Skip to main content

Mixing metaphors: sedentary-mobile interactions and local-global connections in prehistoric Turkmenistan

  • Lynne M. Rouse (a1) (a2) and Barbara Cerasetti (a3)

The deeply engrained stereotype of opposing ‘steppe’ and ‘sown’ societies has strongly influenced interpretation of Bronze Age Central Asia. This has led to the idea that the agricultural Oxus civilisation and non-Oxus mobile pastoralists formed two distinct cultural-economic groups in this region that are easily distinguishable through archaeological remains. Recent excavations of campsites in southern Turkmenistan, however, provide new evidence of variability in exchange between sites, suggesting adaptation by pastoralist groups in their interactions with settled Oxus farming groups. Rather than wholly reiterating or dissolving the distinctions between them, such practices dynamically reshaped the boundaries of these social and economic groups. These findings challenge us to move away from notions of centre-periphery, dependency and diffusion in discussions of intercultural contact in Eurasian prehistory.

Corresponding author
*Author for correspondence (Email:
Hide All
Alizadeh, A. 2009. Prehistoric mobile pastoralists in south-central and south-western Iran, in Szuchman, J. (ed.) Nomads, tribes, and the state in the ancient near east: cross-disciplinary perspectives: 129–45. Chicago (IL): The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.
Antony, D.W. 2007. The horse, the wheel, and language: how Bronze-Age riders from the Eurasian Steppes shaped the modern world. Princeton (NJ): Princeton University Press.
Arciero, R. & Forni, L.. 2018. La prima urbanizzazione in Turkmenistan: coesistenza tra nomadi e sedentari nel delta interno del fiume Murghab—risultati preliminari delle indagini archeologiche ed etnografiche presso il sito di Togolok 1, in Ferrari, A., Pupulin, E., Ruffilli, M. & Tomelleri, V. (ed.) Armenia, Caucaso e Asia Centrale: Ricerche 2017: 1138. Venezia: Edizioni Ca’ Foscari (in Italian).
Barfield, T.J. 2001. The shadow empires: imperial state formation along the Chinese-nomad frontier, in Alcock, S.E., D'Altroy, T.N., Morrison, K.D. & Sinopoli, C.M. (ed.) Empires: perspectives from archaeology and history: 1041. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Boroffka, N., Cierny, J., Lutz, J., Parzinger, H., Pernicka, E. & Weisgerber, G.. 2002. Bronze Age tin from Central Asia: preliminary notes, in Boyle, K., Renfrew, C. & Levine, M. (ed.) Ancient interactions: east and west in Eurasia: 135–59. Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.
Cattani, M. 2008a. Excavations at sites no. 1211 and no. 1219 (Final Bronze Age), in Salvatori, S., Tosi, M. & Cerasetti, B. (ed.) The Bronze Age and Early Iron Age in the Margiana lowlands: facts and methodological proposals for a redefinition of the research strategies: 119–32. Oxford: Archaeopress.
Cattani, M. 2008b. The final phase of the Bronze Age and the ‘Andronovo Question’ in Margiana, in Salvatori, S., Tosi, M. & Cerasetti, B. (ed.) The Bronze Age and Early Iron Age in the Margiana lowlands: facts and methodological proposals for a redefinition of the research strategies: 133–51. Oxford: Archaeopress.
Cattani, M., Cerasetti, B., Salvatori, S. & Tosi, M.. 2008. The Murghab Delta in Central Asia 1990–2001: the GIS from research resource to a reasoning tool for the study of settlement change in long-term fluctuations, in Salvatori, S., Tosi, M. & Cerasetti, B. (ed.) The Bronze Age and Early Iron Age in the Margiana lowlands: facts and methodological proposals for a redefinition of the research strategies: 3945. Oxford: Archaeopress.
Cerasetti, B. 1998. Preliminary report on ornamental elements of ‘Incised Coarse Ware’, in Gubaev, A., Koshelenko, G.A. & Tosi, M. (ed.) The archaeological map of the Murghab Delta, preliminary reports 1990–95: 6774. Rome: Istituto Italiano per L'Africa e L'Oriente.
