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Evidence of Ancient Silk Road Found in Southern Israel

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A team of researchers have found evidence of an “Israel Silk Road” between the Dead Sea and Eilat. Photo: Olga Nganbitsky, Israel Antiquities Authority, Nofer Shamir, Roy Galili

A team of researchers have found evidence of what appears to have been a branch of the ancient Silk Road in Israel, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Tuesday.

The Silk Road was a vast network of ancient trade routes that connected China and the Far East with the Middle East and later the West. The route identified in the Aravah, located in southern Israel between the Dead Sea and Eilat, appears to have jutted out from the traditional route. Finds in the area include some 1,300-year-old cotton and silk fabrics, dated to the Early Islamic period, that are believed to have originated in India and China.

Prof. Guy Bar-Oz of the University of Haifa and Dr. Roi Galili of Ben-Gurion University, who are part of the team leading the research, are reviewing trash mounds along the Silk Road in order to gain a better understanding of the traders and goods that passed along it, and are currently looking at mounds in the Aravah from the late seventh century CE.

“The researchers have uncovered a treasure trove of finds, including fabrics, clothing, leather, hygienic and other items that may shed light on the material culture and the daily lives of the ancient residents in the desert region,” the IAA stated. Artifacts found earlier at the site were dated to the seventh-eighth centuries CE.

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Many of the remains provided the first evidence that items of their kind — such as fabrics from India and silk from China — existed in Israel during that period. “The variety and richness of the finds suggest a high demand for luxury goods from the East,” according to the IAA.

Some of the cotton fabrics uncovered included ikat designs, which rely in the technique that was highly uncommon in the Middle East, but was represented in ancient wall art in India’s Ajanta Caves. The fabrics are also infused with Iranian influence, as evinced by the weaving process of the white cotton and colored wool.

The researchers suggested “that the finds may reflect a significant globalizing moment in the history of the Negev when a new class of goods began to be transported from the Far East and India to Mediterranean countries by way of the Aravah and roads leading to Mecca and Medina.” Their discovery, they added, provides a new way to analyze the political, technological, and social exchanges that were influenced by the advent of global trade.

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