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Tomb Figure of a Bactrian Camel
Tomb Figure of a Bactrian Camel, Early to mid- 8th century
Earthenware with three-color (sancai) glaze
32 × 10 × 25 inches (81.3 × 25.4 × 63.5 cm)
Gift of Mrs. John Wintersteen, 1964
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Looking Questions

  • Of what material is this sculpture made?
  • What animal is shown?
    What details tell you so?
  • What colors are used?
  • The colors appear to run and drip in places. Where?
  • This sculpture was excavated from a wealthy person’s tomb. What use might a camel have been to a person’s afterlife?

Research Activity: Who Was Marco Polo?

What was it like to travel the Silk Route across so many lands? Have students research thirteenth-century Venetian merchant Marco Polo, who set out with his father and uncle to East Asia. Use a map of the Silk Route to trace his journey from Venice to China and back. Discuss how cultural ideas were exchanged as travelers and traders along the Silk Route met and interacted with different cultures.

Art Project: Guardian Figure

Tomb sculptures helped spirits in the afterlife. Camels carried the spirit in travel, and guardian figures were fierce and kept away evil spirits. Have students create their own guardian figure. Gather found objects (Styrofoam cups, Popsicle sticks, plastic bottles, twigs, leaves, etc.) and use them to create an imaginary guardian creature—one scary enough to keep away bad things. Use Tang dynasty sancai—cream (white), green, and amber (dark orange yellow)—to decorate the sculpture. Notice how the artist of Tomb Figure of a Bactrian Camel splashed on the colors, allowing them to drip down and create a free-form effect.

Group Project: Trade Goods on the Silk Route

Camels like the one depicted here were used by Silk Route caravans to carry the luxury goods of the West and the East. What did people want to buy and sell? Have students work in small groups to create a list of the things that might have been exchanged along the Silk Route. Appoint each group as either merchants from the East or the West. Why would anyone want to buy items on their list? How would they sell these wares?

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