The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles currently has a beautifully crafted exhibit on view: Traveling the Silk Road: Ancient Pathway to the Modern World. The “Silk Road” was not actually a single road but a network of trade routes that spanned 4,600 miles from approximately AD 600 to 1200. These routes also served as organic cultural distribution channels and ultimately instigated an early globalizing relationship between China and Asia Minor.
Silk Road is a joint effort between multiple organizations around the world, a fitting setup considering the vast scope of the show. Besides the impressive technological developments outlined throughout the time period, the ways in which disparate communities ended up sharing and exchanging facets of their cultures are remarkable.
Initiated by the West’s voracious demand for Chinese silk, various merchants and scholars ended up sharing their own food, music, and tools as they navigated the routes. The inherent language barriers on a journey like the Silk Road ensured that people would find alternative ways to communicate and relate to one another.
Upon entrance viewers receive a “passport” that they can fill with “stamps” before entering each of the four cities: Xi’an (China), Turfan (China), Samarkand (Uzbekistan), and Baghdad (Iraq). Below is the passport stamp for Baghdad, the final destination in the exhibit.
Viewers will find detailed explanations for everything from the art of Chinese silk making (live silkworms and real cocoons are actually on display with the silks), which used to be a state secret, to the stargazing methods utilized at the time. Both kids and adults were really enjoying the participatory aspect throughout the rooms, which took nearly two years to prepare for this exhibit.
Photos are not permitted throughout most of the show, but the following images (courtesy of the Natural History Museum) briefly show what you can expect:
A museum staff member told us that the exhibit is set to travel to Washington and then Hawaii after April. Tip: Purchase your tickets online beforehand. The day we went, the ticket line appeared to be at least half an hour long by lunchtime!