Fierce Creatures

We have just spent a few days in London visiting our daughter Isla and one highlight of our trip was a visit to the British Museum to see the Ice Age Art exhibition. In many ways this show was a shock because the artefacts are all so small. I knew a number of the pieces from reproductions and was taken aback to discover that these apparently monumental objects are in fact only a few centimetres tall. Monumental figures of women are one recurring theme through the show, the other being animal figures, with many being very powerfully conceived.

Sadly, photography was not permitted in the exhibition (though I did see some surreptitious clicking using mobile phones going on), so here are a few other nice animal objects to be found in the BM.

Bull's head decorating a lyre from Ur (Sumerian)

Bull’s head decorating a lyre from Ur (Sumerian)

Another object from Ur - the famous ram in a thicket

Another object from Ur – the famous ram in a thicket

Persian griffin drinking horn

Persian griffin drinking horn

Bronze age silver bull

Bronze age silver bull

Lion?

Lion?

Leaping ibex (originally a vase handle)

Leaping ibex (originally a vase handle)

The one on the left is clearly a goose; not sure about the one with the nice false eyelashes!

The one on the left is clearly a goose; not sure about the one with the nice false eyelashes!

Rather dragon-like dogs on a bronze flagon

Rather dragon-like dogs on a bronze flagon

Powerful bronze bull's head

Powerful bronze bull’s head

Leaping dog on a Roman pot

Leaping dog on a Roman pot

Japanese netsuke deer

Japanese netsuke deer

Winter Walks

There is not too much happening at this time of year but it is nice to take a walk when the weather clears up a bit. The local landscape where I live is not spectacular but I love it right now, the grass is very green, the branches on the bare trees are so intricate and the fine twigs look almost like mist from a distance. Here are a few photographs taken on recent walks near my home:
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Megadunes of Dunhuang

My husband Alex and daughter Isla visited the city of Dunhuang, in China, a couple of years ago and brought back some great photographs. This post is mainly Alex’ thoughts on one aspect of that visit.

Apart from the world-famous Buddhist cave art at Mogao, tourists visit Dunhuang to see the fantastic landscape, particularly the great “megadunes” situated at Mingsha Shan just outside the city. Mingsha Shan means Singing-sand Mountain (or Echoing-sand Mountain) and is probably a reference to the whispering sound of the wind blowing the sand over the dunes.

Situated at the south-west corner of the Gobi desert in Gansu Province, Dunhuang was an oasis at an important point on the ancient Silk Road, just before the route split in two to pass north or south of the Taklimakan desert. Today Dunhuang is visited by tens of thousands of (mainly Chinese) tourists each year.

Giant Megadunes at Mingsha Shan, outside Dunhuang, China

Giant Megadunes at Mingsha Shan, outside Dunhuang, China

Megadunes are found in a number of places around the world but those at Dunhuang are among the most accessible. These huge mounds (near Dunhuang they are said to rise to around 1500 metres), are made where there is very fine sand in combination with predictable winds from a number of different directions. It seems unimaginable that such a fine, free-flowing material could naturally pile up so high but the dunes are very persistent, only creeping slowly one way or another with fluctuations in wind patterns.

The fine sand of the megadunes is sculpted daily by the winds

The fine sand of the megadunes is sculpted daily by the winds

Climbing the big dunes is very hard work because legs sink deep into the fine sand at every step and every climber quickly learns to follow the ridge-lines as they offer the best footing and gentlest slopes. Each step in the fine material sets off an avalanche, or perhaps something more like a waterfall of flowing sand that often continues for several seconds until each grain finds a new stable position.

Each step sets off cascades of almost liquid sand

Each step sets off cascades of almost liquid sand

A key attraction at Mingsha Shan is the Crescent Moon Lake and its accompanying Leiyin Temple. Despite being surrounded by towering dunes, the spring-fed lake has remained uncovered for at least two thousand years. The temple was once one of around forty Buddhist structures around the lake but these did not survive the Cultural Revolution. The current temple was rebuilt in the 1990s. Sadly, the spring that has fed the little lake for thousands of years has been threatened by ground-water extraction for the modern city and the level has fallen drastically in recent years, so much so that the government has now stepped in to replenish the lake’s water level.

Crescent lake is surrounded on all sides by massive dunes

Crescent Moon Lake surrounded on all sides by massive dunes, with Dunhuang in the background

The depth of Crescent Moon Lake has shrunk by several metres in recent decades

The depth of Crescent Moon Lake has shrunk by several metres in recent decades

Although the lake may be threatened, the great dunes at least seem immune to man’s actions. However many tourists trample over these structures, sending sand tumbling downwards, the wind just away works quietly at its job of piling it all back up again.

Constantly rebuilt - megadune at Dunhuang

Constantly rebuilt – megadune at Dunhuang

The great dunes are only about six km from the centre of Dunhuang

The great dunes are only about six km from the centre of Dunhuang