April 03, 2014

Where pastoralist met farmer and East met West (Spengler et al. 2014)

The paper's conclusion:
Archaeobotanical data from Central Eurasian pastoralist campsites have major implications for our understanding of late prehistoric agriculture across Asia. Sites like Tasbas and Begash illustrate the earliest acquisition of domesticated crops by mobile pastoralists and illustrate their capacity to participate in exchanges that bridged East Asian and Central Asian farming cultures by the early third millennium BC. Mobile pastoralists living in (southern) Central Asian alluvial fans and along the mountainous spine of Central Eurasia also integrated farming into their own domestic strategies (at least) by the mid second millenniumBC. Their pastoral mobility and the formation of extensive networks throughout the IAMC helped spread particular grain morphotypes and a mixed plant cohort of wheat, barley, millet and green peas through the mountains between Xinjiang, China and southwest Asia in the second millennium BC. The seasonal campsites of Begash, Tasbas, Ojakly and Site 1211/1219 are the earliest sites thus far reported to break down the strict polarization between nomads and farmers in prehistoric Central Eurasia. They also transform our comprehension of the vast arena of interaction that defines this region in ancient times. 
Related:

Proc. R. Soc. B doi:10.1098/rspb.2013.3382

Early agriculture and crop transmission among Bronze Age mobile pastoralists of Central Eurasia

Robert Spengler et al.

Archaeological research in Central Eurasia is exposing unprecedented scales of trans-regional interaction and technology transfer between East Asia and southwest Asia deep into the prehistoric past. This article presents a new archaeobotanical analysis from pastoralist campsites in the mountain and desert regions of Central Eurasia that documents the oldest known evidence for domesticated grains and farming among seasonally mobile herders. Carbonized grains from the sites of Tasbas and Begash illustrate the first transmission of southwest Asian and East Asian domesticated grains into the mountains of Inner Asia in the early third millennium BC. By the middle second millennium BC, seasonal camps in the mountains and deserts illustrate that Eurasian herders incorporated the cultivation of millet, wheat, barley and legumes into their subsistence strategy. These findings push back the chronology for domesticated plant use among Central Eurasian pastoralists by approximately 2000 years. Given the geography, chronology and seed morphology of these data, we argue that mobile pastoralists were key agents in the spread of crop repertoires and the transformation of agricultural economies across Asia from the third to the second millennium BC.

Link

16 comments:

bicicleur said...

exchanges that bridged East Asian and Central Asian farming cultures by the early third millennium BC

i'd like to know the details
it's a pitty this article is behind a paywall

end forth millenium BC first bronze objects appeared in northwest China, i wonder if this came through the same corridor

aniasi said...

Could this be evidence of migratory activity before the Afanasevo culture?

It would be interesting to think of the possibility of an earlier Indo-Iranian presence in the area south of the steppe.

ataulf said...

Dear Dienekes,

Do you know what populations are genetically (not linguistically or culturally) closest to Bulgarians?

Thanks in advance.

Best regards,
Radan Rusanov

aeolius said...

Does the paper make any reference to the climate of the Tarim basin region in the third millennium BC?
I believe that Lop Nur at the eastern edge was wetter at one time but perhaps the whole area, like the Sahara, had a wetter climate which allowed agriculture and mixing of grain technology

andrew said...

One of the big mysteries of the proto-Indo-European concept has been how so much agricultural vocabulary would end up in a proto-language spoken by pastoralists. This study helps to bridge that gap.

Va_Highlander said...

bicicleur:

"end forth millenium BC first bronze objects appeared in northwest China, i wonder if this came through the same corridor"

Probably so. Native development of bronze technology seems unlikely, at this point.

aniasi:

"Could this be evidence of migratory activity before the Afanasevo culture?"

Frachetti on the multiregional emergence of mobile pastoralism

aeolius:

"I believe that Lop Nur at the eastern edge was wetter at one time but perhaps the whole area, like the Sahara, had a wetter climate which allowed agriculture and mixing of grain technology "

There is evidence of agriculture made possible by irrigation in the Tarim Basin, but as I recall it is relatively late, 1st millennium BCE, at the earliest.

About Time said...

The biggest mental wall that this goes to correcting is the misperception that "nomadism" = "primitive, ignorant, lawless," etc. Quite the contrary in some cases.

Before airplanes and the internet, only nomads would be in a position to see and select/distill the best of everything from the surrounding peasant cultures they came in contact with in their travels.

andrew said...

"The biggest mental wall that this goes to correcting is the misperception that "nomadism" = "primitive, ignorant, lawless," etc.?"

Ignorant, certainly not, in some things, but one would expect people who don't practice agriculture to know much less about that than people who do.

The "lawless" claim has a lot more merit. Yes, nomadic pastoralists had and still do have laws, often strict ones. But, these are generally culture of honor "laws of the clan" type regimes, rather than the rule of law, reason and principle and evidence based laws of sedentary agriculturalists or urbanites. Trial by combat, for example, was common place in nomadic pastoralist societies well into the migration period in the Middle Ages in Europe, and dueling to settle disputes, bride abduction, and aggressive used of "self-help" to redress perceived grievances were the norm in many cultures of honor worldwide (including those in the U.S.) with roots in pastoralist economic regimes at least through the 19th century.

