Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Dragon Tracks from Mongolia to Bactria in Afghanistan

Dragon Tracks

The task of tracking dragon image amulets from one side of the Himalayas to the other is a matter of following the old -- now probably approaching ten thousand years old -- paths of the  migrant people of the Mediterranean, Mesopotamia, Central Asia and Northwestern China.  As the neolithic methods of farming developed in the desert oases of that huge region of the planet, which was drying out, the people were forced to follow sources of water and favorable conditions for growing their crops and herds of domesticated animals.

Migrant paths became trade routes with time and by the fourth millennium B.C., there were trading posts or caravanserai operating in certain places along the roads that the caravans followed.  Migration also continued to follow those roads to greener pastures and more fertile land to farm.  From pigs to camels, different varieties of sheep and goats, even the horse and of course the dog were part of the entourage of a migrant clan leader.  Ancient Sousiana in Persia was one of those hubs of human movement and socio-economic exchange.

By about 3,000 B.C. there were people in that area that spoke a language related to the pre-Anglo-Saxon language of England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Asia Minor, Galicia and part of France, the old Celtic root.  The speakers of this now dead or dying branch of this Indo-European language group did not show up only in the historical record in Europe.  The Tocharians from Susiana in Persia spoke a version of this same Celtic language in Persia and in the place they migrated to: northwestern China.   Also to be noted is that the Indo part of the Indo-European (at this point, really Indo-Aryan) language group was spoken in the Indus Valley by this time.

But what has this to do with dragon symbols?  We will focus on the dispersal of the dragon symbol in Greater Persia and Northwestern China.  There is a connection of similar uses of the dragon symbol in ancient Susiana (Elam, Gutin) and the area of China that is just over the Himalayas in northwestern China.

To recap a bit here: Susiana was located  near the Persian Gulf where Syria and Iraq join Greater Persia which stretched from central Turkey to the western side of the Himalayas.  The trade routes are known because long stretches of them are still in use.  I have traveled along some of them.  A small sketch here of how the roads developed into the Silk Road(s) in the last millennium B.C. :
Note that the road from Bactria in Afghanistan, part of Greater Persia at the time, follows what had probably been the migrant New Stone Age oasis farmers of thousands of years before the route became known as the Silk Road.  It crosses the Hindu Kush range of the Himalayas into Tashkorgan in the land of the Jade Rivers: the White Jade River and the Black Jade River.  It is the sprawling northwest part of China, now called Xinjiang, once known as Sinkiang and list of other names.  By 2,000 B.C. the people who spoke the Indo-European language related to the Celtic branch, the Tocharian, lived in this province.  Their mummies are on display in a museum at the provincial seat, Urumqi.

Tashkorgan, the first landing of those migrants or traders over the high mountain passes from the west (Persia) or south (Indus Valley), was one of the world's busiest market places. Goods were exchanged there to be passed along by resident or traveling merchants to the remainder of China, Mongolia and other parts of the East.  Merchants had come from the other end of the route to Tashkorgan to make the exchanges and take the newly acquired goods to sell along the remainder of the route.

Beads or raw stones to make beads and other ornaments were very important items of trade. They were portable enough that they could be used as 'money.'  The eastern side of the Himalayas actually have ancient jade 'coins' with an assigned value.  Agate, quartz, jade and lapis lazuli were the prized gemstones of the area.  They were carried as far as Egypt from their source in what are now Iran and Afghanistan.  It is from that very area that the beads in the photograph below originate.  They are probably from about 1,500 B.C.  The brown banded agate bead was highly prized at this time.

Ancient Brown Banded Agates from proto-Iranian Civilization

So now we know a bit about how the people traveled from the border of Mesopotamia and Iran and carried their culture along to be mingled to various extents with the residents of each area into which they settled.  They trekked along routes that came to be known much later as trade routes.  By 3,000 B.C., they were introducing copper smelting and manufacture of refined and alloyed metal ornaments, weapons and household goods.  They no doubt assimilated culturally and adopted some of the symbols used in ornamentation by the indigenous people of the place.  These Indo-European speaking people had moved along this route to settle south of the Caspian in what is now Iran (Persia), in Margiana (Turkmenistan), Bactria (Afghanistan), Indus Valley (Pakistan) and in northwestern China.  

From Susiana to central Persia and eastern Persia (Bactria), they brought their own dragon symbols such as these found in the Kerman District south of the Caspian Sea: 
This is the time-honored symbol of the twin dragons with the phoenix, a glorious mythical bird that is very often shown with a dragon or the twin dragon symbol.  Here it is worked in steatite, a soft stone.  In other times and places, it has been produced in jade, especially in what are now the modern autonomous zones of China: Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang province nearby.

The pig images at the bottom of this amulet coin show the honored animal in the Neolithic Hongshan culture that lasted until about 3,000 B.C.  At about that time, the pig gradually became a dragon with a pig's head.  This jade coin is a modern interpretation of that cultural development.  At the bottom are the pigs, then the dragon and finally the victorious phoenix, of which we will see more in these blog posts.

As mentioned above, from some other influence, by about 3,000 B.C., the people on the eastern side of the Himalayas had adopted the dragon, and their amulet became a symbol much like the Iranian one above.  A circle of two dragons or entwined dragons with pig-like features, or like this single one that shows the mixed symbolism of pig-dragon:
Modern reproduction of Neolithic Hongshan culture fetal pig/dragon symbol

Especially in the emphasis on the eye of the creature, you will note a similarity between the image above and this one from Bactria, worked in a softer stone from ancient times:

Bactrian amulet in soft white stone.
So now the dragon appears in similar form on both sides of the Himalayas.  I am not trying to establish any real connection between languages, customs or genetics.  I am only following an interesting mystery in the attraction that humans have for dragons as ornaments.  The similarity of certain of the images at or near the same time but found at great distances apart intrigues me.  And where we find tartan plaids and/or Indo-Aryan features, we find these whorled dragon images, but I grant that there is probably no causal relationship.  Maybe they  are found all over the globe at this time, but since my interest is mainly in Central Asia, especially the Himalayan countries, I certainly find dragon tracks there.  

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