historical sites. To gather public support, the preservation group plans to circulate a detailed article stating their views. The hope is that the public will begin taking notice and force the government to take action.

You need to touch the right pressure points and then you can make things possible, He added. But if you are not able to completely stop (the project), you might be able to reduce the impact, reduce the damage caused by it.

Stared at by Tourists Like Zoo Animals

The Drum and Bell towers of Beijing were built during the Yuan Dynasty in the 13th century. Photo provided by Michael Kan.Although the group hopes to raise awareness about the issue, a scheduled public forum held last Saturday was abruptly cancelled a day before the event. He would only say it was due to various reasons. But other news outlets speculated that government pressure may have forced the events cancellation.

Heritage Key attempted to contact the companies involved with the project, but none could be reached or did not wish to comment at this time.

Even as the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center is working to oppose the project, residents in the surrounding neighborhoods are divided in their opinions. Some agree and say the restoration will have the opposite effect, while others say they would gladly receive compensation to move out so they could live in a better home.

He acknowledged that not everyone shared his opposition toward the project. He noted that some of the complaints by residents living in the neighborhood include “the chaotic living environment and being looked at by tourists like animals in a zoo.”

He said that this was not an issue with the neighborhood or the buildings themselves, but that the residences had been allowed to deteriorate.

“This particular area may look chaotic, but the area surrounding the Forbidden City was just like that 10, 20 years ago,” he said. Over time, the neighborhoods can be improved and repaired with the right projects. But as for the current redevelopment plan proposed for the area, He said, “A project like this can be better done elsewhere.”

Ancient Chinese Mummies Originated in Europe and Siberia

A group of ancient Chinese mummies found in China have long fascinated experts and the public, largely because the bodies look more distinctly European (or even Celtic) than Asian. Now a new scientific report published last month says the oldest of these mummies dating back almost 4,000 years likely originated outside of China, from a mixture of places such as Europe and Siberia. What’s more, these ancient people had an “obsession with procreation”, burying their dead alongside symbolic vulvas and giant phalluses.

For decades now, the ancient corpses have been found in Chinas Tarim Basin, a desert region near the western frontier of the country. The dry climate of the area has kept the bodies well-preserved, leaving the hair and skin, as well as their clothes, intact.

The oldest known grave site containing the so-called mummies is Xiaohe cemetery, Small River Cemetery, which is located near a dried-up river bed. Tests show that the site was used as early as 3,980 years ago.

A team, largely made up of Chinese scientists, analyzed the DNA from 30 of the oldest mummies found at Small River Cemetery. The results suggest that the people were of mixed ancestry, carrying DNA from populations based in Europe, Central Asia and Siberia. The report adds that intermarriage between these people had probably begun before before they entered the Tarim Basin 4,000 years ago.

Tarim Mummies & Blatent Sexual Symbolism

The work at Small River Cemetery has also uncovered more about the culture surrounding the people buried there. Archaeologists have found a field of long wooden poles, about 13-foot in height, standing erect at the site. They concluded that the poles are likely phallic symbols and show the culture’s infatuation with procreation and sex.

An article in the New York Times online quotes archaeologist Victor Mair’s view of the ancient people’s obsession with procreation, saying: The whole of the cemetery was blanketed with blatant sexual symbolism. They write:

Looking again at the shaping of the 13-foot poles that rise from the prow of each womans boat, the archaeologists concluded that the poles were in fact gigantic phallic symbols… The mens boats, on the other hand, all lay beneath the poles with bladelike tops. These were not the oars they had seemed at first sight, the Chinese archaeologists concluded, but rather symbolic vulvas that matched the opposite sex symbols above the womens boats.

Mair, who is also one of the authors of the recently published scientific report, called it “a gigantic breakthrough” in the study of the mummies’ DNA.

In a brief interview with Heritage Key, Mair said that the culture of the people buried at Small River Cemetery derived from the West, even as part of their DNA can be traced to South Siberia. In his previous research papers, Mair has noted that the felt hats and string skirts worn on the mummies resembles that of clothing worn in ancient European cultures.

As for what language the earliest mummies spoke, Mair believes it was Tocharian. The language, which is now extinct, likely died out in the 9th century AD, but was used by people in the Tarim Basin.

Mair added that as far back as 4,000 years ago, people were already moving through what would become the Silk Road. But he said that this movement was largely heading from West to East. Not until the Han Dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD) did the movement begin shifting the other direction.

