Aug. 21-Dec. 8, 2012

The Steppes: Crucible of Eurasia – a symposium

Join us on an educational exploration deeper into our current exhibition – Grass Routes with scholars from around the world.

The Steppes: Crucible of Eurasia
A Symposium at the Miami University Art Museum
801 South Patterson Drive, Oxford, OH 45056
November 29-December 1, 2012
Organizer: Daniel Prior, Department of History (

PLEASE NOTE: This page includes links to speaker papers and abstracts for each talk.   

A simple schedule of talks is available on the home page.      

A printer friendly PDF of the schedule is available here.

Friday, November 30
9:45-10:00 a.m. Welcome and opening remarks
10:00-11:20 a.m.














Claudia Chang and Perry Tourtellotte, Department of Anthropology, Sweetbriar College (cchang<at>; ptourtellotte<at>

Landscapes of Power and Elite Settlement at the cusp of the Saka and Wusun Periods in Semirech’ye: The Talgar Case Study

[Paper – PDF]

How did the aristocratic elite nomads controlled the steppe and its vast resources throughout the first millennia BC ? In the Talgar region of Semirech’ye (Seven-Rivers) along the northern edge of the Tian Shan Mountains, ancient Iron Age cultures flourished, practicing both farming and animal herding.  This paper explores two central questions:  (1) What was the environmental and economic basis for mixed farming and herding during the first millennium BCE on the Talgar alluvial fan and (2) How did the mortuary practice of kurgan construction along ancient stream beds create both an ideological and political symbol of hierarchy among the ‘nomadic confederacies?’

We focus specifically on the Talgar alluvial fan as a land feature that serves as a model for settlement and hierarchy throughout the Semirech’ye region.  Archaeological surveys and excavations conducted over the past 18 years by the Kazakh American Archaeological Expedition (KAAE) provide a substantial data base for examining the social evolution of nomadic groups during the first millennium BC among the Saka (eastern variants of the Scythians) and the Wusun state.  Yet recent studies contradict the ‘nomadic model’ in favor of a mixed economy of cereal farming and animal herding.

The paleo-ethnobotanical evidence of both seeds and microscopic plant parts known as phytoliths demonstrates that between 400 BC and 200 BC the ancient herders of the Talgar region also cultivated wheat, millets, and barley (Spengler et al. in press; Chang et. al. 2003).  Ongoing zooarchaeological research identifies the use of domesticated species of sheep and goats, cattle, and horses as well as occasional wild species such as roe and red deer, wild pig, fox, and birds (Chang et al. 2003).  The recent excavations at Tuzusai, a large settlement in the Talgar region (ca. 8 to 10 hectares), reveals the existence of both common and elite households.   At the most recent 2012 excavations, an elite platform or plaza area has been identified along with lower rooms and storage pits.

The goal of this essay will be to summarize our most recent results that now show the Talgar fan as an agro-pastoral economy where an elite or aristocratic class of individuals, often associated with the rich inventories found at the burial kurgans controlled the commoners who practiced multi-resource pastoralism and agriculture.  The prominent burial mounds which dominate the landscape throughout Talgar and neighboring fans served as symbolic representations of power and hierarchical control over vast territories.  The geographic investigation of other alluvial fans along the base of the Tian Shan will also show the means by which elites controlled territory through a symbolic landscape of kurgan constructions.

Jean-Luc Houle, Department of Folk Studies and Anthropology, Western Kentucky University (jean-luc.houle<at>

