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



This dissertation presents a comprehensive investigation of a water management system built by an ancient agro-pastoralist community living along the Silk Road in Xinjiang, China. Often either vilified as a destructive force to the environment or praised as environmental conservationists, pastoralists in China have a controversial reputation. The goal of this research is to join the debate on the ecological impact of pastoralists with archaeological evidence. Specifically, this research investigates the ecological impact of the water use practices represented in the design and construction of the water management system at MGK4. My analysis shows that this system had a relatively low impact on the environment, but its seemingly conserving design unlikely came from a conservationist ideology. Instead, the design of the system can be better understood as an adaptation to the decentralized social organization and the mobile agro-pastoralist lifestyle. I argue that it is more appropriate to view pastoralists living in small-scale societies as low-impact modifiers of the environment rather than either a destructive force to the environment or environmental conservationists.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Michael D. Frachetti

Committee Members

Tristram Kidder, Fiona Marshall, Xinyi Liu, Zhao Ma,


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