Now, that "lawless" component also translated into "badass" and "ruthless" which is a really useful thing when crops are failing and civilization is collapsing due to prolonged droughts or global temperature changes. Pastoralists have historically filled the vacuum and created empires when settled people are weak, and then retreated or been assimilated when settled civilizations are healthy during more favorable climate periods.

This paper, of course, illustrates that there are intermediate options between the platonic ideals of nomadic pastoralists and sedentary farmers.

bellbeakerblogger said...

It would seem obvious that the origin and use of domestic cereals and taurine cattle would go hand in hand given that one fed on the other in its wild state.

The domestication of the wild auroch is probably owed to selective culling on open grasslands, not captive breeding, at least until much later. Those native grasses would have been threshed for additional food in the Mesolithic and eventually maturing in the Neolithic.

Central Asia probably has quite a few more surprises to offer.

http://dienekes.blogspot.com/2013/11/early-cattle-management-in-ne-china.html

bellbeakerblogger said...

Wild Triticeae = Wild aurochs

Domestic cattle = Domestic cereal

It's hard to imagine a scenario where both weren't originally present and complementary.

If a savannah herder doesn't thresh (even wild grass), what does he eat the other six days a week?

There are probably more surprises yet to come from Central Asia.

http://dienekes.blogspot.com/2013/11/early-cattle-management-in-ne-china.html

Grey said...

"One of the big mysteries of the proto-Indo-European concept has been how so much agricultural vocabulary would end up in a proto-language spoken by pastoralists."

I'm not sure why there should be a mystery given that PIE were literally adjacent to Cucuteni(agriculturists) for a very long time until Cucuteni disappeared - which by a strange coincidence was around the time PIE got themselves riding horses.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cucuteni-Trypillian_culture

Va_Highlander said...

My apologies, as I seem to have bitched the link:

"Frachetti on the multiregional emergence of mobile pastoralism"

Nathan Paul said...

Mehrgarh and Indus Valley are 7000 BC agrarian societies.

Trade between plains and mountains is common phenomena.

It's odd such a close ancient society is not mentioned.

Atlantis said...

Here is a lecture given by Frachetti about 3 years ago on the same topic:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r7qq9__GWN0&list=PL286E934A56954D08

I think the most exciting and curious point raised (beginning around 29 minutes in the lecture) was that the Afanesevo culture might not be related to the Yamna culture further West, but could be related to sites in the Inner Asian Mountain Corridor, and sites further South.

I know David Anthony favours the Yamna culture spreading to Afanesevo culture, but this paper and other views might raise certain objections. The dating given to these two sites are extremely close with 3500 BCE for Yamna, and 3300 BCE for Afanasevo, but are separated by a huge distance of almost 2000 km (although there are figures that date Afanasevo to 3700 BCE). To make this even more confusing, they have the Botai culture in between them, which is also dated to around 3700 BCE, which doesn't seem to be affected by either culture. Anthony believes that the Yamna to Afanasevo is perhaps documenting the travel of groups that would give rise to the Tocharian speaking people who appear in the Tarim Basin almost 3100 years after Afanasevo is thought to have ended.

Here is a lecture from David Anthony from the same symposium where he talks about the mysterious origin of Afanasevo around 25 minutes in:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QapUGZ0ObjA&list=PL286E934A56954D08&index=9

James Mallory gives a lecture at the same symposium about the Tocharians and how he doesn't have much faith in the origins of Tocharians from Afanasevo. I think his more recent lecture from 7 months ago where he rubbishes his own book he coauthored with Victor Mair about the origins of the Tocharians from Afanasevo is better however:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Q_tqVQHwFw


I think we still have a lot to learn about the origins of Yamna and Afanasevo.

Atlantis said...

Sorry, that lecture by James Mallory is from 2012, not 7 months ago!

About Time said...

@Atlantis, some British and American academics are biased against any Paleo-Euro relation to Tocharians or anything in the east. It's in part because if the "no migration" paradigm of Anglophone archaeology that has been seriously challenged by new DNA evidence.

Frachetti and Renfrew's work derives from this school of thought. Doesn't make their findings correct or incorrect, but that is their paradigm.

There are some major problems with the Kurgan paradigm too (like - how does Anatolia fit in? Not to mention West Asia in general, which we know was beaucoup important for Scythians / Cimmerians). Mallory is being a good sport and playing along - but that doesn't mean his work didn't have a great deal of substance that must be acknowledged (even if modified, amended, or corrected in places).

"Kurgan" is just a shorthand for a multi faceted phenomenon that is clear enough in the archaeological record. What exactly that was, and how it relates to ANE etc remains to be fully examined.

Farmana will be a make or break moment for these academics. Which is probably why publication has been delayed so long.