Journey Down the Silk Road

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    When you walk into the doorway to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the first thing you&r

    When you walk into the doorway to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the first thing you’ll notice are two life-size dromedary camels, laden with the many packs needed by the merchants traveling the Silk Road’s main path, which stretches about 3,967 miles.  While there are many routes considered to be part of “the Silk Road”, the main path, and the one that this exhibit showcases stretches from Xi’an, China, to Constantinople, part of the old Roman Empire, as shown on the map at the beginning of the route, and the interactive one further on in Baghdad.  So strap your goods down tightly on your camel, and get ready for an interactive, fun, and interesting ride.

    We begin our journey in Xi’an, China, where silk is actively being made, just not by people.  The museum is now raising live silkworms, and they’re in the third generation.  While they do not currently have any live adults, you can watch the sluggish caterpillars, as well as seeing them spin their cocoons, from which silk is made.  While they may not seem like producers of

valuable fabric, across the way, you can see a video and diagrams on exactly how this goes from cocoon to the soft material we still wear today.

Next stop:  Turpan, China.  The “City of the Night Market” exhibit is just as lively as the name suggests, with stalls housing goods, volunteer ‘merchants’ eager to show their wares, including fabric, furs and other real animal products (on loan from the National Wildlife Society), pigments and dyes, precious gems, spices and herbal remedies, and even fresh fruit, including watermelon!  Other interactors, such as the ‘governor of Turpan, Ma-Onri’ are stationed all around the exhibit, ready to answer questions from the viewpoint of their characters, all the the while dressed in their finest red silks.

    Tired after our 3,737 Km journey to Samarkand?  Why don’t you stop at one of the inns this part of the Silk Road offers.  This city of merchants advertises some of the most modern goods of the time, including paper, which it learned from some kidnapped Chinese scholars during times of war.  Samarkand was the city that brought all the different cultures trading on the Silk Road together, and it showcases things such as the step by step making of paper, and a life-size camel demonstrating how camels adapted to be so perfect for the desert that merchants would have crossed to reach the city.  It also showcases the myths and fairytales from all around Asia that would have traveled alongside the merchants and goods, tiny pieces of old cultures.

Next, we reach Baghdad, one of the most learned cities of the time.  This Arabic speaking city is home to medicine, science, astronomy, and even the first Arabic numerals.  While this city was the first place to develop the alternative to Roman numerals, which we still use today, the real brilliance of it lies in astronomy, developing techniques to track the time using the stars.  These devices are called astrolabes, and the museum houses two.  One is set up facing the stars on Denver time, while the other shows the time in Baghdad a thousand years ago.  Being able to use these is like looking back in time.

The final stop on the road is Constantinople, Rome.  According to Pohl, they chose this for the end because all of the artifacts from this part of the Road are specifically owned by the museum, rather than being part of the permanent exhibit.  By the time you arrive, the language has changed multiple times, and while many merchants would not have made it this far, the goods would have, and the techniques were carried on through Asia, and eventually through the world.  Pohl says that the exhibit “really showcases how much cultures differed along the Silk Road”.  I found this exhibit interesting, and would recommend it for both adults and older children.