Empire and Domestic Economy: Continuity and Change in Mongolia’s Bronze and Iron Age Archaeological Landscape[Paper – PDF]This paper addresses the issue of social and political change from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age Xiongnu period by investigating continuity and change in the domestic economy in the Khanuy region of north central Mongolia. My goal is to assess the nature and the degree of integration of ideology, economy and politics as the region’s populace shifted from a series of independent small-scale polities to part of an ‘imperial’ state. We now know that during the Late Bronze Age herders in Khanuy Valley were becoming increasingly complex largely as a result of local interaction (Houle 2010). Once incorporated into the Xiongnu imperial polity, political power became markedly more centralized and the political economy more extensive. In analyzing both pre Xiongnu and Xiongnu Period situations, I focus on the internal dynamics and the external links of production, distribution, and consumption. I am mostly interested here with the changes in daily life (or lack thereof) that came about when Khanuy Valley people were incorporated into a political system that was greater in scale and focused on relationships external to Khanuy Valley. As radical as some changes were under Xiongnu rule, the evidence is equally interesting for the economic continuities. Most importantly, households and communities apparently continued to be largely self-sufficient in their subsistence and utilitarian craft production.

11:20-11:40 a.m. Break
11:40-1:00 p.m.






Leland Rogers, Department of Anthropology, Indiana University (lelroger<at>

Ancient DNA from the Elite Xiongnu at Ögiinuur Sum, Arkhangai, Mongolia

[Paper – PDF]

It has been fairly well established that the Bronze Age inhabitants of the Hangai mountain range in Mongolia were predominantly “Europoid”; the Xiongnu population shows a substantial mixing.  Nine Xiongnu period ancient bone samples from Elite Xiongnu period burials at Ögiinuur Sum, Arkhangai, have had preliminary testing of the HVS 1 region of their mitochondrial DNA.  Seven of the samples have produced some results.  While all the results must be confirmed, results suggest a higher proportion of “Europoid” markers than expected.  The region of study was chosen due to its relative proximity to the ancient Mongol and Uyghur capitals, along with its relative proximity to known burials of the Xiongnu imperial house.  This is a work in progress of 44 Xiongnu period samples from the southeast Hangai range granted by the National University of Mongolia.

Lois Hale, Hale! Art, Portland, Oregon (hlutwige<at>

A Recreation of a Pazyryk Pouch1.

1. Introduction

In the Altai Mountain region of Siberia called Pazyryk, a group of barrows which belonged to tribes of Iron Age Scythians were excavated between 1929 through 1949 by Sergei Ivanovich Rudenko.  The excavations of these barrows produced some of the most spectacular Central Asian artifacts ever unearthed.  Among these artifacts was a small pouch which held, among other things, coriander seeds.  Made with leather, felt, and leopard fur, decorated with gilded copper “duckling” figures and sewn with deer sinew, the pouch is notable due to the refinement of its construction and beauty of its decorative elements. It was found with other artifacts within a larger leather pouch and had suffered severe damage while entombed. It captured my imagination and has held my interest for more than a decade.  Prior to my first attempts at a reconstruction I pored over thoughts of the pouch again and again always with the question in mind, “How was this made?”  With only three illustrations and several paragraphs of text from which I could draw information, its reconstruction has been a challenge.

2. Process

I studied the three illustrations provided in the English translation of “Frozen Tombs of Siberia” by Rudenko as well as all the pertinent information I could glean from the text that referred to the construction of this and other like artifacts from the various barrows.  Because there were no dimensions provided of this pouch, I used the illustration of the gilded copper ducklings which has a 1/1 ratio notation as my base “measurement”.  I used it to gain an approximation of the actual size using the “reconstruction” illustration among the editions colour plates.  After creating several mock-ups of the pouch I was satisfied with the similarity between my mock up and the illustrations, I moved on to reconstructing the pouch.  Sable, which was found to have been used in other artifacts, rather than leopard fur was used.  Cow and deer leathers were used for the excised decoration, pouch back and interior bag.  Felt for the pouch was made from wool and dyed with madder and alum which according to my research are common dye stuffs of the time and area.  A matrix was carved into a bronze plate for the copper figures.  Deer sinew thread was used throughout the reconstruction process.

