august 2022 musings

At the end of summer and start of new academic year we present you with several new articles on archaeology in Central Asia, projects to keep an eye on, online exhibitions, and a couple of new books. Enjoy!!

Image above courtesy of, and covered by CC BY-NC 4.0 license, The medieval cities of Otrar oasis, Kazakhstan: Kuik-Mardan Excavation and field season 2018, short preliminary report mentioned below (see for link, institutions, individuals involved).


Campbell, Katie, Ali Seraliyev, Davit Naskidashvili, and Serik Akylbek. 2022. “Urbanism Under Turco-Mongol Rule: Excavations at Otrar, Kazakhstan”. TSU-TI —THE INTERNATIONAL SCIENTIFIC JOURNAL OF HUMANITIES 1 (1). https://doi.org/10.55804/TSU-ti-1/Campbell. From the abstract: ‘The work described here presents an initial attempt to further investigate the complex sequence of occupation at the site between the 12th and 14th centuries.’

Related: Jorayev, Gai, Katie Campbell, Sarah Ritchie, Victoria Sluka, Kairat Zhambulatov. 2022. “The medieval cities of Otrar oasis, Kazakhstan: Kuik-Mardan Excavation and field season 2018, short preliminary report.” University College London. Dataset. https://doi.org/10.5522/04/20055275.v1

Mir-Makhamad, Basira, Rasmus Bjørn, Sören Stark, and Robert N. Spengler III. 2022. “Pistachio (Pistachio vera) Domestication and Dispersal Out of Central Asia” Agronomy 12, no. 8: 1758. https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy12081758 From the abstract: ‘…we present a case study that involves a dioecious long-lived perennial—a domestication process that would have required a completely different traditional ecological knowledge system than that utilized for grain cultivation. We argue that the pistachio was brought under cultivation in southern Central Asia, spreading westward by at least 2000 years ago (maybe a few centuries earlier to the mountains of modern Syria) and moved eastward only at the end of the first millennium AD.’

Ryabogina, N.E., V.I. Soenov, R.N. Spengler III, N.A. Konstantinov, A.S. Afonin, S.M. Slepchenkoa. 2022. “Medieval mortuary millet: Micro and macrobotanical evidence from an early Turkic burial in the Altai.Archaeological Research in Asia 31. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ara.2022.100391 From the abstract: ‘While early Turkic populations of northern Central Asia are traditionally thought to have been specialized nomads, over the past few years archaeological studies have shown that at least some of these peoples were engaged in farming, especially low-investment millet cultivation…. we present micro and macrobotanical evidence of millet from a ceramic vessel recovered in a burial in the Kurai Valley of the Altai Mountains in Russia. Ceramic seriation and AMS dating, place the burial in the early Turkic period of the seventh century A.D., providing unique evidence for agricultural goods in medieval northwest Asia.’

Pavlenok, Konstantin, Małgorzata Kot, Piotr Moska, Michał Leloch, Gayrathon Muhtarov, Sergey Kogai, Mukhiddin Khudjanazarov, Azbiddin Holmatov, and Karol Szymczak. 2022. New Evidence for Mountain Palaeolithic Human Occupation in the Western Tian Shan Piedmonts, Eastern Uzbekistan.” Antiquity. Cambridge University Press, 1–9. doi:10.15184/aqy.2022.99.  From the abstract: ‘This article presents preliminary results from mountain survey in the Chatkal Range in the western Tian Shan piedmonts, eastern Uzbekistan. In 2021, several new Palaeolithic sites were discovered, including a single, multi-layered, open-air site—Kuksaray 2—located near a flint outcrop.’

Bjørn, Rasmus G. 2022. Indo-European Loanwords and Exchange in Bronze Age Central and East Asia: Six New Perspectives on Prehistoric Exchange in the Eastern Steppe Zone.” Evolutionary Human Sciences 4. Cambridge University Press: e23. doi:10.1017/ehs.2022.16. From the abstract:  ‘The Bronze Age of Central Asia is in principle linguistically mute, but a host of recent independent observations that tie languages, cultures and genetics together in various ways invites a comprehensive reassessment of six highly diagnostic loanwords (‘seven’, ‘name/fame’, ‘sister-in-law’, ‘honey’, ‘metal’ and ‘horse’) that are associated with the Bronze Age.’

