Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2015

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



This dissertation focuses on the interactions of mobile pastoralist groups with sedentary farming communities in the Late Bronze Age period (1950 - 1500 BCE) in the Murghab alluvial fan of present-day Turkmenistan. Traditional archaeological and historical studies in Central Asia, focused as they are on urban contexts or centers of dense population, have colored interpretations of mobile-sedentary interaction in prehistory and helped reinforce a view that mobile and settled groups were always at odds with one another. The Late Bronze Age Murghab marks the period and locale of the first sustained interaction between distinct cultural communities of mobile pastoralists and sedentary farmers in southern Central Asia. To evaluate long-held conceptions of mobile-sedentary relationships here, this study presents some of the first empirical archaeological data from mobile pastoralist occupation sites. Specifically, I present the results of excavations undertaken at the site of Ojakly (Site 1744), currently the earliest-dated (ca. 1600 BCE), largest, and most complex mobile pastoralist site known in the Murghab. Results from Ojakly, I suggest, reveal how communities are able to participate in and re-shape distinct social institutions without submitting to hegemonic directives or cultural assimilation.

Ojakly provides key archaeological evidence for the daily activities, habitual practices, and materials utilized by peripheral groups occupying the northeastern Murghab in the Late Bronze Age, who were linked both to Eurasian mobile pastoralists broadly defined as "Andronovo" groups and local farming communities of the Namazga tradition. The excavated portion of the site contained two multiple-phase habitation areas, where people repeatedly re-occupied the same space in temporary structures, cooked meals, and dumped refuse. The faunal and archaeobotanical assemblages both support the view that the inhabitants of Ojakly were mobile pastoralists, indicating on the one hand that herd animals (especially sheep and goat) formed a basic subsistence unit, and on the other that farming and grain processing were not undertaken at Ojakly, and domestic cereal consumption was limited. Yet, while subsistence practices appear largely independent between Ojakly and coeval sedentary farmers, a third excavated area revealed certain overlaps in ceramic production activities. A subterranean ceramic kiln that collapsed on its first firing, sealing inside wheel-made ceramics similar to those known only from sedentary communities at this time, is strongly suggestive that the people living at Ojakly were incorporating new methods of production and forms into their ceramic repoirtoire. These shifts in behavior, however, did not supplant the handmade ceramics used on an everyday basis at the site, nor the household level of its production.

I contextualize the results from Ojakly within the broader social and political shifts occurring in the Murghab at the end of the Bronze Age, when a regional polity known as the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex was in decline. I argue that by virtue of their position at the intersection of the "steppe" and "sown" worlds, and at an important socio-political juncture in the trajectory of the region, the inhabitants of Ojakly were able to participate in a variety of non-contiguous social, technological, and probably ideological institutions. This challenges the traditional view of sedentary-mobile interaction, whereby pastoralists are dependent upon village-based communities or challengers to their authority, and frames encounters as negotiated participation in each other's worlds.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Michael D Frachetti

Committee Members

Nikolaus Boroffka, Tristram R Kidder, Xinyi Liu, Fiona B Marshall, Sandra L Olsen


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