The Silk Road: Trade, Travel, War and Faith

Lost in the sands of the Taklamakan Desert in western China, there are few places as remote of desolate today as Dandan- Uiliq, Niya or Miran. Lacking strategic or economic importance, their names are known to very few.
No roads lead to them and the nearest railway stations and airports are hundreds of miles away. Yet over a thousand years ago they were cosmopolitan and bustling staging posts on a great trade route which led over 5000 miles from the shores of the Mediterranean to the heartland of China: the Silk Road.

Their remote desert location has ensured these towns’ place in history: the dry climate has preserved documents, textiles and other artefacts and the moving dunes covered the ancient ruins and their treasures with a protective layer of sand, which has also hidden them from all but the most determined treasure seeker. But their treasure is not the gold of Egypt and Troy, but rather scholarly and historical treasure, which needs years of interpretation by diligent scholars. It has taken almost a century, but these towns and their people are finally starting to emerge from a millennium of obscurity. The four hundred manuscripts, artefacts, textiles and paintings in the British Library exhibition, The Silk RoadTrade, Travel, War and Faith, have been assembled from collections in the UK, China, India, Japan, Germany, France and Belgium to tell a few chapters in this complex but fascinating tale.

The British Library exhibition shows everyday lives against the backdrop of great empires at war and in peace. Over three hundred of the exhibits are finds from major expeditions to the Silk Road between 1900 and 1916, valued by their finders for their very ordinariness: the remains of ancient furniture such as wooden chairs, shreds of silks and other woven fabrics, tatters of antique rugs, fragments of glass, metal and pottery ware, broken pieces of domestic and agricultural implements, and manifold other relics, however humble, which safely rested in the sand buried dwellings and their deposits of rubbish. These all help to bring vividly before our eyes of ancient civilization that without the preserving force of the desert would have been lost forever.

by Susan Whitfield, History Today, 2004


1. Dandan-Uiliq, Niya and Miran
A. are thriving cities in Central China.
B. are situated on a great trade route connecting the US with the shores of the Mediterranean.
C. were once prosperous because of their convenient location along a trade route stretching from the Mediterranean to China.
D. one of the above.

2. The desert location of the three towns has ensured the preservation of
A. a treasure of gold coins and precious stones.
B. an arsenal of rare weapons used in ancient times.
C. a number of ancient manuscripts, textiles and objects used in everyday life.
D. the chapters of a great tale.

3. The British Library has organized an exhibition showing
A. manuscripts, artefacts, textiles and painting from British, Chinese, Indian, Japanese, German, French and Belgian collections.
B. gold ornaments from Egypt and Troy.
C. remains of ancient sea vessels from the Mediterranean
D. all of the above.

4. The British Library exhibition mentioned in the text aims at providing modern people with an insight into
A. the life of ancient royal dynasties.
B. the way ordinary people lived in ancient times.
C. the way military commanders planned their campaigns in ancient times.
D. the way highly talented artists and sculptors produced their masterpieces in the remote past.

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