Environments, Land Use, and Urbanization in Ancient Central Asia

  • Start: Jan 22, 2024 09:30 AM (Local Time Germany)
  • End: Jan 26, 2024 06:00 PM
  • Speaker: Various
  • Location: Max Planck Institute of Geoanthropology
  • Room: Various
  • Host: Department of Archaeology; Domestication and Anthropogenic Evolution Research Group; Mongolian Archaeological Project: Surveying the Steppes
  • Contact: leipe@gea.mpg.de
Environments, Land Use, and Urbanization in Ancient Central Asia

The development of early agriculture, urbanization, and state formation in Eurasia was facilitated by many intertwined factors, including the 1) amelioration of climatic conditions in the early Holocene; 2) increased exchange and interaction; 3) agricultural intensification and extensification; and 4) increasing segmentation and specialization of social, political, and economic roles. While more than a century of research has gone into answering how these different factors contributed to the rise of the earliest urban centers in Southwest Asia, these questions remain heavily debated for Central Asia and Mongolia, where the cultural traits developed much later. Central Asia is located far away from oceanic influence and is marked by continental and generally arid climate conditions, which are challenging for agricultural production. An exception is the narrow corridor of foothill zones between the desert and steppe lowlands that offered conditions suitable for farming. How urbanization and the intensification of agricultural systems in these environmentally favorable zones were involved in this long-term process and how they diverged and paralleled the trajectories in Southwest and East Asia is poorly understood.

Cultural developments in the arid steppe areas of Central Asia, across northern Kazakhstan and Mongolia, were fundamentally different; mobile pastoralism emerged, which, by at least the medieval period, allowed for the congregation of groups under temporarily held and flexible political unions. In some cases, such as for the Qarakhanids and Yuan (the Mongols also developed their own short-lived urban capital), these steppe polities merged with urban agricultural populations creating empire systems. At the same time, empires from Southwest Asia were periodically pushing north into Central Asia, and the unification and control of these political authorities prior to the Islamic conquests remains a topic of debate. The influence of climate change on economic systems and land use, and reciprocally, the impacts humans had on local environments are all topics that merit further inquiry. While modern farming has converted much of the forested foothills to fields, we do not yet know how early agropastoralism impacted these environments. There is also uncertainty about shifting rates of moisture availability during the middle–late Holocene, which must have been a critical environmental parameter for agricultural practices. Central Asia is situated in the overlapping zone of two major atmospheric circulation systems (the Westerlies and Asian monsoon); the complex topography and the limited number of suitable environmental archives complicate paleoenvironmental studies.

The conference aims to explore what we know and what we would like to know about cultural dynamics and human-environment interactions in ancient Central Asia and Mongolia. The cross-disciplinary event will bring together local and international scholars with expertise in archaeology, archaeobotany, and palaeoenvironmental sciences in Central Asia and adjacent regions. It will be an excellent venue to present and exchange new research results and to encourage new research projects.

For additional information or to register your attendance, please contact Christian Leipe (leipe@gea.mpg.de) or Kseniia Boxleitner (ashastina@gea.mpg.de).

The event will pull together researchers from across the Max Planck Institute of Geoanthropology, a multidisciplinary institute for climatic and archaeological sciences. Members from the Department of Archaeology, the Fruits of Eurasia: Domestication and Dispersal (FEDD) research group, the Domestication and Anthropogenic Evolution (DAE) research group, and the Mongolian Archaeological Project: Surveying the Steppe (MAPSS), will work together to host the event.

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