Mair, who has written a book about the fascinating mummies of the Tarim Basin, will present his findings and theories in a lecture at the Bower Museum on 27th March.

Residents are Divided Over Planned Restoration of Beijing’s Drum and Bell towers

Cultural preservation and Beijing’s ongoing development may be set to collide with a new project in one of the city’s historical neighborhoods. A pair of landmark buildings in the capital, the Drum and Bell towers, is at the center of a new redevelopment plan that has left a group of preservationists concerned. I spoke to some locals, and some experts, about the future of the towers, and was surprised by the divided opinions I came across.

Dating back to the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), the citys Drum and Bell towers have stood in the capital for more than 700 years. That history has attracted developers to rebuild the area into a new attraction.

In January, the Chinese press reported that the 12.5 hectare project would be built in the area and surrounding neighborhood. Called Beijing Time Cultural City, it would involve building plazas and a museum around and beneath the two landmarks.

Restoration has been reported as a major goal behind the project, with the developers aiming to capture the feel of the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911). But the scale of the development would likely mean that many of the current stores and residences in the area would be torn down. These residences include historical courtyard homes called hutongs, which are common within the capital but have seen their numbers dwindle with Beijings ongoing development.

Forging Ahead With the Changes

In response, the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center, which has worked to protect historical areas of the city as well as other places in China like Kashgar, recently announced its opposition to the plan. Later this month the group is publicizing the matter by holding an open meeting to discuss the issue.

He Shuzhong, founder and chairman of the group, described the neighborhood around the Drum and Bell towers as a special district that still retains a traditional Chinese atmosphere. He doubted that the project would do much to restore the area, adding that he saw no need for its construction.

If you force the residents out, if you get rid of the hutongs and the courtyard residences, this place will be destroyed and have no historical value, he said. The Drum and Bell towers will become a very lonely place.

The developers behind the project did not return Heritage Keys messages. But a Chinese news report indicated that construction would be completed in 2012. Store owners and residents living in neighborhood, however, say they have not received word on when building might begin.

Bian Lanchun, a Tsinghua University architecture professor, plans to speak at the upcoming forum. Bian said in cases like these where a historical district is being put up for redevelopment, people can work to protect the area if they are willing.

Divided Public Opinion

But shop owners and residents in the neighborhood seem divided on what should be done.

A store owner, who wished to remain anonymous, said she had little support for the project, adding that it will likely ruin the historical feel of the neighborhood.

Many of my customers come because of the atmosphere of this area, she said. But after this development, I dont think they will want to come back.

Yet many others in the area said they supported the project, even as they might be faced with the prospects of losing their businesses or homes. Some cited the expectation that they would be fairly compensated for their property, while others said it would be a major improvement for the city and neighborhood.

One female resident, who wished not to be named, said she welcomed the project.

Im not satisfied living in my hutong, so Im willing to see them tear down this area, she said. Our hutong is quite large, so I expect to see a good amount of money in compensation.

The Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center is holding its discussion forum on March 27th, from 2:30 to 5:30 PM at Contempio bar, located at No.4 Zhangwang Hutong.

The Invisible Chinese Town of Pingyao

At 5:30am, the ancient town of Pingyao is a black mass that disappears in the darkness. There are no signs of street lights, save for the few red lanterns that dangle outside these still sleeping homes. The alleys here seem more like one long labyrinth, a giant shadow the seeable destination. Very quickly, I wonder where I am and if I might get mugged.

A few hours later, Pingyao begins to awake. And soon I find that nothing here resembles the modern China I know.

There are no high-rises in sight. No bustling shopping malls within town. In fact, theres hardly anything over three stories tall.

Instead, Pingyao likes to thrive on the old, having become one of the most well-preserved medieval towns in the country. All around the vicinity are hundreds of buildings that date back to the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368 to 1911). Ancient temples and businesses-turned-museums line up against the major streets, while restaurants and shops take up residence in historical buildings. Even the hotel I stay in is several hundred years old.

The timeless quality of Pingyao comes after the government and preservationists have worked to protect the architecture and atmosphere of the town. In 1986, China named it as a historical and cultural city. Eleven years later, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As a result, very few cars are allowed to even enter the town. (Residents generally get around riding bikes or using motorcycle towed carriages).

Pingyao, a town of 490,000 people, is located in Shanxi province, and has a history that extends back to the Western Zhou period (1045 to 771 BC). At its earliest stage, Pingyao was simply some city walls. But now those walls have become a defining feature for the town.

