The History of Hominin Occupation of Central Asia in Review

  • Michelle M. GlantzEmail author
Part of the Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology book series (VERT)


The timing of hominin dispersals during the early Pleistocene, specifically into East Asia, is well established. The pattern of migration across inner Asia and the subsequent duration/intensity of hominin colonization of these areas, however, are still poorly resolved. The large territory of Central Asia defines a clear path within Eurasia through which hominin dispersals farther east may have occurred. The purpose of the present study is to examine the degree to which an autochthonous evolutionary trajectory is supported in Central Asia and how the potential connections between this and neighboring regions may be characterized during the Pleistocene. Archaeological and human paleontological evidence from the region is reviewed and compared to that from the Near East, the Altai, and China. This review informs a more detailed analysis of the Central Asian Middle Paleolithic record. Prevailing theoretical models suggest that Central Asia was inhabited by Neandertals migrating from the west to seek refuge from expanding modern human populations during the Middle Paleolithic. Morphological analyses of the newly discovered Obi-Rakhmat hominin and a re-evaluation of the Teshik-Tash child, both from sites in Uzbekistan, provide a test of this model. Results indicate that evidence of the morphological pattern that typically describes European Neandertals is equivocal in Central Asia. Although both Obi-Rakhmat and Teshik-Tash express some Neandertal features, their morphologies also suggest some admixture with local populations and/or those migrating into Central Asia from the North and East.


Anghilak Cave Obi-Rakhmat Grotto Uzbekistan Central Asia Early Pleistocene Middle Paleolithic variability Initial Upper Paleolithic Hominin migration Colonization 



I would like to thank the editors Christopher Norton and David Braun for inviting me to present this paper at the 2007 annual American Association of Physical Anthropologists meeting in Philadelphia and for providing editorial support during the preparation of the manuscript for publication. I would also like to thank Eric Delson and Allison Brooks for their constructive comments as discussants at this symposium. Nicolas Rolland provided exceptionally useful information, references, and opinions in his review of this article that I have tried to faithfully incorporate into the manuscript. His comments allowed me to greatly improve the manuscript.


  1. Akhmetyev, M., Dodoniv, A., Somikova, M., Spasskaya, I., Kremenetsky, K., Klimanov, V. (2005). Kazakhstan and Central Asia (Plains and Foothills). In A. Velichko, V. Nechaev (Eds.), Cenozoic climatic and environmental changes in Russia. Special paper 382. Boulder Colorado: The Geological Society of America.Google Scholar
  2. Alpysbaev, Kh A. (1979). Lower Paleolithic monuments of southern Kazakhstan (on the oldest settling of Kazakhstan by primitive man) (pp. 1–208). Almata: Nauka.Google Scholar
  3. Angel, J. L. (1972). A Middle Palaeolithic temporal bone from Darra-i-Kur, Afghanistan. Prehistoric research in Afghanistan (1959–1966). Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, 62, Part 4, 54–56.Google Scholar
  4. Arensburg, B., & Belfer-Cohen, A. (1998). Sapiens and neandertals. In T. Akazawa, K. Aoki, & O. Bar-Yosef (Eds.), Neandertals and Modern Humans in Western Asia (pp. 311–322). New York: Plenum.Google Scholar
