Current Research Projects

Among the projects that I have worked on, I am currently interested in the spread of agriculture into Mongolia during the Xiongnu period. I am also interested in the spread of fruit and nut crops along the Silk Road, and am working at the Tashbulak site in Uzbekistan to answer related questions.

In collaboration with George Willcox, I recently published data from Sarazm, a Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age site in Tajikistan (available here). Likewise, while working with a team of researchers from the University of Bologna, I analyzed material from several pastoral camps in the Murghab region of the Kara Kum Desert of Turkmenistan (available here). My main research has focused on sites excavated in Kazakhstan, including the Botai sites of Krasni’yar and Vasilkovaka, the multiphase occupation sites of Begash, Mukri, and Tasbas, and the Iron Age settlement site of Tuzusai.

In total, I have directed botanical studies in North America, Europe, and Asia, notably, having spent eight summers excavating in Central Asia, in addition to two winter survey seasons as part of the Chengdu Plains Archaeological Survey Project in Sichuan. I am also part of a collaborative team that recently published the earliest evidence for agriculture on the Tibetan Plateau (the Changdu Karuo site).

My access to this wide array of material from Inner Asia forms an incomparable corpus of data, which I am using to understand pathways for the spread and adoption of agriculture.

Map first published in Spengler et al. (2014; Proceedings of the Royal Society B 281: 20133382). Sites in red represent sites that I have conducted botanical investigations at.
Regional geography and spread of East Asian and southwest Asian domesticates in the third and the second millennia BC and key regional sites: 1) Jeitun; 2) Anau; 3) Monjukli Depe; 4) Gonur Depe; 5) 1211; 6) Sarazm; 7) Jarkutan; 8) Shortughai; 9) Begash; 10) Tasbas; 11) Luanzagangzi; 12) Donguishan; 13) Xishanping; 14) Mehrgarh; 15) Nausharo; 16) Harappa; 17) Changuogou; 18) Tuzusai; 19) Mukri; 20) Krasni’ Yar; 21) Kunglung Mesa; 22) Ojakly; 23) Vasilovka; 24) Changdu Karuo.

Archaeological Sites & Methodologies

I have experience with many paleoethnobotanical methods, including macrobotanical studies, starch grain analysis, palynology, and textile analysis. I have worked on archaeobotanical material from 15 archaeological sites spanning Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, China, and Mongolia. I have worked with archaeological botanical remains spanning from the Chalcolithic to the Medieval period, while focusing on the Late Bronze and early Iron Ages. My main methodological interest is macrobotanical analysis and I use sediment flotation to remove carbonized botanical remains from the soil.

This method allows me to answer more questions and identify crop remains with higher precision and accuracy than any other methods used by archaeobotanists.

This is not to dismiss the use of other, specifically microbotanical, methods as producing complementary data.

Check out the links below to find details on some of my recent field work:

Flotation Gallery

While I have used several distinct methodological approaches to study paleoeconomy and paleoecology in Central Eurasia, my main research still centers on macrobotanical studies. In order to process archaeological sediments for carbonized macrobotanical remains in the field, I use water flotation. Water flotation consists of any of a number of techniques used for the recovery of archaeobotanical remains where buoyancy in water is utilized to separate organic from inorganic debris. Due to the remote nature of most of the field sites I work at and the limited resources of water and transportable supplies at these sites, I prefer the use of simple bucket flotation methods. However, at the Tuzusai site in Alatau, Kazakhstan, I used a SMAP machine, which was constructed by Claudia Chang and Perry Tourtellotte. The Tuzusai SMAP setup runs off of a Soviet irrigation pump, which only ran through the engineering skills of Dyadya Kolya.