The Silk Road Then and Now: Past and Present Culture

18 February – 17 March 2016

Han dynasty, Silk Road in Taklamakan and Gobi desert

The Silk Road has held a fascination for travellers since the early Christian era, and many traders, religious pilgrims and conquerors have passed through the settlements and towns that stretch from Central Asia to the East China Sea. Along the various routes that make up the network of the ‘Silk Road’ – itself a misnomer – flourished an exotic mixture of cultures from Arabic, Turkic, Iranian, Indian, Mongolian, Chinese and Tibetan sources.

The richness of cultures is evident in spectacular sites ranging from abandoned cities and fortresses, Buddhist cave sites and Islamic mausoleums along the many trade routes that made the Silk Road network. The Taklamakan and Gobi desert regions yielded many artistic treasures to 19th and 20th century European archaeologists who explored – and plundered – many sites for their uniquely preserved artefacts. The research that came from these items revealed much more understanding about the relevance and significance of the Silk Road and its place in the economic history of the region.

The legacy of the Silk Road lives on through the artefacts, writings, maps and contribution of the many travellers throughout the region over many centuries. However, this legacy may soon be found only in museums and collections, as the rapidly changing landscape of modern technology changes the face of this region.

The course aims to understand how and why the Silk Road trade network came into being and to explore reasons for the success and demise of its cities and traders in certain areas and eras. It will look at the diverse cultures that practiced different religions and produced exotic items that were traded freely along the routes, and what became of them in later years. It will also analyse how the present era of modernisation is changing the face of the Silk Road; the environmental impact of technological advances in the western regions of China and how they are affecting significant archaeological sites.