Book: Case Studies in the Silk Roads Archaeology
Chapter: 2. Caravan Animals: Distribution of Wealth and Disease
From the time the Silk Road opened trade with the West until its decline little thought was given to the role of animals in shaping its legendary route networks. With an aim to understand the process of bringing together civilisations, the archaeological record focuses mainly on trade routes and trade goods. Judging by the scarcity of other evidence, it would appear that domestic animals and wildlife had been mainly consumed or/and used for transport. However, as new cultures and beliefs were exchanged, different functions animals had in everyday life were inevitably introduced and adopted. It is, therefore, possible that these functions justify only certain aspects of connecting East to West. This paper argues that the heartbeat of the Silk Road was essentially the animals that were intimately connected with its making, existence and its decline. In doing so, it discusses them as keys to the trade and international relations to include the animal role in the creation of the Silk Road, the silk-making, transportation, trade of luxury goods, religious belief, military support and the spread of disease. A proposed framework of the study is a combination of theoretical interpretations, iconography and imagery, and the material evidence.