  5. Arsuaga, J. L., Martinez, I., Gracia, A., & Lorenzo, C. (1997). The Sima de los Huesos crania (Sierra de Atapuerca, Spain). A comparative study. Journal of Human Evolution, 33, 219–281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bailey, S., Glantz, M., Weaver, T., & Viola, B. (2008). The affinity of the dental remains from Obi-Rakhmat Grotto, Uzbekistan. Journal of Human Evolution, 55, 238–248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Biglari, F., Javeri, M., Mashkour, M., Yazdi, Y., Shidrang, S., Tengberg, M., Taheri, K., & Darvish, J. (2009). Test Excavations at the Middle Paleolithic sites of Qaleh Bozi, southwest of central Iran: a preliminary report, in M. Otte, F. Biglari & J. Jaubert (Eds.) Iran Palaeolithic. Proceedings of the XV World Congress UISPP, Lisbon, 4-9 September 2006 (British Archaeological Reports International Series 1968): 29-38. Oxford: ArchaeopressGoogle Scholar
  8. Blackwell, B., Mian, A., Baboumian, S., Blickstein, J., Skinner, A., Wrinn, P., Krivoshapkin, A., Derevi’anko, A., Wagner, J., and Patchett, P. (2006). Settling the age dispute for the Late Middle Paleolithic at the Obi-Rakhmat hominid site, Uzbekistan. Presentation at the Paleoanthropology Society Meetings in San Juan, Puerto Rico.Google Scholar
  9. Davis, R. (1990). Pleistocene climates and migration into Asia: evidence from loess. Unpublished paper, read at the International Symposium on the Chronostratigraphy of Paleolithic in the North, Central, and Eastern Asia and America, Novosibirsk, pp. 1–16.Google Scholar
  10. Davis, R., & Ranov, V. (1999). Recent work on the Paleolithic of Central Asia. Evolutionary Anthropology, 8(5), 186–193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Derevianko, A. P. (Ed.) (2003). The Stone Age of Kazakhstan: archaeological studies carried out by the joint Russian-Kazakhstan expedition in Kazakhstan, 1998–2001 (pp. 1–183). Novosibirsk: Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography SB RAS press.Google Scholar
  12. Derevianko, A. P. (2006). The Lower Paleolithic small tool industry in Eurasia: migration or convergent evolution? Archaeology. Ethnology and Anthropology of Eurasia, 1(25), 2.Google Scholar
  13. Derevianko, A. P., & Markin, S. (1992). The Mousterian of the Gorny Altai. Novosibirsk: Nauka (in Russian).Google Scholar
  14. Derevianko, A. P., & Shunkov, M. V. (2002). Middle Paleolithic industries with foliate bifaces in Gorny Altai. Archaelogy, Ethnology, and Anthropology of Eurasia, 1(9), 16–42.Google Scholar
  15. Derevianko, A. P., Petrin, V. T., & Rybin, E. P. (2000). The Kara-Bom site and the characteristics of the Middle-Upper Paleolithic transition in the Altai. Archaeology, Ethnology, and Anthropology of Eurasia, 2, 33–52.Google Scholar
  16. Derevianko, A. P., Shunkov, M. V., Adadjanian, A. K., Baryshnikov, G. F., Malaeva, V. A., Ulianov, V. A., Kulik, N. A., Postnov, A. V., Anoikin, A. A. (2003). Prirodnaiia Sreda I Chelovek v Paleolite Gornogo Altaiia. Novosibirisk: Izdatel’stvo Instituta Archaeologii Etnografii S.O.RAN.Google Scholar
  17. Derevianko, A. P., Krivoshapkin, A. I., Anoikin, A. A., Wrinn, P. J., Islamov, U. I. (2004). The lithic industry of Obi-Rakhmat Grotto. In A. P. Derevianko (Ed.) Grot Obi Rakhmat Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Siberian Branch (pp. 5–29). Novosibirsk: Russian Academy of Sciences.Google Scholar
  18. Ding, Z. L., Ranov, V., Yang, S. L., Finaev, A., Han, J. M. & Wang, G. A. (2002). The loess record in southern Tajikistan and correlation with Chinese loess. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 200, 387–400.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Dodonov, A., Zhegallo,V., Penkov, A., Sotnikova, M. (1991). Stratigraphy of sites of the Late Pliocene vertebrates in southern Tadjikistan: USSR Academy of Sciences. Izvestiya: Ser. Geoll., v. 5, pp. 12–21 (in Russian).Google Scholar
  20. Gao, X., & Norton, C. J. (2002). A critique of the Chinese ‘Middle Palaeolithic’. Antiquity, 76, 397–412.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Ginzburg V. V., & Gokhman I.I. (1974). Kostnye ostatki cheloveka iz Samarkandskoi paleoliticheskoi stoyanki. In Problemy etnicheskoy antropologii i morfologii cheloveka. Nauka: Leningrad, pp 5–12.Google Scholar
