The Western Mongolia Archaeology Project team (mainly in our previous guise as the Khanuy Valley Project) hit the 6th SEAA conference, in Ulaanbaatar, in a big way this week. Oula Seitsonen presented a condensed version of our recent Past Mobilities paper as a poster (GIS approaches to movement and mobility in the monumental landscape of the Bronze Age Khanuy Valley) and I delivered a paper focusing on the identification of remains from Mongolian stone circles and their corresponding re-interpretation (Rings of Fire?) as well as one outlining the domestic economy of the Bronze Age and Xiongnu periods in the Khanuy Valley (The Culture Changes but the Herd Stays the Same: Bronze Age and Xiongnu Subsistence). Jean-Luc-Houle, meanwhile, focused on the seasonal movement of families in the Bronze Age and contrasted the situation in Khanuy with that in the Altai, based on data gathered during our first season of the Western Mongolia Archaeology Project (Long‐Term Occupation and Seasonal Mobility in Mongolia).
Other highlights of the conference included the big reveal of the finds from the Gol mod 2 cemetery excavations that took place in 2011, by Erdenebaatar, during the opening ceremony and excellent presentations by Julia Clark and Camilla Kelsoe discussing their recent work in Hovsgol province. Camilla used the ceramics from their excavations as a launching pad for discussing the reasons for adopting, or not, new technologies whilst Julia emphasised the need for us to consider hunter-herder interactions in the north of Mongolia. William Taylor presented a pilot study using 3D morphometrics to argue for ridden horses being present in horse-head mounds, examining them at a population level using several criteria to produce a range. Also working at a regional level were papers examining the spread of bronze metal working in East Asia, using compositional analysis (Gary Hsu) and the spread of starchy crops (Xinyi Liu).
It has, then, been a full and tiring week. At 4.30am tomorrow though we leave our rooms in Ulaanbaatar and head for Bayan Olgii and the next phase of fieldwork in the Western Mongolia Archaeology Project. We seem to have another good group of students and volunteers joining us, many of whom took the opportunity to attend some of the conference sessions as well as the usual sight-seeing in the city and we’re looking forward to working with them as we gather more data to improve our understanding of the prehistory of the region. We’ll be back, at the earliest, on July 6th.
Apparently Valentine’s Day parties exist. I’m not entirely clear what goes on at these events, nor am I certain that I’d like to know. It seems, though, like a good (OK, tenuous) excuse to publicise some forthcoming events I’m involved with in some capacity or another and which have application deadlines for participants fast approaching.
First: after our successful pilot project in 2012, this year sees the resumption of the Western Mongolia Archaeology Project (where do we get these names from?). This project sees myself and the other members of the successful Khanuy Valley Project team reunite to test our models for prehistoric Mongolian living, developed in Northern Central Mongolia, in the Altai mountain range – famed for its Pazyryk monuments. Working at the very edge of the area we visited in 2012 this marks the beginning of an exciting new multi-year project, with all of the survey work that that promises this year! We’ll be in the field from 8th June to 8th July and we’re accepting applications from students and volunteers now – in fact, the deadline for applications is just two weeks away as I write this, on 28th February 2014. More details of the project and the application process can be found on its website.
Second: just one day after that deadline is the deadline for submissions of papers to sessions at the 2014 ICAZ conference in San Rafael, Argentina. Regular readers of this ‘blog will know that I’m co-organising two sessions at the conference: ‘Zooarchaeology of Pastoralism’ and ‘Bones in Space’. Both sessions are shaping up nicely with some good contributions and we’re looking into publication possibilities for each of them. If you haven’t yet submitted a proposal though and you’re keen to do so don’t worry – we won’t be making any decisions until after the final deadline of March 1st. Applications for all sessions, including numbers 4 (Bones in Space) and 35 (Zooarchaeology of Pastoralism) have to be made through the conference website.
Third: we’re running the ‘Understanding Zooarchaeology I’ short course at the University of Sheffield again from 7th to 9th April. This will be the eighth time that we’ve run the course but the first time since June 2013. As always, places are provided on a first-come, first-served basis and they are filling up fast but there are still some available at the moment, which can be booked through the course website.
If anybody would like to discuss any of the above events and opportunities then they’re more than welcome to email me.
Following my last post here, about Zooarchaeology and Pastoralism, I was invited on to BBC Radio York’s drive-time show, with Ellie Fiorentini, to talk about my research. Very briefly, we discussed what, exactly, zooarchaeology is and what pastoralism is, before discussing projects in Tanzania and Mongolia. Fifteen minutes isn’t a lot of time to cover all of that but I’m told that the interview went well: never mind if you missed it, if you’re interested you can listen to it in its entirety (minus boy-band interruptions!) by clicking on the link below.
