yurts in Central Asia

Ilan Greenberg wrote in the New York Times: “Recent investigations have challenged long-held views of nomadic culture as purely transient, with little impact on the urban, sophisticated societies that emerged later. Instead, scientists...are discovering that nomadic cultures are flexible, switching between transient and more sedentary ways of life, and assimilating and inventing new ideas and technologies. Nomads created durable political cultures that still influence the way those countries interact with outsiders or negotiate internal power struggles. [Source: Ilan Greenberg, New York Times, August 8, 2007 ^^^]

“Nomads continue to hang on in a substantial area of Central Asia, especially in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and in many cases are prospering... While the view that tribe and clan — the basic building blocks of nomadic, or semi-transient societies— influence the contemporary politics of some countries is nothing new, specialists in nomadic studies argue that policy makers have overlooked important “cultural intelligence,” like family relationships, when analyzing governments that grew out of tribal traditions. “Families, tribes these are the things that matter here,” said Oraz Jandosov, co-chairman of a Kazakhstan opposition political party. “Foreigners talk about these things, but it’s only talk. They don’t understand them.” ^^^

“Pride in nomadism itself is on the rise, with many countries using what is an increasingly glamorous historical inheritance as an important nation-building tool. When Kazakhstan’s government-subsidized film company decided last year to film a national epic that would galvanize the population around a unifying myth, studio executives reached into the country’s past and produced “Nomad.” The movie has been a huge hit across the former Soviet Union.” ^^^

Websites and Resources: Mongols and Horsemen of the Steppe "The Horse, the Wheel and Language, How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes shaped the Modern World", David W Anthony, 2007 archive.org/details/horsewheelandlanguage ; The Scythians - Silk Road Foundation silkroadfoundation.org ; Scythians iranicaonline.org ; Encyclopaedia Britannica article on the Huns britannica.com ; Wikipedia article on Eurasian nomads Wikipedia Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; The Mongol Empire web.archive.org/web ; The Mongols in World History afe.easia.columbia.edu/mongols ; William of Rubruck's Account of the Mongols washington.edu/silkroad/texts ; Mongol invasion of Rus (pictures) web.archive.org/web ; Encyclopædia Britannica article britannica.com ; Mongol Archives historyonthenet.com

Impact of Nomadism on Politics and Foreign Policy

Greenberg wrote: “Dr. Frachetti’s work concerns Bronze Age nomads, and his scholarship is aimed purely at a historical understanding of how a preliterate society functioned more than 3,000 years ago. But his work coincides with a geopolitical reality that has important implications for American foreign policy makers: many of the countries that most trouble the West — like Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia — have government institutions that reflect a nomadic past. “Take Afghanistan, where politics are much more dispersed,” said Dr. Frachetti, “I think some of our foreign policy complications derive from our inability to locate a nomadic dynamic within contemporary political structures.” [Source: Ilan Greenberg, New York Times, August 8, 2007 ^^^]

Bedouin tents in the Middle East

“Countries like Iraq and Afghanistan may take on the trappings of modern, Western nation-states, with parliaments, justice departments and other governmental agencies, researchers say. But politics are still driven by the customs and institutions of nomadism, in which political disputes were settled at the level of family, clan and tribe. “In and of itself you can’t graft what happened two thousand years ago and say that’s what it is today, but it helps to understand how these societies have found successful strategies and how they respond to outside forces,” Dr. Frachetti said. “By not exploring the depth to which nomadic populations have contributed to local political systems, we are naïve to an important aspect of the social fabric of parts of the Near East and Central Asia.” ^^^

“The United States military has learned the importance of tribes in Iraq, as evidenced by its policy of arming Sunni Arab tribal chiefs in Anbar Province to fight the leading insurgent group there, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Yet, despite calls for a deeper appreciation of cultures far from the mainstream, “the United States government hasn’t been willing to pony up the money to educate” policy makers on “these areas with deep nomadic traditions,” said a Central Asia specialist working for the United States government. The official requested anonymity because he was not cleared to speak with reporters. “It takes a half a million dollars and four or five years to train a specialist in these parts of the world,” the official said. “Even now we hardly have anyone up to speed about the border areas of Pakistan or the tribal politics of Somalia.” ^^^

