Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2018

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



Ethnic, political, and religious upheaval has cascading impacts on social identity. Kinship and religious ritual are two sources of social identity that are particularly salient in periods of change. Their practice provides access to and protection of important social, economic, and ideological resources that help groups negotiate times of uncertainty. During the medieval period (8th-13th c. CE), Central Asia saw the invasion of Arab armies, the rise of Turkic political dynasties, and the spread of Islam. This period yielded a Turko-Islamic culture that pervades modern dialogues on Central Asian history and culture. The local and regional social systems that sustained the spread of ethnic and religious identities during the medieval period, however, remain poorly understood. This dissertation investigates mortuary ritual and biological affinity in medieval (8th-13th century) Central Asian populations to document the practice of social identity across diverse populations during this period of dramatic change. This thesis represents the first comprehensive bioarchaeological study of medieval Central Asian populations. Mortuary and cranial shape data were obtained from nineteen sites dating between the 7th and 14th c. CE located in modern-day Uzbekistan. Data collection was comprised of three years of research at the archives and osteological collections of the Institute of Samarkand and cemetery excavations at the site of Tashbulak in southeastern Uzbekistan. In this study, I analyze spatial organization, architecture, and body treatment in burials, as well as geometric morphometric analysis of three-dimensional cranial landmark data. I interpret my results as reflecting kinship and mortuary communities-of-practice and examine how these social identity practices reflect or refute previous historical narratives about ethnic and religious identity.

I demonstrate that populations in medieval Uzbekistan buried their dead according to Islamic funerary prescriptions across diverse geographic and social settings. I identify seven sets of burial practice within these prescriptions that are practiced at local and regional scales. Biological affinity analysis demonstrates shared genetic background of populations at study sites, with overlapping variation at all sites. I find no evidence of genetically based ethnic groups or differential practice of Islam across rural and urban contexts, as historical documents from this period would suggest. Instead, my data speak to an integrated social landscape, within which Islamic was broadly practiced, and genetic relatedness did not act as a reproductive boundary. I argue that increasing urbanism and reliance on market economies could have promoted shared identity and genetic homogeneity, through integration of urban and rural sites into a system that promoted participation in a non-kin-based economy, in which conversion to Islam was rewarded with monetary and social capital. Within this regional homogeneity, however, there is local diversity in both the mortuary and biological affinity record. People practiced a variety of architectural and body positioning traditions within overarching Islamic prescriptions. Genetically, individuals do not consistently cluster most closely with individuals from the same site. Medieval Central Asian populations therefore, engaged in social lives derived from shared institutional pressures, but through which groups also expressed a variety of identities that they carried between sites, across diverse geographic and social contexts.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Michael D. Frachetti

Committee Members

Kari Allen, Sarah Baitzel, Tristram R. Kidder, Erik Trinkaus,


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