In 1370, the Ming Dynasty emperor Hongwu built what is now the current incarnation of Pingyaos city walls. They measure up to around 11 meters high and are laid with stacks of brick. On a map, the walls form a square, but their layout has been described to be shaped as a turtle; the so-called head and tail, acting as both the southern and northern gates, with the four legs forming the gates on both the east and west sides.

Standing on top of the wall, one can see how well Pingyao is preserved as a whole.
Every building looks as if it could have been designed by the same architect, each structure built with matching bricks and sloping roofs.

But while the wall was meant to defend the town from enemies, it now seems to keep out the modernization sweeping China. Just outside the walls are a jumble of crowded office buildings, billboard signs featuring fashion models, and a spattering of parked cars; the scene looks anything but consistent.

In its heyday Pingyao was also the major financial center for all of China during the late Qing Dynasty. At one point, a total of 22 banks were located in the town. With ingots of silver acting as the currency, the banks were forced to employ armed escorts to protect the transportation of goods.

Though the banks have long gone bankrupt brought down by political turmoil and competition from foreign banks during the early 20th century a few of them now exist as museums. One of them includes Chinas very first bank, Rishengchang or Sun Rising Over Prosperity, which was established in Pingyao in 1823 and survived for nearly a century. The bank has been restored, with many of the rooms looking as they did when the place was still in operation. Old bank notes are on display, as well as the abacuses accountants used to calculate finances.

At other museums in Pingyao, I had a chance to peer inside one of the storerooms used to house the silver ingots. For a brief moment, I even wielded an old Chinese halbeard (a pole-like weapon) as I visited one of the buildings where bank bodyguards worked from.

Even as Pingyao strives to entrench itself in the past, the efforts to preserve Pingyao have led it to become a major tourist destination in recent years. Souvenir shops make up many of the businesses in this town. At the same time, nearly all restaurants display the same English labeled menu outside their doors. As I explored Pingyao, I was constantly eyed by drivers, who asked me if there was anywhere I needed to go.

Business hasnt been very good of late, one driver said to me. Otherwise I wouldnt be bothering you now.

Visually, Pingyao looks its most beautiful in the evening. When the sun sets, the red lanterns hanging across this town light up in its stead. These lanterns glow for hours before finally diminishing as all the shops close and the town falls asleep. Darkness envelopes the area, and once again, Pingyao seems to disappear.

Artifacts from the Three Kingdoms Period on Display in Beijing

The tomb of Chinese warlord Cao Cao one of Chinas latest and most controversial discoveries has yet to open itself up for firsthand public views. But an exhibit in Beijing offers the next best thing.

From weapons and coins to statutes and artwork, 1,800 year-old relics from Cao Caos era will be on display at Beijings National Centre for the Performing Arts. The unique exhibit centers on Chinas Three Kingdoms period, and will go on until March 15.

Lasting from 184 to 280 AD, the Three Kingdoms period is one of Chinas most famous eras. During this time, the country found itself split into three empires, with each one vying to reunite China. Real life warlords like Cao Cao led these so-called kingdoms, waging great battles across the land.

But why this era has entered inside the cultural consciousness of so many Chinese people isnt necessarily because of its historical significance. Instead, its the legends of this period that have proved to be so attractive and enduring over the centuries.

According to Yang Hong, a professor with Chinas Institute of Archaeology, most people know the history as more of a story, rather than real-life events. Today, one can find movies, TV shows, and even videogames reworking the tales about the Three Kingdoms period for a modern audience.

But this kind of story-telling isnt just a recent phenomenon. In fact, the roots go back as early as the Song Dynasty (960 to 1279) when stories of the era first began to become popular Yang said. By the Ming Dynasty, the most significant of these stories, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, would be published. Like its title suggests, the book would romanticize the history, helping to cast historical figures in the role of heroes. Or in the case of Cao Cao, consummate villain.

One generation after the next told stories about this period, Yang said. These historical people eventually became characters.

In Yangs view, the story is stronger than the history. But with this exhibit, he hopes that people will come to understand more about the real facts behind the Three Kingdoms period.

Fans of this era may already know how the famous general Zhuge Liang developed the repeating crossbow as a new weapon. But the exhibit also gives less known information such as how people ate; apparently few dishes were cooked with any oil, and the use of chili spices had yet to emerge. Lavish funerals were also banned likely due to economic reasons. The constant violence also spurred on the rise of Buddhism and Taoism.