3. Conclusion

Over the course of four attempts at reconstructing the pouch I learned new lessons.  Real sinew is versatile and very strong, and not as difficult to make as my early research indicated; indeed, making it as fine as modern sewing thread is a simple task with practice.  The creation of gilded copper ducks brought its own difficulties—experimenting with matrices, metal plaques and the gilding thereof.  Even the process of discovering how to make a small piece of felt remotely comparable to those used in the period was a challenge.  The levels of craftsmanship and artistry were exceptional among the people of the Pazyryk.  They were highly skilled, influential and devoted artists and I find myself in awe of their ability to produce such stunning folk art.  In my own endeavors, I continue to be inspired by their example.

1:00-2:30 p.m. Lunch on your own
1:00-2:30 p.m.



Student Poster Session I (Eurasian Nomads and History; Senior Capstone Seminar: The Horse in Human History):
Robert Fink, Horse Meat Consumption in the United States; Zachary Horstman, Falconry on the Eurasian Steppes; Thomas Hughes, The Takhi and Its Cousins: How People Have Interacted with Wild Equid Species; Laine Lagor, The Horse in the Circus; Andrew Mackin, Creating the Barbarian Myth; Troy Phillippe, The Horse in Early 20th Century Film; Nicholas Schnitzler, America: A Country Built by Horses; Brian Smith, Eurasian Nomads’ Geneses; Emily Volkmann, Horses of the Mexican-American War
2:30-3:50 p.m.









Michael R. Drompp, Department of History, Rhodes College (drompp<at>

Political Dimensions of Religion in Early Medieval Inner Asian Empires

[Paper – PDF]

In this paper I will examine some of the ways in which religious beliefs and practices have intersected with political beliefs and practices in early medieval Inner Asian empires.  In considering the examples of the Rouran and Türks (Chinese Tujue), who dominated much of Inner Asia from the early fifth to the mid-eighth centuries CE, I will focus on surviving historical accounts as well as preserved myths in order to search for the presence of mantic-religious beliefs and practices that could fall within the broad categorization of “shamanism” (which, admittedly, is a complex and even volatile term).  I will then further explore the possible political connections and ramifications of these particular historical accounts and legends.  Finally, I will consider the relationship of a posited “shamanic-political” complex to a broader “religious-political” complex; the purpose of this will be to consider evidence as to how shamanic beliefs and practices may have related to the Rouran and Türk empires’ support of more highly organized religious beliefs and practices such as Buddhism or the state cult sometimes called “Tengrism.”  Although the evidence at our disposal is relatively slim, my conclusion is that shamanic beliefs and practices were particularly useful for the promotion or reinforcement of political legitimacy in Inner Asia; Rouran and Türk rulers employed mythologies, some of them quite likely borrowed, that indicated – through the evocation of a shamanic world view – powerful supernatural support for their states.  Such mythologies provided ideological support for these steppe empires and thus helped strengthen their political power.

Christopher Atwood, Department of Central Eurasian Studies, Indiana University (catwood<at>

The Appanage Community: A New Model for Understanding Social Structure in the Pre-Modern Mongolian Plateau

[Paper – PDF]

Recent interventions in the study of nomadic societies have left foundational principles in flux. David Sneath’s Headless State has challenged existing paradigms, yet has also been itself challenged for skating too lightly over contrary data. While there is much to support in the recent challenges to the “tribal” paradigm, an alternative paradigm for ground-level social reality is still needed. Based on current research in thirteenth to nineteenth century Mongolian society, I propose that the “appanage community” as a fundamental concept for understanding the interaction of state and society on a local scale in Mongolia. The “appanage community” concept focuses on the key common aspects to the Qing-era banner, the sixteenth century otog, and the “thousands” in the Mongol empire, enabling them to be understood not just as a typology, but also the shape of a peculiar socio-political dynamic. This approach also supplies archaeologists with a potential model of local interaction to be tested in contexts preceding the thirteenth century.

3:50-4:10 p.m. Break
4:10-5:30 p.m.







