The Great Silk Route is one of the most significant achievements in the history of world civilization. The widespread network of caravan ways crossed Europe and Asia from the Mediterranean coast to China, and in ancient times and Middle Ages served as important means of business relations and cultural exchanges between East and West. The longest part of the Silk Route lay across the territory of Central Asia and Kazakhstan.
Caravans laden with silk from China, spices and precious stones from India, silver goods from Iran, Byzantine cloths, turkic slaves, Afrasiabian ceramics and many other goods, moved through the Kara-Kum and Kyzyl-Kum deserts, the boundless steppes of Sary-Arka; passed over the ridges of the Pamirs and Tien- Shan, the Altai and the Karatau Mountains; crossed the rivers Murgab and Amu Darya, Syr Darya and Djaik.
On the way of the caravans there were rich settlements and towns — Merv and Bukhara, Samarkand and Urgench, Otrar and Chimkent, Taraz and Balasagun, Sauran and Talgar.
The question when this highway began to function still has different answers.
Considering separate sections of the Silk Route, the beginning of the contacts and exchanges goes back to the third-second millenia B.C. These relations were established due to exploitation of lazurite in the Badakhshan Mountains and nephrite — upstream the river Yarkend-Darya in the Khotan area.
Lazurite, extracted in Badakhshan, was exported to Iran, Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Egypt and Syria. In the middle of the first millenium a.d. lazurite appeared in China.
At the same time with the Lazurite Route, which connected Central Asia and the Middle East with the Mediterranean area and India, there existed the Nephrite Route, connecting eastern Turkestan with China.
In the middle of the first millenium b.c. the Steppe Route began to operate. If you follow the description of this route, presented by the father of history Herodotus, you’ll have a clear idea of its direction. from the Black Sea area to the Don banks, to the land of the Savromats in the south of pre-Ural region and further — to the Altai, the land of the Agrippies, who inhabited the Upper Irtish and Zaisan lake areas.
Quite recently the discovery of silk weaving and its merchandising were considered to be related to the first millenium B.C. However, Chinese archaeologists, who made excavations in the province of Zltenjian near the Taihu lake, discovered silk cloths, girdles and yarn, relating to the Neolithic Age. The cloth had been woven about 2750 B.C. Analyses of the cloth showed that silkworm breeding had been well-developed and stepped over the primitive stage nearly 5 thousand years ago.
Karl Baipakov, “Along the Great Silk Road”, published by “Kramds—reklama”, 1991.