Climate-driven desertification and its implications for the ancient Silk Road trade

Dong, Guanghui; Wang, Leibin; Zhang, David Dian; Liu, Fengwen; Cui, Yifu; Li, Guoqiang; Shi, Zhilin; Chen, Fahu

The ancient Silk Road played a crucial role in cultural exchange and commercial trade between western and eastern Eurasia during the historical period. However, the exchanges were interrupted in the early 16th century CE, during the Ming dynasty. Various causes for the decline of the ancient Silk Road have been suggested. Unlike social factors, natural factors have not been adequately addressed. In this study, we use evidence from a sedimentary site (Xishawo, XSW) in Dunhuang oasis, together with analysis of historical archives, to demonstrate the occurrence of extreme droughts and desertification events in the Dunhuang area post inline-formula∼ 1450 CE, which persisted at least for decades. The desertification may be closely associated with the accessibility of the ancient Silk Road in the area, which was responsible for a steep fall in the volume of trade, as well as political chaos and mass migrations. Therefore, besides socio-economic factors, climate change may have played an important role in trade exchange between the Ming government and the West and may have even influenced the rise and decline of the ancient Silk Road.

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Dong, Guanghui / Wang, Leibin / Zhang, David Dian / et al: Climate-driven desertification and its implications for the ancient Silk Road trade. 2021. Copernicus Publications.

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