Affiliation: University of Pittsburgh
Tekla Schmaus is a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Pittsburgh. She received her PhD from Indiana University in 2015. She is an archaeologist working in Central Eurasia whose research focuses on human-environment interactions, prehistoric economy and diet, and changing political structures in the Bronze and Iron Ages. Her work on human-animal mobility patterns includes methods from zooarchaeology and dental anthropology. In addition, she has extensive fieldwork experience in Kazakhstan, and has directed excavation in Kyrgyzstan.
Much of our popular conception of ancient Eurasian nomads comes from the written records of their sedentary neighbors. Whether we look at Herodotus in the west or Sima Qian in the east, we come away with an image of the nomad as warlike and parasitic on sedentary societies. But the Greeks and the Chinese were not unbiased, and had social and political reasons to portray their Scythian or Xiongnu neighbors as exotic others. While some parts of the written descriptions are utterly fantastical, archaeological investigations of settlements in Central Asia have shown that other parts of the written record are astonishingly accurate. I’ll cover some recent archaeological discoveries that tell us about the everyday lives of people in these groups, and I’ll discuss other lines of evidence we draw upon to recreate ancient lifeways and social organization in Eurasia. Finally, I’ll argue that a more accurate understanding of groups like the Scythians and Xiongnu is not just important to the study of ancient history. Rather, the way we understand ancient nomads also has important implications for the ways we understand and interact with contemporary mobile groups.