HOUSTON—The much-anticipated exhibition Secrets of the Silk Road opens at the Houston Museum of Natural Science on Aug. 27, 2010. This landmark exhibition features the intriguing Caucasian mummies from Xinjiang , China as well as more than 150 objects relating to various aspects of people and cultures living alongside the Silk Road over a period spanning several millennia.
The legendary Silk Road was a trade route linking Xian, one of China ’s ancient capitals in the east, to major cities such as Rome and Baghdad further west. This is the first time many of these treasures, drawn from the collections of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Museum and the Xinjiang Institute of Archaeology in Urumqi , China , have been seen outside of Asia .
“ The story of mankind is filled with migrations across the globe. It seems that people have always searched for a better place to live, or have experienced wanderlust that propelled them across the landscape,” said Joel A. Bartsch, president of the Houston Museum of Natural Science. “Occasionally, across the vast expanse of thousands of years, these prehistoric wanderers have left some traces for us to find and wonder ourselves. So it is with these mummies. This splendid exhibit tells us their story, retracing the steps once taken by these enigmatic individuals. By the time you reach the end of the exhibit, we are convinced that these individuals will be anonymous no more.”
Secrets of the Silk Road
The “ Silk Road ” was aptly named, as vast amounts of silk and other merchandise—spices, gold, precious metals and stones, ivory, glass, exotic animals, furs, ceramics, jade, lacquer, iron and plants, were carried back and forth from East to West. Many goods were bartered for others along the Silk Road , and objects often changed hands several times.
“ The term Silk Road refers to a series of trade routes through which people, ideas and goods moved between East and West. Extending over thousands of miles, crossing high mountain ranges and extensive deserts, the Silk Road is a testimony to mankind’s never-ending desire to explore and interact with others. What the mummies underscore is the great antiquity of these migrations, and this is what makes this exhibit so interesting,” said Dirk Van Tuerenhout , curator of anthropology for the Houston Museum of Natural Science.
One of the most important archaeological finds—and certainly one of the greatest mysteries of the 20th century—is the hundreds of well-preserved mummies that have been found buried in the parched sands of the Tarim Basin in China’s Far Western Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
These mummies are historically important due to their high degree of preservation, which has allowed scientists to see far more detail than would normally be expected in a burial site. Despite their burial location, they do not exhibit typically Asian physical characteristics. These men, women and children are light skinned and round eyed, with long noses and red or blond hair. The material buried with them, as well as their perfectly-preserved clothing, bears a striking resemblance to the objects found in Siberia to the North, Persia to the West, and Europe . Even more surprising, these mummies span a period of more than 3,000 years, providing a wide-ranging glimpse into generations of ancient Silk Road traders, who, based on DNA research, we know to have been an intriguing mix of people from all over Eurasia .
Secrets of the Silk Road includes two mummies: an infant wrapped in a woolen blanket, wearing a blue and red bonnet of lightly felted wool; and a spectacular recent discovery of a woman known as the “Beauty of Xiaohe,” a 3,800-year-old mummy whose beauty is startling. The remains of a third mummy, the so-called Yingpan Man, stayed behind in China . His clothing is on display.
According to scientists, these mummies are among the most important human remains ever found. The exhibit also features a vast array of well-preserved clothing, textiles, wood and bone implements, coins, documents, and jewel-encrusted gold objects, including vessels, masks, and jewelry. This impressive collection of objects reflects the full extent of the Silk Road trade with strong Mediterranean influences as well as goods from ancient China .
The discovery of these ancient people along the Silk Road sheds light on the settlement of ancient East Central Asia, the very early exchange of technologies, the customs practiced in the inhospitable lands of the Tarim Basin . Evidence of advanced metallurgy and textile traditions found among the mummies are of particular note, according to archaeologists.
Read more about Secrets of the Silk Road exhibition in USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and Archaeology Magazine.
The special exhibition, organized by the Bowers Museum , Santa Ana , California in association with the Archaeological Institute of Xinjiang and the Urumqi Museum , is generously supported by Accenture, the Harriet and Truett Latimer Endowment Fund and Weatherford International Ltd.
Secrets of the Silk Road will be on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science from Aug. 27, 2010 through Jan. 2, 2011. Tickets may be purchased online, which is recommended due to the expected popularity of this exhibit. For more information, visit the museum’s web site at www.hmns.org.
The Houston Museum of Natural Science—one of the nation’s most-heavily attended museums—is a centerpiece of the Houston Museum District. With four floors of permanent exhibit halls, including the Wortham IMAX® Theatre, Cockrell Butterfly Center , Burke Baker Planetarium and George Observatory and as host to world-class and ever-changing touring exhibitions, the Houston Museum has something to delight every age group. With such diverse and extraordinary offerings, a trip to the Houston Museum of Natural Science, located at 5555 Hermann Park Drive in the heart of the Museum District, is always an adventure.