In Sindh, Pakistan, which is situated by the sea in the Indus Delta, boats have played a crucial role from prehistoric times. In order to navigate the sea, the river and the numerous lakes in Sindh, its inhabitants developed a large variety of boats with different shapes and structures over the centuries. When Arab and Persian merchants expanded maritime trade routes, Sindh became fully integrated in the inter-Asian trade network. Sindhian merchants also entertained independent commercial relations with East and Southeast Asia.
Science and Technology
In 1975, the discovery of Chinese ceramics in the sea near Shinan launched a series of underwater excavations close to the Korean peninsula. They revealed a shipwreck which was subsequently explored and salvaged over nine summers, from 1976 to 1984. It belonged to a Chinese merchant ship from the 14th century AD which had sunk on its way along the sea Silk Road. Inside the ship, over 20 000 pieces of ceramics and a large number of other objects were found.
From the 7th century onwards, ships sailed from China and Vietnam to India and Sri Lanka along the maritime Silk Roads, using magnetic needles and star compasses. Arab and Persian merchants sailing in the Indian Ocean elaborated a universal navigational system, and they invented several nautical instruments. Portuguese explorers, who were ignorant of these techniques, had to significantly develop nautical science as they first ventured into the open sea and sailed towards India in the 15th century, a process which took 79 years.
The trade relations which developed between Portugal and China from the 16th century onwards led to the mutual exchange of knowledge as well as artistic and political influences. New foods and technologies were introduced in both countries. The city of Macau, with its architectural mix of Eastern and Western elements, is one striking example of the encounter between these two cultures.
The early Islamic Caliphate inherited a variety of cultural and scientific traditions, as it incorporated ancient centers of learning and civilization such as Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Iran. In turn, the Abbasid caliphs greatly cultivated the arts and sciences, and Baghdad became a famous intellectual center. Works were translated from Greek and Persian and great advances were made in the study sciences, especially arithmetic, algebra, geometry and trigonometry.
The trading routes across Asia permitted not only the passage of goods but also of ideas. Scientists and scholars travelled along these routes too, moving from court to court, and so scientific knowledge was dispersed across Asia. Astronomy was one of the first sciences to emerge, as a navigational tool, and was developed by medieval Indian and Iranian astronomers. Mathematics, chemistry, and alchemy also passed along the trade routes, and from these sciences developed the technology for making medicines.
The Silk Roads facilitated the passage of not only goods to trade but also the knowledge and technology that went into producing them. Foodstuffs were often traded across Central Asia, and with them, an exchange in technologies and agricultural practices too, as well as new crops and even new breeds of animals.
From the Renaissance onwards, European countries began to engage themselves more actively in trade. Technological advances permitted European sailors to navigate new routes to the east, and the advent of the Industrial Revolution accelerated this process. By the mid-nineteenth century, European goods were being imported into China and Japan.
The nineteenth and twentieth centuries have witnessed a number of important developments in science and technology across Central Asia. Agricultural subsistence farming was traditionally the basis of national economies, and many areas continued to be nomadic. New educational programs and technological advances have raised literacy levels and encouraged settlement in urban communities, whilst the construction of scientific institutions and schools across this period has transformed traditional practices and social structures.
In the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries, there was a division in Central Asian societies between the theologians or mystics, and those who practiced ‘rational science’, which was perceived as a challenge to religious doctrine. Nonetheless, medical science, mathematics and astronomy all underwent significant developments in this period, nourished by the Persian and Indian scientific traditions. Moreover, technology flourished, with important advances being made in irrigation, water and wind power, craft technology, and artillery.