Cerasetti, B., Rouse, L.M. & De Nigris, I.. 2018. The influence of Late Bronze Age sedentary-mobile interactions on the Iron Age: mobile pastoral occupation sites in the Murghab alluvial fan, Turkmenistan, in Lhuillier, J. & Boroffka, N. (ed.) A millennium of history: the Iron Age in southern Central Asia (2nd and 1st millennia BC). Dedicated to the memory of Viktor Ivanovich Sarianidi. Proceedings of the conference held in Berlin (June 23–25, 2014): 1729. Berlin: Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Eurasien-Abteilung/Dietrich Reimer.
Cerasetti, B., Arciero, R., Forni, L., Rouse, L.M., Carra, M., Luneau, É. & Spengler, R.N. III. In press. Interactions between sedentary and mobile peoples in the Bronze Age of southern Central Asia: excavations at Togolok 1 in the Murghab region, in Bofoffka, N., Pollock, S., Luneau, É. & Teufer, M. (ed.) Farmers, traders and herders: the Bronze Age in Central Asia and Khorasan (3rd-2nd millennium BCE) . Proceedings of the conference held in Berlin (November 30–December 1, 2015). Berlin: Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Eurasien-Abteilung/Dietrich Reimer.
Christian, D. 2000. Silk roads or steppe roads? The silk roads in world history. Journal of World History 11: 126.
Doumani, P.N. & Frachetti, M.D.. 2012. Bronze Age textile evidence in ceramic impressions: weaving and pottery technology among mobile pastoralists of Central Eurasia. Antiquity 86: 368–82.
Dzhumanazarov, M.A. 2012. Gonur pottery kilns, in Sarianidi, V.I., Kozhin, P.M., Kosarev, M.F. & Dubova, N.A. (ed.) Transactions of the Margiana archaeological expedition: volume 4—Gonur Depe studies in 2008–2011: 6873. Moscow: Staryi Sad (in Russian).
Ferdinand, C. 2003. Material culture of pastoral nomads: reflections based on Arab and Afghan materials, in Tapper, R.L. & McLachlan, K. (ed.) Technology, tradition, and survival: aspects of material culture in the Middle East and Central Asia: 172204. London: Frank Cass.
Frachetti, M.D. 2008. Pastoralist landscapes and social interaction in Bronze Age Eurasia. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Frachetti, M.D. 2009. Differentiated landscapes and non-uniform complexity among Bronze Age societies of the Eurasian Steppe, in Hanks, B.K. & Linduff, K. (ed.) Social complexity in prehistoric Eurasia: monuments, metals and mobility: 1946. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Frachetti, M.D. 2012. Multiregional emergence of mobile pastoralism and nonuniform institutional complexity across Eurasia. Current Anthropology 53: 238.
Francfort, H.-P. 1994. The Central Asian dimension of the symbolic system in Bactria and Margiana. Antiquity 68: 406–18.
Good, I. 2006. Textiles as a medium of exchange in third millennium BCE Western Asia, in Mair, V.H. (ed.) Contact and exchange in the ancient world: 191214. Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press.
Good, I. 2010. When east met west: interpretive problems in assessing Eurasian contact and exchange in antiquity. Archäologische Mitteilungen aus Iran und Turan 42: 2345.
Gundogdiyev, O. & Salvatori, S.. 2005. Preliminary unpublished field report, submitted to the Turkmen Ministry of Culture in Ashgabat, on the first campaign: 21 September–9 October 2005. Rome: Italian Institute for Africa and the Orient.
Hann, C. 2016. A concept of Eurasia. Current Anthropology 57: 127.
Hiebert, F.T. 1994. Origins of the Bronze Age oasis civilization in Central Asia. Cambridge (MA): Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.
Hiebert, F.T. & Moore, K.M.. 2004. A small steppe site near Gonur, in Kosarev, M.F., Kozhin, P.M. & Dubova, N.A. (ed.) Near the sources of civilizations: the issue in honor of the 75th anniversary of Victor Sarianidi: 294302. Moscow: Staryj Sad.
Honeychurch, W. 2015. Inner Asia and the spatial politics of empire: archeology, mobility, and culture contact. New York: Springer.
Honeychurch, W. & Makarewicz, C.A. 2016. The archaeology of pastoral nomadism. Annual Review of Anthropology 45: 341–59.
Khazanov, A.M. 2009. Specific characteristics of Chalcolithic and Bronze Age pastoralism in the Near East, in Szuchman, J. (ed.) Nomads, tribes, and the state in the ancient Near East: cross-disciplinary perspectives: 119–27. Chicago (IL): The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.
