February 25, 2012

Frachetti on the multiregional emergence of mobile pastoralism

I had previously posted on horses not being important for the emergence of steppe pastoralism, in which Frachetti and Benecke documented how the early (4,500ky) Begash culture of Kazakhstan had developed full-blown pastoralism without apparently relying on horses.

This is in contradistinction to both the Botai culture where there is abundant evidence for horse use, apparently for food, as well as the Eneolithic cultures of the European steppe where horse bones are much more prevalent than in early Begash.

The simple model of the emergence of pastoral nomadism proposes the spread of this mode of subsistence from the European (Pontic-Caspian) steppe, together with horses and horse-drawn vehicles. Popularized by David Anthony in recent years, this model views horses and wheels as the great enablers of pastoralism, and views the emergence of pastoral cultures across the steppe as the result of movements of mobile pastoralists -atop their horses, and with their herds- across the Eurasian steppe.

Frachetti is a critic of this model, and proposes instead the importance of the (hitherto neglected) Inner Asian Mountain Corridor as important in facilitating prehistoric contacts between east and west. In a new paper in Current Anthropology he elaborates on his proposed "multiregional" model of the emergence of mobile pastoralism.

I have not read the paper's 38 pages carefully yet (including CA comments and response), but this is clearly a seminal work on the studied topic that will be referenced for years to come. I will post any specific comments in updates to this post. For the moment, I will limit myself to a couple of observations:

  • Recent work in Y-chromosome phylogeny has established a fairly disjoint division within haplogroup R1a1a; in particular the R-Z93 subhaplogroup seems to abound in the "Asian steppe", as well as Asia in general, while being generally absent in Europe; the R1a1a and Subclades Y-DNA Project is keeping track of new developments in this field.
  • My own research on autosomal DNA, suggests the confluence of two "streams" of ancestry onto the steppe: a west-to-east stream emanating from eastern Europe, and associated with the Atlantic_Baltic (K7b) or North_European (K12b) ancestral component; as well as a West_Asian (K7b) or Caucasus/Gedrosia (K12b) component emanating from the highland regions south of the Caspian and south of the steppe (the traditional Silk Road territory).
These lines of evidence certainly appear to be consistent with a "multiregional" model of early mobile pastoralism. In particular they testify to the non-uniformity of ancestry of steppe groups and are inconsistent with their derivation from a single source. The picture is further complicated by the historical movements of nomads across the steppe (including Scytho-Sarmatian type people as well as Turkic-Mongolian ones). Charting the emergence of steppe populations will require a great deal of sleuthing in the genomes of modern steppe inhabitants, as well as a great deal of work on ancient DNA.

In any case, the new paper by Michael Frachetti will provide important new insight to all those who seek to understand "what actually happened" in Eurasian prehistory, and it is a very welcome addition to the ongoing debate.

Current Anthropology Vol. 53, No. 1, February 2012

Multiregional Emergence of Mobile Pastoralism and Nonuniform Institutional Complexity across Eurasia

Michael D. Frachetti


In this article I present a new archaeological synthesis concerning the earliest formation of mobile pastoralist economies across central Eurasia. I argue that Eurasian steppe pastoralism developed along distinct local trajectories in the western, central, and (south)eastern steppe, sparking the development of regional networks of interaction in the late fourth and third millennia BC. The “Inner Asian Mountain Corridor” exemplifies the relationship between such incipient regional networks and the process of economic change in the eastern steppe territory. The diverse regional innovations, technologies, and ideologies evident across Eurasia in the mid-third millennium BC are cast as the building blocks of a unique political economy shaped by “nonuniform” institutional alignments among steppe populations throughout the second millennium BC. This theoretical model illustrates how regional channels of interaction between distinct societies positioned Eurasian mobile pastoralists as key players in wide-scale institutional developments among traditionally conceived “core” civilizations while also enabling them to remain strategically independent and small-scale in terms of their own sociopolitical organization. The development of nonuniform institutional complexity among Eurasian pastoralists demonstrates a unique political and economic structure applicable to societies whose variable political and territorial scales are inconsistent with commonly understood evolutionary or corporate sociopolitical typologies such as chiefdoms, states, or empires.


1 comment:

Otzi The Romanian said...

I think Otzi's DNA is showing up today in Nature Communications...