Department of Classics and Archaeology

Silk Road project

Project overview

The complex network of links between east, west, north and south across Eurasia formed what has become known as the Silk Road. This multidisciplinary project approaches the movement, exchange and areas of influence along the Silk Road in innovative ways. 

The team are using the characterisation of glass and glazed ceramics made especially in the 8th-10th centuries to map and define the medieval silk roads in new ways. 

Image of cart driving away from the camera, along a narrow dirt road between two pale stone cliffs that frame the image on either side. In the background are crowds of people in front of the city of Petra.


The Silk Road consisted of a number of ancient long-distance trade routes between Europe and China. It was a conduit for humans, languages, objects and diseases and is a fascinating example of international cross-boundary interaction that has mutually enriched the cultures of Eurasia and Africa for at least 2000 years. This led to the exchange of ideas that triggered new scientific and technological developments, and modified languages.

Building on the multidisciplinary investigations of Islamic glass and glazed pottery production in the Middle East (the Raqqa project, directed by Julian Henderson), which supplied the Medieval Silk Road, this multidisciplinary project approaches the movement, exchange and areas of influence along the Silk Road in innovative ways.


Using a combination of archaeological, geographical, historical and scientific techniques (including chemical, isotopic and other techniques) we focus on the definitions of:

  • cultural nodes and provenance of materials
  • international trade
  • economic growth and decline


2021. Qin-Qin Lü, Julian Henderson, Yongqiang Wang, and Binghua Wang. Natron Glass Beads Reveal Early Silk Road Between the Mediterranean and China in the 1st Millennium BCE Scientific Reports 11, 3537 doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-82245-w. 

2021. Ieong Siu, Jiangfeng Cui, Julian Henderson, Ding Yu, Dashu Qin. A study of 9th – 15th centuries AD glass beads from Mambrui, Kenya: an archaeological and chemical approach, Journal of Archaeological Science Reports 36, 102750. 

2021. Julian Henderson (in press). The politics of production: glass provenance and social context on the early Islamic Silk Road. Economy in the Early Islamic World, volume 2, ed, Hugh Kennedy,  Oxford University Press.

2020. Ieong, S., Henderson, J., Dashu, Q., Ding, Y., Cui, J and Ma, H.. New light on plant ash glass found in Africa: Evidence for Indian Ocean Silk Road trade using major, minor, trace element and lead isotope analysis of glass from the 15th—16th century AD from Malindi and Mambrui, Kenya, Plosone, 

2020. Wang, D., Wen, R., Henderson, J. et al. The chemical composition and manufacturing technology of glass beads excavated from the Hetian Bizili site, Xinjiang. Heritage Science 8, 127. 

2020. Hongjiao Ma, Julian Henderson, Jianfeng Cui and Kunlong Chen. The glass making of the Qing dynasty– a review, some new data and some new insights, Advances in Archaeomaterials 1, 27-35. 

2020. Julian Henderson, Hongjiao Ma, Jianfeng Cui, Renjie Ma, Hongyan Xiao. Isotopic investigations of Chinese ceramics, Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, 12, 201 

2020. Henderson J, Chenery S, Faber EW, Kröger J (in press) Political and technological changes, glass provenance and a new glass production model along the west Asian Silk Road. In Florian Klimscha (ed.), Berlin Studies of the Ancient World volume 67, Berlin: edition Topoi.

2020. J. Henderson. Five contributions to The Silk Road volume ed. Susan Whitfield, Thames and Hudson.

2020. Yingzhu Wang, Thilo Rehren, Yuchen Tan, Dexin Cong, Peter W. Jia, Julian Henderson, Hongjiao Ma, Alison Betts, Kunlong Chen, New evidence for the transcontinental spread of early faience, Journal of Archaeological Science, 116.

2020. Bertini, C, Henderson, J and Chenery, S. Seventh to eleventh century ce glass from Northern Italy: between continuity and innovation, Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences.

2020. Henderson, J., Ma, H., Evans, J.  Glass production for the Silk Road? Provenance and trade of Islamic glasses using isotopic and chemical analyses in a geological context, Journal of Archaeological Science.

2019. Siu, I., Henderson, J. and Ozgumus, O. An archaeological and chemical investigation of 11th - 12th centuries AD glasses from Zeyrek Camii (the Pantokrator Church) in Byzantine Constantinople, Journal of Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences. 

2019. Shen, Jing-Yi, Henderson, J., Evans, J., Ma, H., Chenery, S. and Wen, R., 2019, Chemical and strontium isotope analysis of Yaozhou celadon glazes, Archaeometry,  DOI: 10.1111/arcm.12482. 

2018. Shen Jing-Yi, Henderson, J., Evans, J., Chenery, S. and Zhao, Fengyan. A study of the glazing techniques and provenance of Tang Sancai glazes using elemental and lead isotope analyses, Archaeometry. 61, 358-373.

