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Ancient Bronzes of the Asian Grasslands

November 24, 2006 - November 24, 2006

Curated by Trudy S. Kawami, The Sackler Foundation ?Great art, like science and the humanities, can never remain as the possession of one individual, creator or collector ? great art and all culture belongs to all humankind.?

Arthur M. Sackler, MD The Eurasian grasslands, also known as the steppes, cover a region extending from northern China westward through Mongolia to the plains of Eastern Europe. This exhibition focuses on a remarkable ancient culture, whose art, richly decorated with animal motifs is only now beginning to be understood by scholars. In 2000 BCE, villages of farmers, hunters and fishermen populated the grasslands.

By 1400 BCE many people left their villages to range widely over the steppes, managing herds of sheep, goats, cattle and horses. They sold meat, wool and leather to people living in the cities of Asia, and became increasingly dependent on the settled population for agricultural produce and manufactured goods. Horses, first domesticated in the steppes, were integral to this new way of life. They allowed the herdsmen to range farther for grass and to manage flocks and herds.

The famous trade routes linking Asia and Europe in ancient times, such as the Silk Road that connected China and Rome, traversed the grasslands. The steppe people?s intimate knowledge of the routes across the steppes and mountains, the sources of water, and the seasonal changes in climate were invaluable to the caravans. By guiding and supplying the trade caravans the steppe dwellers played an essential role in the exchange of goods and ideas between east and west. The mobile lifestyle of the steppe dwellers required art objects that were easy to wear, carry or pack, hence they favoured bronze items. Usually the larger and more ornate the item was, the higher the rank of the person who wore it. Steppe dwellers practiced shamanism to engage the spirit world. In the exhibition are artifacts used by these shamans such as bells, jingles, rattles, small spoons and cauldrons as well as to personal ornaments and tools.

The decorative themes on the artifacts were usually based on both domestic animals that they herded and the wild animals they hunted. Their belt buckles, plaques and ornaments often feature predators such as wild felines attacking deer or other animals. The people of the Asian grasslands left few written records of their own. Most of the knowledge about their lifestyle has been drawn from foreign accounts by ancient writers, including Greek historian Herodotus and ancient Chinese chroniclers.

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