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Nomadic ecology shaped the highland geography of Asia’s Silk Roads

10 March 2017

Nomadic ecology shaped Asia's Silk Roads

Research co-authored by Tim Williams, published this week in Nature, indicates that mobility patterns of highland nomadic herders influenced the evolution of the Silk Road networks in the mountains of inner Asia.

Given uncertainties about the evolution of the ancient Silk Roads across Asia, especially in mountainous stretches, where harsh terrain is seen as an impediment to travel, this new research used ‘flow accumulation’ modelling to calculate and compare the annual routes of highland nomadic societies with the locations of known high-elevation Silk Road sites.

The study, effectively testing the relationship between the movements of ancient mountain herders and the highland geography of Silk Road interaction, showed a significant correspondence in mountainous regions.

The authors concluded that the Silk Roads emerged from the tracks formed by ancient herders and their animals as they moved up and down the mountains in search of fresh pasture in the highlands of inner Asia.

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