This page includes information that may not reflect the current views and values of the Penn Museum.


Secrets of the Silk Road explores the history of the vast desert landscape of the Tarim Basin, located in Western China, and the mystery of the peoples who lived there. Located at the crossroads between East and West, oasis towns within the Tarim Basin were key way stations for anyone traveling on the legendary Silk Road.


Extraordinarily well-preserved human remains found at these sites reveal ancient people of unknown descent. Caucasian in appearance, these mummies challenge long-held beliefs about the history of the area, and early human migration. The material excavated suggests the area was active for thousands of years, with diverse languages, lifestyles, religions, and cultures present.


This exhibition provides a chance to investigate this captivating material to begin to uncover some of the secrets of the Silk Road.


Bowers Museum, Santa Ana, California, organized this landmark exhibition of ancient art and artifacts traveling from Xinjiang Province, People’s Republic of China, in association with the Archaeological Institute of Xinjiang, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Museum in Urumqi, and the Cultural Heritage Bureau of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.


Secrets of the Silk Road began its U.S. tour at the Bowers Museum (March 27 to July 25), and moved on to the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences (August 28 to January 2, 2011).


The Penn Museum presentation of Secrets of the Silk Road features new exhibition text and interactive components focusing on the history of the Silk Road in the vast Tarim Basin in the Far Western Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China, and developed by Penn Museum exhibition staff in close consultation with consulting scholar Dr. Victor Mair. 

Behind the Exhibit

Get a glimpse behind the scenes of the Secrets of the Silk Road on the Penn Museum Blog.

Read the Bowers Museum Blog


The Bowers Museum - The Arrival of Yingpan Man (1:48) ?For the very first time, three well-preserved mummies from the Tarim Basin in western China have been brought to the United States. Bowers Museum offers the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come face to face with Yingpan Man's lavish tomb goods and personal belongings including Roman glass, bow and arrows for protection, a satin perfumed sash and fine silk clothing.



Secrets of the Silk Road is made possible with support from:



Lead Sponsors
E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation
A. Bruce and Margaret Mainwaring

Partnering Sponsors
Lois and Robert M. Baylis
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Selz Foundation

Supporting Sponsors
Cummins Catherwood, Jr. and Susan W. Catherwood
Alexandra and Eric J. Schoenberg, Ph.D.
Tiffany & Co.

Silk Sponsors
Winnie Chin and Michael Feng
Gretchen R. Hall, Ph.D.
Host Hotels and Resorts


Symposium Sponsors
The Henry Luce Foundation
Center for Ancient Studies, University of Pennsylvania

Education Sponsors
Annette Merle-Smith
PNC Foundation
Subaru of America
Wachovia-Wells Fargo Foundation


Media Sponsors

NBC 10



Photography courtesy of the Cultural Relics Bureau of Xinjiang and Wang Da-Gang.