Tag Archives: Nomads and Networks

Nomads and Networks: Iron and Bronze

Michael Frachetti, associate professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, is the co-director of ongoing international field research on the archaeology of the Bronze and Iron Ages in the Republic of Kazakhstan.

Over the past 12 years of directing fieldwork in the mountains of Kazakhstan, it has rained—and rained hard—on the start day of nearly every project. It would seem that this sometimes harsh, though always beautiful, environment takes the first day of fieldwork as an opportunity to remind the whole team who is in charge. This year, I feel we have come to an understanding with old Mother Nature, and she shined upon us, just a few clouds and wind gusts as a passing indication of our tentative arrangement.

The Dzhungar Mountains Archaeology Project (DMAP) began in the field in 1999, and since those days has grown into one of the largest collaborative American/Kazakh archaeology projects conducted (the other one is directed by my friend and colleague, Dr. Claudia Chang, whose posts can be followed here). The DMAP is led by myself and my Kazakhstani codirector, Dr. Alexei Mar’yashev, and generally supports research for seven PhD students. We also operate the only undergraduate field school in the country, taking up to ten undergraduates out to the field for the time of their life (at least that is how we sell it!). Add to this five to ten staff and support team members, local colleagues, and visitors, and we have about 30 people in our mountain research camp at any given time. The goal is to carry out technologically advanced, methodologically rigorous, and internationally leading field research of upland archaeological sites related to the earliest nomadic pastoralists to have occupied Kazakhstan, and, possibly, Inner Asia all together.

It is important that we transform our popular and academic impressions of Bronze Age nomads, since it is becoming clear that these small-scale societies played a major role in shaping an expansive way of life across the Eurasian continent. They were also highly influential in communicating and transforming the institutions of better-known regional civilizations, such as those of ancient China, the Indus Valley, and more. Of course, Bronze Age Eurasian nomads are important in their own right, and they set the foundations of interaction and economy that later exploded into a market for golden commodities during the Iron Age (such as those on display now at the Sackler). In fact, nomads of the Bronze Age were instrumental in establishing enduring traditions and economic adaptations that would be used by regional pastoralists such as the Turks, the Mongols, and even those who live in the mountains today.

So that is why were are here. Given our lofty goals, our research design is necessarily rooted in a slow-moving, long-term excavation program. We are satisfied with incremental, steady progress in terms of new discoveries and their ability to radically change the world’s understanding of Eurasian nomadic societies. But what are we really doing, and what are these discoveries? Stay tuned to this blog and I will guide you through a tour of some of the important findings that define Nomads and Networkson the ground, from the ground, and through the eyes of an excavator.

The exhibition remains on view at the Sackler through December 2, 2012.

Nomads and Networks in the Field: Magneto and Magnetina

Magnetometer survey in a field northwest of Tuzusai with Joerg (foreground) and Claudia (background).
Peak Talgar is in the rear.

Claudia Chang, professor of archaeology at Sweet Briar College in Virginia, is director of an international field research project on the archaeology of the Iron Age in the Republic of Kazakhstan. Throughout the exhibition Nomads and Networks: The Ancient Art and Culture of Kazakhstan, on view in the Sackler until November 12, 2012, Claudia will share tales from her ongoing fieldwork with us on Bento.

The Munich Magneto Mob, as geophysicist Joerg Fassbinder and PhD student Lena Kuhne have dubbed themselves, have almost completed a magnetometer survey of the areas surrounding Tuzusai. “Magneto”and “Magnetina” spent a week conducting magnetometer measurements over two fields near Tuzusai in search of underground architectural features.

The device they use is called a Total View Magnetometer, which measures the magnetism below the surface. Digitized as negative or positive values, the composite readings create a magnetogram. An experienced geophysicist like Joerg has read so many magnetograms he is able to easily identify old stream channels, ditches, palisade fences, and even ovens or fireplaces.

We have learned a lot from Joerg. He has let us set the lines in each of the grid units, shown us how the magnetometer works, and even given us lectures on the physics associated with the earth’s magnetic field. He has told us about working on the Nazca Lines in Peru. It is so close to the Equator there that the magnetic anomalies are almost negligible, yet in Kazakhstan there are high levels of magnetism, even more so than in his native Bavaria, which is further north in latitude. He says that this changing magnetic field is a problem that the German mathematician and physicist Carl Friedrich Gauss thought would be solved in the 19th century, yet two  hundred years later we still don’t know the answer.

