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Archaeologists worldwide have shown much interest in the origins of metallurgy in China (e.g. Mei 2005; Hanks et al. 2007; Parzinger 2011; Fan et al. 2012). Around 2200–1700 BC, the Seima-Turbino Culture originated in the Altai Mountains of Central Asia and spread across the Eurasian steppes (Chernykh 2004, 2008). The most iconic artefact of this culture is the socketed spearhead with single side hook; these have been found across the Eurasian steppes (Figure 1: 1–2). Two new observations of these spearheads suggest that Seima-Turbino metal-casting technology was responsible for the development of metallurgy in China.
As the first European to claim that he travelled to China and back, Marco Polo is a celebrated traveller who described the multicultural society of Eurasia in the thirteenth to fourteenth centuries ad. However, his famed account, the Travels of Marco Polo, contains many unsolved mysteries which have generated discussion among historians, while an archaeological approach has been even less convincing because the material that may link to Marco Polo is very rare. A recent re-analysis of Chinese ceramics from a wide geographical area ranging from southern China to the Indian Ocean provides some archaeological support: it suggests that a Chinese porcelain jar housed in the Treasury of San Marco in Venice dates to the era of Marco Polo and is associated with his journey to China.
The imperially sponsored maritime expeditions led by Zheng He in the early fifteenth century AD projected Ming Chinese power as far as Java, Sri Lanka and the East African coast. The Indian Ocean voyages are well documented in Chinese and Islamic historical accounts and by the nautical charts of Zheng He's journeys. Less clear has been the exact location of ancient Hormuz, the destination of Zheng He's voyages in the Persian Gulf. Recent re-analysis of ceramics from coastal southern Iran provides a solution. Archaeological evidence for Ming ceramics on present-day Hormuz Island and jewellery and gemstones of Iranian origin in southern China suggest that ancient Hormuz and Hormuz Island are one and the same.
Many Kharoṣṭhī documents have been unearthed from the buried cities in the shifting sands of the Taklamakan Desert in the last thirty years. I went to the south of the Desert and conducted an archaeological survey along the Silk Road in the summer of 1986. A Kharoṣṭhī wooden tablet happened to be on display in the Khotan Museum when I visited there, but no serial number had been given to the new document. It was allegedly collected by Mr. Li Xuehua, an officer of the Min Feng county, when he explored the way to the Niya site for the shooting of a television programme on the Silk Road in 1981. However, he did not leave any further information on the exact place where the tablet was found in the vast area of Niya.
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