Prehistory of the Silk Road

Prehistory of the Silk Road

Prehistory of the Silk Road

Prehistory of the Silk Road


In ancient and medieval times, the Silk Road was of great importance to the transport of peoples, goods, and ideas between the East and the West. A vast network of trade routes, it connected the diverse geographies and populations of China, the Eurasian Steppe, Central Asia, India, Western Asia, and Europe. Although its main use was for importing silk from China, traders moving in the opposite direction carried to China jewelry, glassware, and other exotic goods from the Mediterranean, jade from Khotan, and horses and furs from the nomads of the Steppe. In both directions, technology and ideologies were transmitted. The Silk Road brought together the achievements of the different peoples of Eurasia to advance the Old World as a whole.

The majority of the Silk Road routes passed through the Eurasian Steppe, whose nomadic people were participants and mediators in its economic and cultural exchanges. Until now, the origins of these routes and relationships have not been examined in great detail. In The Prehistory of the Silk Road, E. E. Kuzmina, renowned Russian archaeologist, looks at the history of this crucial area before the formal establishment of Silk Road trade and diplomacy. From the late Neolithic period to the early Bronze Age, Kuzmina traces the evolution of the material culture of the Steppe and the contact between civilizations that proved critical to the development of the widespread trade that would follow, including nomadic migrations, the domestication and use of the horse and the camel, and the spread of wheeled transport.

The Prehistory of the Silk Road combines detailed research in archaeology with evidence from physical anthropology, linguistics, and other fields, incorporating both primary and secondary sources from a range of languages, including a vast accumulation of Russian-language scholarship largely untapped in the West. The book is complemented by an extensive bibliography that will be of great use to scholars.


Elena Kuzmina’s The Prehistory of the Silk Road is a major accomplishment, and I am proud to have had a hand in making it a reality. There is, of course, tremendous interest in the Silk Road, but we have had to wait for this volume by Dr. Kuzmina to describe and analyze the preconditions that led to its establishment. the story she tells is a fascinating one that encompasses nearly the whole of Eurasia in Bronze Age and Early Iron Age times.

Having met Elena Kuzmina at several conferences in the United States and Kazakhstan during the mid-1990s, I had come to realize that she possesses a phenomenal wealth of knowledge about the Bronze Age cultures of Central Asia. I read a number of her books and articles, especially Otkuda prishli Indoarii? (Whence Came the Indo-Aryans?), and I was all the more impressed by her masterful command of the archaeological data concerning the early spread of Indo-European peoples (particularly the Indo-Iranians) toward the east. Consequently, around 1997,I asked Dr. Kuzmina if she would be willing to write a book about the prehistory of the Silk Road. Since no one had ever attempted to undertake a systematic study of the overall situation in Central Asia during the millennia preceding the establishment of the historical Silk Road, such a work was obviously much needed. Naturally, I was delighted when Dr. Kuzmina agreed to write the volume I had requested.

The Prehistory of the Silk Road is fundamentally a work of historical reconstruction. As such, it is complementary to archaeological fieldwork. Although these two approaches may be guided by different questions and executed in disparate manners, both are vital for an appreciation of a contested set of problems in the study of prehistory.

Kuzmina’s monograph constitutes an excellent summary and distillation of a specific historical tradition of research. Her work is rooted in a particular school of Soviet learning, itself now a focus of study in . . .

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