Dr. Robert N. Spengler

Research Group Leader
FEDD Research Group
DAE Research Group
+49 3641 686-722

Main Focus

Paleoethnobotany, Paleoecology, Paleoeconomy, Central Asia, Mongolia, South Asia

Curriculum Vitae

Robert N Spengler III is currently the director of the Paleoethnobotany Laboratories at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (Max-Planck-Institut für Menschheitsgeschichte) in Jena. He recently wrapped up his research also a Visiting Research Scholar at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World through New York University. Dr. Spengler was also a research fellow in Berlin, Germany, as a Volkswagen and Mellon Foundations Postdoctoral Fellow jointly appointed at the German Institute of Archaeology (Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, DAI), in the Eurasia Department and Freie Universität, Berlin. During which time he also retained his affiliation with Washington University in St. Louis in the Anthropology Department where he held a posting as a Research Associate the previous year. He defended his PhD at Washington University in St. Louis in March of 2013.

He is studying the paleoeconomy and ecology of Central Asia from the third millennium B.C. onward and has ongoing research projects in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, China, and Mongolia. While he has used several methods in the archaeobotanical sciences, he primarily analyzes macrobotanical remains. Through this research he has shown that farming was an important part of the economy across eastern Central Asia for at least four millennia and that many important crops spread through this region in prehistory. Through his archaeobotanical studies, he is helping to fill in the last major gaps in the global map of agricultural spread, and showing how important the Silk Road was in the spread of specific crops and technologies. In addition, his data feed into a broader understanding of human adaptations, social development, and the linked nature between agricultural intensification and social complexity.

Dr. Spengler is the author of “Fruits of the Sands: How the Silk Road shaped your dinner table” (2017). The book comprehensively explores archaeobotanical data from the broad region of Central Eurasia, from Western China to the steppe and from the Altai Mountains to the Kopet Dag. Using these data, he explains when and from where certain crops spread into this region and how, from there, they eventually reached the disparate ends of Eurasia. While most historians mark the beginning of the Silk Road as occurring during the second century B.C., archaeological artifacts illustrate just how wide spread the movement of material culture was in these mountain valleys as far back as the late third millennium B.C. Agricultural crops moved through these mountain valleys along with other goods and as a result shaped cuisines around the world. The book traces the story of many familiar grain crops, as well as fruits such as the apple, which originated in Central Asia, in doing so, it lays out the history of many of the foods on your dinner table today. 



Spengler, R. N., III 2019. Fruit from the Sands: The Silk Road Origins of the Food We Eat. University of California Press.



Taylor, William, Julia Clark, Jamsramjav Bayarsaikhan, Tumuurbaatar Turshinjargal, Jessica Thompson Jobe, William Fitzhugh, Richard Kortum, Robert N. Spengler III, Svetlana Shnaider, Frederik Seersholm, Isaac Hart, Nicolas Case, Shevan Wilkin, Jessica Hendy, Ulrike Thuering, Bryan Miller, Alicia Ventresca Miller, Andrea Picia, Nils Vanwezer, Franziska Irmer, Samantha Brown, Aida Abdykanova, Daniel Shultz, Victoria Pham, Michael Bunee, Katerina Douka, Emily Jones, and Nicole Boivin 2020. Early Pastoral Economies and Hearding Transitions in Eastern Eurasia. Scientific Reports.

Stephens, L., D. Fuller, N. Boivin, T. Rick, N. Gauthier, A. Kay, B. Marwick, C. Geralda, R. N. Spengler, et al. 2019. Archaeological assessment reveals Earth’s early transformation through land use. Science. 365(6456): 897-902.

Taylor, William T., Svetlana Shnaider, Robert N. Spengler III, Ludovic Orlando, Aida Aboykanova, Andrei Krivoshapkin 2019. Investigating Ancient Animal Economies and Exchange in Kyrgyzstan’s Alay Valley. Antiquity. 93(367) e2.

Spengler, Robert N., III 2019. Origins of the Apple: The Role of Megafaunal Mutualism in the Domestication of Malus and Rosaceous Trees. Frontiers in Plant Science. 10(617):1-18.

Spengler, Robert N., III and Natalie Mueller 2019. Grazing Animals Drove Domestication of Grain Crops. Nature Plants. 5: 656–662.

Spengler, Robert N. III, William Taylor, Alicia Ventresca Miller, Bryan Miller, Shevan Wilkin, Ashliegh Haruda, Tekla Schmause, Patrick Roberts, Nicole Boivin 2019 An Imagined Past? Nomadic Narratives in Central Asian Archeaology. Current Anthropology.

