Press Releases and News Articles

Videos compiled by Washington University’s theSource; Videography by Tom Malkowicz

Fruit from the Sands: The Silk Road Origins of the Foods We Eat

by Robert N. Spengler

“Many foods we consume today-from almonds and apples to tea and rice-have histories can be traced along the tracks of the Silk Road out of prehistoric Central Asia to European kitchens and American tables.” – Mongols China and the Silk Road

Der Reiseproviant der Globalisierer (The Travel Provisions of Globalizers)

[Translated from German] “The Silk Road, which stretched from China to Europe, once brought wealth to many places. Cities and regions along the route not only benefited from the fact that many goods changed owners several times on the road, the caravans also had to be cared for. With their pack animals, traders transported luxury goods such as silk fabrics and ceramics from China or gold and glass from the Mediterranean. They often had large quantities of food in their luggage, partly as merchandise, partly as travel provisions. No wonder, then, that various crops could spread across the Silk Road, from east to west as well as in the opposite direction.” – Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Corn domestication took some unexpected twists and turns

“The new study highlights a growing realization that pathways toward domestication differed for various plants and animals, says paleoethnobotanist Robert Spengler of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany.” – Science News

Economic processes in ancient Central Asia influenced the formation of the modern world

“His work says that the exchange of different varieties of agricultural crops in Central Asia created the economy of the ancient world in the third Millennium BC.” – Orient

The increasingly fluid Silk Road

“This work adds to that of Robert Spengler III et al. that underlines the importance of agriculture and exchange to social developments of the communities in Central Asia during the Iron Age, in the first millennium BC/BCE.” – Botany One

Origins and spread of Eurasian fruits traced to the ancient Silk Road

“The archaeobotanical study, conducted by Robert Spengler of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, is among the first systematic analyses of medieval agricultural crops in the heart of the ancient Silk Road.” – Phys.Org

Origins and spread of Eurasian fruits traced to the ancient Silk Road

“Studies of ancient preserved plant remains from a medieval archaeological site in the Pamir Mountains of Uzbekistan have shown that fruits, such as apples, peaches, apricots, and melons, were cultivated in the foothills of Inner Asia.” – Science Daily

Tracing the Overlooked Legacy of the Silk Road’s Fruits and Nuts

“History is very Eurocentric, and so everybody thinks that Rome was one of the major hubs of the Silk Road,” says Spengler. “The traders and the major economic and political players of the Silk Road were in Central Asia, and it has been a region largely overlooked in scholarship. But if you are a historian or archaeologist studying the Mediterranean, you really need to know what was going on [there].” – Atlas Obscura

Also publicized in:

Max Planck MPI
Mongols, China, and the Silk Road
Ancient Foods
The Stand News
Archaeology News
Today Chan
The London Economic
EurekAlert! AAAS

Begash (Kazakhstan): Evidence of 3rd Millennium International Trade

“Within soils samples taken from the Phase 1a burial cist and associated funerary fire pit were discovered seeds of domesticated wheat, broomcorn millet and barley. This evidence is interpreted by the excavators, an assertion supported by many other scholars, as indication of a distinct route of transmission of wheat and millet from the central Asian mountains and into the steppes by the late 3rd millennium BC.” – ThoughtCo.

Broomcorn (Panicum miliaceum) – History of Domestication: When and Where Was Broomcorn Millet First Domesticated?

“Broomcorn millet seeds were recently found at the central Eurasian site of Begash, Kazakhstan, and Spengler et al. (2014) argue that this represents evidence for the transmission of broomcorn outside of China and into the broader world.” – ThoughtCo.

The Ancient Societies of the Central Asian Steppe: Bronze Age Mobile Pastoralists of Central Asia

“Spengler and colleagues argue that these nomadic herders were one of the ways in which these crops moved outside of their domestications: broomcorn from the east; and wheat and barley from the west.” – ThoughtCo.

Archaeobotanical Chenopodium Seeds from across Central Asia

“Scholars working in Central Asia continue to discuss the possible economic significance of these remains and what use they are for understanding paleoecology and anthropogenic landscape change as well as human and herd animal diet.” – tDAR

The Feelings and Missions of East Asian Archeology: A Side Record of the East Asia Archaeological Congress

In addition to merchandise trade, the Silk Road was a bridge connecting East and West during the prehistoric period. It played an indispensable role in the spread of agriculture. It can be said that the “seed” also walked on the Silk Road. Constantly interpreting the changes in the world’s agricultural civilization. Robert Spengler from the Max Planck Institute for Human History in Germany, taking the remains of Tasbas, Tuzusai and the Tashbulak site in Uzbekistan, for example, presented the report entitled “Plant Archaeology on the Silk Road”. – SOHU; Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

How Ancient Exchanges in Central Asia Shaped the Modern World

Spengler’s work has shown that for at least 4,000 years, the mountains of Central Asia (and the people who lived in them) helped to move domestic crops such as millet, wheat, barley, and rice into parts of the continent where they were previously unknown. “As early as the 3rd millennium BCE,” he says, “exchange in crop varieties across Central Asia shaped the economies of the ancient world.” – The Diplomat

How Asian nomadic herders built new Bronze Age culture

“Herders moving through those valleys brought southwestern Asian crops into China and eastern Asian crops back the other way, says archaeologist Robert Spengler of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. While working their way across Asia through mountain valleys, pastoralists incorporated crops into their own way of life.” – Science News

Change that came from the plowed field

“All over the globe, it was agriculture that set off wide-ranging social changes. The exception is the area that is today’s Mongolia, Western China, and Eastern Russia: the textbook opinion since the 1930s. … For around ten years now, this worldview has been showing cracks. The man stirring up trouble — in a positive sense — is Robert Spengler.” – Max Planck Research (p 26-33)

Before the Silk Road, the Grain Road?