Robert S. Wicks, Miami University Art Museum and Department of Art (wicksrs<at>

Bird-Headed Antler Tines: Stability and Change in Ancient Eurasian Art”

Although the original meanings ascribed to the bird-headed antler tine motif remain incompletely understood today, the transmission of such a distinctive visual sign over some 4,000 miles of sparsely inhabited grasslands among non-literate populations together with its survival for a period of more than four centuries underscore the vitality and innate power of its symbolism. As an art historian I am particularly interested in determining the typological groupings of the material in order to gain a better understanding of the motif’s possible origins, thematic development, and, ultimately, meanings. This paper was inspired by the work of Professor Esther Jacobson and is given in her honor.My presentation begins with an examination of the major morphological characteristics of the bird-headed antler tine motif and its geographical and temporal horizons within the visual art traditions of Eurasia during the second half of the first millennium B.C.E. Doubtless inspired by large birds of prey, such as the eagle with its hook-like beak, the bird-headed antler tine motif displays considerable regional variation.  In Scythian art, for example, the cere, the waxy area around the opening of the nostrils, takes on the appearance of a duck’s bill accompanied by a dramatic coiling of the upper beak. In its easternmost development, among the Xiongnu and Eastern Han, the bird acquires, in addition to leaf-like ears, a shovel-shaped beak structure similar to that of a flamingo.The main part of my presentation introduces an analytical strategy for examining the typological development of the bird-headed antler tine motif in isolated and narrative representations utilizing Esther Jacobson’s predation/transformation terminology for Scytho-Siberian art. While these observations and groupings do not necessarily explain the meaning behind a particular element or motif, they are valuable for pointing out unexpected patterns and relationships.

Trudy S. Kawami, Arthur M. Sackler Foundation, New York (tkawami<at>

The Coiled Feline in the Iron Age Steppes: An Art Historical View

[Paper – PDF]

The image of the coiled feline, considered a typical motif in Scythian art of  the 7thcentury BCE, is an art historical puzzle. It has no immediate antecedents in the art of the steppes, and the excavated examples, which range from the Crimea to northern China, are strikingly similar in style. Furthermore, they are not randomly distributed, but occur in specific regions. Even in these regions, the image is found only in elite graves and even then rarely. Objects bearing the coiled feline are not multiples like the belt and garment ornaments of the steppe peoples, but are singular works found on horses or associated with horse gear. The sudden appearance of this distinctive image, its restricted occurrence, and rapid spread across the steppes suggest that it was an intentionally created emblem associated with the horses of a limited though widespread elite.

Saturday 12/1
10:00-11:20 a.m.







Sergey Miniaev, Institute of the History of Material Culture, Russian Academy of Sciences, St. Petersburg (ssmin<at>

Ordos Style Bronzes in Russia: New Discoveries

[Paper – PDF]

In recent years during scientific digs in Xiongnu archaeological sites in Russia a lot bronzes of “Ordos style” were found.  The great value of the collection is that the objects were found in undisturbed tombs. Now we can know the disposition of all finds in the tombs and the function of every find. The majority of the “Ordos bronzes” were found on women’s and men’s belts. The sizes and quantity of details on the belts depended on the sex, age and social position of the owner.Thanks to new finds we can present different versions of Xiongnu belt sets, from the simplest belt to the most complicated. The most complicated belt consisted of the central part (two bronze plaques as a rule; many plaques had a special wood lining) and diverse other details – small plaques, open-work rings, small rings, fastenings, buttons, buckles etc. Besides, the belt frequently was decorated with different beads and buckles made from minerals. All bronze plaques have scenes in “Ordos style”: a skirmish between two horses, a beast of prey catching a herbivore, fantastic scenes (a struggle between two dragons for example). ). Simpler belts consisted of small bronze plaques and beads. The details of the simplest belt were constructed from one or two iron buckles only.The collection considerably supplements a presentation about Xiongnu art: an image of a he-goat on a seal; a plaque depicting a skirmishing between two dragons; other plaques and plates are unique.

