MAIASP. 2021. No. 13

Irina Ravich (Moscow, Russia), Mikhail Treister (Bonn, Germany)

Chinese mirroRs from the burials of the nomads of eastern europe of the second half of the 1st millennium BCE — first centuries CE: typology, chronology, distribution and technology of manufacture

DOI: 10.53737/2713-2021.2021.61.75.010

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Pages: 404—452

This article is devoted to Chinese mirrors found in the burials of the nomads of Asian Sarmatia. The typology and chronology of mirrors are presented. The earliest mirror dates to the period of the Warring States, but most of them date from the first century BCE to the second century CE. In complexes from the second half of the first century BCE to the first half of the first century CE, the number of Chinese items in Asiatic Sarmatia increased. These items include two mirrors of the Western Han type, which come from the Lower Volga and Don regions; they are not known in the South Urals. In complexes from the second half of the first century to the first half of the second century CE, Chinese mirrors are much more common. As before, they are not known in the Urals, but they are represented in the Kuban and Lower Volga regions, and especially in the Lower Don region. In burials of the Late Sarmatian period, from the late second century to the middle/second half of the third century CE, Chinese mirrors are relatively abundant in the Urals, where the mapping of finds allows us to distinguish two local groups: (1) South Urals: Lebedevka and burial grounds in the Ilek River basin; (2) South Bashkiria, interfluve of the Sakmara and Ural Rivers, and the Trans-Urals. Farther to the west, in the Lower Volga and Don regions, they generally ceased to appear. Only two mirrors are known outside the South Urals—in Trans-Kuban and central Ciscaucasia. The issue of deliberate damage to mirrors is specially considered.

Is it possible to consider the Chinese bronze mirrors as trade items? If we assume that they were trade items along the Silk Road, then we should consider two conclusions from the dating of the finds. Firstly, these mirrors were not distributed to the ancient centers of the North Pontic area and farther to the territory of the Roman provinces. Thus the path of the mirrors ended in the steppe. Moreover, starting from the second half of the second century CE (Late Sarmatian culture), Chinese mirrors cease to appear to the west of the Urals—their finds are unknown in the Lower Volga and Don regions. So the connection between distribution of the Chinese mirrors and the functioning of the northern branch of the Silk Road is unlikely.

The study of composition and technology of production of seven Chinese mirrors found in various nomadic burials of Asian Sarmatia allowed us to make a conclusion that they are manufactured in accordance with Chinese tradition of mirror bronzes. The mirrors contain 22,35—25% of tin and 1,52—7,54% of lead, the metal is pure, it does not contain foreign inclusions, the microstructure of finds is typical for cast mirrors crystallized in the clay and stone molds. The features of corrosion destruction of mirrors are typical for the high-tin bronze mirrors.  Both chemical and technological characteristics of the studied mirrors indicate that they originated from the territory of China.

Key words: Chinese mirrors, Warring States period, Han period, Eurasia, nomads, Asian Sarmatia, typology, chronology and distribution of mirrors, technology of mirrors manufacture, composition, metallography, scanning electron microscopy.

Received May 16, 2021

Accepted for publication June 02, 2021

About the authors:

Irina Ravich (Moscow, Russia). Candidate of Technical Sciences. State Research Institute of Conservation


Mikhail Treister (Bonn, Germany). Dr. phil. habil. (RUS), Independent scholar