Lost Footsteps
Lost Footsteps

Prehistory and Ancient History

The Story of Thadingyut

Thadingyut marks the descent of the Buddha from the Tushita heaven of the 33 gods where he had gone to to preach the Abhidharma for three months, including to Indra, Brahma, and his mother Maya who had been reborn there. This 3rd century Gandhara sculpture (today at the Ashmolean museum at Oxford) shows the Gautama Buddha flanked by the Brahma and Indra descending down the triple stairway from the Trayastrimsa heaven. The nun Utpalavarna kneels in waiting below. Gandhara was...

Read More

The genetic history of the Burmese people

Over the past 4-5 years there has been a revolution in genetic science. Scientists are now able to unlock new information about humanity's distant past in a way that was impossible until very recently. Over the next 5-10 years, much more information might be uncovered about the genetic history of Myanmar than today. This is a summary of what seems to be known so far: (Note: "Burmese" refers to the ethnic majority Burmese-speaking people of the Irrawaddy valley.)  Anatomically modern...

Read More

Lumbini: Birthplace of Buddha

The site of Buddha’s birthplace was unknown for centuries.  In 1896 a German archeologist discovered a pillar erected by the Emperor Asoka in the 3rd century B.C. to mark the place of the Buddha's birth. The inscription on the pillar is a Prakrit language (similar to Pali) written in the Brahmi script.  It is the first ever Indian writing. Asoka's inscriptions are also the very first written mention anywhere about the Buddha. (The earliest Buddhist scriptures still in existence are...

Read More

Language Tree

Since the 1500s European visitors to India noticed the similarities between most European and many Indian languages. In 1786 the scholar and jurist Sir William Jones, in a lecture at the Asiatic Society of Bengal in Calcutta, first proposed that many of the oldest languages in both Europe and Asia, including Greek, Latin, Persian, and Sanskrit, were so similar that they must have stemmed from a common source. The word "Indo-European" was later developed to describe what was seen as...

Read More

Are we partly non-human?

Ten years ago, scientists learned that a species of archaic humans lived in Asia until about 20,000 years ago. They are now known as the Denisovans. The DNA of Denisovans was extracted from their remains, found in a cave in Siberia. They are cousins of the Neanderthals, another archaic human species, who lived in Europe during the last Ice Age. They are very distant cousins of modern humans who emerged from Africa and entered Asia around 60,000 years ago. Now...

Read More

The History of Pagoda Slaves

So-called pagoda slaves or paya kyun have a long history in Burma/Myanmar. The first pagoda slaves were the descendants of war captives seized in the expansionist wars of the 12th century Bagan Empire. (In pre-modern Southeast Asia, land was plentiful, but labor was scarce, so wars were often fought to secure people rather than places). At Bagan, inscriptions tell us that vast numbers of conquered peoples were donated by victorious kings for the maintenance of pagodas and shrines. Their work included...

Read More

The Pyu script

Myanmar's three 1st Millennium cities Halin, Beikthano-myo, and Sri Ksetra have recently been named UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This photo shows an example of the "Pyu" script, which is a variant of the Pallava script of South India. Irrawaddy valley Buddhism was strongly influenced by South Indian Buddhism during the mid-1st Millennium.

Read More

Full Moon of Waso

Waso is the fourth month of the traditional Burmese lunar calendar (coinciding roughly with July). It signals the beginning of Vassa or the Buddhist Lent, during which monks retreat to their monasteries and certain ceremonies - like weddings - cannot be performed. The image at left is one of the very first depictions of the Buddha's First Sermon at the Deer Park in Sarnath given on the day of the full moon, and comes from the Indo-Greek kingdom of Gandhara...

Read More

Why do the Burmese name their eras after the Sakas?

Burmese refer to eras as thekkarit (သက္ကရာဇ်) which of course is from the Indian "Saka-raj". Saka-raj simply means the "Saka king". The Sakas or Indo-Scythians were a central Asian people who dominated parts of what are today Pakistan and northern India around 2,000 years ago. Their most famous king was the great Buddhist ruler Kanishka. He is the Maha Saka-raj (မဟာသက္ကရာဇ်); the "Maha Saka-raj" is his era (beginning 78AD). A jeweled casket belonging to King Kanishka and containing bone fragments...

Read More

Romans in Myanmar?

In 121 AD an embassy crossed into the Chinese Han Empire from what is today Myanmar and was taken to the then capital Luoyang. The embassy may have been from a Myanmar ruler, but may also have come from further west. The embassy was accompanied by a troupe of entertainers, including jugglers and acrobats, who performed at the Han imperial court. The Chinese were intrigued by the outlandish entertainers and learned that they were Roman subjects. It is not known...

Read More

The lost civilisation of Sanxingdui

The mysterious civilization of Sanxingdui, first discovered in the 1980s, is still very little understood, as we have yet to find any written records. Sanxingdui and the surrounding region may have been a cradle for peoples speaking Tibeto-Burman languages (including languages ancestral to Burmese, Jingpo, Naga, Zomi,etc.) It was a 2nd Millenium B.C. Bronze-Age civilization that existed the same time as Shang dynasty China, New Kingdom Egypt and ancient Babylon. Sanxingdui is in what is today Sichuan (in western China)...

Read More

Jambudipa

"A Burmese Map of the World" showing Jambudipa or the "Rose Apple Island" which is home to all human-kind. In Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain cosmology Jambudipa (or Jambudvipa in Sanskrit, Zambudipa in Burmese) is the southern of four continents. The others are not accessible to human beings. Mount Meru stands at the centre of all four. Our's has a giant rose apple tree as well as big mountains at the top and little islands offshore. It also has thousands of...

Read More