William Honeychurch, Department of Anthropology, Yale University (co-authors: James Lankton, Chunag Amartuvshin; william.honeychurch<at> Roads or Steppe Roads: Gobi

Evidence for Mediterranean Goods in the Xiongnu Polity

[Paper – PDF]

Nomadic peoples of the Inner Asian steppe have long been credited with playing a role in facilitating exchange along the famous Silk Roads reaching across Eurasia. Steppe empires, including those of the Turks, Uighurs, and Mongols in cooperation with sedentary merchants, provided transport, protection, infrastructure, and in many cases negotiated access to some of the most prestigious Chinese goods traveling westward. However, since the historical record of the Silk Roads was written almost exclusively within sedentary, urban societies, the organizational role of nomadic groups and polities is often obscure. This is particularly true during the earliest period of Silk Road exchange contemporary with the Han Dynasty of China and the Xiongnu state (3rd c. BC – AD 2nd c.) of Mongolia. Some historians have argued that greater emphasis should be placed on the role of steppe nomadic groups in creating and sustaining the earliest forms of Silk Road exchange. Recent anthropological understandings of Inner Asian nomadic polities and steppe pastoralism suggest new possibilities for conceptualizing nomadic input to the rise of the Silk Roads. In this paper, I explore historical and archaeological evidence for Xiongnu state interaction with Central Asia and with China and critique the long standing assumption that eastern steppe nomads were peripheral to or predatory upon exchange between East and West. I suggest that nascent Silk Road activities were likely a critical part of the political economy of the Xiongnu state and examine the possibility of nomads as early architects of Eurasian trade.

11:20-11:40 a.m. Break
11:40-1:00 p.m.













Yihong Pan, Department of History, Miami University (pany<at>

Locating Advantages: The Survival of the Tuyuhun 吐谷渾State on the Edge (300-580s)

[Paper – PDF]

From the early fourth century, the proto-Mongolian-speaking Särbi (Xianbei 鮮卑 in Chinese) and four other semi-nomadic peoples—the Xiongnu 匈奴, Jie 羯, Di 氐, and Qiang 羌—established a series of states in north and northwest China. One of these states was Tuyugh-ghun, or Tuyuhun in Chinese, which was established by a branch of the Murong 慕容 Särbi and located in present Qinghai 青海. While most other states lasted no more than a couple of generations and the Dai 代 state of the Tabgatch (Ch. Tuoba 拓跋) Särbi went on to establish the Northern Wei 魏 dynasty (386-534), Tuyuhun was successful in transforming itself from a clan-based polity into a dynastic power that survived into the Sui 隋 dynasty (581-617). Although severely defeated by the Sui in 609, it recovered its territory with the collapse of the Sui and rose as a considerable power in the early Tang period (618-907), only to be conquered by the newly risen Tibetan empire in 663. Its history lasted for 350 years.Exploring why Tuyuhun was able to keep its ethnic and political identity for so long, this article asserts that Tuyuhun’s geographical location and ecological conditions on the northeastern Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau placed it in a relatively advantageous position. It enabled the Tuyuhun to develop a mixed economy of herding, farming, handicraft, and trade. It provided the space the Tuyuhun needed to evolve into an aristocratic, semi-nomadic power that ruled over a variety of ethnic peoples. It situated Tuyuhun on the edge of the core regions that were in competition with one another during the Period of Division: north China, south China, the Hexi corridor, the Mongolian steppes, and the Western Regions. Their distance from these powers protected the Tuyuhun from destruction or incorporation, enabling their self-preservation, providing the Tuyuhun with space to retreat to and to expand and to exercise a multilateral form of diplomacy. Furthermore, Tuyuhun’s control over the Qinghai road, a branch of the Silk Road south of the Hexi corridor route, raised its status as a crucial intermediary for trade and regional diplomacy during the Period of Division (220-589) when the Hexi corridor route suffered from political instability.

However, the Qinghai location in the end worked against the Tuyuhun when China and Tibet each became a unified power, and Tuyuhun was caught between them, leading to its land annexed by the Tibetan empire.

