Recent Webcasts

Silk, gold, and glass: Upper Mustang and Nepal and the Silk Roads after 400 CE

April 16, 2020

The high Himalayan valley of Upper Mustang today appears isolated and remote. But more than 1600 years ago, the settlements of Upper Mustang participated in an extensive trade network that ultimately connected them to the fabled Silk Road. Not only did exotic objects find their way in to the region, but new ideas and religious practices appeared in mortuary rites and rituals and which reflect a complex blend of pre-Buddhist and possibly Zoroastrian influences. The archaeological evidence supporting these claims is explored in this presentation.

Mark Aldenderfer is the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Merced. His research focuses on the comparative analysis of high altitude cultural and biological adaptations from an archaeological perspective. He has worked on the three high elevation plateaus of the planet—Ethiopian, Andean, and Tibetan—over the course of his career and currently works in Upper Mustang, Nepal, where he studies long-term patterns of population movements, trade, and the transformation of religious traditions over the past 2000 years.

Does cultural interaction foment cultural change?: A case study from the proto-Silk Road in northwestern China

March 5, 2020

 More than 2000 years before the development of the historical Silk Road, people living in what is now northwestern China were participating in long-distance exchange networks that brought them new goods and technologies from both the Central Asian steppe and eastern China. These included domesticates such as wheat, barley, sheep, and cattle, as well as bronze working, jade carving, and pyromantic divination. Many scholars have viewed these as transformational technologies, that, along with immigration and climate change, led to the development of a completely new cultural tradition around 2200BC. However, the results of recent fieldwork in the Tao River Valley of Gansu Province point to a much more complex relationship with these new technologies, one that involved a nuanced mixture of adoption, adaptation, and rejection. This presentation will explore these new findings and the impact they have on our understanding of cultural change across early China.

Andrew Womack is currently a postdoctoral scholar in Chinese Archaeology at the Stanford Archaeology Center. He is Associate Director of the Tao River Archaeology Project in Gansu Province, China, where his research utilizes geophysical survey, excavation, and ceramic analysis to explore identity and interaction during the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age.

Over Mountains and Steppes: Tracing ancient tracks of Asia’s Silk

January 7, 2020

For over a century, the Silk Road was depicted by camel caravans crossing barren deserts, transporting exotic commodities to oasis cities across Central Asia and beyond. The harsh grasslands of the Eurasian steppe and the soaring peaks of Inner Asia were seen as barriers to this flow of Asian commerce — risky regions to be crossed quickly or avoided altogether. Yet new archaeological research in the steppes and highlands of Central Asia has suprisingly changed this canonical picture, showing far greater antiquity of human interaction and interregional connectivity than ever known, and tracing the earliest links along the proto-Silk Road to 5000 years old sites in the mountains of Kazakhstan. This paper traces nearly 20 years of archaeological fieldwork by the author, highlighting new site discoveries and the high-tech methods used at sites from the Bronze Age and later historical periods that reshape our understanding the Silk Road from its earliest formation to the time of its decline.

Michael Frachetti is Professor of Anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis. His work addresses how economic and political strategies served to shape inter-regional networks across Asia as early as 3000 BC (the Early Bronze Age) and how those networks laid the foundation for the later Silk Roads. He conducts archaeological field research in Eastern Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. He is the author of Pastoralist Landscapes and Social Interaction in Bronze Age Eurasia (UCPress, 2008) and a forthcoming book entitled Ancient Inner Asia (Cambridge Univ. Press).

Life at the Border: Farmers and Nomads at the Edges of the Bukhara Oasis during Antiquity

December 9, 2019

The oasis of Bukhara in present-day Uzbekistan was a major node in the network of ancient and medieval communication lines across Eurasia, located at an important crossroad where routes between eastern Iran and Samarqand met with routes which ran between Bactria/Tokharistan (and India) and Lake Aral and further on to eastern Europe. Archaeological and historical studies on this region have long focused on its urban centers. In his lecture, Professor Stark will instead highlight rural society at the border of the oasis, drawing attention to those who sustained and complemented urban centers in the oasis during antiquity. For this he will draw from the results of ongoing fieldwork at a number of sites in the ancient border zone of the Bukhara oasis dating to the Hellenistic and post-Hellenistic period. They show a dazzling picture of economic and social interactions evolving in complex agro-pastoral lifestyles. And they show that the seemingly 'small' world of communities at the edges of the oasis was nonetheless well connected with the big world of the ancient “Silk Roads.”

Sören Stark received his doctorate in 2005 with a study on the archaeology and history of the pre-Muslim Turks in Central and Inner Asia. Hi current research interests are, among others, on Hellenistic and Late Antique/Early Medieval Sogdiana and the archaeology and history of nomadic groups close to oasis territories in Western Central Asia. His publications include a monograph on the archaeology of the 6th-8th century Türks in Inner and Central Asia, an exhibition catalogue on Early Iron Age kurgans from Kazakhstan, and numerous articles and book chapters on the history and archaeology of Sogdiana between the Hellenistic and the Islamic periods. He has been co-editor of the Journal of Inner Asian Art and Archaeology (at Brepols) and is currently co-editor of Brill's Handbook of Oriental Studies, Section 8: Uralic & Central Asian Studies (HO8).