The pastoralist distinction of Central Asia : isotopic and genetic approaches to food ways, mobility, and trans-regional contact from the early Bronze Age to medieval period

In this cumulative dissertation, I offer four case studies, presented here as Papers 1-4, concerning the distinction of human lifeways that are focused on the management of herd animals, typically, sheep, goat, cattle, horses, and camels. These so-called “nomadic” lifeways are in contrast to living in singular places, typically urban spaces and large settlements, that echo familiar human experiences to what we know from the modern world. The fundamental distinction of pastoralist societies, compared to settled communities, is a huge degree of subsistence adaptability, which depends on knowledge and practice of enhancing the human-animal relationship. The first paper, “Urban and nomadic isotopic niches reveal dietary connectivities along Central Asia’s Silk Roads,” examines the dietary diversity of communities that comprised Silk Road phenomena by analyzing variability in carbon and nitrogen stable isotope ratios (δ13C and δ15N) in human bone collagen as a means to access cultural distinctions that are not recorded in historical texts. In the second paper, “Ahead of the curve? Implications for isolating vertical transhumance in seasonal montane environments using sequential oxygen isotope analyses of tooth enamel,” I model what vertical transhumance would look like in the oxygen isotopic composition (δ18O) of tooth enamel of an animal that moved from low to high elevation and back. In the third paper, “Millet farming by early Bronze Age herders coincided with first crop transmissions across Eurasia,” we describe the initial adoption of a new cereal crop, which was domesticated in northern China, by pastoralist communities in the Eurasian steppe zone. In the final paper, “Mitochondrial diversity of ancient goats in Eurasia and translocation vectors of pastoralist economies into Central Asia,” I shift from a stable isotopic approach to a genetic analysis of domesticated and wild goats from Bronze and Iron Age sites across Central Asia.


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