In his study of the relationship between Inner Asia and China, Thomas Barfield has identified four key ecological and cultural areas: Mongolia, north China, Manchuria, and Turkestan. His paradigm leaves out Tuyuhun and Tibet. The article shows that states such as Tuyuhun were important players in the political history of China and Inner Asia and had ripple effects upon the geopolitics of the time. It is not an accident that the Tuyuhun land fell into the rising Tibetan empire from the 630s. Therefore, Tuyuhun and Tibet could be added to Barfield’s analysis as another key ecological and cultural area that played an important role from the early seventh centuries onwards in China’s frontier relations with Inner Asia.

Aleksandr Naymark, Department of Fine Arts, Art History and Comparative Arts and Culture, Hofstra University (Aleksandr.Naymark<at>–Mawarannahr: The Life on the Edge of the Steppes (Abstract unavailable)

[Paper – PDF]

1:00-2:30 p.m.



Student Poster Session II (Eurasian Nomads and History; Senior Capstone Seminar: The Horse in Human History):
Rachel Blake, What Is It with Girls and Horses? How Societal Needs Fostered the Love between Horses and Girls; Daniel Brooks, The Horse and Cowboy Culture: Truth and Tall Tales; Brooke Clifford, Anthropomorphism: How Our View of the Horse Shapes Modern Society; Nicholas DiCesare, The Magyar Migration: The Transition from Nomadism to Sedentarism; Kimberly Foster, Kalmyk Sovereignty: From Nomadic Supremacy to Russian Ascendance; Vincent Kuertz, The New World, Plus and Minus Horses; Corey Lack, The Global Nomad: The Comparison of Native American Indians and Eurasian Nomads; Erin McCrate, The Modified Horse
2:30-3:50 p.m.















Kenneth Lymer, Wessex Archaeology Ltd, Salisbury, UK (k.lymer<at>

Animals Entangled in Art: The Lives of Zoomorphic Imagery in Central Asia during the 1st Millennium BCE

[Paper – PDF]

The art of early nomadic archaeological cultures that roamed the steppes of Eurasia during the 1st millennium bce is characterised as exhibiting predominantly zoomorphic imagery, the so-called Scytho-Siberian ‘animal style’. Moreover, it could be said that the concept of the ‘animal style’ was born in Central Asian academic studies. O.M. Dalton in his monograph on the Oxus Treasure (1905) found objects recovered from what is known today as Tajikistan had a style similar to known Scythian objects recovered from the regions around the Black Sea. Furthermore, Dalton found this ‘Scythic art’ was also based upon animal decorative forms and held a uniform canon of taste that was an unmistakable characteristic of the cultures ranging from the Yenisei river to the Carpathians. The actual coining of the ‘animal style’, however, came to the fore after M.I. Rostovtseff’s seminal English publication on the Iranians and Greeks in South Russia in 1922. Nevertheless, these traditional concepts of art history from the beginning of the 20th century forged an Orientalist ideal of animal art and early nomads that still continues to be drawn upon to the present day.When we place these zoomorphic artefacts on display in a museum they become isolated and disparate objects intermixed with varying items from other cultures in time and space. Set on a neutral background under focused light in the display case their exoticness becomes the focus of attention. There is no doubt to our eyes that many of these animal decorations are beautiful to look at; however, appreciating their visual aesthetics is only one aspect in the greater range of sensory experiences connected to objects. Moreover, this was not how the art was originally intended to be perceived as the gallery is a contrived effect far removed from the actual living context of the animal imagery. As ethnographic studies have pointed out time and time again, the reality of material culture exists within the lives of their owners and users. Thus, Scytho-Siberian zoomorphic decorations were not solely objects of art but were intimately entangled in the daily lives of people within past societies.

This entanglement is examined through a selection of case studies that focus upon different aspects of the lives of animal decorations and zoomorphic imagery. Within the early nomadic archaeological cultures of Kazakhstan, the Altai Republic and Tuva the animal images were intimately related to how individuals created and asserted their own identities through their choices of decoration on and off their bodies, as well as the bodies of their horses. Moreover, the zoomorphics and their applications to various media embodied ‘ways of sensing’ by different societies. In particular, so-called ‘animal style’ iconography carved in the natural rock at petroglyph sites was part and parcel of sensual experiences of places and spaces in the landscape.

