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Research of the Caucasian segment of the Silk Road in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Dr. Zvezdana Dode, Southern Scientific Center of Russian Academy of Sciences (SSC RAS), Russia

The function of the Silk Road went beyond cultural and commercial exchange involving trade in silk and other exotic commodities, as it had a profound impact on the development of peoples surrounding this pathway between Asia and Europe.


The existence of the Caucasian segment of Silk Road is corroborated by the findings of glass and metal items as well as silk textiles of foreign origin discovered in rock burials of the Northern Caucasus. However, only the Moschevaya Balka burial ground, discovered in the late 19th century by E.D. Felicin, received international prominence. The Moschevaya Balka collection was formed in the early 20th century by archaeologists N.I. Veselovskiy and N.I. Vorobyev.


During the first half of the 20th century, the materials were approached by G.F. Debec, N. Mitina, K.V. Trever, A.A. Iyesen, all of whom attributed the items to early medieval period. In 1935, together with Sassanid and Byzantium exhibits the Moschevaya Balka textiles were presented at the exhibition accompanying the 3rd International Congress of Iranian Art and Archaeology, which destroys the myth of ‘ethnographic’ attribution of these textiles by the original researchers of these materials.


From the second half of the 20th century onwards the Moschevaya Balka materials were located in archives and the permanent exhibition of the State Hermitage and were published by the curator of the collection - A.A.


Yerusalimskaya. In her research she methodically follows the tradition of autochthonous development and the predominance of Persian influence, long established in Soviet historical scholarship, while completely ignoring the prominent Turkic component in the medieval culture of the Northern Caucasus.

Her conclusions concerning the chronological as well as ethnocultural attribution that have already been contested by H. Roth (1999), and E.R. Knauer (2001), require revision that would take into account analogous materials from other rock burials of the Northern Caucasus.

Beside the partially published materials from Moschevaya Balka, silk textiles have also been discovered in other rock burial grounds along the path of the Silk Road such as Khasaut, Ashkakon, Ulu-koll, Podorvannaya Balka, Amgata etc.

It is already possible to say with confidence that the cut of male kaftans, miniature clothing and a number of other artifacts used in burial ritual of these rock burials have direct correspondence with archaeological material from Central Asia. The degree of correspondence exceeds any potential explanation from mere trade exchange and highlights the need to conduct a detailed investigation concerning the ethnocultural attribution of the population that created these rock burials employing anthropological and genetic methodology.


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