“Dorian Fuller, a leading expert in ancient grains based at University College London, calls the finds “important and well dated.” He adds that Chinese crops such as millet began to appear in southwest Asia around 1900 B.C., a few centuries after they reached Begash, which could mean the passage through the mountain regions was a means of gradual transmission from east to west.” – Early History of Silk and the Silk Road

Targeted Excavating Leads to Lost City

“Robert Spengler, MA ’09, PhD ’13, research associate in the Department of Anthropology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University, leads the team studying the ancient plants or archaeobotany, of the archaeological site and ancient environment. For Spengler, a small peach pit excavated from Tashbulak is yet another puzzle piece in his larger quest to understand how modern crops made their way to dinner tables around the globe.” – theSource, Washington University

Publicity for Sarazm Site

“Evidence for the agricultural nature of Sarazm include archaeobotanical analysis of seeds at the site. (Spengler and Willcox 2013). Seed samples, taken from hearths, house floors and middens, were analyzed by flotation, allowing comparison between native flora of the area.” – Vassar College

Jus Galbaat Punjabi Television Show with Clinical Psychologist, Arvind Kaur

“Studying the development of cuisines through time, helps us understand how people view themselves and connect with others on a national or regional level; food is at the root of culture.” – Circle Through New York, Live from ISAW

ISAW Interview

Scarsdale Inquirer | January 27, 2017

“The Archaeological Institute of America Westchester Society will host Professor Robert Spengler to explore the Silk Road at his lecture at Scarsdale Public Library.”
Scarsdale Inquirer

Wash U Alumni News

Spengler“Spengler was offered two outstanding opportunities that were both anticipated to begin this coming year. Robert was offered a one-year Visiting Research Fellowship at Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (ISAW) in NYC as well as a position as a laboratory director of the Central Asian Paleoethnobotany Laboratory in Jena, Germany, at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Human Evolution.

German Research Announcement

“The earliest evidence of agriculture in Central Asia dates from around 800 B.C. In Kazakhstan researchers have now discovered evidence that along the Silk Road back to 2800 B.C. Trade was driven by shepherds and farmers.” (translation)
Click here for more information.

Conference Announcements

Wenner GrenThe Wenner-Gren Foundation:  “Spengler, Dr. Robert N., Washington U., St. Louis, MO – To aid workshop on ‘Introduction & Intensification of Agriculture in Central Eurasia: Exception to rule or exception that proves rule?,’ 2015, Berlin, Germany, in collaboration with Dr. Mayke Wagner”
Click here for more information.
: “Ashgabat has completed its three-day international scientific conference ‘Turkmenistan’s experience in studying and museumification archaeological finds.’ …  Here are some interviews with participants of the conference.”

Publicity for Proceedings of the Royal Society B Publication (AVAILABLE HERE)

Robert N Spengler III, PhD_1

Robert N Spengler III, PhD

Washington University’s Newsroom: “‘This study starts to rewrite the model for economic change across Eurasia,’ said first author Robert Spengler, PhD, a paleoethnobotanist and research associate in Arts & Sciences at WUSTL.” “‘This is one of the first systematic applications of archaeobotany in the region, making the potential for further future discovery very exciting,’ Spengler said.”

Popular Archaeology Magazine: “… nomadic sheepherders played a surprisingly important role in the early spread of domesticated crops throughout a mountainous east-west corridor along the historic Silk Road, suggests new research from Washington University in St. Louis.”

Also publicized in:
The Smithsonian Magazine
New York Times
Buffalo News
Science 2.0
Discovery News
The Wannabe Scientist
Yahoo Food
Counsel & Heal
Ancient Foods
Tech Times
Archaeology News Report
Science Daily
NSF news
Nature World News
Dienekes’ Anthropology Blog
Heritage Daily

Review of American Journal of Botany Publication (AVAILABLE HERE)

Awkward Botany: “…a well-researched and detailed article concerning the fascinating topic of early plant domestication. Honestly, my synopsis hardly does it justice, so I urge you to read it for yourself if this topic interests you. I particularly appreciated the emphasis that the authors placed on using multiple methods and tools to collect and interpret data and how our perspectives should be revised as new and updated data emerge.”


Washington University, Anthropology News: “PhD Recipients 2012-13 .. Robert Spengler …Thesis: Botanical Resource Use in the Bronze and Iron Age of the Central Eurasian Mountain/Steppe Interface: Decision Making in Multiresource Pastoral Economies”

Asian Archaeology, Dissertation Reviews: “A review of Botanical Resource Use in the Bronze and Iron Age of the Central Eurasian Mountain/Steppe Interface: Decision Making in Multiresource Pastoral Economies, by Robert N. Spengler III.”

Undergraduate Work

UB Today: “At two archaeological sites in Western New York, Spengler sifted through the dirt, using an acid technique created in the 1960s to help dissolve everything from his soil samples but the pollen shell. Over this past summer, he spent a month collecting samples at a Viking-era site in Denmark, fieldwork he anticipates will shed light on the agriculture of that period.”