December 19, 1996
2000 Year Old Mummies Found in China Stillby Staff Writers, Daily Republican Newspaper
Wearing Silk Clothing. Had Star Map With Them!
CAIRO DESK - A pair of mummies estimated to be nearly 2,000 years old have been discovered in the desolate desert sands of northwest China. The bodies are those of a man and a woman. They were wrapped in beautiful silk clothing. With them when they died, was a lovely star map printen on silk cloth.
Archaeologists at the scene reported the couple were likely to have been members of the local nobility during the Han Dynasty that flourished from 202 BC to 220 AD.
The Ch'in ruler Shih Huang Ti controlled China at about that time and is known as the First Emperor. He centralized political authority in China, standardized the written language, laws, weights, measures, and coinage, and conducted a census, but tried to destroy most philosophical texts.
The Han dynasty instituted the Mandarin bureaucracy, which lasted for 2,000 years. Local officials were selected by examination in the Confucian classics and trained at the imperial university and at provincial schools. The invention of paper facilitated this bureaucratic system. Agriculture was promoted, but the peasants bore most of the tax burden. Irrigation was improved; water clocks and sundials were used. Astronomy and mathematics were perfected.
Because of the dry desert air, the ancient remains were very well preserved, according to archaeologists. The Takla Makan Desert where the remains were discovered was once a part of the Silk Road an ancient 'highway' linking China with the Egypt and Athens in the West.
Chinese science dates back to the New Stone Age. The artifacts found with the remains attest to the significant scientifc achievement of the world's longest continuous civilization.
The principle that underlies all aspects of Chinese science and culture—harmonious balance—is exemplified in the circumstances of the anccient remains found this week. Chinese science is a careful balance of traditions and innovations, of both native and foreign ideas, and of religious and secular images.
References in the Old Testament indicate that silk was known in biblical times in western Asia, from which it was presumably transplanted to the Greek Islands of the Aegean Sea. The Chinese are believed to have built up a lucrative trade with the West from the days of the Han dynasty in the 2nd century BC.
The ancient Persian courts used Chinese silks, unraveled and rewoven into Persian designs. When Darius III, king of Persia, surrendered to Alexander the Great, he was clothed in such silken splendor that Alexander was completely overshadowed and demanded thousands of yeard of finished silk cloth as spoils. Howard Hobbs, Ph.D., of the Economics Institute in Washington D.C. said the economic equivalent is slightly more than $7 million in 1996 dollars.
Several artifacts were found with the bodies, including a bow, arrows, arrow shafts and a scabbard with the man, and a bronze mirror, a double-edged comb and cosmetics with the woman. Among other finds was a piece of silk cloth with Chinese characters that scientists said was part of an ancient text on astronomy.
The Chinese invented the process of mass production in book printing they called slik-screeen printing. Important books were often printed on silk cloth for travelers to carry with them as guidebooks and maps. The silk-screen printing was introduced in the Han Dynasty when it was found that silk cloth-based inkng lasted for long periods without fading.
The study of the human remains will involve combined efforts of astronomers, archaeologists, ethnographers, and other scientists to interpret the meaning of the condition of the human remains and the possible astronomical significance of the ancient text on astronomy found with the remains.
The remnants of cultures throughout the world give evidence of their concern with the complex regularity of the motions of the sun, moon, and stars and with unusual occurrences such as the appearance of a nova or comet in the sky.
Besides the simple fact that the sky was a dominating feature of the human world in ancient times—a fact obscured for people in advanced modern civilizations by the prevalence of artificial lighting—the regularity of celestial events provided ancient peoples with the best means for bringing order to their understanding of the world.
It enabled them to measure the passage of time, to predict the recurrence of seasonal events (an essential for agriculture), to undertake extensive navigations, and to develop the calendars needed for their complex societies.
The celestial orientations of the pyramids of Egypt and of various temples and structures of the Middle East and Europe first began to be studied scientifically in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. These efforts intensified greatly in the late 19th century with the work of the English astronomer Sir Joseph Norman Lockyer and others.
Studies of Stonehenge and similar early megaliths have clearly indicated that these structures were oriented on celestial events such as the summer solstice. Temples and other constructions were also used to mark the phases of the moon and the rising of certain bright stars such as Sirius.