Overall, animal decorated objects were not artefacts that operated autonomous to society but co-existed in dynamic relationships with individuals in their communities; the lives of the zoomorphic ornamentations were intimately entangled within people’s lives. Thus, it is by the closer scrutiny of their contextual complexity, as well as exploring their sensuous aspects, which enable us to explore fresher understandings about animal art in past societies in Central Asia during the first millennium BCE.

Katheryn M. Linduff, Department of Anthropology and Department of the History of Art and Architecture, University of Pittsburgh (linduff<at> Buckles: Metallurgical and

Iconographic Markers of Distinction

[Paper – PDF]

Four thousand years ago cultures emerged in the area known variously as eastern Eurasia, Inner Asia, the beifang (北方), the Northern Zone, or the Northern Frontier. Delineated by Chinese historians of the second century BCE and later as a never-never land, they gave these peoples various names that marked them with a heritage distinct from peoples in the Dynastic heartland.  So troublesome was this area for the dynasts, that they eventually set up a system of ‘border states’ and walls in their north that acted as a political, economic, cultural and military barrier reef meant to protect the ‘civilized’, agricultural states to their south.The signs of this separation were marked as well with lightweight and portable artifacts used in the beifang—small in scale but intricate in design—including belt plaques, appliqués for clothing as well as accompanying horse gear, bits, strap crossers and bridle ornaments and including chariot and cart fittings in gold, silver and bronze. These were neither Chinese nor steppic in type or aesthetic, but rather were inspired by both models. These pieces bear motifs of the wild animals and birds of prey that inhabited the region—tigers, boar, deer, ibex—and including some domesticates such as camels, horses, donkeys and yaks.  Even swords and knives bear animal ornamentation on their hilts and pommels. These were created for the local inhabitants and the market, and most often in Chinese foundries, as best as we can tell. They have often been thought to document a mobile lifeway, although that notion is rethought here.

Study of the metallographic and casting technology used to produce these materials not only offers a way to learn about their unique character, but also to discern distinctive cultural patterns and the process of interregional exchange in the region that led to their creation.  Belt plaques, which I will particularly address here, were a very special category—not merely decorative, but given their final resting place in burial; their special types and iconography; their resourceful means of production; and their elaboration with inset semi-precious stones and gilding or silvering, marked them for special use.  By the end of the first millennium BCE, they were in great demand in many areas of Eurasia and both the metallurgical and iconographic content are distinctive residue of invention as a result of culture contact and exchange.  At the frontiers of the Chinese and Xiongnu Empires, they had become practicable signs of inter and intra community differentiation.

3:50-4:10 p.m. Break
4:10-5:30 p.m











Daniel Prior, Department of History, Miami University (priordg<at>

Integral or Incidental? Indo-European Mythic Fragments in Inner Asia

[Paper – PDF]

In this paper I trace and seek to explain a number of thematic parallels between a mid-nineteenth century oral epic poem of the Kirghiz, entitled Joloy Khan,and two seemingly unrelated symbolic phenomena: a Hsiung-nu–era Siberian figurative bronze belt buckle plaque from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, and a diverse set of mythic themes from a broad range of ancient Indo-European traditions. Judging the soundness of these correspondences is a matter of methodological and theoretical interest, as they involve ethnolinguistic diversities and spans of time and space on scales that push the bounds of plausible reconstruction. The movements of peoples and ideas suggested by these correspondences conform to some models of Inner Asian prehistory while challenging others.The three items under comparison display “exquisite correspondences,” thematic parallels the number and narrative precision of which would seem to demand some kind of explanation besides pure chance. A hero/god figure whom I call the Gargantuan, Lazy, Oversexed Glutton (GLOG), who is guilty of kin killing, breach of oath, and sexual transgressions, goes berserk and kills his own warriors, and decapitates an enemy; GLOG’s sister has a sexual liaison with an enemy, and is dragged to death by horses; a young hero/god (GLOG or his son) is born of the waters, has nine joint parents who are siblings, has sword- and sheep/goat-associations, and lacks a wife: these themes are found in Joloy Khan and in dispersed remnant form in Norse (Germanic), Roman (Italic), Vedic (Indo-Aryan), Ossetic (Iranian), and Nuristani (Dardic/Indo-Iranian) traditions. The young hero/god, who has a relationship with a hawk–spirit-maiden, transports his elders in a cart to a land of everlasting happiness: these themes are found in Joloy Khan and the Hsiung-nu belt buckle.Although the composition of the recent Kirghiz epic Joloy Khan is a process about which very little is known, it seems that some elements of the story preserve very ancient narrative complexes that have elsewhere been scattered almost beyond recognition.

