Silk was the first global commodity, traded in from China and elsewhere in Asia to the Mediterranean and well documented by hundreds of preserved textiles. Roman industrial espionage is supposed to have stolen the secret of silk from the Chinese and begun local production. Historians reckon the industry’s spread across western Eurasia a leading edge of pre-capitalist economic development. The origins of surviving textiles have until now been hotly debated on the basis of artistic design and weaving technique. A new scientific method uses stable isotopes to identify the natal origins of surviving silks. SoHP is fostering a research program to create a global chart and isotope database that aims to allow researchers world-wide to determine the natal origins of silk textiles.
The Isotopic Silk Road Project is investigating the science, economics, and archaeology of ancient silk, in the Roman and post-Roman world.