Silk Across the Sands, continued...


    Hiebert’s passion for ancient trading routes and patterns has led him to digs in Uzkekistan and neighboring Turkmenistan, as well as to the Black Sea ["Gazetteer," July/Aug] and its environs. He also organized a scholarly symposium titled "Unraveling the Silk Road" that was held at the University Museum a few days after the exhibition’s opening.
    One of the symposium’s scholars, Dr. Victor Mair, professor of Chinese literature, suggested that the route could just as easily have been called the Jade Road or the Bronze Road or even the Wool Road, since all of those commodities were, for many centuries, transported along it. But in the view of Dr. Brian Spooner, professor of anthropology and curator of the Near East Section of the University Museum, the name was not just a matter of "inventiveness" or the "particular orientation of one geographer." Rather, he said, it has to do both with the nature of silk itself and the "way we classify the world."
    "There just aren’t many other things that link the east of Asia with the west of Asia so obviously and directly" as silk, said Spooner. While the other materials mentioned may have been found along the same route, "they’re not commodities that started at one end of what we understand to be the Silk Route and moved all the way to the other." Given the difficulties of transportation, only "relatively light and relatively expensive" things were likely to be transported regularly. "Silk was obviously such a commodity."
    The physical environment has always been "a very big player" in the formation of the Silk Road, said Hiebert, while Dr. Renata Holod, curator of Islamic Art in the University Museum’s Near East Section, put it another way: "In a sense, geography is destiny."

From top: Gourd snuff bottles, Tashkent, ca. 1930; ossuary lid fragment, Samarkand region, Tailiak, 6th century; man’s coat, Bukhara, 1897; ossuary, Samarkand region, 7th-8th century; bowl, 12th-13th century; knife and sheath, Bukhara, 19th century.

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Photography by Candace diCarlo


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