Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The “Silk Roads” in Time and Space: Migrations, Motifs, and Materials Edited by Victor H. Mair

Edited by Victor H. Mair


Victor H. Mair: Introduction: Reconsidering and Reconfiguring the “Silk  Roads” 

Matthew Anderson: The Languages and Writing Systems of the Tarim Basin 

Pablo N. Barrera: Wind and Water: Anthropogenic Use of Landscape at Small River Cemetery No. 5

Vivian Chen: “Weather” You Like It or Not: The Effects of Macro- Climatic Fluctuations on the Tarim Basin

Amelia WilliamsAncient Felt Hats of the Eurasian Steppe

Julia Becker: The Tarim Basin Beauties of Xiaohe and Krorän 

Kimberly M. Castelo: The Loulan Coffin: The Cultural Influence of Han Dynasty China in the Tarim Basin

Eiren Shea Warneck: Representations of Tocharians in Buddhist Paintings

Robert Glasgow: The Evolution of Sogdian Identity

Joel Dietz: Hidden Dragon: Indo-European, Near Eastern and Chinese Poetic Themes

Zhou Ying: Jia Yi’s Proposal of the “Three Exemplifications and Five Means of Allurement” and the Han-Xiongnu Relationship in Early Western Han Period

Rebecca Shuang Fu: A Misinterpreted Transmission: The Kang Poem in Dunhuang Manuscript S. 5381 and the Kong Poem in Benshi shi

Rashon Clark: The Northwestern Muslim Rebellions 


Reconsidering and Reconfiguring the “Silk Roads” 

Victor H. Mair

The papers in this volume were originally written as part of the requirements for a course entitled “Mummies of the Silk Road” that I taught at the University of Pennsylvania during the spring semester of 2011. There were over seventy students and auditors in this class. The present collection represents the best of the fifty or so papers that were turned in during that semester. With these papers, we wish to problematize the very idea of a Silk Road or Silk Roads. To be sure, during roughly the period from the late second century BCE to the end of the ninth century CE, there was a trans-Eurasian traffic that spanned from one end of the Eurasian super- continent to the other, but it was not monolithic, nor was it of high volume. This was what may be termed the classic Silk Road, and silk was indeed one of the most important commodities transported along this route. Yet, even during this period, many other goods and products were traded by stages along the so-called Silk Roads: glass, beads, silver, gold, medicines, spices, wool, furs, and so forth. Still further back in time, we know that jade was being exported to the Central Plains of East Asia from the mountains along the southern rim of the Tarim Basin. Even more importantly, during the second millennium BCE bronze metallurgy was transmitted from west to east,1 as were wheat, the chariot, the domesticated horse, domesticated ovicaprids, and other important elements of civilizations. During the first millennium BCE, iron metallurgy spread along these same routes. In terms of technology, industry, military affairs, and the general economy, surely wheat, bronze, iron, and the chariot are of far greater consequence than silk. Thus, referring to the Eurasian transcontinental trade routes as the “Silk Road” truly does present considerable difficulties. Furthermore, starting from the third millennium BCE, trans-Eurasian contact and exchange was not at all simply about goods and products. Equally important were intangible assets such as ideas and ideologies. Religions, burial practices, art forms, musical instruments and styles, calendrical and astronomical sciences, scripts and languages, and many other intellectual and cultural properties and practices were transferred from place to place across the length and breadth of Eurasia. Above all, peoples and the languages they spoke also spread across the megacontinent. The means for tracking their movements and migrations are becoming increasingly sophisticated with genetics, physical anthropology, historical linguistics, archeology, and other disciplines all playing key roles in the analysis of the abundant data. The papers in this volume cover a rich assortment of large and small topics, ranging from climate to caps, from mythical dragons to Muslim rebellions. Some of the papers look at various phenomena in startlingly new ways (e.g., the aerodynamics of a desert necropolis), while others go over new materials using tried and trusted methods (e.g., a close philological examination of an old poem in the light of recently recovered manuscripts).

1) Andrew Sherratt, “The Trans-Eurasian Exchange: The Prehistory of Chinese Relations with the West,” in Victor H. Mair, ed., Contact and Exchange in the Ancient World (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2006), pp. 30–61.

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