Spengler, Robert N. III, William Taylor, Alicia Ventresca Miller, Bryan Miller, Shevan Wilkin, Tekla Schmause, Patrick Roberts, and Nicole Boivin (2021) An Imagined Past? Nomadic Narratives in Central Asian Archaeology. Current Anthropology. 62(3): 251-286.
Nomads, or highly specialized mobile pastoralists, are prominent features in Central Asian archaeology, and they are often depicted in direct conflict with neighboring sedentary peoples. However, new archaeological findings are showing that the people who many scholars have called nomads engaged in a mixed economic system of farming and herding. Additionally, not all of these peoples were as mobile as previously assumed, and current data suggest that a portion of these purported mobile populations remained sedentary for much or all of the year, with localized ecological factors directing economic choices. In this article, we pull together nine complementary lines of evidence from the second through the first millennia BC to illustrate that in eastern Central Asia, a complex economy existed. While many scholars working in Eurasian archaeology now acknowledge how dynamic paleoeconomies were, broader arguments are still tied into assumptions regarding specialized economies. The formation of empires or polities, changes in social orders, greater political hierarchy, craft specialization—notably, advanced metallurgy—mobility and migration, social relations, and exchange have all been central to the often circular arguments made concerning so-called nomads in ancient Central Asia. The new interpretations of mixed and complex economies more effectively situate Central Asia into a broader global study of food production and social complexity.