“And in Central Asia, recent American foreign policy setbacks — such as a deal in May between Turkmenistan and Russia to build a new gas pipeline, widely viewed as a rebuke to American interests — can be traced partly to an American misunderstanding of how nomadic traditions shape attitudes in the region. In that case, said Sean R. Roberts, a Central Asia researcher at Georgetown University, American negotiators mistakenly emphasized the benefits of joining the orbit of Western nations. With its nomadic traditions, he said, Turkmenistan placed a far higher emphasis on independence. “If there’s anything for American policy makers to understand about formerly nomadic people is that they generally place an all-important pride in their independence,” he said in a telephone interview. ^^^

“In some instances, politicians seek to use nomadic traditions to justify their policies, just as American politicians try to exploit nostalgia for America’s rural past to justify farm subsidies, said Robert Rotberg, a professor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, who studies failed states in Africa and Asia. “Take Qaddafi in Libya,” he said, referring to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. “He would say, you Westerners don’t understand us because we have a nomadic ethos that is essentially socialist, and so we have to nationalize our country’s oil industry to be true to our tradition.” “What’s almost as dangerous as ignoring the cultural context of politics is misinterpreting it,” he said. “The policy community just doesn’t have a background at looking at cultures’ differences. So even if they do the right thing and start to look at cultural intelligence, the result is they will take stereotypes of Kazakhstan’s nomadic past and call it a complete truth.” ^^^

Horseman Archeology

Reporting from Almaty, Kazakhstan, Ilan Greenberg wrote in the New York Times: “Every summer for the past eight years, Michael Frachetti has come to the desert steppe that rolls like endless yellow waves across this expansive Central Asian nation searching for evidence of a vast, connected nomadic society. With each new excavation, Dr. Frachetti, an archaeologist at Washington University, hopes to complicate received notions of the lives and societies of the nomads who once thrived in this region.” Frachetti has done archeological surveys and research in the Saryesik-Atyrau Desert of Kazakhstan. [Source: Ilan Greenberg, New York Times, August 8, 2007]

herder with animals in Kazakhstan

Andrew Lawler wrote in Archaeology magazine: “Vast stretches of Central Asia feel eerily uninhabited. Fly at 30,000 feet over the southern part of the former Soviet Union—Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan—and there are long moments when no town or road or field is visible from your window. The landscape of stark desert, trackless steppe, and rugged mountains seems to swallow up anything human. It is little surprise, then, that this region remains largely terra incognita to most archaeologists. [Source: Andrew Lawler, Archaeology, May/June 2012. Lawler is a contributing editor at Archaeology. \^/]

“Wandering bands and tribes roamed this immense area for 5,000 years, herding goat, sheep, cattle, and horses across immense steppes, through narrow valleys, and over high snowy passes. They left occasional tombs that survived the ages, and on rare occasions settled down and built towns or even cities. But for the most part, these peoples left behind few physical traces of their origins, beliefs, or ways of life. What we know of these nomadic pastoralists comes mainly from their periodic forays into India, the Middle East, and China, where they often wreaked havoc and earned a fearsome reputation as enemies of urban life. \^/

“Most archaeological work in Central Asia during the past century has focused on the open and rolling plains that stretch from the Black Sea to Manchuria. These steppes only came to life after 2000 B.C., when horse domestication and riding suddenly turned a forbidding landscape for pedestrians into a natural highway of grass. Drawing on linguistic research, textual evidence, and remains from steppe tombs, archaeologists and historians have long argued that these peoples migrated en masse from west to east, taking with them fast horses, chariots, metal weapons, and a pantheon of sky gods. By contrast, the areas to the south of the steppes—a confused welter of mountain chains and harsh deserts—have long been ignored.” \^/

As for the actual work of finding sites and excavating them Lawler wrote: “This sort of digging requires stamina and patience, as well as a sense of adventure.” “It’s a lot of work for a few artifacts in places that are hard to find,” says David Anthony, an archaeologist at Hartwick College

