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Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology



The Digital Museum of Global Buddhist Cultural Heritage project, hosted by Cambridge Rivers Project (CRP) at the Museum of Archeology and Anthropology (MAA), University of Cambridge, started in January 2017 and aimed to collect, document, research, and exhibit Asian collections of Buddhist cultural heritage that are in collections worldwide, with the thematic selection and research of objects and archives leading to the establishment of digital museums and the curation of digital exhibitions in the UK, China, Nepal and Sri Lanka. It is based at the MAA in Cambridge, co-operating closely with King’s College, the Fitzwilliam Museum, the University Library, as well as other UK and Europe based museums and libraries.

This 5-year project is co-funded by the Benhuan Academy of Buddhism in Shenzhen (China), Vanishing Worlds Foundation (UK) and Cambridge Rivers Corporation (UK). This is the first project of its kind, presenting the worldwide collection of Buddhist materials in digital and interactive form.

Venerable Master Yin Shun, the chairman of the Benhuan Academy, visited the UK in 2015, giving a talk in King’s College, Cambridge. He also looked at Buddhist artefacts in British Museums and was impressed by the rich collections, and therefore was encouraged to support this significant project. Venerable Master Yin Shun hopes this project can improve the mutual understanding of different civilisations, leading to a more peaceful world. We thank the Venerable Master for his generous support which will allow people from different countries to share knowledge and international treasures. In particular, this project is valuable for Asian audiences, to experience artefacts that originated from their culture but are now housed in overseas museums and archives.

The project will be directed by the Cambridge Rivers Project and lasted for five years (2017-2021). It had different themes for each year. 

Year One: 2017
‘Faxian (337 – c. 422) and the Silk Road in a Buddhist Age – The Crossover Between China and South Asian Civilization.’

The project will narrate the travels of the monk Faxian, which brought an historical interaction between Eastern and Western civilization, influencing China and many other countries in various aspects of religion and culture.

The digital part of the project will focus on the Buddhist objects and papers of China and South Asia between 2nd-6th Century, in particular those originally from the places where Faxian visited. On his outward journey he travelled what is today known as the Silk Road, stopping at such places as Dunhuang, Shanshan, Yanyi, Khotan, Zihe, Jiecha, Tuoli, and visiting such key centres as Udyana, Gandhara, Peshawar and Taxila before descending into the Buddhist heartland of India and on to Sri Lanka.

Cambridge Rivers – Benhuan Grant

The Rivers Project Committee has set up the Cambridge Rivers – Benhuan Grant, which includes Digitization Grants and Research Grants. UK or European organizations that have Buddhist Collections are eligible to apply for the digitization grant and the research grant is open to scholars who will join the research team as a researcher or advisor.

Brief Introduction of Cambridge Rivers Project (CRP), University of Cambridge.
‘Spreading knowledge of different cultures through teaching and research’

The Cambridge Rivers Project is dedicated to innovation and communication in anthropology. In particular, it is concerned with collecting and conserving information about disappearing worlds and spreading knowledge of different cultures through teaching and research, making material available on a broad range of cultures in Asia and the West through the use of a multimedia databases and the internet.

In recent years, CRP has focused on digital museum and archive projects. It conducts research and presents objects and archives collected in different organizations, sharing the knowledge with a global audience through publications, exhibitions, workshops and online platforms. Alongside academic research projects, it hosts cultural exchanges between the UK and Asia in the fields of poetry, opera, art, literature, film and photography.

The Cambridge Rivers Project was founded by historian and anthropologist Professor Alan Macfarlane FBA, and was launched in 1983 within the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge. It has been affiliated to the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology since October 2014 and also associated with King’s College, Cambridge. CRP is named after one of the founders of modern fieldwork anthropology and a distinguished doctor, the Cambridge academic WH Rivers, who went on the second Torres Straits anthropological expedition with AC Haddon in 1898.

In the past 34 years, CRP has been supported by several respected scholars, entrepreneurs and organizations; in particular Professor Sir Jack Goody, Sir Charles Chadwyck-Healey and Professors George and Laura Appell. It has also been generously supported by The Leverhulme Trust, The Economic and Social Research Council, The Nuffield Foundation, Vanishing Worlds Foundation, The Renaissance Trust, The Firebird Foundation (USA) and Kaifeng Foundation (China).

The project is currently chaired by its founder Professor Alan Macfarlane, FBA and directed by Zilan Wang.

Two million years of human history. One million artefacts. Countless astonishing stories.