2019 Annual Tang Lecture: Over Mountains and Steppes: Tracing ancient tracks of Asia’s Silk Roads

Lecture | November 15 | 5-7 p.m. | Alumni House, Toll Room

 Michael Frachetti, Washington University in St. Louis

 Tang Center for Silk Road Studies

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).

 fbille@berkeley.edu, 510-642-0033