Historical Geographic Data of the Silk Road Zone II Versions EN1 Vol 3 (3) 2018
A GIS dataset of tourist routes along the Silk Road in the Mongol-Yuan dynasty
: 2018 - 05 - 13
: 2018 - 05 - 30
: 2018 - 08 - 15
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Abstract & Keywords
Abstract: During the Mongol-Yuan dynasty, many tourists travelled along the Silk Road, among whom we acquired detailed records of 15 tourists for restoring their journeys. The journeys of these tourists are of great significance for studies of varied routes of the Silk Road in different periods of the Mongol-Yuan dynasty. Here, we first extracted from the records major sites they traveled, and then restored their routes by a combined use of modern findings, historical and modern maps, Google Earth satellite images and so on. The journeys of the 15 tourists, from the earliest Yelu Chucai (1218) to the latest Marignolli (1353), had a time span of more than a century. We chronologically categorized the total 673 sites and 64 sections into 20 groups of travel points and 20 groups of travel routes respectively to form this dataset.
Keywords: Mongol-Yuan dynasty; tourists; the Silk Road; travel site; travel route; GIS
Dataset Profile
Chinese title蒙元时期丝绸之路旅行家行程 GIS 数据集
English titleA GIS dataset of tourist routes along the Silk Road in the Mongol-Yuan dynasty
Data corresponding authorZhang Ping (zhangping029@126.com)
Data authorsCheng Jun; Zhang Ping
Time range1218 – 1353
Geographical scopeGeographical scope: 4°58'51.13"N – 24°45'2.75"N, 27°8'38.07"E – 111°9'34.73"E; specific areas include: China, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Indian, Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, and Egypt.
Spatial resolution5000 mData volume17.6MB
Data formatESRI Shapefile
Data service system<http://www.sciencedb.cn/dataSet/handle/622>
Sources of fundingMajor projects of the National Social Science Fund (14ZDB031)
Dataset compositionThis dataset consists of information on 20 groups of travel sites and travel routes.
1.   Introduction
The Mongol-Yuan dynasty (1206 – 1368) was the period when the Silk Road most prospered. The establishment of an Mongol empire across Eurasia promoted frequent exchanges between East and West. During the Mongol-Yuan dynasty, many figures traveled to and fro along the Silk Road for purposes of political power, religious communication, commercial activities and cultural exploration. As their travel shared a common ground that urged them to record what they saw and heard, they are collectively referred to as tourists in this study. No less than 30 tourists were known to have traveled on the Silk Road during the Mongol-Yuan dynasty, of whom 15 had their itineraries recorded in detail. A study of their itineraries not only helps clarify the direction of the Silk Road at that time, but a comparison of their routes chosen at different time periods also sheds light on the temporal-spatial changes of the Silk Road. When coupled with historical events, these findings can be used to reveal the influence of historical processes on the evolution of the Silk Road.
Existing scholarships on tourist routes in the Mongol-Yuan dynasty largely focus on textual research of the itineraries,1 whereas there is a lack of comprehensive research, and even less are GIS-aided itinerary analyses. Generally speaking, tourists’ record of the Silk Road in this period is based on their real-life experience which embodies an intuitionistic description of their travel routes along the Silk Road. We first extracted major sites which these tourists passed through, then determined the latitude and longitude of each site, used Google Earth to locate the places and converted them into point data. Assisted by historical maps such as Mongolia Landscape Atlas2 and Jingshidadian Atlas, we drew tourist routes and vectorized them to form line data. This dataset consists of point data and line data, both of which are arranged chronologically according to the travel time of the tourists, and the tourist routes are displayed on a digital map. The toponymic and route data presented here allow users to analyze the spatial-temporal evolution of the Silk Road in the 13 – 14th century.
2.   Data collection and processing
2.1   Data sources
The source of this dataset falls into two categories: one for travel sites and routes, which was used to construct point data and show the tourists’ itineraries, and the other for corresponding toponym in modern times, which was used to determine the exact location of the itinerary sites.
Firstly, travel node and route data. They were mainly derived from historical records, including travel notes, anthologies, and letters, with references annotated for each geographical name or route. Representative sources include The Travels of Marco Polo, The Travels of Ibn Battouta, and A Mongol-Yuan Envoys’ Journey to the West.
Secondly, toponymic data in modern times. These were mainly extracted from modern electronic maps (e.g., Google Map, Autonavi Map), including the country, province, city, town, and specific location where the sites are located today.
2.2   Collection and processing methods
This dataset consists of point data and line data, and its geographical coverage is limited to regions along the Silk Road.
Point data were extracted from documentary records. By referring to archaeological materials and other research results,3 most of the travel sites were accurately located and correlated to a specific town and site of modern times. To the utmost of the authors’ capability, we paid field visits to a few places in the case when visits were deemed necessary. Once the specific location of the sites were identified, we used Google Earth to locate their current position, by referring to the positioning theory as per “GIS technology and the study of Silk Road restoration over 2000 years”.4 Take Beshbaliq as an example: existing scholarship shows that the place was located in the present-day Pochengzi ruins, Beiting town, Gimosar, Changji, Xinjiang.5 Through field visits (Figure 1) and satellite imagery, we confirmed the specific location of the site (Figure 2). After the places were located, KML data were formed, which were then edited in ArcGIS and exported into 20 groups of point data.