The proposed Sino-Russian pipeline across the Ukok plateau has generated controversy (although, arguably, not much publicity) since it was first announced back in 2011. The bald facts of the matter are that Russia, in the shape of Gazprom, have immense oil and gas reserves and China represents a large and growing market for those products. The two countries share two borders, either side of Mongolia, which they enclose. The westernmost of the borders is the most direct and, therefore, cheapest way to move the product from the producer to the consumer so, naturally, Gazprom wants to build a pipeline across it (above ground, in case you were wondering). The thing is, this 54km international border also marks the northern boundary of China’s Kanas Nature Reserve, which marks the southernmost portion of the Ukok plateau, most of which is in Russia.
The Kanas reserve is ecologically important in that it’s one of the few remaining truly wild places in China. It abuts the Altai Tavan Bogd National Park, in Mongolia, the Katun State Nature Preserve, in Russia, and the Katon-Karagay National Park, in Kazakhstan. Together they form probably the largest (supposedly) protected area in Central Asia; crucial for the free movements and migrations of its wildlife. Moreover, the convergence of the modern borders of China, Russia, Mongolia and Kazakhstan in this area is illustrative of its probable long-standing marginality. These days it is an incredibly sparsely populated region that was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1998: it is a critically important habitat for several globally endangered species and is probably the homeland of the early Iron Age Pazyryk culture. Historically, the free movement of the people in the region has also been important and, regardless of modern borders, it’s presently principally inhabited by Kazakhs.
Today, the first assessment of the archaeological impact of the pipeline has been released by the Altai State University and, predictably, it highlights the kurgans that will be destroyed by the pipe construction. These Scythian and Pazyryk monuments are internationally famous and important – ‘Princess Ukok’ remains the subject of a repatriation suit and re-examination of the kurgans continues to fuel debate and shed new light on areas such as the development of human-animal relationships, ideology, cosmology and social structure. Any report which helps to throw light on this subject and bring it to the world’s attention is a good thing.
I am, however, a little disappointed but not at all surprised by the focus of this report on the region’s large and obvious monuments. Monumental archaeology has long been a focus of Russian prehistoric research; with a bit more effort, though, we can find out so much more about the lives of past inhabitants in the region by looking for different kinds of sites and this too, like the natural environment, could be of global significance. Regular visitors to this website will know that last year I was involved in a one-year pilot project to look for habitation sites, contemporary with those kurgans (or khirigsuurs as they’re known locally) in the Mongolian Altai – just 30km east of China. We found enough evidence there to suggest that this tough, rugged region may have always been liminal – occupied and deserted by a succession of peoples pulling and pushing from outside regions through the Altai.
Now, the Central Asian steppe and mountain ranges are threatened by climate change, just as elsewhere in the world. It’s important for us to research possible reactions to these changes and it has long been my opinion that there is no better way for us to learn than from the past. We hope to carry out more work in the Altai in the future – work which becomes more important with the threat to the Ukok. Previously, the same team worked for several years in the Arkhangai mountains, east of the Altai. There, too, we discovered several Bronze and Iron Age habitation sites (Xiongnu there, rather than Pazyryk) and we established that cultural changes occurred within a stable environment but that other changes, arguably more drastic, occurred at the end of the Xiongnu period, when the climate changed. By studying past responses to climate change – and, as far as possible, the causes of those changes – we can learn what might work or not work in the future. By studying those changes on a local basis we can suggest local responses. There’s much that we could learn from the Ukok as well as preserve.
I’ll be co-presenting a paper with Oula Seitsonen and Jean-Luc Houle on the Arkhangai research mentioned above (carried out in the Khanuy valley) at the AEA conference in Kiel later this year, using zooarchaeological and palynological evidence to explore cultural responses to environmental conditions.
This has been another very busy year for me: fieldwork for projects in Mongolia and Tanzania has been completed and post-excavation work has continued on the material from Nigeria, whilst my PhD research has been refined and refocused. We decided from the beginning that the Western Mongolia Archaeology Project should involve only one year of fieldwork; we now begin the process of consolidating our research from that project and the Khanuy Valley Project, planning how best to develop knowledge and our interest in Mongolian Bronze and Iron Age cultures further. The Archaeological Investigation of a “Moving Frontier” of Early Herding in Northern Tanzania, meanwhile, was envisaged as a pilot project and, having met our research goals for that project we await news to hear whether or not the project will enter its mature phase.
All in all, 2013 promises to provide significant new opportunities and, more pleasingly still, the fruition of the work of several previous years. As I look forward to the new year I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of my colleagues and clients for their help and support in the last year and to wish them A Very Happy Yule.
