Origins of the Silk Road

Sensational new finds from Xinjiang, China

13 October 2007 to 14 January 2008

Poster of the exhibition “Origins of the Silk Road”

Poster of the exhibition “Origins of the Silk Road”

Design: Steenbrink Vormgeving, Berlin

Sensational finds of recent years from Xinjiang, China’s most northwestern province, are to be seen in this exhibition. The oldest object dates from 4000 years ago. The focus is on the people who have inhabited the area along the silk routes around the Tarim Basin and the Taklamakan desert since the Bronze Age. The Taklamakan, the world’s second largest sandy desert, has a distinct continental climate characterized by extreme aridity. This aridity, with which those who live along the silk routes have had to struggle for millennia, is the reason for the unique state of preservation of the archaeological finds.

Organic materials like wood or textiles were spared exposure to damp, making them almost invulnerable to decay. Since the end of the 19th century, explorers and adventurers have set out along the silk routes in search of relics of these fascinating cultures. In recent times, the archaeological explorations have become much more intensive and professional, uncovering sensational objects that offer impressive testimony to the cultural diversity of the oases of the Tarim Basin.

Never before outside China has it been possible to see such an extensive presentation of impressive and varied objects, testifying to the wide-ranging cultural contacts of those who inhabited the regions adjoining the Silk Road and proving that the silk routes were far from being one-way streets. Influences from China are documented alongside those of western Mediterranean, Siberian and South Asian cultures.

The exhibition consists of about 190 archaeological finds from the Tarim Basin. They include ceramic and metal objects as well as wood, textiles and other organic finds, which despite their age – ranging from the Bronze Age to the Han dynasty in the second century A.D. – impress visitors to the exhibition with their extraordinarily good state of preservation. Such well-preserved finds from Xinjiang have never been seen in Europe before. The exhibition conveys an idea of what life was like and the climatic and cultural factors that shaped it along the southern and northern courses of the Silk Road around the Tarim Basin and illustrates the wide variety of cultures and cultural influences that existed in eastern Central Asia up until 2000 years ago.

Organizer: Berliner Festspiele
An exhibition of the Reiss-Engelhorn Museums Mannheim in cooperation with the Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin and the Eurasia department of the German Archeological Institute
Supported by the Federal Cultural Foundation
Patronage: Yang Jieshi, Foreign Minister of the Federal Republic of China; Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Foreign Minister of the Federal Republic of Germany
Curators: Alfried Wieczorek, Mannheim; Christoph Lind, Mannheim; Mayke Wagner, Berlin
Venues Berlin: Martin-Gropius-Bau; Mannheim: Reiss-Engelhorn-Museen