Bedouin camp in the Atlas mountains

Horsemen: Creators Rather Than Destroyers of Civilization

Andrew Lawler wrote in Archaeology magazine: “As early as the fifth century B.C., the Greek historian Herodotus warned of a barbaric and warlike pastoralist people called the Scythians who lived north of the Caucuses and drank human blood from skulls. The hardy Xiongnu from the Siberian steppes raided Chinese towns in the second century B.C., prompting construction of the Great Wall. And troops from Mongolia led by Genghis Khan’s grandson Hulagu Khan laid waste to the rich metropolis of Baghdad in A.D. 1258, ending one of Islam’s most glorious periods. [Source: Andrew Lawler, Archaeology, May/June 2012 \^/]

“In the past century, scholars have continued where the ancient writers left off, criticizing these people as destructive, dismissing them as marginal, or, at best, casting them as a harsh tonic for restoring vigor to decaying and soft agricultural societies from ancient Mesopotamia to Imperial Rome to Han China. “Nomadic people are generally the invincible opponents of civilization,” wrote sociologist Jerome Dowd in 1907. A half-century later, British archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler blamed the aggressive, chariot-driving Aryans who swept in from the steppes for the demise of the peaceful Indus River civilization after 1800 B.C., though later archaeologists dismissed that claim.\^/

“But Michael Frachetti, a young archaeologist at Washington University in St. Louis, takes the radical view that Central Asians were early midwives in the birth of civilization rather than a destructive force bent on its extirpation. Frachetti argues that ancient pastoralists living in the third millennium B.C., at the time of the first great cities of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Indus, created a network stretching across thousands of miles that passed along goods, technologies, and ideas central to urban life. He believes they helped create civilization Archaeologists are uncovering Bronze Age settlements where modern Uzbek and Tajik pastoralists today drive their flocks through the same landscape as their ancient forebears. rather than hindering it. “This isn’t the pastoralism of Genghis Khan and his thundering hordes,” says Frachetti, who is digging in both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. “These people aren’t living on the fringe of society,” he says, adding, “They actually are dictating the region’s politics and the economy.” \^/

“Frachetti, who has studied modern-day pastoralists in such unforgiving landscapes as the Sahara and Scandinavia, was drawn to the southern region of Central Asia for its environmental diversity of desert, grassland, and alpine meadows. Instead of a wasteland, he saw an ideal landscape for enterprising herders who wanted to pasture their animals in all seasons.” Here archaeologists “are discovering evidence of a network of pastoralists who thrived centuries before hooves resounded on the steppes to the north. These forgotten peoples may have carried such markers of civilization as ceramics and grains across thousands of miles, two millennia before the Silk Road linked the Roman Empire with Han China. Frachetti argues that the new data emerging from the region force archaeologists to rethink their ideas about trade across Eurasia during the Bronze Age, when the first civilizations were taking form to the east, south, and west.

map of Begash in the Dzhungar mountains of Kazakhstan

Before the Silk Road, the Grain Road?

In April 2014, the New York Times reported: “Nomadic shepherds in the high plains of Central Asia used grain imported from China and southwestern Asia more than 5,000 years ago, according to a new study — perhaps to sprinkle over bodies in funeral rituals. The discovery came from a recent investigation of burial sites in Kazakhstan. The scientists, led by Michael Frachetti, an archaeologist at Washington University in St. Louis, included a botanist and local archaeologists. [Source: Sindya N. Bhanoo, New York Times, April 7, 2014]

“Because what is now Kazakhstan was at a crossroads in the nomads’ path, the findings, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, provide clues about the later emergence of the trade route known as the Silk Road. Early on, the nomads moved only by foot, spending winters in warmer valleys and summers in the mountains. Their seasonal moves broadened their interactions and helped disperse the grains, Dr. Frachetti said.

“These folks were not traveling extremely long distances, but it spread fairly rapidly,” he continued. “You can imagine a story where a person goes down in the valley, starts trading seeds and takes them back.” The scientists also found evidence that by about 1500 B.C., the nomads were cultivating their own barley, wheat, millet and peas. Dr. Frachetti’s graduate students found remnants of grains from the period in an ancient domestic oven, a storage vessel and a kiln. “We see the evolution,” he said, “from the introduction of seeds used for ritual purposes to something that has impact on the local economy.”

Begash: Home of Grain-Eating, Trading Horsemen?

Together with his Kazakh colleagues, Frachetti began digging a decade ago in the Dzhungar Mountains of Kazakhstan. A site called Begash has yielded some interesting discoveries related ancient horsemen. Ancient pastoralists built this dwellings there dated to around 2500 B.C. In a nearby grave, archaeologists found tiny grains of millet and wheat, the oldest domesticated grains yet found in Central Asia. [Source: Andrew Lawler, Archaeology, May/June 2012 \^/]

Begash is a Eurasian pastoralist campsite, located in Semirch'ye in the piedmont zone of the Dzhungar Mountains of southeastern Kazakhstan, which was occupied episodically between ~2500 BC to AD 1900. The site is located at about 950 meters (3110 feet) above sea level, in a flat ravine terrace enclosed by canyon walls and along a spring-fed stream. Archaeological evidence at the site contains information about some of the earliest pastoralist "Steppe Society" communities; the important archaeobotanical evidence suggests Begash may have been on the route which moved domestic plants from the point of domestication into the broader world. [Source: K. Kris Hirst, About.com]

Begash excavation in the Dzungar mountains

Andrew Lawler wrote in Archaeology magazine: “Covering nearly 500 square miles” is a region between “the Tian Shan and Altai mountain ranges” that “boasts sharp peaks topping 12,000 feet, as well as harsh desert. At a site near a village called Begash, on a flat terrace enclosed by steep canyon walls alongside a small stream, the team uncovered the foundations of simple stone structures along with an array of potsherds and bronze and stone artifacts in stone-lined oval and rectangular tombs. The earliest layers at Begash date to at least as early as 2,500 B.C.,based on alpha magnetic spectrometry dating of organic remains, says Frachetti. One woman was laid to rest with a bell-shaped hooked bronze earring around 1700 B.C., according to electron spinresonance dating. Similar earrings are only found several centuries later some 600 miles to the north on the Siberian steppes, hinting at styles that moved north over time. \^/

“More surprisingly, the excavators found wheat, which was first domesticated in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, and broom corn millet that was first widely grown in northern China. The grains were used ritually in a burial, and radio- carbon dating of the remains dates them to about 2200 B.C.,making them the oldest known domesticated grains in Central Asia. The people of Begash may not have grown either grain—there are no grinding stones, the telltale sign of grain preparation—but instead received it via trade networks stretching from the Near East to China. \^/

“Dorian Fuller,a leading expert in ancient grains based at University College London, calls the finds“important and well dated.” He adds that Chinese crops such as millet began to appear in southwest Asia around 1900 B.C., a few centuries after they reached Begash, which could mean the passage through the mountain regions was a means of gradual transmission from east to west. Frachetti speculates that the grains may have been acquired from other tribes and used for ritual purposes, and then perhaps were passed on in turn to other pastoral peoples. What makes the Begash discoveries so important is that previously this region was assumed to have been a land of scattered foragers until steppe people trickled down into the area’s valleys and mountain ranges after 2000 B.C. But it is becoming evident that the people of Begash were not simple foragers, but sophisticated pastoralists who tended their fiocks, much as people in the area still do today. They built small encampments, favored sheep and goat over cattle, and ate few wild animals. \^/

Plants, Animals and Artifacts from Begash

broomcorn millet found in the oldest layers in Begash

Archeologist and science writer K. Kris Hirst wrote on About.com; “Within soils samples taken from the Phase 1a burial cist and associated funerary fire pit were discovered seeds of domesticated wheat, broomcorn millet and barley. This evidence is interpreted by the excavators, an assertion supported by many other scholars, as indication of a distinct route of transmission of wheat and millet from the central Asian mountains and into the steppes by the late 3rd millennium BC (Frachetti et al. 2010). [Source: K. Kris Hirst, About.com ]

“The wheat consisted of 13 whole seeds of domesticated compact free-threshing wheat, either Triticum aestivum or T. turgidum. Frachetti et al. report that the wheat compares favorably to that from the Indus Valley region in Mehrgarh and other Harappan sites, ca. 2500-2000 cal BC and from Sarazm in western Tajikistan, ca. 2600-2000 BC. A total of 61 carbonized broomcorn millet (Panicum miliaceum) seeds were recovered from various Phase 1a contexts, one of which was direct-dated to 2460-2190 cal BC. One barley grain and 26 cerealia (grains unidentified to species), were also recovered from the same contexts. Other seeds found within the soil samples are wild Chenopodium album, Hyoscyamus spp. (also known as nightshade), Galium spp. (bedstraw) and Stipa spp. (feathergrass or spear grass).

“Domesticated wheat, broomcorn millet and barley found in this context is surprising, given that the people who occupied Begash were clearly nomadic pastoralists, not farmers. The seeds were found in a ritual context, and Frachetti and colleagues suggest that the botanical evidence represents both a ritual exploitation of exotic foods, and an early trajectory for the diffusion of domestic crops from their points of origin into the broader world.

“The faunal evidence (nearly 22,000 bones and bone fragments) at Begash contradicts the traditional notion that the emergence of Eurasian pastoralism was sparked by horse riding. Sheep/goat are the most prevalent species within the assemblages, as much as 75% of identified minimum number of individuals (MNI) in the earliest phases to just under 50% in Phase 6. Although distinguishing sheep from goats is notoriously difficult, sheep are much more frequently identified in the Begash assemblage than goats.

Begash cremation cist

“Cattle are the next most frequently found, making up between 18-32% of the faunal assemblages throughout the occupations; with horse remains not present at all until ca 1950 BC, and then in slowly increasing percentages to around 12% by the medieval period. Other domestic animals include dog and Bactrian camel, and wild species are dominated by red deer (Cervus elaphus) and, in the later period, goitered gazelle (Gazella subgutturosa).

“Key species at the earliest Middle and Bronze age levels at Begash indicates that sheep/goats and cattle were the predominant species. Unlike other steppe communities, it seems apparent that the earliest phases at Begash were not based on horse riding, but rather began with Eurasian pastoralists. See Frachetti and Benecke for details. Outram et al. (2012), however, have argued that the results from Begash should not be considered necessarily typical of all steppe societies. Their 2012 article compared proportions of cattle, sheep and horses from six other Bronze Age sites in Kazakhstan, to show that dependence on horses seems to varied widely from site to site.

“Textile-impressed pottery from Begash dated to the Early/Middle and Late Bronze ages reported in 2012 (Doumani and Frachetti) provide evidence for a wide variety of woven textiles in the southeastern steppe zone, beginning in the early Bronze Age. Such a wide variety of woven patterns, including a weft-faced cloth, implies interaction between pastoral and hunter-gatherer societies from the northern steppe with pastoralists to the southeast. Such interaction is likely, say Doumani and Frachetti, to be associated with trade networks postulated to have been established no later than the 3rd millinennium BC. These trade networks are believed to have spread animal and plant domestication out of the along the Inner Asian Mountain Corridor.”

Connections with Begash

Andrew Lawler wrote in Archaeology magazine: “Seeking more evidence, Frachetti and his colleagues in recent years turned to an area 400 miles southwest of Begash in today’s Uzbekistan. Frachetti and Farhad Maksudov of the Uzbek Archaeology Institute chose a region north of Samarkand, the ancient Silk Road city, because of its proximity to another, even more ancient, town called Sarazm (Sogdian for “where the land begins”). Founded in the fourth millennium B.C., Sarazm—just over the modern border in Tajikistan—flourished for a thousand years and is the oldest large-scale settlement in CentralAsia, what scholars call a “proto-urban center.” It also marks, at least prior to the fiNDS at Begash, the northeastern frontier of the Fertile Crescent’s reach. Sarazm, discovered accidentally by a villager in 1976 and excavated in the 1980s by Soviet archaeologists, was once a pros- perous center of trade for goods such as turquoise, agate, wool, and leather. It was connected through trade networks to the flourishing civilizations of Mesopotamia, Iran, and the Indus, as well as with traders as far north as Siberia and as far east as Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush Mountains. As with cities from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indus River, Sarazm’s economy was based on wheat, barley, sheep, and goats. [Source: Andrew Lawler, Archaeology, May/June 2012 \^/]

Dzungar mountains

“The people produced fine pottery and had a taste for luxury items imported from afar. use horses until well into the second millennium B.C.,and the varieties of sheep and goat found here today appear to be related to the varieties first domesticated thousands of years before in western Iran, near ancient Mesopotamia. This indicates that Begash was “at the crossroads of extremely wide networks among Eurasian communities by the third millennium B.C.,” asserts Frachetti. That doesn’t mean that traders traversed thousands of miles in this early period. Instead, the archaeologist envisions pastoralists taking their fiocks to higher pastures in the summer, where they encountered neighbors from other valleys doing the same. Thus, ideas and technologies might have passed gradually through the mountain corridors of southern Central Asia. This corridor, Frachetti believes, may have been a key conduit for Bronze Age developments farther into East Asia and Mongolia. Frachetti’s team is now busy analyzing both human and animal bone and tooth samples in order to garner isotopic, DNA, and health data. \^/

“Frachetti and Maksudov’s goal was to understand how pastoralists may have interacted with their neighbors, with Sarazm, and with more distant places during the third and second millennia B.C. One of the questions they asked was whether the area’s ancient pastoralists indeed guided their herds as high up as alpine meadows, as Frachetti speculated. If so,then they might easily encounter pastoralists from other valleys who had made the same trip. Such seasonal meetings might have forged networks that explain the diffusion of goods and technologies without the need for mass migration. No evidence of such interaction, however, had been found. But in June of 2011, surveying a pasture more than 6,000 feet above sea level, in an area of 3.5 acres, Frachetti and Maksudov uncovered evidence of at least fifteen ancient dwellings on a mound, as well as more than 1,000 pieces of ceramic. Though some are from medieval times, others appear to be from the Bronze Age. The team hopes to begin excavating the site this summer to gather more data.

Begash: a Sign of Ancient Urbanization and Steppe Trade?

Andrew Lawler wrote in Archaeology magazine: “In the past, these southern mountains and deserts were considered too remote, rugged, and inhospitable to have played a role in early migrations or the emergence of urban life. The Karakum Desert, where it might rain once in a decade, covers nearly two-thirds of today’s Turkmenistan, while the perpetually snow-covered Tian Shan Mountains of western China and eastern Kyrgyzstan soar 24,000 feet into the thin air. [Source: Andrew Lawler, Archaeology, May/June 2012 \^/]

free-threshed whear from Begash

“Based on ethnographic research, knowledge of the local geography, and a measure of intuition, Frachetti and Maksudov also sought out likely Bronze Age settlement spots in the steep valleys below the alpine meadows. A tone site dubbed“the eagle’s nest”after the resident bird of prey’s massive home, they found pottery and charcoal amid the remains of a small settlement. Preliminary radiocarbon dates place the site at roughly 2000 B.C., in the middle of the Bronze Age, and long before steppe pastoralists from the north might have migrated here. Other sites, including one in a protected ravine, yielded medieval Islamic pottery, Iron Age potsherds, and what appear to be remains of Bronze Age pots, which are still under analysis. “Even if the settlement only dates to 1200 B.C., it will add 3,000 years to the pastoral record of Uzbekistan,” Frachetti says. Though not permanent, these sites appear to have been repeatedly used for millennia, and they appear to be scattered over vast areas. “If you consider there are thousands of valleys in this region, and if there were five to 15 villages per valley, then you have an incredible force for civiliza- tion,” Frachetti says. The combined finds in Uzbekistan and at Begash suggest to Frachetti that the people living in Central Asia around 2000 B.C. were part of the rapidly urbanizing world, when the great cities of Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Indus were at their first peak, and just as Chinese urbanization was beginning. Though these pastoralists may never have traveled more than a few dozen miles from plain to valley to alpine meadow, Frachetti maintains they had access to the wider world. \^/

“Victor Mair of the University of Pennsylvania sees the debate as an old one, pitting those who view the dominance of Mesopotamia and Iran to the south against those who are focused on the steppe societies to the west and north. David Anthony, an archaeologist at Hartwick College and a long- time critic of Frachetti’s theory, acknowledges, however, the importance of the discovery. “Begash is one candle shining in this vast dark region,”he says.“Anything dating to 2000 B.C. or earlier is incredibly important.”However, he adds that there is still not enough evidence that the people of Begash were anything other than an anomaly. \^/

petroglyphs found in the Begash area

“Anthony suggests that in the end, researchers may well discover that both sides are right, and that Central Asian pastoralists had links with both western steppe peoples as well as the civilizations to the south. But the key role that Central Asian pastoralists played in the emergence of civiliza- tion across the vast continent may no longer be at issue. For the moment, all agree that more fieldwork in places long ignored s necessary. For example, one of Frachetti’s students is now digging in the Altai, far to the north of Begash, to explore possible southern connections through the mountain corridor. Researchers also hope that genetic and isotopic analysis of both human and animal bones may help resolve the controversy. Analyses of modern sheep in the area point to an Iranian origin, strengthening Frachetti’s argument that Begash and other Central Asian sites were connected with peoples to the south and west. Whatever the outcome, the image of the nomad as solely a bloodthirsty marauder may finally be laid to rest.\^/

“Whether through small networks, mass migrations, or some combina- tion, pastoralists in fact served as the connective tissue as civilization expanded across the Asian continent, funneling goods, ideas, and innovative technologies. Frachetti is eager to add to slowly mounting data that are certain to revamp our ideas about their role. “We’re going to find many Begashes,” he predicts. “We don’t have to worry—they are out there.” \^/


Sarazm, which means “where the land begins”, is an archaeological site bearing testimony to the development of human settlements in Central Asia, from the 4th millennium B.C. to the end of the 3rd millennium B.C.. The ruins demonstrate the early development of proto-urbanization in this region. This centre of settlement, one of the oldest in Central Asia, is situated between a mountainous region suitable for cattle rearing by nomadic pastoralists, and a large valley conducive to the development of agriculture and irrigation by the first settled populations in the region. Sarazm also demonstrates the existence of commercial and cultural exchanges and trade relations with peoples over an extensive geographical area, extending from the steppes of Central Asia and Turkmenistan, to the Iranian plateau, the Indus valley and as far as the Indian Ocean. [Source: UNESCO ~]

Sarazm is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The proto-urban site of Sarazm illustrates the early rise of proto-urbanization in this region in the sophistication of the dwellings, infrastructures, and archaeological findings. It came into being as the result of the complementarity initially between pastoralism and early agrarianism, and subsequently between the exploitation of mineral resources in the Bronze Age and the development of handicrafts. Sarazm was a long-lasting and prosperous proto-urban metropolis, at the north-eastern extremity of a vast area stretching from Mesopotamia to the Indus and the Iranian plateau. ~


The ancient Sarazm settlement was discovered in autumn 1976 by the archaeologist Abdullojon Isakov. The monument is located 15 kilometers west of Panjikent and 45 kilometers east of Samarkand. The original area of the uncovered settlement spread over an area of 130 hectares. A city existed there more than five thousand years ago and had its highest level of development near the start of the bronze age. According to radio-carbon dating, the civilization existed in four separate periods: 3,500-3,200 B.C; 3,200-2,900 B.C.; 2,900-2,700 B.C.; and 2,700-2,000 B.C. [Source: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan, www.tdc.tj /*/]

