Exeter Students digging at the Bronze Age settlement of Temirkash in Central Kazakhstan

The origins of pastoralism in prehistoric Kazakhstan 

Dr Alan Outram and Professor Richard Evershed (University of Bristol)

Related to his other work on the Botai Culture in Kazakhstan, Dr Alan Outram has been collaborating with Professor Richard Evershed (you can visit his research group, the Organic Geochemistry Unit, at the University of Bristol's website) on a large project funded by NERC to investigate the development of animal husbandry and pastoral societies in prehistoric Kazakhstan. This project aims to provide the wider context for understanding the development of early horse herding societies by examining changes in animal's economic roles from the Neolithic through to the Bronze Age. This period covers the transition from hunting, to horse herding and the introduction of domestic cattle, sheep and goats. Key issues will include investigating the introduction of dairying. When were cattle first milked in the area? When were horses first milked? Which came first? How did the role of horses change with the introduction of domestic cattle. These questions are being addressed through zooarchaeological studies and chemical residue analysis.

The zooarchaeological work is investigating changing patterns in the species exploited and will particularly concentrate on trying to establish the nature of herd structures. The age and sex structures of herds often reflect the way that the animals are being exploited. There are likely to be different patterns for herds used for meat, milk or for their work (riding, traction etc.). The chemical work involves the analysis of lipid residues in pottery. Traces of fats survive surprisingly well in ancient pottery and their chemical signature can often indicate the type of animal or plant the fat came from and sometimes whether the fat came from meat or milk.

The pilot stage of the research, funded by the British Academy, involved the collection of many modern reference samples of animals and plants found in Northern Kazakhstan, and the assessment of Neolithic, Eneolithic and Bronze Age archaeological assemblages. The main project is now generating many interesting findings and our first set of publications are now in preparation.