<p>Globalization is a process that is as old as civilization. The Silk Road was a collection of trade routes connecting the markets of Asia with Arabia, the Mediterranean, and eastern Africa. Silk Road routes, established as early as the first century BCE, are still used today. Here, a small caravan follows the Silk Road through an area in Xinjiang Province, China.</p> <p class="p1">The fabled Silk Road has threaded through Afghanistan for centuries. Afghanistan's location, equidistant between the China Sea and the Mediterranean, made it a strategic ancient crossroads. It still is: These girls live in an ethnically Kyrgyz community in the Wakhan Corridor, a mountainous area straddling Afghanistan, Tajikistan, China, and Pakistan.</p> <p class="p1">The Silk Road was a series of trade routes linking the cultures and communities of east Asia, India, the Mediterranean basin, and eastern Africa. The Silk Road was established during China's Han Dynasty, which began in 206 BCE. It only began to diminish during the European Middle Ages.</p> <p class="p1">Despite its strategic value, Afghanistan's intimidating climate and topography made it a difficult stretch of the Silk Road. Afghanistan is landlocked, high in the Hindu Kush mountain range, where temperatures veer from burning deserts to freezing mountains. These travelers navigate the Khawak Pass using traditional transportation; few modern vehicles can stand up to Afghanistan's mountain terrain.</p> <p class="p1">In addition to the mighty Hindu Kush, Afghanistan is also dotted by valleys and rivers. "Well, those mountains and those rivers are the best things to facilitate trade. Because what happened is you look at the mountains, and you see these valleys that go up into the mountains. Those are superhighways. You go up from the deserts, and you can go up through the mountains. It's easy. You don't really have to know too much about navigation," says National Geographic Archaeology Fellow and Silk Road expert Dr. Fredrik Hiebert.</p> <p class="p1">Jiayuguan Pass is the first pass at the western end of the Great Wall in Gansu Province, China. Jiayuguan was a key waypoint on the ancient Silk Road.</p> <p class="p1">Local goods exchanged at Afghanistan's Silk Road trading posts included produce grown in the agriculturally rich valleys. Here, a farmer overlooks his terraced wheat field descending to the Kunar River.</p> <p class="p1">"[Ancient Afghan communities] not only had a lot of agriculture," Hiebert says, "they had a lot of animal wealth, because [the region] is really great for herding." This herding tradition continues throughout Afghanistan's mountainous valleys. These herders use cell phones to record data about their goats as they roam the Wakhan Corridor.</p> <p class="p1">The bright blue lapis lazuli in these Egyptian gold bracelets may have been imported from Afghanistan, one of the only known sources of the stone.</p> <p>The ancient city of Persepolis in modern-day Iran was one of four capitals of the sprawling Persian Empire. About 2,500 years ago, the Persians invaded what is now Afghanistan, seeking the riches of the Silk Road.</p> <p class="p1">Afghanistan absorbed influences from Europe as well as India. This capital, for instance, topped a column not in Athens, but in Ai Khanoum, now an archaeological site in Afghanistan's northeast. Ai Khanoum was conquered by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BCE.</p> <p class="p1">The Silk Road traded more than material goods. Buddhism, for example, spread to Afghanistan before migrating to China. Afghan Buddhism is perhaps best exemplified by the enormous statues in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, above. The "Bamiyan Buddhas" were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001.</p> <p class="p1">Afghanistan continued to be a crossroads of culture until the late 20th century. Here, a cinema in 1920s Kabul, Afghanistan, shows American and European films.</p> <p class="p1">This gorgeous gold ram was part of the legendary Silk Road "Bactrian Hoard" that lay undiscovered in Afghanistan until the late 1970s.</p> <p>Workers carry industrial equipment from a natural gas facility in Baluchistan, Pakistan. The men are members of the Bugti tribe, an ethnic group native to Baluchistan, near Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.</p> <p class="p1">Kabul, Afghanistan's capital and largest city, sprawls in a valley beneath the Hindu Kush. Despite Afghanistan's strategic location and natural resources, it is plagued by violence. "[T]the country itself is kind of fractured," Hiebert says. "There’s a lot of inter-valley competition."</p>
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