New Historian

The Silk Road to Everywhere

Gold Silver Mask (3)

<![CDATA[Cloth remains recovered from within the Samdzong tomb complex located in the Upper Mustang region of Nepal have undergone textile and dye analysis – and the results are in. The artifacts dating from 400 CE to 650 CE strongly suggest the region was connected to the Silk Road – thus extending its reach farther south than previously believed. This ancient network of trading routes was critical to cultural exchange and interaction throughout the Asian continent. The site, a shaft tomb referred to as Samdzong 5, is one of ten such tombs exposed in 2009 by seismic activity which sheared off the face of the cliff. The tombs were carved out of the soft rock on the face of an enormous cliff 4,000 meters above sea level, sometime between 400 CE and 650 CE, and the artifacts discovered there were exceptionally well-preserved due to the high altitude and dry climate. A scanning electron microscope was used to identify the source of the fibers found in the textiles – all of which were of an animal nature. One of the finds was composed of wool fabrics which had copper, cloth and glass beads attached and appears to be the remains of a decorative headpiece which showed signs of having once been connected to a silver and gold mask. Analysis also revealed that two other textile samples were made using degummed silk, and with no evidence of silk production locally, researchers concluded that opposed to being isolated, Samdzong had been visited by traders using the Silk Road trade network. HPLC-DAD analysis and Raman spectrometry identified a number of organic dyes; turmeric, Indian lac, knotweed/indigo, cinnabar and munjeet, indicating materials which were produced locally were combined with the imported fabric. The recently published report states, “Given the fact that such finds are exceedingly rare in Nepal, their systematic scientific analysis is of exceptional importance for our understanding of the local textile materials and techniques, as well as the mechanisms through which various communities developed and adapted new textile technologies to fit local cultural and economic needs.” The Silk Road was an ancient system of trade routes, and the long distance economic and political exchanges it facilitated were a crucial factor in the growth and progress of the Chinese civilizations of the time. Credited with carrying cultural mores in addition to products, some studies have indicated the Black Death, the disease which destroyed Europe during the 1340s, may have arrived in Europe from Asia along this same route. Dr Margarita Gleba with the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge, was the lead author of the report (including the analysis results) titled: “Textile Technology in Nepal in the 5th-7th centuries CE: the case of Samdzong”, which was published recently in STAR: Science and Technology in Archaeological Research. Image courtesy of M. Aldenderfer]]>

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