2018.  Henderson, J., An S. J. and Ma, H. 'The archaeometry and archaeology of ancient Chinese glass: a review', Archaeometry 60, 88-104.

2017. Bertini, C, Henderson, J., Gelichi, S, Basso, E, Riccardi, M.P., Ferri, M. Technological transition in early medieval Northern Italy: preliminary data for Comacchio glass, Proceedings of the International Congress on the History of Glass, Switzerland 

2016. Hongjiao Ma, Julian Henderson, Jane Evans. 'The exploration of Sr isotopic analysis applied to Chinese glazes: part two', Archaeometry, 58, 68-80.

2016. Jian Zhu, Hongjiao Ma, Naisheng Li, Julian Henderson and Michael D. Glascock. 'The Provenance of Export Porcelain Recovered from the Nan’ao One: A Shipwreck in the South China Sea', Antiquity, 90, 798-808.

2016. J. Henderson, S. Chenery, J. Kröger and E. Faber. 'Glass Provenance along the Silk Road: the Use of Trace Element Analysis'. eds Guxi Gan, Julian Henderson and Qinghui Li, Recent research in the scientific investigations of ancient glass, World Scientific, 17-42.

2016. Qinghui Li, Jie Jiang, Xinling Li, Song Liu, Donghong Gu, Julian Henderson. 'Chemical analysis of Tang Dynasty glass vessels unearthed from the underground palace of the Famen Temple using a portable XRF spectrometer', eds Guxi Gan, Julian Henderson and Qinghui Li, Recent research in the scientific investigations of ancient glass. World Scientific,  157-178.

2016. Hongjiao Ma, Julian Henderson and Jane Evans. 'A New Method of Identifying the Flux in Ancient Chinese High Fired Glaze—Sr Isotopic Composition Analysis', eds Guxi Gan, Julian Henderson and Qinghui Li, Recent research in the scientific investigations of ancient glass. World Scientific,  353-374.

2016. Julian Henderson, Simon Chenery, Edward Faber and Jens Kröger. 'The use of Electron Probe Microanalysis and Laser Ablation-Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry for the investigation of 8th-14th century plant ash glasses from the Middle East', Microchemical Journal, 128, 134-152.

2014. Duckworth, C.N., Cordoba de la Llave, R., Faber E., Govantes Edwards, D.J and Henderson, J. 'Electron microprobe analysis of 9th-12th century Islamic glass from Cordoba, Spain', Archaeometry 57, 27-50.

2014. Hongjiao Ma, Julian Henderson, Jane Evans. 'The exploration of Sr isotopic analysis applied to Chinese glazes: part one', Journal of archaeological science 50, 551-558.

2012. Hongjiao Ma, Jian Zhu, Julian Henderson and Naisheng Li. ‘Provenance of Zhangzhou export blue-and-white porcelain and its clay source’, Journal of Archaeological Science 39, 1218-1286.

2010. Henderson, J. ‘The provenance of ancient man made glass: raw materials, and the use of chemical and isotopic analytical techniques’ in The provenance of man-made glass and obsidian, eds. I. Liritzis and C. Stephenson, University of New Mexico Press, 185-201.

2009. Henderson, J., Evans, J. and Barkoudah, Y. 'The roots of provenance: glass, plants and isotopes in the Islamic Middle East', Antiquity, 83, 414-429

Related research groups

This project is linked to the Nottingham University China campus (UNNC) through the Global Institute for Silk Road Studies (Julian Henderson is executive director). 

Collaborative team

The team includes colleagues in a range of faculties in The University of Nottingham and in universities and government institutions, ranging from China to Western Europe.

  • Dr Simon Chenery, British Geological Survey, UK
  • Prof Jianfeng Cui, Peking University, Beijing
  • Prof Jane Evans, British Geological Survey, UK
  • Prof Dr Sauro Gelichi, University Ca' Foscari of Venice, Italy;
  • Prof Seiichi Kikuchi, Showa Women’s University, Tokyo
  • Dr Hongjiao Ma, University of Nottingham, Ningbo campus China, and University of Science and technology, Beijing
  • Dr Christian Mueller, University of Nottingham Ningbo campus, China
  • Prof Dr Uzlifat Ozgumus, Doğuş University, Istanbul, Turkey
  • Dr Jingyi Shen, Shandong University, China
  • Dr Xiaoqi Wang, Nanjing University
  • Prof Rui Wen, Northwest University, Xi’an
  • Prof. Liangren Zhang, Nanjing University

Research students

The following research students are focusing on production and trade in glass or Chinese ceramics along the Silk Road:

  • Pin Lyu
  • Nan Liu
  • Lingyu Qin
  • Yang Wang
  • Xiyan Xie

Prospective research students can contact Julian Henderson for more information.

Research funding

The following institutions have funded aspects of the project



Department of Classics and Archaeology

University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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