News: Archaeologists Find Ancient Mummy Approximately 1,500 Years Old in Mongolia

Siberian Times - Ancient Mongolian Mummy

Remains of a suspected female of Turkik origin have been found at an altitude of 2,803 metres in the Altai Mountains.

The ancient human remains are wrapped in felt. The excavation is being hailed as the first complete Turkik burial found in Central Asia. B. Sukhbaatar, researcher at Khovd Museum, said: ‘This person was not from elite, and we believe it was likely a woman, because there is no bow in the tomb. Now we are carefully unwrapping the body and once this is complete the specialists will be able to say more precisely about the gender.’

In the mummy’s grave archaeologists found – alongside the human remains – a saddle, bridle, clay vase, wooden bowl, trough, iron kettle, the remains of an entire horse, and four different ‘Dool’ (Mongolian clothes). There were also pillows, a sheep’s head and felt travel bag in which were placed the whole back of a sheep, goat bones and a small leather bag for the cup.

Sukhbaatar said: ‘It is the first complete Turkik burial at least in Mongolia – and probably in all Central Asia. This is a very rare phenomenon. These finds show us the beliefs and rituals of Turkiks.’

To read the full article, visit the website of the Siberian Times.

News: Helmshore Mills Textile Museum to Close Next Month after LCC Cuts

Helmshore Mills Textile Museum

One of the last cotton mills in Lancashire – Helmshore Mills Textile Museum – will close its doors to the public at the end of next month. The museum is one of five to close as part of controversial cuts approved by Lancashire County Council (LCC) last week.

LCC has confirmed that the popular mill museum will shut by 1 April but has approved emergency funding to find alternative operators to take on the running of the museums and prevent them from falling into disrepair.

Helmshore councillor Brian Essex suggested the decision could be open to legal challenge. He said: ‘There has been a considerable campaign to keep it open as part of the heritage and community of Rossendale. I am sure there will be a large number of people across Rossendale who will be appalled to hear of its closure. Hopefully it can be kept open in some way, but this is a tremendous, momentous blow to the museum.’

For more information, visit the website of local newspaper, the Rossendale Free Press.

News: World’s Oldest Dress Found to Date Back 5,500 Years

National Geographic - Oldest Dress

An Egyptian garment has been unveiled as the world’s oldest dress after radiocarbon dating confirmed it was up to 5,500 years old.

The Tarkhan dress was sent to the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology at University College London in the early 1990s after being found in an Egyptian tomb. Left in a bundle with rags, it was only in 1977 when experts found it by chance.

Radiocarbon dating by the University of Oxford last year confirmed that the dress is between 5,100 and 5,500 years old.

For more information, visit the Independent website or the Petrie Museum website (which includes instructions on how to make your own Tarkhan dress!).

News: Battle to save Lawrence of Arabia’s Dagger and Robes for the Nation

Guardian - Lawrence of Arabia's robes

Lawrence of Arabia’s dashing white silk robes and a magnificent steel and silver dagger – presented to him after the capture of Aqaba – are at risk of being exported from the UK unless new buyers can be found. The culture minister, Ed Vaizey, placed temporary export bars on two of T.E. Lawrence’s most famous possessions on Tuesday.

They were sold at auction last year to overseas buyers and will be lost to Britain unless an individual or museum can match the asking price of £122,500 for the dagger and £12,500 for the robes.

Lawrence, an archaeologist and diplomat, became famous for his daring exploits as a military liaison officer during the 1916–18 Arab revolt. Vaizey called him ‘one of the most extraordinary figures of the twentieth century’. ‘These robes and dagger are absolutely iconic and a key part of his enduring image. It is important that these classic objects remain in the UK’, he said.

For more information, read the full Guardian article here.

News: Les musées des Tissus et des Arts décoratifs de Lyon threatened with closure

Les Musees des tissus et des arts decoratifs de Lyon

The Musée des tissus in Lyon is in a very difficult situation: last year, the French government decided to withdraw subsidies from the country’s Chambers of Commerce and Industry (we are talking here about more than 500 million euros). For the Chambre de Commerce de Lyon this meant that they could no longer support the textile museum, for which they have been responsible since 1854. It was hoped (and there have been negotiations to that end) that either the city of Lyon or the French Ministry of Culture would step in – but they are reluctant to take on the responsibility. If we cannot resolve this situation, the museum will be closed at the beginning of next year. (Please understand that this is an abbreviated version of what’s happening. For a detailed account, visit the link below.)

On Monday, a petition was launched that has been signed by more than 10,000 people so far. I have included a link to this petition below (the English text will become visible if you click ‘Read more’ at the end of the French introduction), and the museum and its community would be very grateful if you could sign it and spread the news among your friends and colleagues.

