Acta Geographica Sinica ›› 2017, Vol. 72 ›› Issue (5): 875-891.doi: 10.11821/dlxb201705009

• Land Use and Environmental Change • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Environmental changes and cultural exchange between East and West along the Silk Road in arid Central Asia

Chengbang AN(), Wei WANG, Futao DUAN, Wei HUANG, Fahu CHEN()   

  1. Key Laboratory of Western China's Environmental Systems (Ministry of Education), College ofEarth and Environmental Sciences, Lanzhou University, Lanzhou 730000, China
  • Received:2016-10-19 Revised:2017-02-28 Online:2017-05-20 Published:2017-05-20
  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China, No.41130102, No.41671189;Key Project of Bureau of International Co-operation Chinese Academy of Science, No.131C11KYSB20160061


Based on environmental records, archaeological findings, and isotopic data, the environmental changes and cultural exchange between East and West along the Silk Road in arid Central Asia during the Holocene have been studied. The results show that the cultural exchange is definitely influenced by geographic setting and environmental changes. Hexi Corridor is located at the marginal area of monsoonal Asia, characterized by monsoon-westerly transitional model. From Xinjiang to Central Asia, the environmental change demonstrated uniform trends during the Holocene: the early Holocene witnessed dry environment conditions and desert vegetation, while during the mid and late Holocene, steppe vegetation expanded when moisture increased. The cultural exchange between East and West along the Silk Road took advantage of moisture conditions during the mid to late Holocene. Benefited from the improvement of environmental conditions, the cultural exchange between East and West accelerated after 2000 BC. During 2500-2000 BC, Eastern and Western agriculture met and integrated along the Silk Road, representing the beginning of prehistoric "Silk Road" along the Tianshan Mountains. Furthermore, during 2000-1000 BC, a mixed economy characterized by wheat/barley-millet-husbandry appeared in the oases along the Silk Road, and expanded to the Eurasia steppe after 1500BC, being a sharp contrast to the surrounding animal husbandry and continuing to the historic periods. Such spatial differentiation is the result of integrated geographic setting and cultural exchange between East and West. During the prehistoric period, Eastern and Western agriculture oppositely spread along the oases in a leapfrogging forward way. While during the historic periods, political factors were the primary controlling upon the Silk Road, but environmental change was still a factor that cannot be ignored.

Key words: arid Central Asia, Silk Road, environmental change, wheat, millet, cultural exchange