Remarks on the Anau and Niyä Seals
by John Colarusso
On May 31, 2000 Dr. Fredrik Hiebert came upon a small stone seal made of jet in the back dirt from his excavations at Anau in Turkestan. It was encrusted in clay and by all indications it had just come from a small store room that had been uncovered in his efforts to examine a larger structure. By all indications it had just been removed by a young man hired to screen debris from the bottom of small room and therefore should be considered an in situ find (Mair 2001, pp. 25-6). It bears five markings (Beeston and Davies 2001; Flam 2001; Hughes 2001; Wilford 2001): a "squared off" 2, with a rectilinear hourglass or '8' below it (taking the 2 as arbitrarily in the upper left quadrant, as Mair did (p. 10)), and to the right of these a squared double trident, three tines up and three down and on the right margin to this a vertical line, parallel with the tines, that shows a small divergent line emerging from the near the "bottom" at an angle of roughly 40 degrees. There has been some chipping at the edges of the seal that has extended into the margins of these symbols, but nevertheless their similarity to Chinese "small seal" characters is striking (Mair, pp. 1, 9, 10, 16). Such characters date from the Qin reforms of roughly 100 ad/ce (Mair, p. 34). The Anau seal, however, seems firmly dated at 2,300 bc/bce (Mair, p. 7). Furthermore, it is more than 3,300 miles from Anau to Beijing (near the center of the old Qin kingdom). The only match to the Anau seal is a small jet seal of almost identical shape from Niyä (near modern Minfeng) along the southern Silk Road in Xinjiang (Mair, pp. viii, ix, 19-22). Although the Niyä seal is incerti sedis it has generally been assumed to be from the Western Han dynasty (Mair, p. 22), when the Han people first established an empire in Eastern Turkestan. The Niyä seal too shows small seal characters, so that it must have followed Qin reforms, or so the canonical reasoning goes, and cannot therefore be earlier than the late Western Han period. The two seals are therefore presumed to be nearly 2,300 years apart in time and roughly 2,000 miles apart.
Given this reckoning the Anau seal is a perfect example of what science terms an anomaly: an incontrovertible datum that cannot be made to fit an established paradigm. An anomaly is noise in an accepted vision of the world. In this case the Anau seal simply does not fit into the accepted vision of eastern Eurasian history. As Mair so well understands (pp. 33-4) its anomalous date and distance are seemingly irreconcilable with the "natural" evolution of Chinese logographic writing. This evolution starts in the late Shang dynasty (1200-1045 bc/bce) with oracle bone incisions, and then proceeds through bronze inscriptions, to big seal forms, and then to little seal forms (Mair, p. 33). It is as though the Anau seal had been dropped back in time by a late Han time traveler. Others will surely seek to confine the anomaly to the stratigraphy of the Anau site, invoking long vanished rodents as agents of "intrusion," that is, of archaeological noise, despite the fact that no rodent burrows were evident (Mair, p. 41). Others, to flirt with slander, might be tempted to suggest a hoax on the part of one of Dr. Hiebert's colleagues or workmen. Such a hoax in itself would be almost as extraordinary, virtually as anomalous, as the find itself for it would require that some one with minimal or no motivation would have been able to find on a local market the only other instance apart from Niyä of such a minute lignite seal, and one encrusted in the local clay as well, and that this perpetrator would have had the intellectual grasp to realize what far reaching questions such a find would raise. Having critically perused the evidence given in Mair (2001) I concur with him (p. 38) "that the Anau seal must really date to 2,300 bce." The Anau seal is an extraordinary find and will force us to change many of our ideas regarding Eurasian civilization, not least of which will be our understanding of the origin and evolution of Chinese writing, as Mair notes (p. 38). To begin the process of paradigm shift two things must be done. The first is to eliminate the possibility that the Anau and Niyä seals resemble one another through pure chance. The second is to offer a new paradigm along with suggestions for further work that will support it. I now address these in turn.include '../includes/navbar.html'; ?> include '../includes/footer.html'; ?>