Linking agriculture and exchange to social developments of the Central Asian Iron Age

Robert N. Spengler III, Naomi F. Miller, Reinder Neef, Perry A. Tourtellotte, Claudia Chang


JAA-CoverCentral Asia is commonly referred to as a pastoral realm, and the first millennium B.C. is often thought to mark a period of increased mobility and reliance on animal husbandry. The economic shift of the first millennium B.C. is usually interpreted as a transition toward specialized pastoralism in Central Asia, and the point in time when the Central Asian ‘nomads’ or Scythians appear. However, in this paper, we present evidence for farming, including the introduction of new crops, at four archaeological sites across the Talgar alluvial fan of southeastern Kazakhstan. In addition, we contrast this data with piecemeal evidence for agriculture at three other sites in the broader foothill ecocline of eastern Central Asia. Collectively, these data show that the people in this region were cultivating free-threshing wheat and hulled barley (long-season grain crops), as well as broomcorn and foxtail millet. There is also evidence for viticulture. These data warrant a reevaluation of the ‘nomad’-based model for Iron Age economy in this region. This article highlights the need for further investigation into the links between agricultural intensity leading to grain surpluses, increasing exchange through Eurasia, cultural stratification, craft specialization, and population growth among peoples in the foothills of eastern Central Asia during the first millennium B.C.