Silk Road treasures go on display in Los Angeles

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Mummies and other artifacts found along the fabled route in China are the stars of a new exhibition at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana.

This weekend, the Bowers Museum opens an exhibition featuring about 150 artifacts from the area, "Secrets of the Silk Road: Mystery Mummies of China" (through July 25). The stars of the show are two mummies and the trappings of a third, already celebrities in the world of archaeology. Found in burial sites of different eras, they are Caucasoid -- a discovery that has been unsettling for Beijing, resulting in long-standing bans on their export.

The newest of the mummies -- or at least the trappings, since his body isn't coming to Santa Ana -- is Yingpan Man, dating to the 3rd to 4th century. His face was covered with a mask with a gold band across the forehead, and he wore a wool robe bearing designs of animals, trees and muscular youths that reflect Western influences, says Elizabeth Barber, a prehistoric textile expert who wrote for the exhibit catalog.

Last year, Bowers President Peter Keller and board member Anne Shih went to China to arrange for loans from the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region Museum and the Xinjiang Institute of Archaeology. In addition to selecting the figures, they culled a host of other items from the Silk Road.

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