Abstract: The Ancient Inner Asian Ecumene: Complexity and Civilization Redefined

Central (or Inner) Asia is defined by the vast territories of grasslands, deserts, and mountains that separate east Asia (China) from the Middle East, yet paradoxically this very region was the heartland of history’s greatest trade network – The Silk Roads.  The ancient societies that occupied Inner Asia from the Neolithic era to the coming of Alexander the Great each played an essential role in shaping institutions of economy,  religion, trade, warfare, and politics across the region.  In as much, the prehistoric record of Inner Asia illustrates a unique model of social complexity and forces us to fundamentally reconsider our most canonical definitions of ancient civilization. 

The term civilization has most commonly (and nearly exclusively) been used to describe the complex organization of state-based, urban, agricultural societies. This canonical view has been long criticized for describing only a small portion of complex social organizations, thus the term is sometimes used with caution, and in some cases not used at all. But what if archaeology illustrated a different evolution of 'Ancient Civilizations'? Would we still recognize it?  This paper presents a new conceptualization of complex interaction among prehistoric societies and explores the emergence of ancient civilization from the perspective of new archaeological discoveries and analysis from Inner Asia.

 

Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

Archaeology Magazine May/June 2012: http://archive.archaeology.org/1205/features/begash_uzbekistan_sarazm_ka...

Frachetti, Michael D.  Pastoralist Landscapes and Social Interaction in Bronze Age Eurasia. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008

Frachetti, Michael and Lynne Rouse. Central Asia, the steppe and the Near East, 2500-1500 BC. In Companion to the Archaeology of the Near East, ed. D. Potts, pp. 687-705.  London: Blackwell Publishers, 2012

Frachetti, Michael D. Multi-Regional Emergence of Mobile Pastoralism and Non-Uniform Institutional Complexity Across Eurasia.  Current Anthropology. 53(1): 2-38, 2012

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