Ren, Meng, Zi-Hua Tang, Xin-Hua Wu, Robert N. Spengler III, Hong-En Jiang, Yi-Min Yang, and Nicole Boivin. 2019 Mortuary Cannabis Burning in the Pamirs During the First Millennium BC. Science Advances. 5(6): eaaw1391.

Spengler, Robert N., III, Farhod Maksudov, Elissa Bullion, Ann Merkle, Taylor Hermes, and Michael Frachetti 2018. Arboreal crops on the medieval Silk Road: Archaeobotanical studies at Tashbulak. PLOS ONE. 13(8): e0201409.

Christian Leipe, Stefanie Müller, Konrad Hille, Hirofumi Kato, Franziska Kobe, Mareike Schmidt, Konrad Seyffert, Robert N. Spengler III, Mayke Wagner, Andrzej W. Weber, and Pavel E. Tarasov
2018. Vegetation change and human impacts on Rebun Island (Northwest Pacific) over the last 6000 years. Quaternary Science Reviews 193: 129-144.

Spengler, Robert N., III 2018. Dung Burning in the Archaeobotanical Record of West Asia: Where are we now? Special Edition Volume of Vegetation History and Archaeobotany. Online First.

Doumani Dupuy, Paula, Robert N. Spengler III, and Michael Frachetti
2018. Eurasian Textiles: Case studies in exchange during the incipient and later Silk Road periods. Quaternary International. 468 (Part B): 228-239.

Spengler, Robert N., III, Ilaria de Nigris, Barbara Cerasetti, and Lynne M. Rouse
2018. The Breadth of Dietary Economy in the Central Asian Bronze Age: A case study from Adji Kui in the Murghab Region of Turkmenistan. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. 22: 372-381.

Spengler, R. N., III, Miller, N., Neef, R., Chang, C. In press. Iron Age Farming in Central Asia: The Interconnected Role of Increasing Social Complexity, Exchange, and Agricultural Goods. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology.

Leipe, C., Sergusheva, E. A., Müller, S., Spengler, R. N., III, Goslar, T., Kato, H., Wagner, M., Weber, A. W., Tarasov, P. E. 2017. Barley (Hordeum vulgare) in the Okhotsk culture (5th-10th century AD) of northern Japan and the role of cultivated plants in hunter-gatherer economies. PLoS ONE. 12(3): e0174397.

Spengler, R. N., III, Tarasov, P., Wagner, M. 2016. The Origins and Spread of Agriculture in Central Asia and Adjacent Regions: An Introduction. The Holocene. 26: 1523-1526.

Spengler, R. N., III, Ryabogina, N., Tarasov, P., Wagner, M. 2016. The Spread of Agriculture into Northern Asia. The Holocene. 26: 1527-1540.

Miller, N. F., Spengler, R. N., Frachetti, M. 2016. Millet Cultivation across Eurasia: Origins, Spread, and the Influence of Seasonal Climate. The Holocene. 26: 1566-1575.

Spengler, R. N., III 2015. Agriculture in the Central Asian Bronze Age. Journal of World Prehistory. 28 (3): 215–253.

Doumani, P. N., Frachetti, M. D., Beardmore, R. Schmaus, T., Spengler, R. N., Mar’yashev, A. N. 2015. Bronze Age Mountain Agriculture, Funerary Ritual, and Mobile Pastoralism at Tasbas, Southeastern Kazakhstan. Archaeological Research in Asia. 1-2: 17–32

d’Alpoim Guedes, J., Lu, H., Li, Y., Wu, X., Spengler, R. N., III, Aldenderfer, M. S. 2014. Moving Agriculture onto the Tibetan Plateau: The Archaeobotanical Evidence. Journal of Archaeological and Anthropological Science. 6: 255–269.

Spengler, R. N., III, Cerassetti, B., Tengberg, M., Cattani, M., Rouse, L. M. 2014. Agriculturalists and Pastoralists: Bronze Age Economy of the Murghab Delta, Southern Central Asia. Journal of Vegetation History and Archaeobotany. 23: 805–820.

Spengler, R. N., Frachetti, M. D., Doumani, P. N., Rouse, L. M., Cerasetti, B., Bullion, E., Mar’yashev, A. N. 2014. Early agriculture and crop transmission among Bronze Age mobile pastoralists of   Central Eurasia. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 281: 20133382.

Spengler, R. N., III, Doumani, P., Frachetti, M. 2014. Agriculture in the Piedmont of Eastern Central Asia: The Late Bronze Age at Tasbas, Kazakhstan. Quaternary International. 348: 147–157.

