University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

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.


Number of Videos: 10

Silk Road Symposium: The Northern Cemetery: Epigone or Progenitor of Small River Cemetery No. 5?

Silk Road Symposium: The Northern Cemetery: Epigone or Progenitor of Small River Cemetery No. 5? Although it was only excavated in 2002--2005, Small River Cemetery No. 5 (SRC5; also called Xiaohe Mudi and Ördek's Necropolis) is already well known, both to archaeologists and to the general public. A clearly related site, called simply the Northern Cemetery (Beifang Mudi), has been discovered even more recently approximately 600 km to the southwest. The resemblances to SRC5 are so close that there can be no mistaking their consanguinity, although the Northern Cemetery is thought to be slightly earlier than SRC5. The puzzle that remains to be solved, however, is how these two closely related sites, which are so far apart on the map, came to resemble each other so nearly. Since the people of both SRC5 and the Northern Cemetery seem to have entered the Tarim Basin with their cattle, ovicaprids (goats and sheep), and wheat—all of which were domesticated in Southwest Asia thousands of years earlier—a great deal more research is necessary to determine whether the people of these two sites embarked from a common staging ground and separately went their own ways, or whether one of the two groups sprang from the other. The purpose of this paper is to explore these various possibilities in a provisional fashion. Considering the fact that we do not yet have even a preliminary archaeological report for the Northern Cemetery, merely sketchy and informal descriptions by those who have been there, this is all that can be done for the present moment. Perhaps our tentative discussion will encourage a timely excavation and publication of the findings.

Time: 00:41:23
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Horseback Riding and Bronze Age Pastoralism in the Eurasian Steppes

David W. Anthony, Professor of Anthropology and Anthropology Curator of the Yager Museum of Art and Culture at Hartwick College, Oneonta, New York, presents "Horseback Riding and Bronze Age Pastoralism in the Eurasian Steppes" at the Penn Museum's symposium "Reconfiguring the Silk Road: New Research on East-West Exchange in Antiquity." Ten-San in hanja means Sky (Ten) & san (Mountain).

Time: 00:42:22
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At the Limits: Long Distance Trade in the time of Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic Kings

Yale University's Professor of Classics and History, Joseph G. Manning, presents "At the Limits: Long Distance Trade in the time of Alexander and the Hellenistic Kings" at the Penn Museum's 2011 symposium, "Reconfiguring the Silk Road: New Research on East-West Exchange in Antiquity." This brief paper will examine the "pre-history" of the silk road. Although many histories of the silk road proper begin with the first century AD and the interaction between the Roman and Han empires, the story of the road begins earlier, and must begin with an outline of east west trading patterns in the Achaemenid Persian empire and the consequences of Alexander the Great's campaigns in the East. This paper tells that story. We begin with the Persians and Alexander's conquest of the Persian empire, and then continue into the second century BC, when a higher volume of trade was pulled into the Mediterranean by the demand from the great cities of Alexandria, Antioch and Rome. The story of the silk road is really about the cultural and economic impact of long-distance trade between China and the Mediterranean world, India and China via India and the Red Sea began in the second century BC.

Time: 00:43:05
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Secrets of the Silk Road Symposium: Closing Remarks

Closing remarks from Wang Binghua, Director Emeritus of the Xinjiang Institute of Archaeology for the symposium "Reconfiguring the Silk Road: New Research on East-West Exchange in Antiquity".

Time: 00:59:17
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The Silk Road in Late Antiquity: Politics, Trade, and Culture Contact

Peter Brown, Philip and Beulah Rollins Professor of History and Director of the Program in Hellenic Studies at Princeton University gives the talk "The Silk Road in Late Antiquity: Politics, Trade and Culture Contact between Rome and China, 300 - 800 CE" at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology's symposium "Reconfiguring the Silk Road: New Research on East-West Exchange in Antiquity."

Time: 00:38:35
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The Silk Road in Late Antiquity by Peter Brown

Peter Brown spoke on the Silk Road in Late Antiquity:: Politics, Trade, and Culture Contact between Rome and China, 300-700 CE at the Silk Road Symposium held at the Penn Museum in March 2011. This is a study of the modes of political and cultural communication which led to a rare level of "intervisibility" between the various societies and states along the Silk Road in the Late Antique period (roughly 300-700 CE). It will examine the cultural meanings of the objects which passed along the Silk Road as examples of a form of "archaic globalization". It ends by examining the meaning to contemporaries of the deliberate hybridization of objects taken from distant lands that were put on display in their respective societies. It is this bricolage of objects, to create spaces that were perceived both as local and non-local, which accounts for the passing of cultural and artistic influences along the kingdoms of the Silk Road from Byzantium to China in the Late Antique period. Peter Brown is the Philip and Beulah Rollins Professor of History and Director, Program in Hellenic Studies at Princeton University. More at http://www.penn.museum/silkroad