  22. Glantz, M. M., Suleimanov, R., Hughes, P., Schauber, A. (2003). Anghilak cave, Uzbekistan: documenting Neandertal occupation at the periphery. Antiquity, 77, 295.Google Scholar
  23. Glantz, M. M., Viola, B., & Chikisheva, T. (2004). New hominid remains from Obi-Rakhmat Grotto. In A. P. Derevianko (Ed.), Grot Obi-Rakhmat (pp. 77–93). Novosibirsk: Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Siberian Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences.Google Scholar
  24. Glantz, M., Tostevin, G., Suleimanov, R., Ritzman, T., Adams, J., Derr, K. (2006). The chronological context of Middle Paleolithic deposits at Anghilak Cave, Uzbekistan. Paper presented at the SAA meetings in San Juan, Puerto Rico.Google Scholar
  25. Glantz, M., Viola, B., Wrinn, P. J., Chikisheva, T., Derevianko, A., Krivoshapkin, A. I., et al. (2008). New hominin remains from Uzbekistan. Journal of Human Evolution, 55, 223–237.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Glantz, M., Athreya, S., Ritzman, T. (2009a). Is Central Asia the eastern outpost of the Neandertal range? A reassessment of the Teshik-Tash Child. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 138, 45–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Glantz, M., Galm, J., Suleimanov, R., Taimagembetov, Zh. (2009b). Another look at the Lower Paleolithic of Kazakhstan: a preliminary description of Alpysbaev’s lithic collections. Abstracts of the PaleoAnthropology Society 2009 Meetings. PaleoAnthropology, 2009, A1–A40.Google Scholar
  28. Gremyatskii, M. A. (1949). Skull of the Neandertal child from Teshik-Tash Cave, Southern Uzbekistan. In M. A. Gremyatskii (Ed.), Teshik-Tash: paleolithic man (pp. 137–182). Moscow: Moscow State University.Google Scholar
  29. Hopkirk, P. (1994). The great game: the struggle for empire in Central Asia. New York: Kodansha America.Google Scholar
  30. Islamov, U. I., Zubov, A. A., & Kharitonov, V. M. (1988). Paleoliticheskaya stoyanka Sel Ungur v Ferganskoi doline. Voprosy antropologii, 80, 38–49.Google Scholar
  31. Kahlke, R.-D. (1994). Die Enystehung-, Entwicklungs- und Verbreitungsgeschichte des oberpleistozanen Mammuthus-Coelodonta-Faunenekomplexes in Eurasien (GroBsauger). Abhandlungen der Senckenbergischen Naturforschenden Gesellschaft 546:Frankfurt: Verlag Waldemar Kramer.Google Scholar
  32. Keates, S. G. (2004). Home range size in Middle Pleistocene China and human dispersal patterns in Eastern and Central Asia. Asian Perspectives, 43(2), 227–247.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Krause, J., Orlando, L., Serre, D., Viola, B., Prufer, K., Richards, M., et al. (2007). Neandertals in central Asia and Siberia. Nature, 449, 902–904.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kukla, G. (1978). The classical European glacial stages: correlation with deep-sea Sediments: Nebraska Academy of Sciences. Transactions, 6, 57–93.Google Scholar
  35. Liu, T. S. (1985). Loess and the environment. Beijing: China Ocean Press.Google Scholar
  36. Lycett, S. (2007). Is the Soanian techno-complex a Mode 1 or Mode 3 phenomenon? A morphometric assessment. Journal of Archaeological Science, 34, 1434–1440.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Mangerud, J., et al. (2004). Ice-dammed lakes and rerouting of the drainage of northern Eurasia during the Last Glaciation. Quaternary Science Review, 23, 133–1332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Minugh-Purvis, N. (1988). Patterns of Craniofacial Growth and Development in Upper Pleistocene Hominids, PhD Dissertation, University of Pennsylvania.Google Scholar
