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The archaeology of the ancient Silk Roads



This course offers an overview of the archaeology of the ancient Silk Roads (ca. 200 BCE – 400 CE), ranging from the Greek and Roman Mediterranean to Han China. Each lecture also presents an in-depth case study of a specific site along these ancient routes, including Alexandria and Berenike (Egypt), Petra and Roman Palmyra (Jordan and Syria), Gandhara and Arikamedu (India), the nomads of the Tarim Basin, and Han China.

Both the historical and theoretical implications of the most recent and challenging research on these archaeological sites and related artefacts will be explored and discussed and reflected upon in the scope of the ancient Silk Roads overall. Additionally, attention is paid to modern-day cultural heritage preservation issues of several sites (i.e. Palmyra and Gandhara), and issues of methodology on how to approach and interpret problematic/incomplete sites and sources.

The main goal is for you to gain better understanding of the dynamic ancient Silk Roads networks, on the one hand, and in-depth knowledge about specific sites and archaeological sources along these trade routes, on the other hand. The course builds on students’ knowledge of Mediterranean and wider Hellenistic material culture and their ability to empirically analyse archaeological objects (as gained in the BA2 Visual culture course). Simultaneously, it offers a basic introduction to the archaeology of ancient India and China in the context of the ancient Silk Roads.

By means of five written assignments, you practise analysis of individual case studies of sites and objects, on the one hand, and subsequently place your findings in a wider interpretative scope, on the other hand. Feedback on academic writing will be provided during this process.

Course objectives

  • To gain knowledge on Hellenistic and Roman material culture beyond the Mediterranean as well as on the archaeology of ancient India and China;

  • To enhance student’s skills in debate and discussion;

  • To practise the critical analysis of individual case studies of sites and objects;

  • To place individual findings in a wider interpretative scope;

  • Ability to write an essay that shows proof of analytic and interpretative skills.


Course schedule details can be found in the BA3 time schedule.

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures with active participation and discussion;

  • Feedback on each assignment (in Turnitin).

Course load

The course load will be distributed as follows:

  • 14 hours of lectures (1 ec);

  • 200 pages of literature, including assignments (1 ec);

  • Essay of 2,500 words (2 ec).

Assessment method

  • Average grade of 5 assignments (50%);

  • Final essay of 2,500 words (50 %).

All assignments must be uploaded on BlackBoard before the following lecture (the lecture schedule will be provided on Blackboard).

All exam dates (exams, re-sits, paper deadlines etc.) can be found in the BA3 examination schedule.

Reading list

  • Syllabus: Xinru Liu, 2010, The Silk Road in World History, Oxford University Press;

  • Separate articles per case study for each additional lecture will be provided for each class.


Registration for the course or the exam is not required.

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Prospective students website for information on how to apply.

Registration 'Contractonderwijs'

All information (costs, registration, entry requirements, etc.) for those who are interested in taking this course as a Contractstudent is on the Contractonderwijs Archeologie webpage (in Dutch).


For more information about this course, please contact dr. M.E.J.J. van Aerde.


Compulsory attendance.