In the photo above you see Magneto with his home-designed magnetometer, one of the most accurate ones in existence. The wooden parts are held together by parcel tape and can be broken down into smaller parts to fit into a suitcase. The magnetometer itself weighs about 18 kilograms (40 lbs). Imagine walking with the magnetometer taking readings every meter for a 40 X 40 m (131 x 131 feet) unit. We have calculated that Joerg and Lena walk 1.6 km (1 mile) for each grid they measure.

Their surveys, combined with the research done by the geomorphologists, might begin to tell us whether the Iron Age folk at Tuzusai and the neighboring areas redirected stream channels for irrigating their crops, and how they might have terraced certain areas of the settlement. It will be very helpful when all our specialists come up with results from their disciplines that can be used to make the “big picture” of life in this region.

Nomads and Networks in the Field: At a Galloping Pace

Horses in paddock at Panfilova horse farm.

Horses held great importance in steppe culture. At our dig site, the majority of the animal bone remains have been identified as sheep and goats, followed by cattle and then horses. Yet we know from the spectacular protomes on the Issyk Golden Warrior’s headdress and the splendid belt plaques that horses played an important symbolic role, and may have been the most prevalent of the domesticated species at Tuzusai.

When Kyra Lyublanovics, a PhD candidate from Central European University (Budapest, Hungary), arrived on Saturday to spend a month with us as our resident zooarchaeologist, she asked if there were any horses in Poselok Alatau. I am sure that in our fast-growing village there are still one or two people living on the outskirts who might own a horse. Then I remembered the Panfilova Hippodrome, where the president’s horses are kept, located in the collective just 4 km (2.5 miles) north of Alatau. On Sunday we took a ride in Kolya’s old orange Moskvich car to the hippodrome. Sure enough, there were beautiful horses in the stables and grazing in the vast pasturelands.

If there is a single idea that has dominated steppe culture from the Eneolithic period (4000 BCE) onward, it has been the hunting, herding, and eventually the riding of horses. In the late 1990s, when archaeologists David Anthony and Dorcas Brown examined the molars of horse teeth from the steppe sites, they saw microscopic evidence of bit wear, suggesting the presence of horseback riding more than six thousand years ago on the northern steppes of Kazakhstan. A recent article stated that DNA studies of horse populations now corroborate the archaeological evidence showing that horses were first domesticated in the steppe areas of the Ukraine and Kazakhstan. Whether horses were first used for riding or as traction animals remains to be proven.

Kyra riding one of the original Turkoman horses known as Alytn teke at the Panfilova Hippodrome.
These horses are the Central Asian version of Arabian horses: fast, light, and strong.
This particular horse is carmello, a truly beautiful riding horse that is white with blue and white eyes.

Yet there is no doubt in my mind that horses, whether or not they were dominant in people’s diets during the first millennia BCE, certainly had a major symbolic importance. For example, some of the sacrified horses found in Berel Mound No. 11 are splendidly clothed in leather masks with ibex horns, suggesting their mythical nature.

We are very excited to have Kyra here to analyze the animal bones. Her work will provide data that can be compared to the glorious and splendid depictions of the role that horses played in steppe society.

Nomads and Networks: The Ancient Art and Culture of Kazakhstan remains on view at the Sackler Gallery through November 12, 2012.

Nomads and Networks in the Field: Going for the Bronze

Alec in the shadows; photo by Perry A. Tourtellotte

Claudia Chang, professor of archaeology at Sweet Briar College in Virginia, is director of an international field research project on the archaeology of the Iron Age in the Republic of Kazakhstan. Throughout the exhibition Nomads and Networks: The Ancient Art and Culture of Kazakhstan, on view in the Sackler until November 12, 2012, Claudia will share tales from her ongoing fieldwork with us on Bento.

All week the weather reports have predicted rain, but we have mostly had glowering skies, occasional winds, and some thunder grumblings. Today we quit before our break time because a rain came, but it was short-lasting. Steppe weather usually comes from the northwest, where the storm clouds gather and then blow against the high Tianshan Mountains.

The crew was happy to leave early today. It’s been a long dig season. Most archaeological projects in Kazakhstan are located in remote mountain, desert, or steppe areas where a field camp is set up, and the project lasts for 3 to 6 weeks. We’re now into the 9th week of excavation.

I refer to what we do as “garage archaeology.” We pick the crew up every day at 6:30 am with the Uhas Microautobus, drive less than 3 km (1.9 miles) to the site with our equipment, and then work until 12:15 pm. It is a short day, but usually packed with so many activities that even the high school students who work with us sometimes comment on how fast the morning hours pass. Then we drive from the site to the place where we store the artifacts and park the bus in the garage.