  39. Molodkov, A., & Bolikhovskaya, N. (2006). Long-term palaeoenvironmental changes recorded in palynologically studied loess-palaeosol and ESR-dated marine deposits of Northern Eurasia: implications for sea–land correlation. Quaternary International, 152–153, 37–47.Google Scholar
  40. Nat, D. (1971). Elements de Prehistoire et d’Archeologie Nord-Siberiennes. Fascicule 1. Contributions du Centre d’Etudes Arctiques et Finno-Scandinaves, no. 9.Google Scholar
  41. Norton, C. J., Bae, K. D., Harris, J. W. K., & Lee, H. Y. (2006). Middle Pleistocene handaxes from the Korean Peninsula. Journal of Human Evolution, 51, 527–536.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Pennisi, E. (2007). No sex please, we’re Neandertals. Science, 316, 967.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Pope, G. (1992). Craniofacial evidence for the origin of modern humans in China. YPA, 35, 243–298.Google Scholar
  44. Ranov. V. (1971). On the study of the Mousterian culture in Central Asia. Materialy i issledovania po arkheologii, 173, 209–232.Google Scholar
  45. Ranov, V., & Davis, R. (1979). Toward a new understanding of the Soviet Central Asian Paleolithic. Current Anthropology, 20, 249–270.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Ranov, V., & Schafer, J. (2000). The Palaeolithic of the late Middle Pleistocene in Central Asia, 400–100 Ka ago. In A. Ronen & M. Weinstein-Evron (Eds.), Toward Modern Humans: Yabrudian and Micoquian, 400–50 k-years ago, BAR International Series 850 (pp. 77–94). Oxford: Archaeopress.Google Scholar
  47. Ranov, V. A., Carbonell, E., & Rodriguez, X. P. (1995). Kul’dara: earliest human occupation in Central Asia in its Afro-Asian context. Current Anthropology, 36(2), 337–346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Ritzman, T., Glantz, M., Athreya, S. (2006). Opening the stone: a multivariate reassessment of the Neandertal status of the Teshik-Tash child. Paleoanthropology, 4(appendix), 80.Google Scholar
  49. Rolland, N. (1992). The Paleolithic colonization of Europe: an archaeological and biogeographical perspective. Trabajos de Prehistoria, 49, 69–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Rosenberg, K., Zune, L., & Ruff, C. (2006). Body size, body proportions, and encephalization in a Middle Pleistocene archaic human from northern China. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 103(10), 3552–3556.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Sayfullaev, B. C., & Cauche, D. (2004). Nouvelles decouvertes paleolithiques dans la partie nord-est du Kizilkum Central (Ouzbekistan). L’Anthropologie, 108, 55–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Schafer, J., Ranov, V., & Sosin, P. (1998). The cultural evoution of man and the chronostratigraphical background of changing environments in the loess palaeosoil sequences of Obi-Mazar and Khonako (Tadzjikistan). Anthropologie, 36(1), 121–135.Google Scholar
  53. Schick, K. (1994). The Movius Line reconsidered. In R. S. Corruccini & R. L. Ciochon (Eds.), Integrative paths to the past (pp. 569–596). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  54. Shunkov, M. V. (2005). The characteristics of the Altai (Russia) Middle Paleolithic in regional context. Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association Bulletin, 25(Taipei papers, vol. 3), 69–77.Google Scholar
  55. Sladek, V., Trinkaus, E., Hillson, S., & Holliday, T. W. (2000). The People of the Pavlovian: Skeletal Catalogue and Osteometrics of the Gravettian Fossil Hominids from Dolni Vestonice and Pavlov. Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic. Institute of Archaeology, Brno.Google Scholar
