Events - Symposium

Reconfiguring the Silk Road: New Research on East-West Exchange in Antiquity

On March 19, 2011, the Penn Museum held a public symposium, the first major event in over fifteen years to focus on the history of the Silk Road and the origins of the mysterious Tarim Basin mummies. Since the last milestone conference was held on the topic at the Penn Museum in 1996, new archeological discoveries and scholarly advances have been made, creating a need to critically reshape the very idea of the “Silk Road.” Major topics of discussion include ancient transportation and economies, the origins of early westerners in Central Asia, the excavations of textiles in Xinjiang, and a reinvestigation of the Tarim Basin mummies. Distinguished speakers included David W. Anthony, Elizabeth Wayland Barber, Peter Brown, Michael D. Frachetti, Philip L. Kohl, Victor Mair, J.P. Mallory, Joseph G. Manning, and Colin Renfrew.


A full listing of all the recorded lectures are available on Penn Museum's YouTube channel.


The program was supported by the Henry Luce Foundation and the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Ancient Studies.


Colin Renfrew

Before Silk: Unsolved Mysteries of the Silk Road - Read the abstract

J.P. Mallory Indo-European Dispersals and the Eurasian Steppe: Research Agendas - Read the abstract
Victor H. Mair The Northern Cemetery: Epigone or Progenitor of Small River Cemetery No. 5? - Read the abstract
David W. Anthony Horseback Riding and Bronze Age Pastoralism in the Eurasian Steppes - Read the abstract
Michael D. Frachetti Seeds for the Soul: East/West Diffusion of Domesticated Grains along the Inner Asian Mountain Corridor - Read the abstract
Elizabeth Wayland Barber

The Xinjiang Textiles: More Corridors in the Goldmine - Read the abstract

Joseph G. Manning

At the Limits: Long Distance Trade in the Time of Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic Kings - Read the abstract


Peter Brown

The Silk Road in Late Antiquity: Politics, Trade, and Culture Contact between Rome and China, 300-700 CE - Read the abstract

Philip L. Kohl Concluding Q&A session and discussion

Colin Renfrew

Colin Renfrew is the former Disney professor of Archaeology and Director of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK. He is now Senior Fellow of the McDonald Institute. His first book, The Emergence of Civilisation: The Cyclades and the Aegean in The Third Millennium BC (London, 1972) established Professor Renfrew as a leading scholar of Aegean prehistory. In addition to his continuing work in the Aegean, Renfrew’s research interests include archaeological theory and science (especially DNA and molecular genetics) and the origins of linguistic diversity. Among his many publications is Archaeology and Language: The Puzzle of the Indo-European Origins (London, 1987). Dr. Renfrew will speak on the Silk Road during the Chalcolithic period.

J.P. Mallory

J.P. Mallory is Professor of Prehistoric Archaeology at Queen’s University, Belfast, Northern Ireland. His research interests include Early Neolithic and Bronze Age Europe, Indo-European origins, and prehistoric Ireland. Author of numerous articles and books, his most recent book is The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World (Oxford, 2006) with D.Q. Adams. He serves as Editor of The Journal of Indo-European Studies (Washington, DC). Dr. Mallory will speak on the evidence and origins of early Westerners in Central Asia.

Victor H. Mair

Victor Mair is Professor of Chinese Language and Literature in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania. He has studied Bronze Age and Early Iron Age mummies of Eastern Central Asia since 1991. He is curatorial consultant and catalog editor of the exhibition Secrets of the Silk Road as well as author or editor of numerous books, including The Tarim Mummies: Ancient China and the Mystery of the Earliest Peoples from the West, with J.P. Mallory (New York, 2000). Dr. Mair will speak on the Northern Cemetery Mummies.

David W. Anthony

David W. Anthony is Professor of Anthropology and Anthropology Curator of the Yager Museum of Art & Culture at Hartwick College in Oneonta, NY. He specializes in the prehistoric cultures of the Eurasian steppes and Eastern Europe as well as North American prehistoric Native Americans of the northeastern woodlands. His most recent book is The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze- Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World (Princeton, 2007). Dr. Anthony will speak on horses and pastoralism along the Silk Road.

Michael D. Frachetti

Michael D. Frachetti is Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology, Washington University in St. Louis. He has carried out archaeological survey and excavations in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, and has traveled extensively throughout Central Asia. He is the author of a monograph entitled Pastoralist Landscapes and Social Interaction in Bronze Age Eurasia (2008, UC Press). Dr. Frachetti will speak on the east/west diffusion of domesticated grains.

Elizabeth Wayland Barber

Elizabeth Wayland Barber is Professor Emerita of Archaeology and Linguistics at Occidental College in Los Angeles. She is curatorial consultant to the exhibition Secrets of the Silk Road. Considered one of the world’s leading authorities on ancient textiles, she has authored numerous books and articles, including Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years, Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times (New York, 1994) and The Mummies of Ürümchi (New York, 1999). Dr. Barber will speak on the remarkably well-preserved textiles from the excavations at Xinjiang.

Joseph G. Manning

Joseph G. Manning is the William K. and Marilyn Milton Simpson Professor of Classics and History at Yale University. His research interests include Hellenistic history with a focus on the legal and economic history of Ptolemaic Egypt. He is currently working on an archaeological survey in Upper Egypt. His most recent book, which he co-edited with Ian Morris, is The Ancient Economy: Evidence and Models (Stanford, 2005). Dr. Manning will speak on long distance trade in the time of Alexander the Great.

Peter Brown

Peter Brown is the Philip and Beulah Rollins Professor of History and Director, Program in Hellenic Studies at Princeton University. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has been the recipient of numerous prestigious grants and awards, including the MacArthur Fellowship (1982) and the Distinguished Achievement Award from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (2001). Author of more than a dozen books, he has been described as the creator of the field of study known as Late Antiquity (AD 250—800). Dr. Brown will speak on the Silk Road in Late Antiquity.

Philip L. Kohl

Philip L. Kohl is Professor of Anthropology and the Kathryn W. Davis Professor of Slavic Studies at Wellesley College. He has conducted fieldwork in Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Daghestan, Russia. Author of over 140 publications, his most recent book is The Making of Bronze Age Eurasia (Cambridge, 2007), a study of societies of Bronze Age Western Eurasia as evidenced in the archaeological record. Dr. Kohl will handle the question/answer session and discussion at the conclusion of the symposium.