After weeks of hard decisions, such as over which pieces of fallen mud brick wall to destroy and which to keep because they could be parts of walls, tandoor ovens, or floors, we have now found two large rooms in front of the upper mud brick platform and a large storage pit to the west of the platform. There are successive layers of packed mud brick flooring. A week ago, we broke out the three archaeological picks we brought from the US. They are the preferred tools for smashing the mud brick and adobe fall.

Olzhas asked yesterday, “When are we going to find gold?” The fact is that in settlement sites such as Tuzusai there is no gold to be found. Today we found a tiny piece of bronze, about the closest we’ll come to any kind of precious metal. It is indeed difficult for us to believe that the kurgans, with such rich burial inventories as the Issyk Golden Warrior, actually come from the same Iron Age period as a settlement site such as Tuzusai.

Bronze bracelet; photo by Perry A. Tourtellotte

But today we did find an elite artifact on the second floor of the mud brick platform: half of a bronze bracelet. That’s an amazing find, probably the most incredible find we’ve had. When Alec found it, he turned to show it to me. Later I said, “Years from now you’ll be able to go to the Kazakh State Central Museum in Almaty and point to the bronze bracelet on display and say, ‘I found that in 2012!'”

Nomads and Networks in the Field: The Parachute Edition

Using a parachute to keep cool.

Claudia Chang, professor of archaeology at Sweet Briar College in Virginia, is director of an international field research project on the archaeology of the Iron Age in the Republic of Kazakhstan. Throughout the exhibition Nomads and Networks: The Ancient Art and Culture of Kazakhstan, on view in the Sackler until November 12, 2012, Claudia will share tales from her ongoing fieldwork with us on Bento.

The weather has turned hot and has baked out a lot of the archaeological contexts. The dust from 2000-year-old crumbling mud brick gets on our clothes and covers all the finds on the site. This week I wrote an email to our ceramic specialist and asked her how we could remove the thick white carbonate found on many of our sherds, obscuring the painted designs and slip. She says that soaking the pottery pieces in a vinegar solution will help remove the carbonate layer. I also asked her if she knew how to reconstruct some of the broken pots we have found. She asked me if I just wanted to piece together the pots so we could get a count of the number of whole vessels or if I thought the pots should be restored as art objects.

This is an important question. Many of the objects on display in the exhibition Nomads and Networks have been curated and preserved as ‘art objects.’ Most were probably found in excellent condition when removed from the soil, but others might have required careful restoration and preservation techniques. Excavated artifacts have a life of their own. They are from the same time period and cultural origins as the settlement site of Tuzusai, yet our ceramic inventory is much more variable. We have large storage vessels with splashes of red paint, cooking vessels, bowls, jars, cups and plates. There are ceramic disks with a perforated center hole used as spindle whorls and large broken pot pieces with repair holes. Obviously household artifacts can be quite different from those found in burials. Burial inventories, unless robbed or disturbed, are often sealed contexts containing whole pots, sacrificial animals, daggers, finely fashioned plaques of gold that were sewn onto material. A settlement site, or a place where people actually lived, is filled with the debris and trash that is left behind when the settlement was abandoned.

The life of an artifact, like the beautiful double ribbed ceramic kettle found on the surface of the mud brick platform is amazing. Three weeks ago we found a large double ribbed kettle on the mud brick platform. We have been debating whether or not the deeper levels below the platform were the living surfaces associated with the house. Two days ago Lyuba carefully dug around a rim sherd of the same double ribbed kettle that had fallen 40 cm below the platform. We often find little treasures in the cracks and crevasses of architectural features. This week someone found two tiny fragments of bronze in a post hole. Think about a tiny piece of jewelry or a penny that falls through the floor boards of an old house. Household archaeology is made up of the debris and the small ‘forgotten things’ of everyday life. The archaeologist who finds a tiny fragment of bronze in a post hole or a broken pot on a floor of a house, or in the associated trash on a living floor, is ever curious about the history of such objects.

The artifacts associated with elite burials of the nomadic aristocrats, such as the sacrificial horses with their leather masks and antler horns found in Tomb 13 at Berel in the Altai, or the Golden Warrior with his plaques of gold sewn on his kaftan, leggings, and tall hat, you might also consider the everyday objects found at a Tuzusai. These artifacts include broken pots, remains of past meals such as animal bones and charred seeds, and even a favorite stone polished with a hole drilled into it, worn as a pendant or used as a sharpening stone.

