Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences

, Volume 11, Issue 11, pp 6243–6258 | Cite as

Archaeobotanical investigations at the earliest horse herder site of Botai in Kazakhstan

  • Giedre Motuzaite MatuzeviciuteEmail author
  • E. Lightfoot
  • X. Liu
  • J. Jacob
  • A. K. Outram
  • V. F. Zaibert
  • S. Zakharov
  • M. K. Jones


This paper presents new radiocarbon dates and the results of the first archaeobotanical investigations at Eneolithic Botai site, for the first time aiming to explore the plant food component in the diet of Botai population and if the inhabitants of the Botai were a part of an early crop food exchange network. Our excavation of a hut circle and associated radiocarbon dating placed its occupation within a date range commencing around 3550 and 3030 cal BC and ending between 3080 and 2670 cal BC. A separate feature (likely a stove or kiln), excavated in test trench E, would seem to be younger, around 2000 cal BC. The dating of the site thus also indicates a previously unknown later occupation at Botai, opening further discussions on human subsistence and interaction as well as horse management in northern Eurasia from the Eneolithic to the Bronze Age. The archaeobotanical results, derived from systematic sampling and analysis of macrobotanical remains, plant phytoliths, and molecular biomarker analysis show that the Botai populations were not part of any wider crop network. The relatively small seed count would indicate that plant foods did not constitute a substantial component of economic life. On the other hand, the presence of miliacin could suggest possible millet cultivation or consumption in this region at some point in the past, possibly after the main occupation period of Botai.


Eurasian steppe Agriculture Miliacin Archaeobotany Eneolithic 



We would like to thank the archaeological expedition team in Kazakhstan. In addition, we would like to express gratitude to Claude Le Milbeau and Rachel Boscardin (Institut des Sciences de la Terre d’Orléans) for samples preparation in miliacin analyses, and Carla Lancelotti and Jennifer Bates for helping with phytolith extraction.

Funding information

This study was financially supported by the ERC advanced investigator award (to MKJ) GA249642 “Food Globalization in Prehistory” and the National Science Foundation, under grant 1826727, “The origins and spread of millet cultivation” (PI: XL) The work of EL was supported by the TwoRains project which was funded by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement number 648609).

Supplementary material

12520_2019_924_MOESM1_ESM.docx (1.4 mb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 1414 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Giedre Motuzaite Matuzeviciute
    • 1
    Email author
  • E. Lightfoot
    • 2
  • X. Liu
    • 3
  • J. Jacob
    • 4
  • A. K. Outram
    • 5
  • V. F. Zaibert
    • 6
  • S. Zakharov
    • 7
  • M. K. Jones
    • 8
  1. 1.The Lithuanian Institute of HistoryVilniusLithuania
  2. 2.McDonald Institute for Archaeological ResearchUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK
  3. 3.Department of AnthropologyWashington University in St. LouisSt. LouisUSA
  4. 4.Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement, UMR 8212 CEA-CNRS-UVSQUniversité Paris-SaclayGif-sur-YvetteFrance
  5. 5.Department of ArchaeologyUniversity of ExeterExeterUK
  6. Kazakh National UniversityAlmatyKazakhstan
  7. 7.Archaeological Expertise LLCAlmatyKazakhstan
  8. 8.Department of Archaeology and AnthropologyUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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