In the New World the large, circular patterns of stone called medicine wheels, as well as the structures left by the Mound Builders, were similarly oriented on the summer solstice; and rock paintings appear to record such events as the1054 AD supernova, now known as the Crab nebula.
The mode of ancient astronomical observations varied according to their location on the earth's surface. In ordewr to observe and record scientific obsrvations of celestial phenomena such as an eclipse, people traveled all over the known world to record the event from 'observatories'.
For example, in tropical regions such as Oceania, people recorded the directions for long sea journeys with structures based on the horizon system of coordinates, rather than on the ecliptic as in temperate zones. The degree of sophistication of these ancient systems is only now beginning to be realized. It is very possible that ancient Chinese travelers like those whose remaind were discovered this week, were in such an exploration when they met their fate.
Curiosity of ancient peoples concerning day and night and the sun, moon, and stars led eventually to the observation that the heavenly bodies appear to move in a regular manner that is useful in defining time and direction on the earth. Astronomy grew out of problems originating with the first civilizations, that is, the need to establish with precision the proper times for planting and harvesting crops and for religious celebrations and to find bearings and latitudes on long trading journeys or voyages.
To ancient peoples the sky exhibited many regularities of behavior. The bright sun, which divided daytime from nighttime, rose every morning from one direction, the east, moved steadily across the sky during the day, and set in a nearly opposite direction, the west. At night more than 1000 visible stars followed a similar course, appearing to rotate in permanent groupings, called constellations, around a fixed point in the sky, which is known as the north celestial pole.
In the North Temperate Zone, people noticed that daytime and nighttime were unequal in length. On long days the sun rose north of east and climbed high in the sky at noon; on days with long nights the sun rose south of east and did not climb so high at noon. Observation of the stars that appear in the west after sunset or in the east before sunrise showed that the relative position of the sun among the stars changes gradually. The Egyptians may have been the first to discover that the sun moves completely around the sphere of the fixed stars in approximately 365 days and nights.
Further study showed that the sky also holds the moon and five bright planets. These bodies, together with the sun, move around the star sphere within a narrow belt called the zodiac. The moon traverses the zodiac quickly, overtaking the sun about once every 29.5 days, the period known as the synodic month. Star watchers in ancient times attempted to arrange the days and either the months or the years into a consistent time system, or calendar. Inasmuch as neither an entire month nor an entire year contains an exactly integral number of days, the calendar makers assigned to successive months or years different numbers of days, having a long-range average that would approximate the true value. Mummies have been recovered from the region three times in the past decade, but scientists consider this to be the most remarkable find yet.
For more than 2000 years the Chinese economy operated under a type of feudal system; land was concentrated in the hands of a relatively small group of landowners whose livelihood depended on rents from their peasant tenants. Further adding to the peasant farmers' burden were agricultural taxes levied by the imperial government and crop yields subject to drought and floods. Under these conditions, agriculture remained essentially underdeveloped—organized in small units and using primitive methods for basic subsistence.
Liu Pang proclaimed himself emperor in 206 BC. The Han dynasty which he established, was the most durable of the imperial age. The Han built on the unified foundation laid by the Ch'in, modifying the policies that had resulted in the downfall of the Ch'in.
Burdensome laws were abrogated, taxes were sharply reduced, and a policy of laissez-faire was adopted in an effort to promote economic recovery. At first Liu Pang granted hereditary kingdoms to some of his allies and relatives, but by the middle of the 2nd Century BC most of these kingdoms had been eliminated, and almost all Han territory was under direct imperial rule.
One of the most important contributions of the Han was the establishment of Confucianism as the official ideology. In an attempt to provide an all-inclusive ideology of empire, however, the Han incorporated ideas from many other philosophical schools into Confucianism and employed popular superstitions to augment and elaborate the spare teachings of Confucius. In staffing the administrative hierarchy inherited from the Ch'in, the Han emperors followed the Confucian principle of appointing men on the basis of merit rather than birth. Written examinations were adopted as a means of determining the best qualified people. In the late 2nd century BC an imperial university was established, in which prospec policies consumed the financial wealth that had been accumulated during the laissez-faire administrations of his predecessors. As a result, taxes were increased, government monopolies revived, and the currency debased.
Hardships suffered by the peasants were aggravated by the growth in population, which reduced the size of individual landholdings at a time when taxes were increasing. Povrerty and disease swept the land and revolution soon followed.
The Daily Republican Online
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