As the days get hotter we have found a way to use a parachute as a shade. In this photo note the contrast between our parachute used as shade and the ancient mud brick architecture at Tuzusai.

Nomads and Networks in the Field: Everyday Life in the Iron Age

Wild apricots, Tuzusai, Kazakhstan

Claudia Chang, professor of archaeology at Sweet Briar College in Virginia, is director of an international field research project on the archaeology of the Iron Age in the Republic of Kazakhstan. Throughout the exhibition Nomads and Networks: The Ancient Art and Culture of Kazakhstan, on view in the Sackler until November 12, 2012, Claudia will share tales from her ongoing fieldwork with us on Bento.

Tuzusai, the little village in Kazakhstan where our team is researching Iron Age burial sites, flourished this summer. The fruit trees were full with ripening cherries, both sour early cherries and sweet late cherries. Wild and domesticated apricots, raspberries, black and red currants, and gooseberries were all ready to be picked; a high school student told us he planned to lay the apricots out to dry on the tin roof of his dacha. Our young neighbor Lyuba stopped by one day after work with two freshwater fish she had just caught in Lake Kapchigai. The wheat turned yellow and the soy plants reached almost a foot tall.

The bounty of today’s Kazakhstan is a reminder of how rich and fertile the Talgar region must have been more than two thousand years ago. Rob Spengler, a paleo-ethnobotanist, has taken soil samples from trash pits, pit house fill (remains after the pit house dwelling collapsed), and ancient hearths at the site of Tuzusai. In 2008, 2009, and 2010 he washed these soil samples using a method called flotation, where the light particles of ancient carbonized seeds are separated from the soil matrix. He has found millet, barley, wheat, and even grape pips. The idea that the Saka and Wusun people of the first millennia BCE grew cereal crops, as well as kept sheep, goats, cattle, and horses, has changed our perspective on early nomadic cultures. There is subtle evidence that the diets of ancient people of Kazakhstan were highly variable, including plants, fish, birds, and other wild animals, as well as the meat and milk of their livestock. In our area, the Ili River runs for hundreds of miles from western China and empties into Lake Balkhash. Fish and other river and marsh resources must have been important in ancient times.

During one of our digs, we found some broken pieces of spindle whorls, small ceramic disks with perforated centers. (When I couldn’t think of the word in Russian for “spindle whorl,” I made the motion of using a drop spindle for spinning wool into thread. Lyuba immediately understood.) Finds of such domestic objects remind us that nomads were members of household groups. How important were women to the basic economy? Did they spin the hair and wool fibers for the clothing worn by an entire household, as the ancient Mayan women apparently did? Who made the large storage vessels, sometimes dripping them with red slip and glaze?

Sometimes the elite burial sites, with their magnificent inventories of gold and silver ornamentation, can cloud our visions of the everyday lives of the commoners. But during the bountiful months of the summer, planting gardens, tending to livestock, fishing, gathering berries and wild fruit, putting up stores for the winter, and repairing their mud-brick houses must have been the average Iron Age person’s main concerns. Our work at Tuzusai, often hot, tiring, and dusty, reminds us again of a simple life.

Nomads and Networks in the Field: Introducing Tuzusai

Sod removed from new excavation, Tuzusai, 2012

Claudia Chang, professor of archaeology at Sweet Briar College in Virginia, is director of an international field research project on the archaeology of the Iron Age in the Republic of Kazakhstan. Throughout the exhibition Nomads and Networks: The Ancient Art and Culture of Kazakhstan, on view through November 12, Claudia will share her ongoing field work with us on Bento.

Yesterday, our 17-year-old neighbor Nazerke came to our dig site to practice her English. In school Kazakh students have learned about the crude stone tools found in Kazakhstan dating back to the period of Homo erectus (1.8 million to 400,000 years ago). “Wouldn’t it be great to find actual fossil evidence of early humans in Kazakhstan?” Nazerke exclaimed.

Through our archaeological work, our research team expects to learn more about the history of human culture in Kazakhstan. This is important to understanding the context of the objects on display in Nomads and Networks, now on view in Washington, DC.

We are working in Tuzusai. Meaning “salty place” in Kazakh, Tuzusai is an Iron Age site that dates from 400 BCE to 100 CE. In 1991, the year Kazakhstan became independent from the USSR, local archaeologist Feydor P. Grigoriev began excavating the settlement. Our team began excavations here three years later. In 1995, when Feydor worked with us on the Kazakh-American Archaeological Expedition, we spent hours discussing our childhood memories of the 1950s and 1960s, at the height of the Cold War. Now American and Kazakhstani citizens can work on an archaeological dig together. How times have changed!

