Date of Award

Winter 12-15-2014

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



This dissertation explores the relationship between mobility, social interaction and flows of material technology in Bronze Age Semirech'ye, in southeast Kazakhstan. The work is directed at questions of operational complexity and issues of scale in understanding local and regional material assemblages and craft production in the Bronze Age. The thesis represents the first comprehensive technological analysis of Handmade Steppe Ceramics (HSC) from Semirech'ye. The ceramics date to the Bronze Age (ca. 2400-800BC) and are associated with the work of mobile pastoralists who occupied disaggregated seasonal campsites along the piedmont zone of the Dzhungar Mountains. Pottery data was obtained from newly acquired and preexisting collections, gathered over the past 15 years from research conducted by the Dzhungar Mountains Archaeology Project and colleagues from the Institute of Archaeology Kazakhstan, in Almaty. Collections from eight campsites were used in total.

Prior to the project, researchers disproportionately focused on stylistic analyses of ceramics conducted within the methodological guidelines of Soviet and post-Soviet culture-history -- with less attention toward how objects were made, or toward the social, environmental, or economic contexts of production. Thus, background sections of the dissertation outline the pottery-based culture-histories of the Andronovo cultural horizon and how they were established within an academic paradigm that viewed large-scale migration and diffusion as principal vectors for producing large spatial distributions of distinctly common material complexes. Next, I outline why there is a need in central Eurasian archaeology for the traditional paradigm to be reassessed using detailed pottery studies, archaeometric analyses, and settlement excavation of poorly documented micro-regions. I explain why a practice-based approach to pottery analysis can address questions on the social history of communities of practice as well as examine the relationship between local and regional material assemblages.

I document the mechanical and stylistic features of Bronze Age HSC of Semirech'ye. I outline how pots were made, and where potting practices for each study site overlap, and where they are different. This account provides diachronic and synchronic overviews of what potting institutions looked like at the local and regional scale in Semirech'ye from the Middle to Final Bronze Age. The results show that HSC in Semirech'ye exhibit some localized technological continuity for at least 1600 years. Yet, HSC do not describe a static technology, nor do they exhibit features of a monolithic assemblage. Instead, the nonuniform technological components of HSC suggest that communities living throughout the mountain regions of Semirech'ye were differentially exposed to spheres of interaction that were not always experienced in the same way by their neighbors. Thus, the system of interaction and knowledge transfer for potting likely came about through the dynamic interplay between local and distributed communities who participated in broadly shared institutions of practice.

Original excavation is also provided from the highland multiphase pastoral campsite Tasbas, located in the Bayan-Zhurek Valley of northern Semirech'ye. I outline long-term use (ca. 5000 years) of the site beginning in the Bronze Age. Excavations yielded evidence that pastoralists resided at Tasbas from the mid-3rd millennium B.C., placing it among the earliest settlement contexts in Semirech'ye. Furthermore, grains and phytoliths recovered during excavations make Tasbas the earliest known farming site in northern Central Asia. I argue in the dissertation that change in the subsistence economy in turn spurred new technologies and raw material choices related to household craft production--of objects like pottery, textiles and mudbrick. Reading into other lines of data helped to better flesh out an understanding of the smaller-scale, daily practices of these groups of people.

The key findings of the dissertation are that ceramics show long-standing traditions of local manufacture with incremental change, micro-styles, and uneven frequencies of potting practices across the Bronze Age sites of the study zone. The absence of any sharp breaks in potting technology show that migration is not the answer to how this process occurred. The analyzed dataset from the eight study sites also yield no patterns to suggest greater specialization occurred in potting for the Bronze Age. Rather, the nature of the ceramic data indicates that at least the structural forms of institutional integration were based in household contexts with non-specialists being the agents who transferred and maintained this knowledge domain. The local forms of material culture demonstrate lasting institutions of practice that were both plural in the array of micro-approaches utilized, and enduring in the repeated use of macro-techniques for hand-fashioning utilitarian ceramic containers over the course of the 3rd-1st millennium B.C.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Michael D Frachetti

Committee Members

David Browman, David Freidel, Bryan Hanks, Tristram R Kidder, Fiona Marshall


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