Kohl, P.L. 2002. Archaeological transformations: crossing the pastoral/agricultural bridge. Iranica Antiqua 37: 151–90.
Kohl, P.L. 2007. The making of Bronze Age Eurasia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kohl, P.L. 2008. Shared social fields: evolutionary convergence in prehistory and contemporary practice. American Anthropologist 110: 495506.
Kroeber, A.L. 1947. Culture groupings in Asia. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 3: 322–30.
Kutimov, Y.G. 2014. On the question of cultural contacts between herders and farmers in the Late Bronze Age of Turkmenistan, in Berezkin, Yu. E. & Shaw, O.V. (ed.) Archaeology of the ancient societies of Eurasia: chronology, cultural genesis, religious views—dedicated to the memory of Vadim Mikhailovich Masson (03.05.1929–19.02.2010) (Proceedings of IHMC RAS, volume XLII): 8696. St Petersburg: Institute for the History of Material Culture, Russian Academy of Sciences (in Russian).
Kuz'mina, E.E. 2007. The origin of the Indo-Iranians (Leiden Indo-European Etymological Dictionary series 3). Leiden: Brill.
Kuz'mina, E.E. & Lyapin, A.A.. 1984. New finds of Steppe ceramics in the Murghab, in , V.M. Masson (ed.) Problemy arkheologii Turkmenistana: 622. Ashkhabad: Ylym (Akademia Nauk Turkmen SSR) (in Russian).
Lamberg-Karlovsky, C.C. 1989. Mesopotamia, Central Asia and the Indus Valley: so the kings were killed, in Lamberg-Karlovsky, C.C. (ed.) Archaeological thought in America: 241–67. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Lattimore, O. 1979. Herdsmen, farmers, urban culture, in L'Equipe Ecologie et Anthropologie des Sociétés Pastorales (ed.) Pastoral production and society: 479–90. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Luneau, É. 2014. The end of the Oxus civilization: transformations and reconstructions of societies of the Late Bronze Age in southern Central Asia (1800–1500/1400 BCE). Paris: Éditions de Boccard (in French).
Marushchenko, А.А. 1956. Results of archeological field work in 1953, in Durdyev, D. (ed.) Works of the Institute of History, Archaeology, and Ethnography of the Academy of Sciences of the Turkmenistan SSR (volume II): archaeological material of Turkmenistan: 510. Ashgabat: Institute of History, Archaeology, and Ethnography (in Russian).
Masson, V.M. 2002. Cultures of the Steppe Bronze Age and urban civilizations in the south of Central Asia, in Jones-Bley, K. & Zdanovich, D.G. (ed.) Complex societies of Central Eurasia from the 3rd to the 1st millennium BC: regional specifics in light of global models: 547–57. Washington, D.C.: Institute for the Study of Man.
Moore, K.M., Miller, N.F., Hiebert, F.T. & Meadow, R.H.. 1994. Agriculture and herding in the early oasis settlements of the Oxus civilization. Antiquity 68: 418–27.
Ninfo, A. & Perego, A.. 2006. Evoluzione geomorfologica del delta interno del Murghab: relazione missione Turkmenistan 2006. Rome: University of Bologna (in Italian).
Possehl, G.L. 2005. The Middle Asian interaction sphere. Expedition 49: 4042.
Potts, D.T. 2014. Nomadism in Iran: from antiquity to the modern era. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
P'yankova, L.T. 1989. Pottery complexes of Bronze Age Margiana (Gonur and Togolok 21). Information Bulletin of the International Association for the Study of the Cultures of Central Asia 16: 2754.
P'yankova, L.T. 1993. Pottery of Margiana and Bactria in the Bronze Age. Information Bulletin of the International Association for the Study of the Cultures of Central Asia 19: 109–27.
Reimer, P.J., Bard, E., Bayliss, A., Beck, J.W., Blackwell, P.G., Ramsey, C.B., Buck, C.E., Cheng, H., Edwards, R.L., Friedrich, M., Grootes, P.M., Guilderson, T.P., Haflidason, H., Hajdas, I., Hatté, C., Heaton, T.J., Hoffmann, D.L., Hogg, A.G., Hughen, K.A., Kaiser, K.F., Kromer, B., Manning, S.W., Niu, M., Reimer, R.W., Richards, D.A., Scott, E.M., Southon, J.R., Staff, R.A., Turney, C.S.M. & Van der Plicht, J.. 2013. IntCal13 and Marine13 radiocarbon age calibration curves 0–50,000 years cal BP. Radiocarbon 55: 18691887.