Over the years, more crew members have joined our dig, often through word of mouth, and taken on a variety of roles. Alec, one of the workmen on the site, also drives the 1994 four-wheel-drive Uhas. Lyuba is responsible for keeping track of the finds, especially the diagnostic pottery fragments: rims, bottoms, handles, and spouts. She writes down the coordinates for each special find and its depth. Perry, my husband, is the transit man, taking all the elevation readings of the excavation units. He uses a thirty-year-old Leitz mountain transit, a surveying instrument for measuring, and reads the elevations from a stadia mark. I take the notes and direct the dig.

To communicate, our team has gained a solid command of “dig Russian.” Last year the Tuzusai dig was multilingual: Kazakh, Russian, and English. This, of course, reflects the nature of language use in Kazakhstan. Kazakh, a Turkic language, has been the national language since Kazakhstan declared independence. Russian is the language of international communications, and English is taught in schools. At our excavations, there is no telling when different languages, cultures, or conceptual ideas may lead to confusion. Still, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Digging an archaeological site is always challenging. This week began slowly. We started by removing the weeds and backfill on last year’s pit houses, storage pits, and a tandoor. We also laid out a grid of 2 m x 2 m square units in an area north of our old excavations. We take down each of our grid units layer by layer, recording the depths for each level. We have now almost finished opening our old excavation units and removing the upper sod levels from our new excavation units.

Our team hopes to learn the history of everyday men and women living on the edge of the Tian Shan Mountains, as well as of the elite, horse-riding warriors who controlled vast regions of the Eurasian steppe. We would like to know what connections exist between the nomadic elite buried in the kurgans and the herders and farmers who lived in the Talgar area during the first millennia BCE. Nomads and Networks is thus not only an appropriate title for the exhibition in the Freer|Sackler, but also could be a motto for our summers in the field.

Next up: Everyday life in the Iron Age.

Nomads, Networks, and Bloggers: Live from Kazakhstan

Claudia Chang recording sherds in an irrigation ditch, wearing what she calls her “characteristic garb”: Waldo hat, pocket T-shirt, gray dig pants, and bandana.

Claudia Chang, professor of archaeology at Sweet Briar College in Virginia, is director of an international field research project on the archaeology of the Iron Age in the Republic of Kazakhstan. She has been a Fulbright Teaching Fellow at Kazakh State University and wrote an article in the catalogue for Nomads and Networks: The Ancient Art and Culture of Kazakhstan, on view in the Sackler August 11–November 12, 2012. Throughout the exhibition, Claudia will share her field work with us on Bento.

In late May, the temperature in the region of Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan, can range from the 50s in the early morning to the high 80s by noon. The winter wheat is a foot high and sways in the gentle breeze. Outside our little village 21 km (13 miles) from Almaty, large fields of soy crop have been seeded. The seedlings are about 2 inches in height. For a survey archaeologist the conditions are ideal; we can still walk between the rows of soy crop looking for ancient ceramics, sheep and cattle bones, broken river cobbles, and grinding stones. As we walk transect after transect in fields that are almost a kilometer (0.6 miles) in length, we inspect the soft, crunchy topsoil known as “loess” for ancient artifacts. Loess is wind-blown glacial mud that was deposited millennia ago and covers the gently sloping valley just below the foothills of the Tian Shan mountain range, which along with the Hindu Kush, Himalayas, and Pamirs form the highest peaks in Eurasia. This thick layer of loess is pay dirt for today’s farmers as it was for the Iron Age farmers and herders of the first millennium BCE. It is rich in nutrients and in this semi-arid climate is excellent for crops or pastureland.

Soybean field west of Tseganka

During the Soviet period, which ended in the early 1990s, many of these fields were planted by collectives; now the land is privatized or managed by cooperatives. Soviet period and contemporary agriculture have been a boon to the survey archaeologist. Tractors used to cultivate the fields have churned up the topsoil, and buried artifacts have been plowed up and exposed to rain and the elements. We often think that the richest scatters of artifacts, 50 or more pieces of ancient bones or sherds per 10-meter (33-foot) radius, are the places where the plow has dug into an ancient settlement or burial mound.