The area had an agricultural economy centred around farming (irrigated and non-irrigated) cattle-breeding and craftwork. At the end of the 4th millenium B.C. Sarazm became one of largest centres for metallurgy in Central Asia. This came from the riches found near the top of Zarafshon’s mountains such as gold, silver, copper, lead and tin. Sarazm had a strong ecomony and a well-developed industrial culture by Central Asian standards of that period. By the middle of the 4th millemium B.C., the Sarazmians had improved their network of contacts, spreading their culture and trading with ancient settlements in Southern Turkmenistan, Iran, Baluchistan, India and Afghanistan. Sarazm city is a unique monument which shows the variety of cultural relationships and contacts of early bronze age people. /*/

The results of the excavations in Sarazm have been presented in many international symposia – in Tajikistan (1979 & 1994), Washington (1981 & 1986), Paris (1985), Germany (1992), Iran (3004), Italy (2007) and Africa (2008). According to the decision of the Republic of Tajikistan (#391, dated 21 September 2001) the 5,500-year old Sarazm site in Panjikent region was declared a historical-architectural treasure which forms part of the culture of the land, history and tradition of the Tajiks. /*/

World's Oldest Marijuana Found in Northwest China

Nearly a kilogram of still-green marijuana was found in a 2,700-year-old near Turpan in northwest China. Jennifer Viegas of NBC News wrote: “Nearly two pounds of still-green plant material found in a 2,700-year-old grave in the Gobi Desert has just been identified as the world's oldest marijuana stash, according to a paper in the latest issue of the Journal of Experimental Botany. A barrage of tests proves the marijuana possessed potent psychoactive properties and casts doubt on the theory that the ancients only grew the plant for hemp in order to make clothing, rope and other objects. [Source: Jennifer Viegas, NBC News, December 3, 2008 =]

“They apparently were getting high too. Lead author Ethan Russo told Discovery News that the marijuana "is quite similar" to what's grown today. "We know from both the chemical analysis and genetics that it could produce THC (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid synthase, the main psychoactive chemical in the plant)," he explained, adding that no one could feel its effects today, due to decomposition over the millennia. =

wild cannabis found growing on a roadside near Saratov city, Russia

“Russo served as a visiting professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Botany while conducting the study. He and his international team analyzed the cannabis, which was excavated at the Yanghai Tombs near Turpan, China. It was found lightly pounded in a wooden bowl in a leather basket near the head of a blue-eyed Caucasian man who died when he was about 45. "This individual was buried with an unusual number of high value, rare items," Russo said, mentioning that the objects included a make-up bag, bridles, pots, archery equipment and a kongou harp. The researchers believe the individual was a shaman from the Gushi people, who spoke a now-extinct language called Tocharian that was similar to Celtic. =

“Scientists originally thought the plant material in the grave was coriander, but microscopic botanical analysis of the bowl contents, along with genetic testing, revealed that it was cannabis. The size of seeds mixed in with the leaves, along with their color and other characteristics, indicate the marijuana came from a cultivated strain. Before the burial, someone had carefully picked out all of the male plant parts, which are less psychoactive, so Russo and his team believe there is little doubt as to why the cannabis was grown. =

“What is in question, however, is how the marijuana was administered, since no pipes or other objects associated with smoking were found in the grave. "Perhaps it was ingested orally," Russo said. "It might also have been fumigated, as the Scythian tribes to the north did subsequently." Although other cultures in the area used hemp to make various goods as early as 7,000 years ago, additional tomb finds indicate the Gushi fabricated their clothing from wool and made their rope out of reed fibers. The scientists are unsure if the marijuana was grown for more spiritual or medical purposes, but it's evident that the blue-eyed man was buried with a lot of it. "As with other grave goods, it was traditional to place items needed for the afterlife in the tomb with the departed," Russo said. The ancient marijuana stash is now housed at Turpan Museum in China. In the future, Russo hopes to conduct further research at the Yanghai site, which has 2,000 other tombs.” =

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, UNESCO, Robert N. Spengler, Michael Frachetti, begash Dzhungar Mountains Archaeological Project and the University of Washington in St. Louis

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2019

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