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The Neolithisation of Central Asia : Emergence of cultural identities and long-distance networks

  • Brunet, Frédérique
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2021
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The neolithisation in Central Asia needs to be considered as a long-term process, which runs from the Mesolithic to the Chalcolithic period (10th-3rd millennia). This research perspective allows precisely to point out the rise of four main Neolithic cultures, mainly on the basis of several Mesolithic assemblages, as well as their continuation through substantial changes during the Chalcolithic period. In fact, the neolithisation process, which takes form in Central Asia in original patterns, leads to the emergence of complex societies, including some early urban societies. From the southern agricultural oasis settlements will arise Bronze Age urban civilizations, while from the Northern pastoralism way of life will emerge the Eurasian steppe world during the third millennium. These Neolithic societies shape a new cultural geography of Central Asia, which appeared between the Late Pleistocene and the early Upper Holocene. This Mesolithic period shows indeed major changes or even a break-through in the stone tools technologies, linked with the use of the pressure flaking technique, which was unknown in previous times in this region. This apparition comes in Central Asia from several processes (transmission, diffusion, innovation) which could be perceived through a geographical wide spectrum approach. It is worth noticing that these four Neolithic societies, appearing in Central Asia between the 7th and the 5th millennium, are settled down within defined territories linked with different environmental contexts, reflecting the well-known Bronze Age oasis/steppes dichotomy. Actually, this dichotomy seems to take root during the neolithisation process. Our research into the Neolithic and Chalcolithic in Central Asia focuses currently in the valley of the River Zeravshan (Uzbekistan and Tajikistan), which meanders disappear into the sands of the Kyzyl-Kum, after having crossed the oases of Penjikent, Samarkand and Bukhara. It allows us to characterize a specific long-term process of neolithisation from the most ancient and local Neolithic culture of Kel’teminar – a society of hunter-fisher-gatherers and possibly also mobile pastoralists – to the proto-urban Chalcolithic site of Sarazm, considered as one of the precursor of the Bronze Age Oxus Civilization. The genesis of the urban phenomenon at such an early date, and in a region far away from the well-known Southern and Western Asian oasis, still needs to be assessed. This research highlights as well the formation of “hybrid” sites with mixed steppe and oasis cultural assemblages, in parallel with the development of the first trade routes. Occupying the heart of the “Central Asian Mesopotamia” between the Syr-Daria and Amu-Daria Rivers, the Zeravshan River Valley demonstrate long-distance interactions with both northern and southern Neolithic, and later Chalcolithic/Bronze Age groups, thus becoming the centre of an exchange network of technical innovations, objects and raw materials from Siberia to the Indo-Iranian and Mesopotamian regions. Central Asia then becomes a crossroads of large networks, long before the Silk Road times, echoing an incipient "globalization" of exchanges, which was crucial in the emergence of these original civilizations

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