Time: 00:38:35
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Seeds for the Soul: East/West Diffusion of Domesticated Grains

Michael D. Frachetti speaks on the East/West Diffusion of Domesticated Grains along the Inner Asian Mountain Corridor at the Silk Road Symposium held at the Penn Museum held in March 2011. Inner Asia has commonly been conceived as a region of Nomadic societies surrounded by agricultural civilizations throughout Antiquity. Societies of China, SW Asia, and Eastern Europe each developed agriculture in the Neolithic, while the earliest evidence for agriculture from the Eurasian steppe shows it was not a major part of local economies until the Iron Age (c. 700 BC). Newly discovered botanical evidence of ancient domesticated wheat and millet at the site of Begash in Kazakhstan, however, show that mobile pastoralists of the steppe had access to domesticated grains already by 2300 BC and that they were likely essential to the diffusion of wheat into China, as well as millet into SW Asia and Europe in the mid-3rd millennium BC. Currently, Begash provides the only directly dated botanical evidence of these crisscrossed channels of interaction. Whatsmore, the seeds from Begash were found in a ritual cremation context rather than domestic hearths. This fact may suggest that the earliest transmission of domesticated grains between China and SW Asia was sparked by ideological, rather than economic forces. This paper describes the earliest known evidence of wheat in the Eurasian steppes and explores the extent of ritual use of domesticated grains from China to SW Asia, across the Inner Asian mountains. Michael D. Frachetti is Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology, Washington University in St. Louis More at http://www.penn.museum

Time: 00:46:35
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The Xinjiang Textiles: More Corridors in the Goldmine by Elizabeth Wayland Barber

Elizabeth Wayland Barber speaks on the Xinjiang Textiles: More Corridors in the Goldmine at the Silk Road Symposium held at the Penn Museum held in March 2011. The textiles in the "mummy" exhibit touring the USA display a far more interesting array of techniques than the information available in advance indicated. This talk offers further description, analysis, and historical placement both of some remarkable masterpieces and of some pieces that give more insight into early practices for making cloth and clothing. One is impressed again by how much we have lost elsewhere-by how rare and informative these textiles are within the Eurasian archaeological record. Elizabeth Wayland Barber is Professor Emerita of Archaeology and Linguistics at Occidental College in Los Angeles. More at http://www.penn.museum

Time: 00:38:56
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Indo-European Dispersals and the Eurasian Steppe with J.P. Mallory

J. .P Mallory speaks on Indo-European Dispersals and the Eurasian Steppe at the Silk Road Symposium held at the Penn Museum held in March 2011. Contacts between Europe and China that bridged the Eurasian steppelands are part of a larger story of the dispersal of the Indo-European languages that were carried to Ireland (Celtic) in the west and the western frontiers of China (Tokharian, Iranian) in the east. Reviewing some of the problems of these expansions 15 years ago, the author suggested that it was convenient to discuss the expansions in terms of several fault lines -- the Dnieper, the Ural and Central Asia. The Dnieper is critical for resolving issues concerning the different models of Indo-European origins and more recent research forces us to reconsider the nature of the Dnieper as a cultural border. Recent research has also suggested that we need to reconsider the eastern periphery of the Indo-European world and how it relates to its western neighbors. J.P. Mallory is Professor of Prehistoric Archaeology at Queen's University, Belfast, Northern Ireland. More at http://www.penn.museum

Time: 00:49:25
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Before Silk: Unsolved Mysteries of the Silk Road by Colin Renfrew

Colin Renfrew speaks on the Unsolved Mysteries of the Silk Road at the Silk Road Symposium held at the Penn Museum held in March 2011. The extent of contact between east (China) and west (Europe and Western Asia) in the prehistoric period has been much debated but remains little understood. In 1921 John Gunnar Anderson's excavations at Yangshao in Henan province led him to interpret the painted neolithic pottery found there as derived from that of neolithic Greece, a suggestion discounted by most subsequent scholars. Yet the genetics of the millet found in the neolithic of China and of eastern Europe leads archaeobotanists today to suggest a single source. The origins of copper and bronze metallurgy are likewise debated, and the mechanisms of transmission from the west of the horse-drawn chariots seen in burials of the late Shang dynasty are still open to question. Xinjiang province, with its remarkable preservation and its many insights from the second and first millennia BC offers tantalising clues, not least the Tarim "mummies" with their wonderfully preserved clothing and their western appearance. The presence there in the eighth century AD of the Tocharian language, the easternmost in the Indo-European language family, has led to intriguing speculations. These will be critically addressed. It will be argued that we are the dawn of a new era in the archaeology of prehistoric Eurasia, with the Silk Road offering challenges to many long-held ideas. 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. More information at http://www.penn.museum

Time: 01:00:08
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