As popular as the Three Kingdoms period is, the exhibit in Beijing is the first of its kind, and features artifacts collected from 34 museums across 11 provinces in China.

Yang, who has studied the Three Kingdoms period during his five decade-long career, was chosen to help select the artifacts.

One of the largest relics on display is a burial suit that was made for Cao Caos father following his death. The suit is threaded together with silver lining onto 2,464 pieces of decorative stone.

Burial suits such as these were commonly used for funerary purposes during the Han Dynasty, which officially ended in 220 AD as the Three Kingdoms period began. Yang, however, said that this particular burial suit was of low quality, since it was not made out of green jade.

The exhibit also features artifacts that relate to how the Three Kingdoms period became culturally famous. Paintings, books, and statues created in later dynasties are displayed, showing how the historical figures of that times become icons.

Surprisingly, China was not the first country to receive the exhibit, but Japan, where the Three Kingdoms period has also become popular. A partnership between the two countries, led to the formation of the exhibit. After three years of selecting the artifacts, the exhibit finally went on display in Japan in 2008.

Now the exhibit has returned to China. After the exhibit finishes in Beijing, it will move on to China’s Henan province.

University Looking for DNA of Chinese Warlord

Calling all Chinese males with the last name Cao. Apparently, you might be the key to resolving Chinas latest archaeological controversy.

Researchers at Shanghais Fudan University are collecting DNA samples from such people with the hope that they can help prove whether or not a recently discovered tomb belongs to a Chinese warlord.

Made public in December, the tomb is believed to belong to Cao Cao, a legendary figure who lived during Chinas famed Three Kingdoms period (184 to 280). A corpse found at the site is the alleged remains of the ancient ruler.

While archaeologists claim the find is genuine, the discovery has been met with skepticism from others experts and much of the Chinese populace.

Wanting to lift the doubt surrounding the archaeological find, researchers at Fudan University announced last week that they would seek to perform a DNA test. This would involve taking the DNA of the corpse found at the site, and trying to see if it matched with the DNA of Cao Caos living descendants.

Li Hui of Fudan University is leading the research team. In an interview, Li said it was the schools own choice to take on this project.

Cao Cao is a very famous person, he has many stories surrounding him and so everyone has been interested in this discovery, Li said. But now there is some doubt about the authenticity of the tomb. A DNA test can resolve this.

One of the major roadblocks, however, is that no one can say for sure who is a real descendant of the famous warlord. Cao Cao lived almost 1,800 years ago after all, and no official records have been made tracing the figures genealogy.

To see if a DNA test is even feasible, Li and his team are currently working to find Cao Caos living descendents. Theyve asked for volunteers across the country who have the surname of Cao or Xiahou, the original surname Cao Caos family once went by. Volunteers also must be male since the DNA test will trace Cao Caos lineage by looking at a Y-chromosome mutation found in men.

But even as they aim to rid the doubt regarding the Cao Cao tomb find, the researchers have already attracted their own skepticism from the Chinese public. Comments on the Internet include those who believe its impossible to find the living descendants to those who think Fudan University is just boasting.

People dont believe that DNA testing can be done. But thats wrong, Li said. We have been doing this type of work for decades now.

Some of Lis previous research work includes looking at the genetic foundations of the modern Chinese people. This has involved tracing the DNA back to African lineages as well as to different ethnic populations in East Asia. In 2007, Fudan University also conducted DNA testing on ancient mummies found in Xinjiang to determine their ethnic origin.

Li added that if he and other researchers can do DNA testing for prehistoric remains, then tracing the lineage for a 1,800 year old corpse should be possible.

The project aims to collect the DNA of 600 people. But Li said theyve already met about 10 percent of that goal. The hope is that they can find the common Y chromosome marker to Cao Caos lineage.

So far, the results show the presence of two main Y chromosome markers, one among volunteers that have been coming from central China, the other from the eastern portion of the country.

Li estimates that it will take another 2 months before they finish collecting the DNA samples. He added that volunteers have been calling the school and scheduling visits. The research team also plans to visit areas likely to have real life descendants, such as Anhui province, where Cao Cao was born.

Even if the DNA is collected, the research team doesnt know if theyll be granted access to Cao Caos alleged skeleton remains, which are held in Henan province. Li said an official there told him they have yet to discuss the issue, but plan to.

Still, one other problem remains. If a DNA test on the bones is carried out and turns out to be a success, one could only say that the discovered corpse has the DNA of someone belonging to the Cao Cao family, but not that of Cao Cao himself.

