UPenn - Silk Road

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There are no pictures here, the museum had shelves and signs, but no exhibits! The original exhibit was evidently on display for only a few weeks in February. Instead, there were actual-size color photographs of the exhibits. The color photographs, and a few video kiosks, were part of an "interactive exhibit" which was scheduled for display from April 2nd through June 5th, 2011. This represents a rather large and costly undertaking for only two months on display. The museum also developed a website for the exhibit at http://www.penn.museum/silkroad/home.php. Hopefully this page is permanent.

It comes to light, that while we did not see it admitted on Penn Museum pages,  the Chinese government which once allowed the exhibit artifacts to tour the United States, reneged and asked Penn Museum not to display them. The reasons are evidently political. An article entitled China Asks Penn to Remove All Artifacts From ‘Silk Road’ Exhibition appeared in the New York Times on February 2nd, 2011.

Here is the text of the Times article:

China Asks Penn to Remove All Artifacts From ‘Silk Road’ Exhibition

5:40 p.m. | Updated It’s not an easy thing to mount a big exhibition of artifacts from China without any artifacts from China.

That’s the position the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology now finds itself in, as it prepares to open a major show on Saturday, “Secrets of the Silk Road,” which was organized by the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, Calif., last year and traveled from there to the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

The Penn Museum, as it is known, had advertised its version of the show as “an extraordinary collection of materials, including spectacularly preserved clothing and textiles, personal items and golden treasures, all recently excavated at desert burial sites in the far western reaches of modern China.” But on Wednesday the museum announced that China had requested that none of the artifacts be shown. In a statement the museum said the exhibition “has been modified,” and will now consist only of photographs, multimedia presentations and a recreation of an excavation site. It added that it would refund money to everyone who had bought tickets for the show ahead of time and that the exhibition would now be free.

The star attractions of the traveling show have been two mummies, more than 3,500 years old, that were unearthed in the Tarim Basin of western China, the first time any Chinese mummies had been shown in the United States.

Pam Kosty, a spokeswoman for the museum, declined to explain why China had made the request or whether the artifacts were already installed at the museum when the request was made. The museum has had long associations with Chinese archaeologists and scholars. It has also long been regarded as a leader in advocating for stronger protections surrounding the export and acquisition of antiquities from around the world to discourage the illicit trade in artifacts.

The original negotiations between China and the United States and within China itself that brought the artifacts to the United States last year were long and complicated. Mummies and other artifacts that have been found in the region in recent years there have been identified as Caucasoid, with long noses and light hair, discoveries that have caused controversy there. The discoveries have raised questions about who first settled that part of western China and for how long. Chinese authorities have faced an intermittent separatist movement of nationalist Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim people who number nine million in the region, and Uighur nationalists have used evidence from the mummies–whose corpses span thousands of years–to support historical claims to the region.

The Los Angeles Times reported last March that the Uighur population was not happy with the idea of sending the artifacts and mummies abroad. Officials from the Bowers traveled to the region and drafted an agreement, sent to Beijing, for loans of such items from the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region Museum and the Xinjiang Institute of Archaeology in Western China, and the requests were granted in June 2010.

Another New York Times article, Another Stop on a Long, Improbable Journey, appeared on February 20th. The Penn Museum merely announced that "Secrets of the Silk Road is now free with general Museum admission. All objects have been returned to China for conservation. The full interactive experience with replicas are on display through June 5, 2011."

Other Penn Museum website pages discussing this exhibit follow. Of course, we cannot guarantee that the museum will leave these pages intact:

Secrets of the Silk Road to Open with Mummies, Artifacts from China

The Penn Museum webpage announcing the "interactive" exhibit.

It is a sad state of affairs for America, when American educational institutions invest money into the exploration of places such as the Tarim Basin, yet so little benefit from the investment actually reaches American taxpayers. American researchers contributed at least as much - but probably much more - than the Chinese did in the discovery and study of the artifacts. In fact, it is because of American technology that they were discovered in the first place. In an article found in the Journal of Field Archaeology (Volume 19, Number 1, 1992 , pp. 129-138) written by Derrold W. Holcomb entitled Field Report: Shuttle Imaging Radar and Archaeological Survey in China's Taklamakan Desert it is revealed that the locations of ancient settlements in this region, hence targets for archaeological exploration, were first discovered from images taken by the space shuttle Columbia in 1981.  The abstract of the article is reproduced here:

The Taklamakan Desert of NW China, the world's second largest hyperarid region, contains numerous archaeological sites where cities, forts, and religious shrines once flourished along the route of the Silk Road of antiquity. The ruins of these sites are now largely sand-covered, but digitally processed radar images can be used to detect and map such subsurface features. Long-term goals of this research are directed toward locating these lost settlements. Therefore, initial emphasis has been placed on use of remote-sensing radar data to locate ancient watercourses, along which evidence of human habitation is most likely to be found.

Radar data were collected with a synthetic aperture imaging radar sensor carried on NASA's Space Shuttle Columbia in 1981. These data were digitized, computer enhanced, and compared with photographic and cartographic data of the same region. Computer processing sequences were developed through extensive, directed trial and error, enabling the author to elucidate previously indiscernible, features such as ”radar river” on a scale of tens of meters. In a continuation of this work, these enhancement sequences will be applied to available and future imaging radar scenes in arid regions. These data, rectified to map coordinates and overplotted with known archaeological data, will be used to direct fieldwork.