Things haven’t been quite so quiet around here as my silence would suggest. We managed to gather some very useful ethnoarchaeological data on the Western Mongolia Archaeology Project, but while I was away my laptop broke: hence the deafening silence here.
In that time I’ve had copies of book reviews published of Living With Herds by Natasha Fijn (in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society) and Food, Craft and Status in Medieval Winchester by Dale Serjeantson and Helen Rees (in Hortulus). Both are available now via my Academia.edu profile.
In terms of the dissemination of research, I also heard that a paper jointly presented with Mary Prendergast, Oula Seitsonen, Katherine Grillo and Audax Mabulla has been accepted for this year’s AEA conference in Reading, concerning the spread of Pastoralism in East Africa. A full copy of the abstract for this is given after the break.
On the teaching front, the next Introduction to Zooarchaeology short course at the University of Sheffield has now been fully booked, dates about the next one will be published here when they are settled. Bookings are now open though for both the Introduction to Zooarchaeology and Introduction to Ethnoarchaeology courses at the University of York.
After such a lightening round up it only remains for me to excuse myself for another absence. My bag is now packed and I’m about to leave for more fieldwork as part of the Archaeological Investigation of a “Moving Frontier” of Early Herding in Northern Tanzania project. Before returning home and teaching in Sheffield I’ll be visiting Helsinki for the EAA conference; I may be able to access the internet and post something from there but otherwise I’ll be out of contact until the second week of September.
No Flies on Us: The Diffusion of the Neolithic in Africa
BRODERICK, Lee G.1; PRENDERGAST, Mary2; SEITSONEN, Oula3; GRILLO, Katherine4; MABULLA, Audax5
The emergence of the Neolithic in Sub-Saharan Africa was not accompanied by a move towards sedentism, as in many other parts of the world, but instead accompanied the diffusion of a nomadic pastoralist lifestyle. Although pastoralist Neolithic sites are known in both East and West Africa as well as in Southern Africa, the precise route, timing and method of this diffusion through a tropical environment which would require acclimatisation to different ecologies and diseases is still the subject of some conjecture but two competing models have gained wide support among archaeologists working in the area. The more favoured model supposes that livestock (and, therefore, pastoralists) could have moved relatively freely through a tse-tse fly free corridor in the eastern side of the continent stretching from modern day Kenya to South Africa.
The Archaeological Investigation of a “Moving Frontier” of Early Herding in Northern Tanzania project was conceived to identify sites in the northern most part of this corridor in order to test this theory and to examine issues of Neolithic – Hunter-Gatherer interaction. This presentation aims to highlight the on-going work to answer some of these questions through the initial results of the zooarchaeological analysis of the sites identified thus far.
1, Department of Archaeology, University of York, The King’s Manor, York. YO1 7EP. UK. 2, Department of Sociology & Anthropology, St. Louis University in Madrid, Avenida del Valle, 34 28003 Madrid. Spain. 3, Department of Geosciences and Geography, University of Helsinki, P.O. Box 64, FI-00014. Finland. 4, Department of Anthropology, Washington University in St. Louis, Campus Box 1114, One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO 63130-4899, USA. 5, Archaeology Unit, P.O. Box 35050, University of Dar es Salaam, Dar es Salaam. Tanzania.
I have felt privileged to have been involved with the Khanuy Valley Project over the duration of the last, most informative phase of the project in recent years. I am, therefore, delighted to announce that the project will leave a legacy beyond our research output and friendships. The same core team of researchers that ran the last phase of the Khanuy Valley Project (Jean-Luc Houle, Jamansarav Bayarsakhan, Oula Seitsonen and myself) will be joining together again to run the Western Mongolia Archaeology Project in 2012.
This project will feature a fieldwork component run along similar lines to the Khanuy Valley Project between 21st May and 22nd June. I’m also pleased that some of our previous students and volunteers have already asked to join us – such requests help to reassure us that we create the space for a fun and supportive element to our fieldwork and campsites, building friendships and nurturing colleagues beyond our core team of staff. In addition to this core team, the project will collaborate and share resources with the Rock Art and Archaeology: Investigating Ritual Landscapes in the Altai Mountain region of Western Mongolia Project, run by Bill Fitzhugh and Richard Kortum. Working so closely together in the field, when looking at very different aspects of the same cultures, should provide valuable new insights for both teams, as well as new opportunities for our students and volunteers,
The Western Mongolia Archaeology Project has been added to the Project Gallery on my website, and applications are now open for students and volunteers to join us. We’re only taking a small team this year and, although applications are not processed on a first come first served basis, those interested would be best advised to apply as soon as they have made that decision.