My current project involves studying metalwork excavated from burials across the Eurasian steppe, specifically gold and silver objects from elite burials associated with early Iron Age nomadic groups which once inhabited the northern Chinese periphery and the regions further west, all the way to the Crimean peninsula. I am particularly interested in the depictions of hybrid zoomorphs and the so-called “animal style” associated with metalwork excavated from burials across the vast domain of Central Eurasia. My ultimate goal in both this specific project and my dissertation is to trace any existing links between scenes of animal interaction incorporated in luxurious metalwork and the spiritual system of the tomb occupant. Since a great number of the hoard and tomb objects in question are now part of museum collections across Russia and Central Asia, I am extremely indebted to the Penn Museum Field Fund as the grant enabled me to visit exhibitions and archives in person. Seeing and examining items which have hardly been published in English-language scholarship would not otherwise have been feasible for me.
My research took me and my colleague from the East Asian Languages and Civilization department, Zachary Hershey, to the State Hermitage Museum and Kunstkamera in St. Petersburg, The Museum of Regional Studies in Irkutsk (Siberia), The Central Museum and Museum of Archaeology in Almaty, and the National Museum of Kazakhstan in Astana. The primary purpose of this trip was to view and examine the animal imagery incorporated into golden and silver treasures as well as textiles excavated from Inner Asian hoards and tombs over the last several decades. As many of these objects have never been published in English-language monographs accessible in the West, seeing and photographing them in person was of utmost importance to my project as it gave me a realistic idea of their size, color, and level of preservation. The State Hermitage Museum truly exceeded my expectations. I was able to see in person the oldest pile-woven carpet in the world, the famous Pazyryk rug which was excavated by Russian archaeologists in the Altai region of Siberia in 1949. Other highlights from my trip to the Hermitage were numerous Xiongnu artifacts excavated from tombs in present-day Mongolia, including textiles and bronzes which feature scenes of animal combat, predation, and metamorphosis. Zachary Hershey and I had the privilege to gain access to the Golden Room which contains some of the most astonishing treasures in the world, from elaborate Scythian gold to modern-day Uzbek jewels.
I was able to view remarkable items unearthed from multiple sites across Central Eurasia, but the highlights of the visit to the Golden Room was certainly the Novocherkassk treasure, particularly the diadem. In addition, I am appreciative of the opportunity to see the greatest Sogdian masterpieces in the world. The Sogdians who once inhabited the Zeravshan Valley were an Iranian-speaking people who left us remarkable traces of their presence as traders in Central Eurasia (Sogdian language was for a long time the lingua franca of the Silk Road). I had previously worked on Sogdian murals from the sites of Penjikent in modern-day Tajikistan, Varaksha, and Afrasiyab in modern-day Uzbekistan under the guidance of my advisor Dr. Nancy Steinhardt, and thus, seeing these masterpieces had been a dream of mine for a long time. Currently most of these wall paintings have been successfully transported, restored, and exhibited in the State Hermitage Museum of Saint Petersburg. While examining Sogdian paintings was not the primary goal of my research trip, being able to study these paintings certainly helped to further develop a secondary interest of mine, which I intend to pursue further in my academic career.
As I am currently writing my dissertation, I plan to incorporate the material which I studied over the summer in its content. In addition, I hope to work more on the Maikop Treasure and the Ordos bronzes from the collection of the Penn Museum and view these in the context of the material which I saw in museums in Eurasia this summer.
Petya Andreeva is a graduate student in the East Asian Languages & Civilizations program.