The Musée des tissus de Lyon is one of the most important, if not the most important collection of textiles in the world; it is a treasure trove, a mine of inspiration, a centre for research and the home of CIETA (Centre International d’Etude des Textiles Anciens) – please help us save it!

For more information, please visit the website of La Tribune de l’Art (website in French).

To sign the petition, visit the Change.org petition page here.

News: Re-opening of the V&A’s Refurbished Toshiba Gallery of Japanese Art

V&A - Toshiba Gallery re-opening

The V&A’s refurbished Toshiba Gallery of Japanese Art will re-open on Wednesday 4 November 2015.

The gallery refresh is part of the V&A’s ongoing FuturePlan scheme of restoration and redesign to create beautiful and contemporary new settings for the museum’s outstanding collections. Originally opened in December 1986, the Toshiba Gallery of Japanese Art was the first major gallery of Japanese art in the UK. It was designed to show highlights of the V&A’s internationally important collection of Japanese art and design, which the museum has built up since it was founded in 1852. The refurbished gallery will exhibit around 550 works in a newly curated series of displays that will include 30 or more recent acquisitions. A group of kimono from the 1920s–1930s are among the recent acquisitions that will be shown in the refurbished Toshiba Gallery.

The gallery will illustrate the extraordinary craftsmanship and artistic creativity of Japan from the sixth century to the present day through displays of swords and armour, lacquer, ceramics, cloisonné enamels, textiles and dress, inrō and netsuke, paintings, prints and illustrated books. The lighting, graphics and display cases have been updated and the gallery reconfigured to give space to modern and contemporary objects such as interior design, product design, electronics, photography, graphics and fashion – both high-end and kawaii street. An outfit from Issey Miyake’s 132 5. range will be shown, which employs the concept of origami to create a piece of womenswear out of a single piece of fabric, as well as a pair of gravity-defying shoes by the brilliantly creative Noritaka Tatehana.

The history and traditions of Japan are explored in the Toshiba Gallery, as well as how they resonate in contemporary society, including themes such as religion and ritual, arts of the samurai, tea drinking, theatre and performance, fashionable dress, dress accessories, lacquer and elegant pursuits, ukiyo-e and the graphic arts, engagement with the West, Imperial Japan, folk craft and the modern and contemporary. The displays will be complemented by films about inrō, putting on a kimono and obi, how to make a sword fitting and how to put on a suit of armour.

Treasures of the gallery include the lavishly decorated Mazarin Chest, made in Kyoto around 1640, which is one of the finest pieces of Japanese export lacquer to have survived from this time; a wonderfully preserved late seventeenth-century six-fold screen depicting the Nakamura-za Kabuki theatre in Edo (Tokyo); a set of twelve inrō for the twelve months of the year by the renowned nineteenth-century lacquer artist Shibata Zeshin; utensils for the tea ceremony including several rare and important examples of ceramics; and a major group of extremely high quality cloisonné enamels from the period 1880 to 1910.

Admission to the Toshiba Gallery (Room 45) is free.

For more information, visit the website of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

News: Director of the Savitsky Museum Fraudulently Ejected

Savitsky Museum - Marinika Babanazarova

On the 4th September the Savitsky Museum will be celebrating the centenary of the birth of Igor Savitsky, a Ukrainian artist who in his younger years assembled a major collection of Qaraqalpaq embroideries and yurt decorations and went on to rescue a vast number of threatened avant-garde paintings from the Soviet authorities. The museum that he founded – the Qaraqalpaq State Museum of Art – is one of the highlights of a visit to Qaraqalpaqstan in far western Uzbekistan. Foreign ambassadors, museum supporters and local dignitaries have been invited to the Museum’s centenary celebrations.

It was therefore something of a bombshell to receive news last Monday that Marinika Babanazarova, the Director of the Savitsky Museum, had been summarily sacked. The granddaughter of the first President of Qaraqalpaqstan, Marinika had been personally chosen by Savitsky to be his successor. For the past 35 years she has devoted her life to promoting, developing and defending the museum. However, as the international fame of the museum increased, intense jealousies were fired among the museum establishment in Tashkent.

Savitsky Museum - Qaraqalpaq Textile

A Qaraqalpaq shalma kergi storage bag on display at the museum

It is hard to understand the murky world of Uzbek politics, but it appears that someone in authority has decided to kick her out. Museum auditors were dispatched from Tashkent to check the Savitsky art collection for fakes using an ultraviolet light. They decided that some were forgeries and Marinika has been accused of selling the originals, using the Friends of Nukus Museum to take them out of the country. The whole scam would be laughable, were it not so tragic. As we know from many past visits, security at the museum is intense, with pairs of Uzbek policemen guarding every entrance, curators placing seals on every door at closure, and the director having no direct access to the collection herself. The accusations are despicable. Marinika is a woman of the utmost integrity.

