Date: 11 Mar 2014

Agriculturalists and pastoralists: Bronze Age economy of the Murghab alluvial fan, southern Central Asia

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Abstract

Archaeological investigations of pastoral economies often emphasize exchange relations with agricultural populations, though for Bronze Age Eurasia the notion of a ubiquitous ‘pastoral realm’ has masked various forms of mixed subsistence economies. In Central Asia, there are few attempts to specifically identify the domestic crops utilized by mobile pastoralists or what they may suggest about the role of agriculture in mobile pastoral production or subsistence strategies. This study reports the macrobotanical remains from two Late/Final Bronze Age (ca. 1950–1300 bc) mobile pastoralist habitation sites in the Murghab alluvial fan region of southern Turkmenistan. We compare our results with published macrobotanical data from contemporary agricultural settlements in the Murghab region, as well as with other sites in broader prehistoric Eurasia. We find that mobile pastoralists in the Murghab utilized some of the same domestic crops as their sedentary neighbors. While the data presented here do not preclude the possibility that mobile pastoralists may have practiced some low-investment cultivation (particularly of millet), we hypothesize an economic model that places mobile pastoralists in direct contact with nearby sedentary farming communities through exchange for pre-processed grains. These results highlight one of the possible strategies of mobile pastoral subsistence in Central Asia, and are a further step toward identifying the various degrees of agricultural involvement in the conceptually outdated pastoral realm of Eurasia.

Communicated by A. Fairbairn.