Figure 1   Field investigation of the historical site of Beiting

Figure 2   Site location using Google Earth satellite images
Based on documentary records, we referred to the Silk Road restoration methods to restore line data, as delineated in “Research on the GIS-aided restoration of Linzhou Passage in the early Northern Song dynasty”.6 Based on the point data collated, routes were drawn on Google Earth by referring to field investigation findings, historical and modern maps, satellite images, and other research results.7,8 Take the Guazhou-to-Shazhou section as an example. Through field investigations (Figure 3), the authors got to know that this section extends along the northern foot of the mountain range, and crosses the desert and oasis. We referred to the route direction as recorded in Mongolia Landscape Atlas (Figure 4), as well as on-site investigation data, based on which a route consisting of several sections was drawn against the background of Google Earth satellite image (Figure 5). The data were edited and categorized into 20 KML files according to the tourists’ itinerary, which were further edited in ArcGIS and exported into 20 groups of line data.

Figure 3   Field study of the Guazhou to Dunhuang section

Figure 4   Roads passing through Shazhou as recorded in Mongolia Landscape Atlas

Figure 5   Route restoration by reference to Google Earth satellite image and the acquired data
After the arrangement of point data and line data, the data files were named after the start time of the itineraries recorded. Shapefiles of point data were designated by the “points” suffix, while those of line data were designated by the “lines” suffix. All the data were grouped into 19 periods, of which two tourists set off in 1260 and were thus marked by "-1" and "-2" in the respective file names as a way to distinguish. The main process of data generation is shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6   Flowchart of dataset generation
2.3   Data classification
The point data and line data were classified according to national standards and their specificity.
2.3.1   Point data classification
Based on the place division rules stipulated by National Standards (GB/T 18521-2001), the places were classified into two major categories: natural geographical entity and human geographical entity. Considering historical information carried by the geographical names, they were further divided into nine sub-categories: town, village, site, pass, country/region, mount, water body, desert and grassland (Table 1).
Table 1   Classification of the tourists’ travel nodes along the Silk Road in the Mongol-Yuan dynasty
ClassTownVillageSitePassCountry & RegionMountWater BodyDesertGrassland
According to statistics, there were 673 valid geographical entities recorded by the tourists in the Mongol-Yuan dynasty, of which most of the human geographical entities were urban places (536 urban places), and most of the natural geographical entities were water bodies (51 water bodies). As Table 2 shows, cities and water bodies account for a significant part of the tourists’ itinerary.
Table 2   Statistics showing the tourists’ travel nodes in our classification system
Data nameTownVill-ageSitePassCountry & RegionMountWater BodyDesertGrasslandTotal
1350 points91111
2.3.2   Line data classification
The line data carries information such as the time, mileage, tourist, and so on, of a travel route. In order to better reflect communication across regions, we classified the routes into the four categories according to the tourists’ itineraries: Europe-Asia, Africa-Asia, Asia and Europe (Table 3).
Table 3   Classification of the tourist routes along the Silk Road in the Mongol-Yuan dynasty
ClassEurope to AsiaAfrica to AsiaAsiaEurope
According to the statistics, there were 64 routes taken by the tourists, among which Euro-Asian routes (14 routes) accounted for the majority of transcontinental travel, while intra-continental travel were dominated by Asian routes (41 routes). This indicates that tourists along the Silk Road during the Mongol-Yuan dynasty were mainly for inter-Asian and Eurasian travels (Table 4).
Table 4   Statistics showing the routes of the 15 tourists under our classification system
Data nameBegin timeEnd timeTouristEurope to AsiaAfrica to AsiaAsiaEuropeTotal
1218lines1218.031223.12Yelu Chucai33
1224lines1224.011227.11Yelu Chucai44
1246lines1246.011246.12Jean de Plan Carpin11
1253 lines1253.051255.08William of Rubruk33
1254 lines1254.011255.12Hethum112
1260-1lines1260.011265.12Nikolai Polo1113
1260-2lines1260.051263.12Yelu Xiliang44
1271lines1271.011275.12Marco Polo134
1276lines1276.011278.12Rabban Sauma& Marco55
1318lines1318.011318.12Odoric de Pordenone11
1326lines1326.081327.12Ibn Battouta134
1331lines1331.071336.12Ibn Battouta215210
1347lines1347.021349.04Ibn Battouta224
1350 lines1350.011353.12Marignolli11
3.   Sample description
3.1   Database design
Our design of the attribute table acknowledged the differences between point data and line data. Attributes of the point data were based on original records, which recorded name, class, year, country, code, county/town in present time, and so on. Year designates the time when the tourist first arrived at the site during the journey. If the tourist passed through a place more than once, it was marked as passing through without annotation. The attribute table of the point data is shown in Table 5.
Table 5   Design of the attribute table for point data
NameChinese name of the point
YearTime when the tourist first arrived
Name _EEnglish name of the point
CountryCountry in which the place is located
ProvinceProvince in which the place is located
CityCity in which the place is located
CountyCounty in which the place is located
TownTown in which the place is located
SiteSpecific location (village, site, water body, etc.)
TouristName of the tourist
ClassType of the location
CodeCode of the point
ReferenceSources referred
Attribute table of the line data was named after the starting year of each route. Usually, a route was based on a 1 – 3 year itinerary, but certain routes might contain several uncontiguous sections within a year for itinerary ambiguity. The attribute table of the line data recorded name, begin time, end time and so on. The direction of each route was determined by the starting and ending locations, which could be inferred from corresponding point data. The attribute table of the line data is shown in Table 6.
Table 6   Design of attribute table for line data
NameName of the line
Begin-TimeTime when the trip started
End-TimeTime when the trip ended
Begin-PlacePlace where the trip started
End-PlacePlace where the trip ended
TouristName of the tourist
ClassType of the line
CodeCode of the line
ReferenceSources referred
3.2   Data display
This dataset includes 20 sets of point data and 20 sets of line data. To obtain the site and route data of a designated period, users can open corresponding point data and line data shapefiles named after the same number. Due to spatial constraints, we show the tourist routes in the following four travel periods here: 1218, 1254, 1271, and 1331 (Figure 7).