  56. Smith, F. H. (1981). Upper Pleistocene hominid evolution in South-Central Europe: a review of the evidence and trends. Current Anthropology, 23, 667–703.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Smith, F. H., Falsetti, A. B., Donnelly, S. M. (1989a). Modern human origins. Yearbook of Physical Anthropology, 32, 35–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Smith, F. H., Simek, J. F., Harrill, M. S. (1989b). Geographic variation in supraorbital torus reduction during the later Pleistocene (c. 80,000–15,000 BP). In P. Mellars, C. Stringer (Eds.), The human revolution (pp.172–193). New Jersey: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  59. Sohn, S., & Wolpoff, M. (1993). Zuttiyeh face: a view from the East. Amercian Journal of Physical Anthropology, 91, 325–347.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Sotnikova, M. V., Dodonov, A. E., & Penkov, A. V. (1997). Upper Cenozoic bio-magnetic stratigraphy of Central Asian mammalian localities. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 133, 243–258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Stringer, C. B., & Gamble, C. (1993). In search of the Neanderthals. New York: Thames & Hudson.Google Scholar
  62. Suleimanov, R. (1972). Statisticheskoe Izuchenie Kultury Grotta Obi-Rakhmat. Fan,Tashkent.Google Scholar
  63. Trinkaus, E. (1983). The Shanidar Neanderthals. Academic Press, New York.Google Scholar
  64. Trinkaus, E. (2005). Early modern humans. Annual Review of Anthropology, 34, 207–230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Trinkaus, E. (2006). Modern human vs Neandertal evolutionary distinctiveness. Current Anthropology, 47(4), 597–620.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Trinkaus, E., Ranov, V. A., & Laukhin, S. (2000). Middle Paleolithic human deciduous incisor from Khudji, Tajikistan. Journal of Human Evolution, 38, 575–583.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Vangengeim, E., & Pevzner, M. (1991). Villafranchian of the USSR: bio and magnetostratigraphy. In E. Vangengeim (Ed.), Paleogeography and biostratigraphy of the Pliocene and Anthrogene (pp. 124–145). Moscow: USSR Academy of Sciences, Geological Institute (in Russian).Google Scholar
  68. Vandermeersch, B. (1981). Les Hommes Fossiles de Qafzeh (Israel). Éditions du CNRS, Paris.Google Scholar
  69. Velichko, A., & Nechaev, V. (2005). Cenozoic climatic and environmental changes in Russia. Special paper 382. Boulder Colorado: The Geological Society of America.Google Scholar
  70. Viola, B., Seidler, H., zur Nedden, D. (2004). Computer tomographic investigations of the OR-1 petrosals. In A.P. Derevianko (Ed.), Grot Obi-Rakhmat (pp. 100–105). Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Siberian Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences, Novosibirsk.Google Scholar
  71. Vishnyatsky, L. (1999). The Paleolithic of Central Asia. Journal of World Prehistory, 13, 69–122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Wolpoff, M. H. (1999). Paleoanthropology. Boston: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  73. Wolpoff, M. H., Hawks, J., & Caspari, R. (2000). Multiregional, not multiple origins. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 112, 129–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Wu, X., & Poirier, F. (1995). Human evolution in China: a metric description of the fossils and a review of the sites. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  75. Wu, L., Zhang, Z., & Wu, X. (2005). Middle Pleistocene human crania from Tangshan (Nanjing), southeast China: a new reconstruction and comparisons with Homo erectus from Eurasia and Africa. AJPA, 127, 253–262.Google Scholar
  76. Zhu, R., Potts, R., Xie, F., Hoffman, K. A., Deng, C. L., Shi, C. D., Pan, Y. Z., Wang, Y. C., Shi, G. H., & Wu, N. Q. (2004). New Evidence on the earliest human presence at high northern latitudes in northeast Asia. Nature, 431, 559–562.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA

Personalised recommendations