To Li, this would be enough to help put the controversy to rest.

This tomb is a kings tomb. Its the tomb of an emperor. Not just anyone will be buried in a tomb like this, he said. If the body is found to belong to the Cao family, then the possibility of it belonging to Cao Cao is much higher.

What is an Avatar? Creators Chip Morningstar and Randy Farmer Trace the Ancient Roots of the Latest Buzzword

Blue aliens with cat-like faces might first come to mind when one hears the word avatar, now that James Camerons latest sci-fi flick has become the top grossing movie of all time.

But the box-office hit film is just the latest medium to popularize the word avatar, an ancient religious term thats taken on a new meaning in modern times.

Aside from the movie, many people are likely familiar with the word avatar as an expression of the self (or the alter ego) in a virtual world. Participation in video games, internet forums and Heritage Keys own King Tut Virtual Experience can all involve using a 2-D or 3-D representation of your self.

Hindu Roots of the Avatar

VishnuBut while the modern day meaning of avatar implies gaming and interaction, the original definition has a very different meaning. In Hinduism, avatars act as manifestations of deities. This occurs when a god has decided to come to our world by taking a human or animal form.

The most well-known avatars were associated with the god Vishnu, who often appeared in our world to restore good in the world when evil threatened to corrupt it. The deity would do so by fighting off demons as a fish or a boar. At other times, Vishnu would lead armies to victory as an eventual king (Sounds a little similar to the plot of the movie Avatar?).

Originally, the term avatar derived from the Sanskrit word Avatra, which means descent. But it was not until 1784 that the word avatar first appeared in the English language. Two centuries later, the term would gain a whole new meaning with the advent of video gaming.

The 1986 online role-playing game known as Habitat was the first instance where the word avatar was used in the modern sense. Players assumed their own persona and interacted together in a virtual community.

Chip Morningstar and Randy Farmer: The Men Who Invented the Avatar

Chip Morningstar and Randy Farmer

Chip Morningstar is one of the creators of the game who coined the term. In an e-mail interview with Heritage Key, Morningstar explains that his background as a bookish kid led to him coming across the word.

It seemed an appropriate mapping, he added. In the sense that we humans are like deities, or at least external souls, with respect to a virtual world that exists only inside a computer simulation.

But the word’s new meaning didn’t exactly catch on at first. Randy Farmer, the other creator of Habitat, said, “Initially, even marketing people in the early 1990’s in our own company,, bristled at this new and foreign sounding word.”

Over time, however, science-fiction novels and the growth of online gaming and the internet would cement the new meaning of ‘avatar’. Farmer added, “I knew the term was permanently in the language when Felicia Day recorded Do You Want To Date My Avatar?

With the popularization of the term, now its not just Hindu gods who can descend upon different worlds, but people. Today, avatars come in the form of characters ready to fight in some virtual battlefield to the simple picture used to identify oneself on an internet forum. In Heritage Keys case, a user can don their explorers hat and visit a virtual version of King Tuts tomb.

Constant Evolution of the Word

 KTV Avi

But modern day avatars have also gone beyond simply allowing us to visit new worlds. With online virtual worlds such as King Tut Virtual and Second Life, users can customize their avatar in almost any way they wish. (Like Vishnu, a user can choose to be a human or an animal. But the makers of Second Life also give you the option of being a vegetable or mineral.)

As the Second Life website states: You can create an avatar that resembles your real life or create an alternate identity. The only limit is your imagination. Who do you want to be?

While our avatars exist only in the virtual world, that’s not quite so in James Cameron’s latest film. In making Avatar, the director was also well aware of the words ancient meaning, as well as its modern use. The only difference with his avatar characters is that theyre meant to be real, at least on film anyways.

In an interview with Time Magazine, Cameron said: In this film what that means is that the human technology in the future is capable of injecting a human’s intelligence into a remotely located body, a biological body. It’s not an avatar in the sense of just existing as ones and zeroes in cyberspace. It’s actually a physical body.

Perhaps the word avatar will continue to evolve as technology continues to advance and change. But Morningstar is conflicted over how the term is used today.

I’ve been variously gratified, amused, and dismayed at the way the word has taken on the life that it has, Morningstar said, adding that he sometimes feels as though he ruined the term avatar.

On the other hand, it’s great fun at games industry parties, job interviews, and similar occasions to be able to claim bragging rights, he said. And the ways the term has morphed and transmogrified in use have been endlessly fascinating.