Journal of World Prehistory

, Volume 28, Issue 3, pp 215–253 | Cite as

Agriculture in the Central Asian Bronze Age

  • Robert N. SpenglerIII


By the late third/early second millennium BC, increased interconnectivity in the mountains of Central Asia linked populations across Eurasia. This increasing interaction would later culminate in the Silk Road. While these populations are typically lumped together under the title of ‘nomads’, a growing corpus of data illustrates how diverse their economic strategies were, in many cases representing mixed agropastoral systems. These Central Asian low-investment agropastoralists are responsible for connecting the great centers of plant domestication, and through a process of experimentation and exchange shaped economies across the Old World. In this article, I synthesize the evidence for the movement of agricultural technology through this region, which ultimately brought southwest Asian and East Asian crops together for the first time. By the Late Bronze Age, a specific package of agricultural crops had developed across the entire mountain corridor, including broomcorn millet, peas, naked six-row barley, and highly compact free-threshing wheat. Each of these crops has a distinct narrative, and I approach the topic of their spread individually. I also show that agriculture did not spread across the steppe during the Bronze Age and that crops cultivated in the forest-steppe of Eastern Europe were distinct from those of the mountain corridor.


Central Asia Paleoethnobotany Bronze Age Mobile pastoral Silk Road Mountain corridor 



Archaeobotanical research was funded by NSF (2010–2011), Grant Number 1010678 titled “Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant: Plant Use and Domestic Economy Among Eurasian Mobile Pastoralists: Semirech’ye, Kazakhstan, during the Bronze and Iron Age Interface”; Michael Frachetti was the Principal Investigator, and by Washington University in St Louis. Further support came from Wenner-Gren workshop Grant (Gr. CONF-673), titled “Introduction and Intensification of Agriculture in Eurasia”; Spengler is the Grant PI. All laboratory work for the Begash, Tuzusai, Mukri, Tasbas, Ojakly, and site 1211 projects was done in the paleoethnobotany laboratory at Washington University in St. Louis by Robert Spengler, under the directorship of Gayle Fritz. Figures 1 and 6 were produced by Lynne Rouse at Washington University in St. Louis. Additional support came from the Volkswagen and Mellon Foundations for the Humanities, the German Archaeological Institute, and Free University, Berlin. I would also like to thank Gayle Fritz for her mentorship in the laboratory and Michael Frachetti for his advisement in the field.


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Anthropology DepartmentWashington University in St. LouisSt. LouisUSA
  2. 2.Eurasia DepartmentGerman Archaeological Institute (DAI)BerlinGermany

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