In uncultivated patches of land, it is still possible to see large Iron Age burial mounds, or kurgans, constructed of layers of earth and rocks that cover the burial pits or shafts where elite members of society were buried. In groups of 3 to 9, these burial mounds line old stream beds near the scatters of sherds and bones found on surveys. The Iron Age kurgans were treasure troves of valuable artifacts before they were robbed in antiquity and in the recent past. Today, they are visible markers of the graves of important members of Iron Age society, the aristocratic elites. Who were these elites and how did they earn their wealth and status?

Many of the hundreds of kurgans located in the Talgar region where we work have been destroyed by modern development of roads, construction, and large-scale industrial agriculture. But even though it has been flattened by modern farm machinery, a destroyed kurgan can sometimes be found as a tiny rise in a plowed agriculture field, and it is possible that the grave shaft is still intact.

When we find traces of kurgans or scatters of artifacts, we record their locations using a GPS device. Nowadays we can accurately pinpoint the location of a single ceramic sherd using satellite readings from our handheld GPS. When we return from six hours of field walking, these points can be plotted on Google Earth images that show the exact contours of the fields. By recording even a single grinding stone or ceramic fragment, we have traced out the boundaries of settlements that might lay buried below the plowed surfaces. The combination of field walking with the use of contemporary technology allows us to reconstruct how the ancient nomads and farmers of the Iron Age altered the natural landscapes of our study region.

More than 35 years ago, when I was in my early twenties, I learned how to find sites in the American Southwest by looking for artifact scatters on the desert and mountainous terrain of Arizona. In those days each site location had to be located on US Geological Survey topographic maps, using a Brunton compass to triangulate our position by aligning it with mountain peaks or stream bends. It could sometimes take 15 minutes or longer to pinpoint an exact location. These days we can just walk along with a notebook, a GPS unit, and some collection bags.

I find it astounding that new high-speed computing, satellite imagery, and good hard field work can produce excellent results that tell us more about the landscapes used by ancient people, the size of their settlements, and the nature of their ceremonial and burial practices. As an old school friend tells me, “It seems to me that doing archaeology is like solving a big puzzle that requires detective work.” After a long day of walking amongst the soy plants, there is nothing better than being able to come home, plot our artifact scatters or kurgan locations on a Google Earth map, and see the pieces fit together.

Next up: a look at the Iron Age excavation site at Tuzusai (“salty place”).

Encounters with the Golden Deer: Kazakhstan 101

Horned Deer with Folded Legs

Horned Deer with Folded Legs, Two-Sided; Zhalauli (Kegen district, Almaty region), 7th–6th century BCE

Alex Nagel, assistant curator of ancient Near Eastern art at Freer|Sackler, is the in-house curator of the exhibition Nomads and Networks: The Ancient Art and Culture of Kazakhstan, opening August 11.

For me, Kazakhstan is first of all a beautiful and stunning landscape: wide open, green grasslands; glittering, crystal-blue rivers and lakes; and high mountains in the east and the Caspian Sea in the west. A country four times bigger than Texas and almost the size of India, Kazakhstan is rich with history and home to wild tulips, oil, nomads who still hunt with golden eagles, and more than one hundred nationalities. Bordering Russia to the north and China to the east, Kazakhstan is today the world’s ninth largest country and has emerged as one of the most fascinating places in Central Asia.

East Kazakhstan, Lake Markakol, © Embassy of Kazakhstan, Washington, DC

Nomads and Networks: The Ancient Art and Culture of Kazakhstan, on view in the Sackler from August 11 through November 12, 2012, features spectacular finds from recent excavations that provide a unique window into the archaeology and cultures of Kazakhstan. The exhibition invites viewers to think about the ways nomadic and more sedentary cultures lived together. How did members of the elite represent themselves through burials of their leaders? Why was the horse so elaborately dressed and valued as a friend and partner?

The exhibition was conceptualized, developed, and organized by New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World in collaboration with the Ministries of Culture and Information and of Science and Education, Republic of Kazakhstan, and four major national museums in Kazakhstan and the Embassy of Kazakhstan in Washington, DC. It marks the first time that ancient artifacts from the very heart of Asia will be displayed in the nation’s capital. We will complement it with related special programming including gallery talks, lectures, a concert, ImaginAsia family programs, and films.

On Bento, we will cover some of the exciting discoveries made in Kazakhstan. Claudia Chang, professor at Sweet Briar College and one of the preeminent US archaeologists working in Kazakhstan today, has been exploring the sedentary places of the ancient people living in the Talgar region since 1994. This summer, Claudia excavates at the site of Tuzusai in eastern Kazakhstan, near the old capital of Almaty. Beginning next week, she will regularly blog her experiences in the field.