Rogers, J.D. 2012. Inner Asian states and empires: theories and synthesis. Journal of Archaeological Research 20: 205–56.
Rossi Osmida, G. 2007. Adji Kui Oasis III–II mill. BC: la cittadella delle statuette. Padova: Il Punto Edizioni (in Italian).
Rouse, L.M. 2015. A line in the sand: archaeological evidence for the interactions of settled farmers and mobile pastoralists in the Late Bronze Age (1950–1500 BC) Murghab alluvial fan, Turkmenistan. Unpublished PhD dissertation, Washington University in St Louis.
Rouse, L.M. & Cerasetti, B.. 2014. Ojakly: a Late Bronze Age mobile pastoralist site in the Murghab region, Turkmenistan. Journal of Field Archaeology 39: 3250.
Rouse, L.M. & Cerasetti, B.. 2017. Micro-dynamics and macro-patterns: exploring new archaeological data for the Late Holocene human-water relationship in the Murghab alluvial fan, Turkmenistan. Quaternary International 437: 2034.
Salvatori, S. 2002. Project ‘Archaeological Map of the Murghab Delta’ (Turkmenistan): test trenches at the Bronze Age sites of Adzhi Kui 1 and 9. Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia 8: 107–78.
Salvatori, S. 2008. The Margiana settlement pattern from the Middle Bronze Age to the Parthian-Sasanian: a contribution to the study of complexity, in Salvatori, S., Tosi, M. & Cerasetti, B. (ed.) The Bronze Age and Early Iron Age in the Margiana lowlands: facts and methodological proposals for a redefinition of the research strategies: 5774. Oxford: Archaeopress.
Sarianidi, V.I. 1975. Stepnye plemena epokhi bronzy v Margiane [Steppe tribes of the Bronze Age in Margiana]. Sovietskaya Arkheologia 2: 2029 (in Russian).
Sarianidi, V.I. 1981. Margiana in the Bronze Age, in Kohl, P.L. (ed.) The Bronze Age civilization of Central Asia: recent Soviet discoveries: 165–93. Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, Inc.
Sarianidi, V.I. 1990. Древности Страны Маргуш [Antiquities of Margush]. Ashgabad: Ylym (in Russian).
Sarianidi, V.I. 2010. Задолго до Заратуштры (Археологические доказательства протозороастризма в Бактрии и Маргиане) [Long before Zaratushtra (archaeological evidence of protoZoroastrianism in Bactria and Margiana)]. Moscow: Staryi Sad (in Russian).
Sarianidi, V.I. & Dubova, N.A.. 2012. Archaeological excavations of the Margiana archaeological expedition during 2008–2011, in Sarianidi, V.I., Kozhin, P.M., Kosarev, M.F. & Dubova, N.A. (ed.) Transactions of the Margiana archaeological expedition: volume 4—Gonur Depe studies in 2008–2011: 2955. Moscow: Staryi Sad (in Russian).
Spengler, R.N., Cerasetti, B., Tengberg, M., Cattani, M. & Rouse, L.M.. 2014a. Agriculturalists and pastoralists: Bronze Age economy of the Murghab alluvial fan, southern Central Asia. Journal of Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 23: 805–20.
Spengler, R., Frachetti, M., Doumani, P., Rouse, L., Cerasetti, B., Bullion, E. & Mar'yashev, A.. 2014b. Early agriculture and crop transmission among Bronze Age mobile pastoralists of Central Eurasia. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 281 (1783).
Spengler, R.N., De Nigris, I., Cerasetti, B., Carra, M. & Rouse, L.M.. In press. The breadth of dietary economy in Bronze Age Central Asia: case study from Adji Kui 1 in the Murghab region of Turkmenistan. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.
Vinogradova, N.M. & Kuz'mina, E.E.. 1996. Contacts between the Steppe and agricultural tribes of Central Asia in the Bronze Age. Anthropology & Archeology of Eurasia 34: 2954.
Wright, R.P. 1989. New tracks on ancient frontiers: ceramic technology on the Indo-Iranian borderlands, in Lamberg-Karlovsky, C.C. (ed.) Archaeological thought in America: 268–79. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed