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Kost, Catrin (2017): Heightened Receptivity: Steppe Objects and Steppe Influences in Royal Tombs of the Western Han Dynasty. In: Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 137, No. 2: pp. 349-381
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Abstract

Tombs of the kings of the Western Han dynasty (202 B.C.E.-9 C.E.) often contain burial items that are related to the material culture of the Eastern Eurasian Steppe. These artifacts are usually interpreted in a general sense, for instance as a sign for the, fascination of the Han elite with the exotic. A closer analysis of relevant finds, however, shows different strategies of dealing with foreign influences. While the exchange with the empire's northern neighbors is evidenced through goods for which identical excavated parallels from the steppe exist, the royal tombs of the Han also contained items that resemble and reference steppe motifs and objects but were clearly produced locally and for local consumers. Especially the latter type of artifacts can thus not simply be interpreted as the passive byproduct of exchange relations. Instead, we have to acknowledge that design, production, and usage of these objects were based on conscious decisions. Based on the insight that objects always have a social function, this article argues that the Han elite not only appropriated steppe influences and motifs but also strategically (re)produced and integrated them into their world in order to redefine, enhance, and strengthen their position within their social framework.