Figure 7   Itineraries of four tourists who traveled from 1218 to 1331
4.   Quality control and assessment
For more than 600 years since the Mongol-Yuan dynasty, there has been basically no mapping data for the Silk Road. Particularly, the directions of the Silk Road in this period and the cities and towns alongside are far from systematically recorded. Relative to official documentation, tourists’ itinerary more truthfully reflects the use of the Silk Road, which constitute indispensable material in the study of the road. For site location, we referred to research findings at home and abroad, through which most of the sites have been located to a specific site, village, and town. Travel routes were drawn and restored by reference to a combined use of research findings, historical and modern maps, and satellite image, and are thus reasonable and accurate. The total 673 points and 64 lines were classified into 20 sets of point data and 20 sets of line data to form this dataset.
5.   Usage notes
This dataset contains standard shapefiles, which can be read and written by mainstream GIS software, As the data adopts the WGS-84 coordinate system, conversion will be necessary if users adopt a different coordinate system. The dataset, derived from detailed itineraries of 15 tourists, contains 20 sets of point data and 20 sets of line data chronologically arranged based on the tourists’ itinerary. This study exhibits a convenient way to restore the data of tourist routes, which has achieved a high level of accuracy in site location and route restoration. This dataset provides data basis for studying the directions of the Silk Road and its temporal-spatial evolution in the Mongol-Yuan period. The point data and line data can be extracted for further processing according to users’ specific demands.
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Data citation
1. Chen J & Zhang P. A GIS dataset of tourist routes along the Silk Road in the Mongol-Yuan dynasty, Science Data Bank. DOI: 10.11922/sciencedb.622
Article and author information
How to cite this article
Chen J & Zhang P. A GIS dataset of tourist routes along the Silk Road in the Mongol-Yuan dynasty. China Scientific Data 3(2018). DOI: 10.11922/csdata.2018.0017.zh
Cheng Jun
data acquisition and generation, paper writing.
PhD; research area: historical traffic geography and Mongol-Yuan history.
Zhang Ping
technical guidance and data structure instruction.
PhD, Professor; research area: historical geography and historical geographic information system.
National Social Science Fund (14ZDB031)
Publication records
Published: Aug. 15, 2018 ( VersionsEN1
Released: May 28, 2018 ( VersionsZH2
Published: Aug. 15, 2018 ( VersionsZH3
Updated: Aug. 15, 2018 ( VersionsZH5