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Overland on the Ancient Silk Road.

Recent Textile Discovered in Nepal Sheds Light on How Far South the Silk Road Actually Extended

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Thanks to a recent discovery in Nepal, it is now believed that the historic trade route known as the Silk Road extended further South than originally believed.  The Silk Road extended from China to the Mediterranean, acting as a trade route for goods including silk and spices, as well as cultures, beliefs, and ideas. 

Determining the exact geographic scope of the Silk Road has been a challenge.   Heritage Daily reports that a textile discovered in Upper Mustang, Nepal, was recently analyzed, and may shed some light on how far South the Silk Road extended.  The materials found within the textile include components not local to the area.  It is believed that for those materials to be present in textiles discovered in Upper Mustang, they must have been imported from China and India via the Silk Road.

The Silk Road was established during the Han Dynasty of China, between the second century BC and the 14 th century AD.  Zhang Qian of the Western Han Dynasty created the initial route, and additional routes were added over time throughout the Han Dynasty.  The Silk Road reached its peak during the Tang Dynasty, as society and the economy flourished, and began to descend during the Yuan Dynasty. 

According to UNESCO, the Silk Road linked China with the Roman Empire, allowing trading of goods between the ancient cultures of China, India, Persia, Arabia, Greece and Rome.  However, more than goods were moved and traded along the Silk Road.  It was utilized by various peoples and cultures, and as they traveled along the Silk Road to trade goods, they were also sharing knowledge, ideas, cultures, and beliefs.  These exchanges along the Silk Road have been credited with enhancing science, arts, literature, crafts, and technologies among the ancient civilizations.  Essentially, as they traveled and traded, each culture was unknowingly impacting and molding the other cultures within which it came into contact.

Extent of Silk Route/Silk Road. Red is land route and the blue is the sea/water route.

Extent of Silk Route/Silk Road. Red is land route and the blue is the sea/water route. ( Public Domain )

While “Silk Road” is a well-known name for the trade routes today, it is not a name that was used by those who traveled and traded on the routes.  In 1877, German geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen named the trade route the “Silk Road” because silk had been the main good that traveled along the route. 

The recent discovery and analysis of the Nepali textile has added depth to modern knowledge of the Silk Road.  The cloth, dated between 450 and 600 AD, was found at Samdzong 5, in Upper Mustang, Nepal. According to Margarita Gleba, from the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge, the composition of the fabric is an indication that the Silk Road must have extended further South than previously believed, down to Upper Mustang Nepal.  A close analysis of the textile revealed degummed silk fibres and munjeet and Indian lac dyes.  As these materials were not produced or available locally, they must have been imported from China and India.  According to Gleba, “There is no evidence for local silk production suggesting that Samdzong was inserted into the long-distance trade network of the Silk Road.”

Caravan on the Silk Road (1380 AD).

Caravan on the Silk Road (1380 AD). Public Domain

Discoveries such as the textile in Upper Mustang, containing non-local materials, provides insight into yet another culture that may have been impacted by the trade the occurred along the historic Silk Road. 

Featured image: Overland on the Ancient Silk Road. ( Public Domain )

By MR Reese

Comments

Considering that Nepal is way up Norh from the most southern known point of the historical trade route, I fail to see how a discovery in Mustang woud shed light on how far South it extended...

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