The Silk Road is the modern term for a series of interconnected trade routes that facilitated the exchange of goods and ideas in the ancient world. Getting its name from the extremely lucrative trade in Chinese silk that began in the second century BCE, the Silk Road was almost six thousand miles long, connecting Europe to Asia through a series of land and sea routes. As trade prospered, many cities grew into Great Oasis locations, trading sites that also became essential centers for culture and learning.
The Han dynasty of China connected the isolated routes between China and central Asia, creating a centralized trading highway linked to Europe through sea trade. Recent discoveries have rejected the theory that the Silk Road began the movement of ideas, goods, and culture. In some cases, the exchange was already happening for thousands of years. Other discoveries have confirmed what we know about the Silk Road. As a result, archaeologists and historians are redefining the global impact and reach of these trading networks of the ancient world.
Western and Central Asian Technologies Reached China 2,000 Years Before the Opening of the Silk Road
Scholars agree that the spread of ideas and information along the Silk Road contributed to the development of cultures. However, a recent discovery along the Heihe River in China shows that there was already a thriving, sophisticated culture living along the Silk Road 2,000 years before its creation. In 2010, a massive excavation in the Gansu Province discovered that 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, the inhabitants of the area on the Heihe River smelted copper and were agriculturalists.
During the excavation, archaeologists found copper coins and utensils and the earliest recovered copper mill to date, proving that the Heihe River civilization was creating alloys of metals and trading metal materials. The archaeologists also found wheat, barley, and stone tools for crop cultivation, as well as some adobe houses at the Heihe River site. Harvesting barley and wheat and building adobe structures were technologies imported from central and western Asia, so these discoveries are proof that the movement of ideas and technology into China was in place for almost two thousand years before the opening of the Silk Road.