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In the Introduction, visitors come nose-to-nose with three life-size camel models decked out in full caravan regalia and loaded with trade goods. Young explorers can mark their passage through the exhibition by stamping special Silk Road Passports!
Next, visitors enter the section of the exhibition highlighting Xi'an, China's Tang Dynasty capital. This section, bedecked with colorful silk curtains and lanterns, includes a display of live silkworms (Bombyx mori). There is massive replica of a Tang-era loom (which, at 17-feet long and 9.5-feet high, is still only 80 percent the size of a full-size loom) from the China National Silk Museum in Hangzhou. A musical interactive accompanies a display of cymbals, drums, flutes, and other instruments. Visitors can activate the sounds of individual instruments or of several at once, playing a traditional Chinese tune.
In the lush Turfan section, situated beneath a grape-covered arbor, visitors enter a night market. Wandering through this enticing re-creation, visitors discover stalls overflowing with all the goods — sapphires, silks, jades and rubies, leopard furs and peacock feathers, and fruits and spices that would have captivated travelers over a thousand years ago during the city's heyday.
Next is Samarkand, where a computer-animated book brings to life tales that travelers might have told along the Silk Road. An interactive electronic tabletop map invites visitors to discover the links among cultures, technology, and geography along the Silk Road. At the center of the section is a life-size model of a two-humped Bactrian camel, the “ship of the desert” that carried people and goods along the routes.
The centerpiece of the Baghdad section is a working model of a water clock, designed by Islamic engineers 800 years ago. The model clock is made out of glass to reveal its inner workings. A family-friendly interactive gives visitors of all ages a chance to determine the hour by marking the position of “stars” (actually a static starscape embedded in the surrounding exhibit) using a working model of an ancient Islamic astrolabe.
Visitors first encounter a scale model of an Arab seagoing dhow, a gift from the Government of the Sultanate of Oman, through the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center, Washington, D.C. They then walk through a 41-foot long portion of a full-sized model of a 71-foot long Arab dhow, split in half to reveal a cargo of ceramics and elaborate metalwork, that has been traded or purchased from workshops in China during the Tang dynasty. Merchants could move heavier and more diverse goods by boat instead of only lightweight luxury items.