The Silk Road or Silk Route was an ancient network of trade routes that were for centuries central to cultural interaction originally through regions of Eurasia connecting the East and West and stretching from the Korean peninsula and Japan to the Mediterranean Sea. The Silk Road concept refers to both the terrestrial and the maritime routes connecting Asia with Africa, the Middle East and southern Europe. The overland Steppe route stretching through the Eurasian steppe is considered the ancestor to the Silk Road(s).
The term refers to many similar routes taken by traders primarily between Arabia, India and China but also to Tanzania (Zanzibar) in the south, Asia Minor and Southern Europe. While the term is of modern coinage, the Silk Road derives its name from the lucrative trade in silk carried out along its length, beginning during the Han dynasty (207 BCE – 220 CE). The Han dynasty expanded Central Asian sections of the trade routes around 114 BCE, largely through missions and explorations of the Chinese imperial envoy, Zhang Qian. The Chinese took great interest in the safety of their trade products and extended the Great Wall of China to ensure the protection of the trade route.
Trade on the Silk Road played a significant role in the development of the civilizations of China, the Goguryeo kingdom (Korea), Japan, the Indian subcontinent, Persia, Europe, the Horn of Africa and Arabia, opening long-distance political and economic relations between the civilizations. Though silk was certainly the major trade item exported from China, many other goods were traded, as well as religions, syncretic philosophies, and various technologies. Diseases, most notably plague, also spread along the Silk Routes. In addition to economic trade, the Silk Road was a route for cultural trade among the civilizations along its network.
The main traders during antiquity included the Bactrians, Sogdians, Syrians, Jews, Arabs, Persians, Turkmens, Chinese, Indians, Somalis, Greeks, Romans, Georgians, and Armenians. Source Wikipedia
Famous for facilitating an incredible exchange of culture and goods between the East and the West, the ancient Silk Road is thought to have meandered across long horizontal distances in mountain foothills and the lowlands of the Gobi Desert. But new archaeological evidence hidden in a lofty tomb reveals that it also ventured into the high altitudes of Tibet—a previously unknown arm of the trade route.
Discovered in 2005 by monks, the 1,800-year-old tomb sits 4.3 kilometers above sea level in the Ngari district of Tibet. When excavations began in 2012, the research team examining the site was surprised to find a large number of quintessential Chinese goods inside. The haul lends itself to the idea that merchants were traveling from China to Tibet along a branch of the Silk Road that had been lost to history.
“The findings are astonishing,” says Houyuan Lu, an archaeobotanist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Geology and Geophysics in Beijing. Among other artifacts, archaeologists unearthed exquisite pieces of silk with woven Chinese characters wang hou (meaning “king” and “princes”), a mask made of pure gold, and ceramic and bronze vessels.
They also were taken aback by what looked like tea buds. The earliest documentation of tea in Tibet dates to the seventh century A.D., but these buds would be 400 to 500 years older. To confirm the identification, Lu and his colleagues analyzed the chemical components of the samples and detected ample amounts of caffeine and theanine, a type of amino acid abundant in tea. Moreover, the chemical fingerprints of the tea residues were similar to those of tea found in the tomb of a Chinese emperor of the Han Dynasty dated to 2,100 years ago, and both could be traced to tea varieties grown in Yunnan in southern China. “This strongly suggests that the tea [found in the Tibetan tomb] came from China,” Lu says. The findings were recently published in Scientific Reports.
Such early contacts between Tibet and China “point to a high-altitude component of the Silk Road in Tibet that has been largely neglected,” says Martin Jones, an archaeobotanist at the University of Cambridge. The evidence contributes to the emerging picture that the Silk Road—which the Ottoman Empire closed off in the 15th century—was a highly three-dimensional network that not only traversed vast linear distances but also scaled tall mountains.
Other studies, too, have documented signs of trade along mountain trails in Asia from around 3000 B.C.—routes now known as the Inner Asia Mountain Corridors. “This suggests that mountains are not barriers,” says Rowan Flad, an archaeologist at Harvard University. “They can be effective conduits for the exchange of cultures, ideas and technologies.”
Source: Scientific American