Discoveries and Results (Highlights)
In contrast to the common view that the first millennium BC in Central Asia was a time of
increased mobility and reliance on animal husbandry, and the appearance of the Scythians,
this paper presents evidence for farming, including the introduction of new crops, at four
archaeological sites across the Talgar alluvial fan of southeastern Kazakhstan. People in
this region cultivated 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.
See Spengler et al., 2017, "Linking agriculture and exchange to social developments of the Central Asian Iron Age."
Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 48: 295-308.
- One of the plants on the lowest register of the Warka Vase is date
palm, which has implications for the entire composition. The lowest of three registers
appears to represent the basis of Mesopotamian life: water, plants, and animals.
Identification of the water and animals is relatively straightforward. In the absence of
serious botanical study, the plants depicted are usually thought to be grain and flax.
Analysis of the plant imagery in concert with that of archaic signs, botanical
charactistics, and our understanding of Mesopotamian agriculture and tradition shows that
the 'grain' is date palm, arguably a male offshoot. It confirms the other plant
as flax. Analysis based on these plant identifications demonstrates the composition of the
imagery on the Vase has a gendered and political narrative structure. (Sign and Image: Representations of
Plants on the Warka Vase of Early Mesopotamia, by Miller, Jones, and Pittman, 2016.
Origini 39: 53-73.
See also The Ethnobiology of the Warka Vase,
an illustrated presentation of many of these ideas.)
- The two East Asian millets, broomcorn (Panicum miliaceum) and foxtail millet
(Setaria italica), spread across Eurasia and became important crops by the second
millennium BC. The earliest indisputable archaeobotanical remains of broomcorn millet
outside of East Asia identified thus far date to the end of the third millennium BC in
eastern Kazakhstan. By the end of the second millennium BC, broomcorn millet cultivation
had spread to the rest of Central Eurasia and to Eastern Europe. Both millets are well
suited to an arid ecology where the dominant portion of the annual precipitation falls
during the warm summer months. Indeed, the earliest sites with millet remains outside of
East Asia are restricted to a narrow foothill ecocline between 800 and2000 m a.s.l., where
summer precipitation is relatively high (about 125 mm or more, from May through October).
Ethnohistorically, millets, as fast growing, warm-season crops, were commonly cultivated as
a way to reduce agricultural risk and were grown as a low-investment rain-fed summer crop.
In Eurasian regions with moist winters and very low summer precipitation, the prevailing
agricultural regime had long depended on winter wheat (Triticum aestivum) and
barley (Hordeum vulgare) cultivated with supplemental irrigation. We propose that
the secondary wave of millet cultivation that spread into the summer-dry
regions of southern Central Asia is associated with an intensification of productive
economies in general, and specifically with the expansion of centrally organized
irrigation works."Millet cultivation across Eurasia: Origins, spread, and the
influence of seasonal climate," Miller, Spengler, and Frachetti, 2016.
[available on-line in April 2016]
- Kyzyltepa, an Achaemenid site in Uzbekistan. The cultivation of summer and winter crops
shows a year-round commitment to agriculture that reflects a relatively intense cultivation
regime that included both risk reduction and production enhancement strategies, and millet
cultivation at Kyzyltepa provided a way to extract more food from the same amount of land.
This intense cultivation regime is probably a consequence of the Achaemenid domination in
Central Asia, which both required and accommodated the intensification of agricultural
production and expansive land use. Supplemental irrigation increases yield and stabilises
it from one year to the next. Furthermore, concentrated demand for water in the spring
might require a large scale irrigation system. The discovery of millets at Kyzyltepa
indicates summer irrigation. Whether for food, fodder, or both, millet cultivation in this
summer dry zone represents an intensification of land use as it increases production on
the same amount of land. (
Agro-pastoral Strategies and Food Production on the Achaemenid Frontier in Southern Central
Asia: A Case Study of Kyzyltepa (Uzbekistan), by Wu, Miller, and Crabtree, 2015.)
- An icon of ancient Mesopotamian art from the Royal Cemetery at Ur, "Puabi's Diadem,"
is now known to have been mistakenly constructed by Leonard Woolley. This chapter explains
the research involved in creating the current configuration of the same group of "beads and
baubles" as a set of seven simpler diadems. In addition, it proposes that the animal
pendants reference characters and stories that are known from later texts:
the bearded bull represents Utu, the stag references Enki's boat (Stag of the Abzu), the
gazelle refers to Dumuzi (as A. Cohen had observed earlier), and the ram, least plausibly,
might be a metaphor of Inanna's mourning for Dumuzi (she lacerates her cheeks as rams
scratch the scratch the earth). Puabi's Diadem(s): The
Deconstruction of a Mesopotamian Icon, by H. Pittman and N.F. Miller.
- Few archaeobotanical studies of Roman agricultural practices and their environmental
impact in Anatolia (modern Turkey) have been published. New data from Roman
levels at Gordion, a multi-period urban centre in central Anatolia, indicate
that free-threshing wheat, most likely Triticum aestivum (bread wheat), was the
focus of agricultural practice, in contrast to earlier periods when a more diverse
agricultural system included greater amounts of barley and pulses. Evidence for increased
levels of irrigation and wood fuel use relative to dung, along with regional overgrazing,
provide further evidence for significant change in land-use practices during the Roman
period. The emphasis on Triticum aestivum cultivation coupled with extensive
grazing had significant environmental implications, leading to severe overgrazing and
soil erosion on a regional scale. Historical sources and limited data from other Roman
period sites suggest that similar patterns of agriculture may have been practiced across
central Anatolia during the Roman period. We propose that this may have been due to
externally imposed demands for taxation or military tribute in the form of wheat, and
conclude that these demands led to the adoption of an unsustainable agricultural system
at Gordion. Intensive
Agriculture and Land Use at Roman Gordion, Central Turkey", by J.M. Marston and N.F.
Miller (2014). Vegetation History and Archaeobotany.
- Fertility and abundance are important themes of ancient Mesopotamian texts and
images. The goddess Inanna and her consort Dumuzi personify these ideas in texts of the
second millennium B.C.E. Excavated by Leonard Woolley in the 1920s, the
Royal Cemetery at Ur dates to the mid-
third millennium B.C.E. Among the tombs, that of Queen Puabi yielded
many ornaments of gold, carnelian, and lapis. The plant imagery includes male and female
date inflorescences and apples (Miller 2000). I propose here that the twisted wire
pendants in the Puabi assemblage may literally represent rope, symbolically reference
sheep, and narratively evoke the flocks of the shepherd Dumuzi. Pairing symbols of Inanna
and Dumuzi evokes life in a place of death. Symbols of Fertility
and Abundance in the Royal Cemetery at Ur, Iraq. American Journal of
Archaeology 117: 127-133.
- One of the more intractable problems that archaeobiologists struggle with is how to
characterize ancient subsistence systems when the plant and animal remains that we study
are incommensurate in so many ways. Three examples from the upper Euphrates and Iran
illustrate how changes in plant remains are associated with changes in animal exploitation.
Two of them consider the agropastoral continuum on sites dating to the pre-pottery
Neolithic (eighth to sixth millennium BC) and to the Chalcolithic and Bronze Age
(fourth to third millennium BC) in the dry-farming zone along the Euphrates. The third
example considers how changes in woodland allow one to infer the presence of
pastoralists in the southern Zagros even in the absence of nomad campsites.
Environmental Archaeology, published online July 31, 2013:
DOI 10.1179/1749631413Y.0000000003. [Download pdf]
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