Hominin Occupation History of Central Asia over the Last 1 Million Years

Central Asia is situated at a crossroad that links east and north Asia with Europe and the Levant. This region is fundamental to questions of early hominin dispersals because of its position at the gateway between Europe and Asia. Evidence suggests that between 1 million and 800,000 years ago, the first hominins arrived in Central Asia, bringing Lower Palaeolithic toolkits with them. By the late Pleistocene, the Pamir, Tian Shan, and Altai mountains served as corridors for populations of multiple hominin species, including Denisovans, Neanderthals, and modern humans. This project investigates Pleistocene occupation of Central Asia using archaeological and environmental datasets, with special attention to Uzbekistan.
 

Sampling a stalagmite from a cave in Uzbekistan for reconstruction of multi-proxy climatic data
 

We synthesize multidisciplinary lines of evidence to understand the relationship between environment and hominin occupation in Central Asia. We leverage archaeological datasets, speleothem-based climate proxy records, and reconstructions of paleo-hydrology and moisture availability. The past climate and archaeological record of Uzbekistan is of particular importance to this work. Uzbekistan holds some of the most important archaeological localities in the region, preserving both hominin remains and lithic artifacts.

This project brings together an interdisciplinary research team from the National Academy of Sciences in Uzbekistan, Northumbria University, and King’s College London. Our goal is to reconstruct the past climate of Uzbekistan and identify target areas for future field survey. This is accomplished by comparing records obtained from speleothems with the location of Paleolithic finds and the geographic distribution of paleo-drainages. Integrating these datasets and obtaining new material for future study will expand our understanding of population dynamics and dispersal across Central Asia.

The distribution of published archaeological findings in Central Asia. Map courtesy of Paul Breeze, King’s College London.
 
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