For the past week we have been sending information to the BBC, Channel 4, the Guardian, the UK ambassador in Uzbekistan, the US and other European embassies in the UK and many other contacts with an interest in Central Asia and its textiles. You can read some of the responses on the following webpages:

David and Sue Richardson
Monday 31 August 2015

News: Armenian Orphan Rugs

BBC News - Armenian Rugs

One of several thousand rugs woven by Armenian orphans has recently been discovered in the home of American woman, Elibet Kunzler, whose father, Jacob, was a Swiss missionary working for the American Committee for Syrian and Armenian Relief (now the Near East Foundation). The committee was founded in response to the plight of Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians who were subject to deportation, forced marches, starvation and execution at the hands of the Ottoman Turks at the beginning of the First World War. Jacob Kunzler worked as an orphanage director, evacuating Armenian orphans from Urfa, in Turkey, to the mountain village of Ghazir in Lebanon. Once they were settled, he created rug-weaving facilities in the orphanage with the help of Armenian master weaver Hovhannes Taschjian, who trained more than 1,400 Armenian girls in the art of weaving, dyeing and patterning. The orphans were taught this vocational trade to ensure their economic survival, while also creating the rugs to be sold and donated for fundraising.

What makes the Kunzler rug even more significant is that it is believed to be a sister rug to the one given to President Calvin Coolidge in 1925, as a sign of gratitude for the US relief effort. Though the Kunzler rug is much smaller, both rugs contain the same animals, plants, medallions and Armenian symbolic imagery.

Read more about these Armenian rugs here.

News: Crisis Hits Kimono Trade

NY Times - Crisis Hits Kimono Trade

This week, the New York Times reported that the Japanese kimono trade is in crisis. A shift towards Western fashions combined with Japan’s long economic squeeze has led to plummeting demand, especially for high-end kimonos. Once, traditional kimonos from hand-dyed, hand woven fabric used to fetch prices of over $10,000, but this is no longer the case.

On Amami Oshima, production has fallen so far in the last two decades that only 500 people on an island with 73,000 residents remain employed full-time in kimono production, and many of them are in their 70s or 80s. That’s a dramatic drop from 20,000 people a generation ago, according to the Authentic Amami Oshima Tsumugi Association, the island’s union of kimono producers.

The union says the island’s production of kimono silk has fallen similarly, from enough to make 284,278 kimonos during the height of the postwar boom in 1972, to enough for just 5,340 kimonos last year.

Read more about the kimono crisis here.

News: Oldest Known Trousers Found in Western China

First trousers discovered in western China

Alongside the remains of two men who were recently excavated from tombs in western China, archaeologists also discovered fragments of what appear to be the earliest known trousers. The men, who were nomadic herders, lived between 3,300 and 3,000 years ago, making their trousers the oldest known examples.

With straight-fitting legs and a wide crotch, the ancient wool trousers resemble modern riding trousers, says a team led by archaeologists Ulrike Beck and Mayke Wagner of the German Archaeological Institute in Berlin. The discoveries, uncovered in the Yanghai graveyard in China’s Tarim Basin, support previous work suggesting that nomadic herders in Central Asia invented trousers to provide bodily protection and freedom of movement for horseback journeys and mounted warfare. Previously, Europeans and Asians wore gowns, robes, tunics, togas or — as observed on the 5,300-year-old body of Ötzi the Iceman — a three-piece combination of loincloth and individual leggings.

A dry climate and hot summers helped preserve human corpses, clothing and other organic material in the Tarim Basin. More than 500 tombs have been excavated in a graveyard there since the early 1970s. Earlier research on mummies from several Tarim Basin sites identified a 2,600-year-old individual known as Cherchen Man who wore burgundy trousers, probably made of wool.

The two trouser-wearing men entombed at Yanghai were roughly forty years old and had probably been warriors as well as herders, the investigators say. One man was buried with a decorated leather bridle, a wooden horse bit, a battle-axe and a leather bracer for arm protection. Among objects placed with the other body were a whip, a decorated horse tail, a bow sheath and a bow. Each pair of trousers was sewn together from three pieces of brown-colored wool cloth, one piece for each leg and an insert for the crotch. The tailoring involved no cutting: Pant sections were shaped on a loom in the final size. Finished pants included side slits, strings for fastening at the waist and woven designs on the legs.

Read more about the discovery of these trousers here, or if you have institutional access you can read the full journal article here.