Spengler, R. N., III 2014. Niche Dwelling vs. Niche Construction: Landscape Modification in the Bronze and Iron Ages of Central Asia. Human Ecology. 42(6): 813–821.

Langlie, B. S., Mueller, N. G., Spengler, R. N., Fritz, G. J. 2014. Agricultural Origins from the Ground Up: Archaeological Perspectives on Plant Domestication. American Journal of Botany. 101(10): 1601–1617.

Spengler, R. N., III, Chang, C., Tourtellotte, P. A. 2013. Agricultural Production in the Central Asian mountains: Tuzusai, Kazakhstan (410-150 BC). Journal of Field Archaeology. 38(1): 68–85.

Spengler, R. N., III, Frachetti, M. D., Fritz, G. J. 2013. Ecotopes and Herd Foraging Practices in the Bronze and Iron Age, Steppe and Mountain Ecotone of Central Asia. Journal of Ethnobiology. 33(1): 125–147.

Spengler, R. N., III, Willcox, G. 2013. Archaeobotanical Results from Sarazm, Tajikistan, an Early Bronze Age Village on the Edge: Agriculture and Exchange. Journal of Environmental Archaeology. 10(3): 211–221.

Frachetti, M. D., Spengler, R. N., Fritz, G. J., Mar’yashev, A. N. 2010. Earliest Direct Evidence for Broomcorn Millet and Wheat in the Central Eurasian Steppe Region. Antiquity 84: 993–1010.

Book Chapters

Spengler, Robert N., III 2019. Fruits on the Ancient Silk Road. In Susan Whitfield and Fleur Jones (eds.) The Silk Road. Thames & Hudson: London.

Cerasetti, Barbara, Lynne M. Rouse, Roberto Arciero, Luca Forni, Elise Luneau, and Robert N. Spengler III 2019. Interactions between sedentary and mobile peoples in the Bronze Age of southern Central Asia: Excavations at Togolok 1 in the Murghab region. Proceeding of the Eurasian Archaeology Conference of the German Archaeologcial Institute. German Archaeologcial Institute: Berlin, Germany.

Cerasetti, Barbara, Roberto Arciero, Marialetizia Carra, Antonio Curci, Jacopo De Grossi Mazzorin, Luca Forni, Elise Luneau, Lynne M. Rouse, and Robert N. Spengler III 2019. Bronze and Iron Age urbanization in Turkmenistan: Preliminary results from the excavation of Togolok 1 on the Murghab alluvial fan. Conference Volume for the International Turkmenistan Archaeology Conference. Bern, Switzerland.

Frachetti, M. D., Spengler, R. N., III (eds.) 2015. Introduction. In Mobility and Ancient Society in Asia and the Americas: Proceedings of the Second International Conference on "Great Migrations", Springer Publishing.

Spengler, R. N., III 2015. Central Asia, pre-Silk Road Agricultural Exchange. In Mary Beaudry and Karen Metheny (eds.), The Archaeology of Food: An Encyclopedia. Rowman and Littlefield

d'Alpoim Guedes, J., Spengler, R. N., III 2015. Sampling in Paleoethnobotany. In Method and Theory in Paleoethnobotany. University Press of Colorado: Denver, Colorado.

Spengler, R. N., III 2014. Paleoethnobotanical Methods for the Study of Early Agriculture and Cuisine in the Prehistory of Central Asia. In Experience of Turkmenistan in Research and Museumification of Archaeological Findings. (pp. 326-328), Turkmenistan Ministry of Culture, Ashgabat.


Spengler, Robert N., III 2013. Botanical Resource Use in the Bronze and Iron Age of the Central Eurasian Mountain/Steppe Interface: Decision Making in Multi-resource Pastoral Economies, Ph.D. Dissertation for the Anthropology Department at Washington University in St. Louis.

Spengler, Robert N. 2008. Archaeobotanical Analysis of the Begash Site: Plants as a Component of Mobile Pastoralism. St. Louis: Unpublished Master’s Thesis, Available in the Anthropology Department at Washington University.

Edited Volumes

Spengler, R. N., III, Mayke, W. Tarasov, P. 2016. Introduction and Intensification of Agriculture in Central Eurasia and Adjacent Regions. Special Edition volume of The Holocene. October, 2016, issue – 26.

Frachetti, M. D., Spengler, R. N., III (eds.) 2015. Mobility and Ancient Society in Asia and the Americas: Proceedings of the Second International Conference on "Great Migrations", Springer Publishing.

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