Edward Vajda, Department of Modern and Classical Languages, Western Washington University (Edward.Vajda<at>

Between Forest and Steppe: Language and Ethnicity in Early Inner Asia

[Paper – PDF]

The linguistic identity of the earliest pastoral nomads to arise in eastern Eurasia – the Xiongnu and Huns – remains unresolved, and even the origins of the later Turks and Mongols cannot fully be understood by studying the steppes alone. This presentation considers the Kets and their extinct relatives – the Yugh, Arin, Assan, Kott and Pumpokol – forest tribes living north of the steppe zone in the taiga forest of central Siberia. These peoples spoke languages belonging to the Yeniseian family, which today is represented by only a few elderly speakers of the northernmost Ket dialects. Most studies of ancient steppe history do not focus attention on the Yeniseians, who were Siberia’s last hunter-gatherers and never developed, in constrast to the bettern known steppe pastoralists, large polities or empires beyond their immediate areas of habitation. Present-day Turkic and Mongolian territory in or near South Siberia, however, contain numerous substrate river names of Yeniseian origin, suggesting that ancient geographic contact between taiga hunters and peoples who later expanded through pastoralism were once quite extensive.This presentation discusses the Yeniseian family of languages by describing what is known about its former geographic spread and internal dialectal division. Alongside the expected Turkic loanwords into Yeniseian involving metallurgy or pastoral products, other, presumably earlier lexical parallels are considered. Ancient Turkic shares with Yeniseian a range of words connected with forest life that can best be explained as Yeniseian substrate loanwords that entered Turkic before the rise of the First Turk Kaganate in the 6thcentury AD. These words reflect a specific Yeniseian dialect (the Ket-Arin branch of the family) and some of them show internal structure unique to Yeniseian, so they could not have been borrowed into Yeniseian from Turkic. This linguistic evidence parallels other facts from substrate river names and human genetics to suggest that a component of early Turkic ethnogenesis derives from Yeniseian-speaking forest tribes, though this fact became obscured by the subsequent disappearance of Yeniseian languages from South Siberia and the adoption of Turkic pastoral loanwords into the Yeniseian dialects that survived farther north in the taiga.

Also discussed are parallels between the Pumpokol branch of Yeniseian and the ancient Xiongnu. The scholar Alexander Vovin (2002) already suggested a Yeniseian origin for certain Xiongnu words. Pumpokol river names in northern Mongolian territory are examined in this connection. Although the surviving Xiongnu linguistic material is probably too sparse to support firm conclusions about ethnic and linguistic affiliation, the possibility that at least some elements within the Xiongnu Confederation spoke a Yeniseian dialect of the Pumpokol variety must be regarded as plausible.

Finally, the presentation considers words common to both Yeniseian and Mongolian languages that appear to have been borrowed from an early Uralic source. These lexical parallels suggest that the area south of Lake Baikal representing part of the homeland of the Xiongnu may have been inhabited in prehistory by people speaking a now extinct branch of Uralic. This suggests another possible linguistic origins for at least some of the tribes in the Xiongnu Confederation. A Uralic linguistic affiliation for the core ethnic element among the Xiongnu has not been considered previously, but comparative study of Yeniseian and Mongolic vocabulary appears to provide at least circumstantial evidence of such a possibility.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s