Trade and migration of the so-called ‘silk road’ during the 5th and 8th Centuries AD consisted of many different routes, carrying goods and people in all directions of what is presently the Eurasian continent. As trade centers emerged and settlements developed, new routes were taken across the landscape, ultimately bringing people of different cultural backgrounds together in the melting pot we now know to be Central Asia. The diversity of people who migrated to this region makes it difficult to identify one single cultural identity and therefore a lot of this time period remains relatively unknown. There is evidence, however, in the archaeological record that motifs found in the visual culture could have functioned as cultural and social identity. The visual culture of wall paintings, seals, and coins (fig 1) from the Central Asian regions, for example, depicts a hybrid of different ideologies and symbols, perhaps operating as a way to unify this diverse population.
For a pilgrim, merchant or traveler along these routes, the experience of traveling through the complex landscape of Central Asia would have been both sacred and powerful. Kinship with nature was most likely one way for diverse people to communicate similar ideologies. It may be argued that nature was both feared and respected in order to cope with an arduous journey or life in harsh climate. The value of nature and its relationship with the people of this region was integral to the development of social and cultural relations, and often times embedded into their religious traditions as well. This is evidenced in the use of animal and natural motifs and totemic symbols, which are found throughout the material culture of Central Asia.
My research focuses on the visual culture of Central Asian sites to find out how nature and natural elements were connected to social and religious functions. I focus my study on the motif of the sun and crescent moon (fig 2), but I am also interested in symbols of ‘winged’ animals and elements which relate to the harvest of crops (fig 3). It is my hypothesis that these various natural elements were intertwined with social and religious traditions to unify migrating people and to sustain a very important relationship between human and nature. In addition to my research of the Hermitage exhibition “Zijderoute” (Silk Road), my aim is to investigate if there is still a living tradition in present day Central Asia, which might uphold this human nature relationship today.