As discussed at the CAA2022 conference by Arcadia funded projects MAHSA and MAEASM, Arcadia Fund’s Mike Heyworth commented:  ‘Reaching out across the digital divide #CAA2022Oxford – we all have an ethical responsibility to put the FAIR and CARE principles into practice in our work eg see…’ Carroll, S.R., Herczog, E., Hudson, M. et al. 2021. “Operationalizing the CARE and FAIR Principles for Indigenous data futures”. Scientific Data 8, 108 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41597-021-00892-0


In June, Astana Times reported the discovery of ‘remains of more than 10 melting furnaces made of stone, which were constructed by the Saka tribes that lived in what is now modern-day Kazakhstan in approximately the 7th-6th centuries BC in the Ak-Baur Gorge in the East Kazakhstan Region.

Also in June, news.mn reported remains of Khuleg Khan’s palace have been unearthed.

In the April 2022 musings, we included the article ‘Bronze and Iron Age population movements underlie Xinjiang population history’ by Vikas Kumar et al., published in Science so not OA but you can read a summary at EurekaAlert.org but for a summary see: https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/947799 and now wish to add a follow up commentary on that report. Reporting in Radio Free Asia,  By Jilil Kashgary and Kurban Niyaz for RFA Uyghur.


PALAEOSILKROAD ‘is a multi-disciplinary archaeological project aiming to discover Palaeolithic sites in the Inner Asian Mountain Corridor and test the hypothesis that Pleistocene dispersals correlated with climatic pulses during the last Glacial Cycle (ca. 110 000 – 15 000 years ago).’

KALAM: ‘aims at uniting scholars and communities to develop and put in motion innovative and more inclusive practices in the analysis, preservation and management of archaeological landscapes.’ Includes Samark-land: the Uzbek-Italian Archaeological Project which created an online database of more than 2000 archaeological sites in the region via remote sensing, followed up by fieldwork documenting the condition of sites.

Shih-shan Susan Huang has launched an interactive map of The Mongol Yuan Postal Relay System and it is fascinating! Jump in and enjoy!!

online exhibitions to enjoy

Hosted by Oxford, the ‘History of Soviet Central Asia in 100 Objects is an online museum exhibition project that aims to convey histories of Soviet Central Asia through material objects’ launched in June. It is a collection of objects which tell poignant individual stories laid out in an often shifting global context. It is well worth spending some time surfing through the tales of pickles, scarves, photographs and more. Read in Russian or English.

A major new online exhibition hosted by the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures:  ‘Nara to Norwich is an international, collaborative research project that aims to explore the Silk Roads beyond their current limits of the Chinese and post-Roman worlds. Focussing primarily on the interactions between early Buddhism in east Asia and early Christianity around the North Sea, the project explores the microhistories of material culture, landscapes, and literature to weave a narrative concerning the transformation of religions as they journeyed eastwards to Nara in Japan and westwards to Norwich in Britain’. Follow them on Twitter for objects, updates, and blog announcements!

An online exhibition: Central Asians in Harvard Collections. Exploring the collections of Harvard’s libraries, ‘artifacts that represent different figures and personas populating Central Asia’s history: from mighty Amir Timur receiving guests in his garden, to sunbathing children in a Soviet pioneer camp. We see them through different lenses as well: they appear from under the brushes of Persian miniature painters as well as on the film rolls of Soviet photographers. This diverse range of perspectives not only reveal the differing ways Central Asians have been viewed and viewed themselves through the ages, but also showcases Central Asia as a part of different cultural spheres.’

reviews of new books

A review in Asian Review of Books by David Chaffetz of The History and Culture of Iran and Central Asia: From the Pre-Islamic to the Islamic Period, edited by DG Tor and Minoru Inaba. And the book itself can be found at Notre Dame Press.

Sophie Ibbotson reviews Alexander Morrison’s new book The Russian Conquest of Central Asia: A Study in Imperial Expansion, 1814-1913 for Asian Affairs.

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