Level: Year 7
The Silk Road
Source: National Geographic
The paths on the map are the routes taken by traders on what has become known as The Silk Road. The name is a little misleading because it was not just one road and silk was not the only item being traded. No merchant would have travelled the whole road from one end to the other — there were trading centres along the way. The movement and exchange of goods along The Silk Road spread artistic styles and techniques across a number of diverse civilisations that were quite far apart. The artefacts in the exhibition reflect this rich cross-pollination (or melting pot) of artistry and ideas.
Begram was a particularly large and important trading centre, not just because of its position on the route. It was very close both to the only known source of lapis lazuli and to Bactria, which had a well-established tradition of metal smelting.
The importance of Begram was first revealed to the modern world when the archaeologist Joseph Hackin discovered two sealed rooms at the site. The rooms were filled with many exotic objects which came from all over the trade routes of the time. The find caused some controversy among archaeologists. Hackin originally believed that he had found the treasure rooms of a palace but further study suggested that these were storerooms full of luxury items to be traded.
Task 1: Follow the roads out of Afghanistan
- Download a map of The Silk Road (PDF, 4MB)
- All of the objects shown in this activity were found in the sealed rooms at Begram on The Silk Road. Do what the archaeologists did — follow the tracks. For each object, you have been given some clues to help you discover its country of origin.
- Decide where each object (or the style of its design) came from.
- Mark each place or area on your map of The Silk Road and write the object number there.
Object 1 and Object 1.1
- They are made from ivory.
- Both were designed to decorate furniture — one is an insert for a chair and the other is a table leg. The wooden parts have rotted away.
- The woman in the statue is said to resemble the goddess Ganga.
- Other ivory works have been found in Uzbekistan and in Pompeii.
- It’s made of glass. How might the shape have been made?
- Analysis of the glass found it to be very similar to the kind found in Egypt and the near east.
- Ancient sources mention Alexandria as a centre for glass manufacturing.
- Examples of this type of glass have been found throughout the ancient Roman world and in southern India.
- Who was in power in Egypt two thousand years ago, during the first century AD?
- It’s made of plaster.
- It was thought to be a cast for making bronze medallions.
- Fingerprints were found on the front.
- It is not decorated in any way.
- The child is clutching a butterfly against his breast.
- The Greek word for butterfly was Psyche.
- It is made of bronze.
- It is a scale weight.
- It may have originally been used as a cosmetics jar.
- He may represent the Roman god Mercury.
Task 2: Connect the places, objects, materials and ideas
- Take another look at the five objects and your map.
- Draw a diagram with Begram at the centre, connecting out to the places where the objects came from.
- Next to the name of each place, list the key materials, ideas and/or figure-heads that came to Begram via The Silk Road. These elements represent the melting pot of culture found in Afghanistan’s cultural heritage and the place it is today.