Until August 15th, you can travel the historic Silk Road in an interactive exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. Here are just a few little bytes of trivia I found interesting on my last trip on the museum's Silk Road:
--The Silk Road stretched between Xi'an and Baghdad, ran 4600 miles and took a traveller about six months. The temperatures along the journey could dip down to -50 degrees Farenheit and rise to 122.
--1000 years ago, Xian was the capital of China and the largest city in the world. 1 million lived inside the walls and 1 million lived outside. It was a grid system with 108 walled neighborhoods. The largest street was Heng Street and was as wide as a 120-lane highway.
--The secrets of silk were guarded for centuries. 5000 years ago, a small cocoon dropped into an empress's tea cup. When it was removed, it unwound into a glistening strand. The empress dropped multiple cocoons into hot water and the silk industry was born. A single cocoon can unwind into a silk filament about 3000' long (or, in modern-day measurements, 10 football fields). 2500 silk worms are needed for one robe. Other animals that spin silk are spiders, some bees, ants and wasps.
--Paper was another guarded secret. The Chinese were using paper as early as 50 BCE. At some point in 794, the secret was smuggled west and Baghdad built a paper mill in 795AD. The oldest existing paper book dates to 868 A.D.