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Silk Road

OLogy Series
anthropology
card
316

Silk Road

OLogy Series
anthropology

Long ago, camel caravans trekked thousands of miles across the snowy mountains and scorching deserts of Asia. Along the way, people traded precious goods from distant empires. These trading routes are known today as the Silk Road. Travelers exchanged more than goods--they shared ideas, religions, and knowledge about subjects from astronomy to mathematics. The Road also helped spread art, music, and foods.

Treasures Traded on the Silk Road
Many precious goods from different civilizations made their way along the Silk Road. Silk was China's most important export. The process for making silk was a well-kept secret for thousands of years.

Chinese merchants also traded their paper, furs, teas, and ceramics. Traders from the Middle East brought ivory, glass, spices, and exquisite metal vessels. A typical Silk Road market also sold gemstones, feathers, fabrics, and furs. Even fruits, vegetables, and medicines were brought from distant lands.

As goods moved along the Silk Road, so did the ways they were made and used. Over time, the skills for making silk, glass, paper, and metal crafts traveled between civilizations.

In the east, caravans bearing silk set out from Xi'an, the cosmopolitan capital of China. In the west, a major stop on the Silk Road was:

Baghdad

Madrid

Paris

Are you right?

Correct!

Baghdad was the capital of the Islamic world and a center of learning. Scholars in Baghdad made important discoveries in math, astronomy, and medicine.

Over time, fewer caravans traveled along the Silk Road as more goods were carried by:

trains

trucks

ships

Are you right?

Correct!

Ships could sail between China and Baghdad in six months. That's nearly half the time it took to travel by land. Ships were also better for carrying heavy, fragile goods like ceramics and glass that could break easily in camel caravans.

Silk Road markets sold an array of fabrics, like cotton, wool, and silk. Fabric dyes were also traded. The most colorful dyes came from:

animals in cool climates

plants in warm climates

rocks in desert climates

Are you right?

Correct!

The most colorful dyes came from plants, and sometimes animals, that lived in warmer climates. One popular dye was indigo. Today, synthetic indigo is used to dye jeans blue. In ancient China, it was used most often in makeup.

Most merchants traveled alone along the Silk Road.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fiction

Merchants usually traveled in caravans. Caravans are groups of camel drivers and traders often lead by guides. A single caravan could include thousands of camels!

Travelers on the Silk Road usually journeyed all the way across Asia.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fiction

Goods moved from city to city in a relay fashion. Most merchants traveled between a few cities, then traded or transferred their goods to others traveling on to different cities.

Many fruits and vegetables were sold at Turfan, a city on the edge of the harsh Taklimakan Desert.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fact

Water channeled in from nearby mountains allowed farmers to grow an amazing array of fruits and vegetables sold at Turfan's markets.

Description: a network of trade routes that extended more than 4,600 miles from eastern China west to the Mediterranean
Who Traveled: merchants, scholars, pilgrims, missionaries, and soldiers
Significance: Connected major civilizations across Asia, spreading ideas, cultures, religion, and knowledge.
Cool Fact: In the desert, camel caravans often traveled at night to avoid the hot Sun.

Image credits: © AMNH /J.Shackelford.