Arboreal crops on the medieval Silk Road: Archaeobotanical studies at Tashbulak

Robert N. Spengler III, Farhod Maksudov, Elissa Bullion, Ann Merkle, Taylor Hermes, Michael Frachetti (2018). PLOS One

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During the first millennium A.D., Central Asia was marked by broad networks of exchange and interaction, what many historians collectively refer to as the “Silk Road”. Much of this contact relied on high-elevation mountain valleys, often linking towns and caravanserais through alpine territories. This cultural exchange is thought to have reached a peak in the late first millennium A.D., and these exchange networks fostered the spread of domesticated plants and animals across Eurasia. However, few systematic studies have investigated the cultivated plants that spread along the trans-Eurasian exchange during this time. New archaeobotanical data from the archaeological site of Tashbulak (800–1100 A.D.) in the mountains of Uzbekistan is shedding some light on what crops were being grown and consumed in Central Asia during the medieval period. The archaeobotanical assemblage contains grains and legumes, as well as a wide variety of fruits and nuts, which were likely cultivated at lower elevations and transported to the site. In addition, a number of arboreal fruits may have been collected from the wild or represent cultivated version of species that once grew in the wild shrubby forests of the foothills of southern Central Asia in prehistory. This study examines the spread of crops, notably arboreal crops, across Eurasia and ties together several data sets in order to add to discussions of what plant cultivation looked like in the central region of the Silk Road.

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