Key External Project Partners

  • Nikolay Kradin (Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Institute of History, Archaeology and Ethnology, Far-Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences)
  • Tsagaan Turbat (Institute of History and Archaeology, Mongolian Academy of Sciences)
  • Jamsranjav Bayarsaikhan (National Museum of Mongolia)
  • Bryan Miller (University of Oxford)
  • Tserendorj Odbaatar (National Museum of Mongolia)
  • Bilikto Bazarov (Institute for Mongolian, Buddhist and Tibetan Studies of the Siberian Branch of the RAS)
  • Tumurbaatar Tuvshinjargal (National Museum of Mongolia)

Project Funding

Funding support for this project has been provided by the Max Planck society.

Mobility in the Age of Nomads: How grains and horses transformed the steppe


At the dawn of the Iron Age, a dramatic shift in the scale of interactions occurred across Eurasia. Until recently, these changes were believed to be related to the development of nomadic pastoralism as the foundation of a pastoral economy. However, recent research suggests that pastoralists were supplementing their diets with domesticated cereals and that many communities were sedentary. Mobility will be investigated from the Trans-Urals to eastern Mongolia through stable isotope analyses (SIA) of human and horse osteological remains alongside detailed reference isoscapes built from targeted modern samples.
Horses in northern Kazakhstan. Zoom Image
Horses in northern Kazakhstan.

At the dawn of the Iron Age, a dramatic shift in the scale of interactions occurred across Eurasia. Networks expanded to include vast expanses of Central and Inner Asia and were accompanied by the emergence of a shared cultural retinue associated with nomadic warriors. Until recently, these changes were believed to be related to the development of nomadic pastoralism as the foundation of a pastoral economy. However, recent research suggests that pastoralists were supplementing their diets with domesticated cereals and that many communities were sedentary.

This project explores several questions:

  • How did the introduction of grains and network expansion impact mobility practices of pastoralists?
  • Was there a transition in the extents or types of mobility over time, related to a shift away from pastoral practices?
  • Was mobility enabled or inhibited by the introduction of grains across a landscape of primarily pastoral groups?
  • Was an increase in horse riding tack and warrior paraphernalia at the dawn of the Iron Age indicative of an increase in the auto-mobility of individuals or simply a surge in the expression of nomadic identity as a response to cross-cultural contact?
Horse and human teeth collected for analysis. Zoom Image
Horse and human teeth collected for analysis.


Mobility will be investigated from the Trans-Urals to eastern Mongolia through stable isotope analyses (SIA) of human and horse osteological remains alongside detailed reference isoscapes built from targeted modern samples. The proposed study documents movement and diet in several critical periods through isotopic analyses of human and horse tooth enamel (87Sr/86Sr, δ18O, δ13C) and bone collagen (δ13C, δ15N). The construction of isotopic reference sets for Eurasia are a critical step in this research, allowing for the contextualization of human exploitation of the landscape relative to the varied social and political configurations of pastoral and agro-pastoral groups. This research decouples pastoralism from nomadism, by investigating human and animal mobilities at multiple scales.

Related Publications

Drawing of the hat of the Golden Man depicting plants growing in mountain valleys. Zoom Image
Drawing of the hat of the Golden Man depicting plants growing in mountain valleys.

Ventresca Miller, A., E. R. Usmanova, I. Shevnina, A. Logvin, and A. Kolbina, 2014a. Dental health, diet, and social transformations in the Bronze Age: Comparative analysis of pastoral populations in northern Kazakhstan. Special Issue, The Bridging Eurasia Research Initiative: Modes of mobility and sustainability in the palaeoenvironmental and archaeological archives from Eurasia. Quaternary International 348:130-146.

Ventresca Miller, A., E. R. Usmanova, V. N. Logvin, I. Shevnina, S. Kalieva, A. Logvin, A. Kolbina, A. Simonich, K. Privat, K. Haas, M. Rosenmeier, 2014b. Subsistence and social change in central Eurasia: stable isotope analysis of populations spanning the Bronze Age transition. Journal of Archaeological Science 42:525-538.

Hanks, B., A. Ventresca Miller, A. Epimakhov, M. Judd, D. Rajev, K. Privat, and M. Rosenmeier. Forthcoming. Examination of Multi-Resource Pastoralism and Dietary Trends in Bronze Age North Central Eurasia (accepted, Journal of Archaeological Science)

Ventresca Miller, A., C. Schuh, E. R. Usmanova, A. Logvin, I. Shevnina, and C. Makarewicz. Forthcoming. Pastoralist mobility in Bronze Age landscapes of Northern Kazakhstan: 87Sr/86Sr and δ18O analyses of human dentition from Bestamak and Lisakovsk (in press, Environmental Archaeology).

Ventresca Miller, A. & Makarewicz, C. 2018. Isotopic Approaches to Pastoralism in Prehistory: Diet, Mobility, and Isotopic Reference Sets. In: A. Ventresca Miller & C. Makarewicz eds., Isotopic Investigations of Pastoralism in Prehistory. Oxford, Routledge.

Ventresca Miller, A. 2018. Modeling modern surface water δ18O to explore prehistoric human mobility. In: A. Ventresca Miller & C. Makarewicz eds., Isotopic Investigations of Pastoralism in Prehistory. Oxford, Routledge.

Ventresca Miller, A. R, T. M. Bragina, Y. A. Abil, M. M. Rulyova, and C. Makarewicz. Pasture Usage by Ancient Pastoralists in the Northern Kazakh Steppe Informed by Carbon and Nitrogen Isoscapes of Contemporary Floral Biomes. (forthcoming, Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences)

 
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