Under the supervision of Prof. Michael Frachetti, Paula Doumani will conduct archaeological excavations and pottery analyses at the Bronze Age settlement of Tasbas. Tasbas, located in the Dzhungar Mountains of southeastern Kazakhstan, was occupied by mobile pastoral populations around 4000 years ago. The site includes resident structures, rock art, and a small cemetery. Based on Tasbas' time of occupation, cultural material, and its subsistence economy, the site is among the early examples for specialized mobile pastoralism in central Eurasia.

Research focusing on pottery technology among Bronze Age populations in central Eurasia is important for a number of reasons. First, technology gives us insight into community bonds and society. Technology and production among non-hierarchical societies, specifically, can speak to the larger issue of how group identity and society is reproduced outside of centralized systems of authority. Second, the study of technology provides insight into group interaction, socio-economic change and community learning. Ms. Doumani's research offers one of the few studies worldwide that unite small-scale production technology among pastoralists with the study of interaction, socio-economic change, and identity.

The Bronze Age was a time of vast communication across the Eurasian continent. In the central Eurasian steppe zone, this period marks the beginning of geographically widespread mobile pastoralism, intensified regional interaction, and technological innovations across a range of material media, such as pottery. The diffusion of material technologies was a principal socio-economic integrator among these early pastoralists. The archaeology shows extraordinary stylistic and technological consistencies in the pottery across large geographic territories. But, how the region's societies came to share these traditions is a topic that is still poorly understood.

Ms. Doumani will recover and analyze data to interpret which pottery technologies demonstrate long-term community bonds and production, and which pottery technologies demonstrate bonds with populations elsewhere in Eurasia. Specifically, she proposes - and will test for evidence - that technology will show: socio-economic interaction, how artisans transfer community practices, and productive systems at the local and extra-local scale.

In addition to its academic merit, this project will assist in both American and Kazakh graduate student training. Training opportunities will span a number of archaeological subfields, including material, plant, animal, and human remain analyses. The project will provide employment to Kazakh individuals living in a remote rural area of Kazakhstan, and opportunities for the community members to learn about archaeology in general. Furthermore, these activities will increase local awareness of scientific archaeological field and analytical techniques. Results of the research will be widely disseminated to the academic and public community through presentation at professional conferences and through published papers in peer-edited journals. The public will also be able to access the data, maps, and photographs generated in the course of the research via open source databases operated through Washington University.

Project Report

This report summarizes preliminary results from archaeological investigations in the Dzhungar Mountain area of southeastern Kazakhstan. The Dzhungar Mountains are located on the geographic margin of the steppes of central Eurasia and southern Siberia. The archaeological project comprised excavations at the seasonal settlement Tasbas and a survey of the regional pottery collections. Michael Frachetti, Paula Doumani, and Alexei Mar’yashev directed excavations at Tasbas in 2011 under the joint Kazakh-American Dzhungar Mountains Archaeological Project (DMAP) of The Institute of Archaeology, Almaty and Washington University in St. Louis. In addition Paula Doumani conducted comparative analyses of pottery containers from neighboring settlements in the region. The Bronze Age of Kazakhstan is known for the many mobile pastoral populations whose interactions and social exchanges spanned from Europe to China. However, very little is known about the everyday life of the people who lived in the central zones of the Eurasian continent apart from their technological contributions to the growth and expansion of better-known empires of the ancient world. The aims of the project were to shed light on these innovations and to be able to propose how geographically dispersed societies may have interacted. The excavation component brought together different specialists in the field of archaeology to obtain insight into different facets of ancient ways of life, such as migration patterns, material culture, animals kept, foods eaten, as well as rituals performed for the dead. Results of the research show that pastoral and agro-pastoral populations periodically lived at Tasbas, and in the surrounding mountain valleys starting in the Bronze Age, around 4500 years ago. 10 AMS (radiocarbon) samples collected across Tasbas stratigraphic levels show three Brone Age phases that describe domestic and ritual life. Phase 1 has the earliest evidence for human presence at Tasbas, and is represented by a human cremation burial that dates to 2850-2650 cal B.C. in the Early Bronze Age. This date places Tasbas as the earliest Bronze Age site in the Kazakh Dzhungar and thus shows people had placed down roots much earlier than previously demonstrated, as well as a ritual tradition that has been regionally documented in just one other instance. Phase 2, contained a domestic structure that dates between 1450-1050 BC, in the Late Bronze Age. The information obtained from this living phase showed people were using the settlement seasonally, most likely in summer and spring, to grow and process plant crops, to fatten animal herds, and to make pottery vessels. The domestic structure included stone-lined fire pits, a mud brick oven, and remains of stone walls and post holes that would have supported a light roof. Botanical analyses of the soils inside in the house revealed seeds from domesticated wheat, millet, barley, and green peas. The plants were grown in nearby agricultural fields and processed at Tasbas, as opposed to the grains being transported in from elsewhere. Tasbas provides the earliest evidence for farming north of Tajikistan, and southern Central Asia. Tasbas Phase 3 represents an era of periodic human occupation that dates to 900-800 cal B.C., in the Final Bronze Age. Highly disarticulated stone architectural remains and a large trash pit represent the primary finds from this phase of Tasbas. The pottery found from this period resembles pottery from other parts of Kazakhstan and southern Siberia and shows that social ties were geographically widespread at that time. Evidence for continued used of crop farming of millet and wheat were also found and support the continuation of a partly crop diet in this period. The pottery analysis component of the project is ongoing and aims to trace the emergence and development of the production technology. The Bronze Age pottery collections from the Dzhungar Mountains represent some of the earliest examples of ceramic containers in the region, which were probably preceded by woven baskets and leather pouches. The pottery analysis combined traditional and newer scientific approaches. Digital x-rays provided the bulk of material on this topic, and is part of a larger archaeometry based collaborative project between Argonne National Laboratory, Argonne, and the University of Chicago. Preliminary results from the pottery analysis show shared elements of culture and production techniques, which suggest shared lines of communication and information transfer in terms of craft production in ancient times. Stylistically the pottery from the different collections looks similar and attests people were interacting in some way. However, the technology of making pottery is quite varied, and potting techniques develop along different lines. The preliminary results of the analyses suggest local traditions held more sway in the face of the dynamic social interaction that is characteristic of the period. Archaeological research on Bronze Age societies of southeastern Kazakhstan offer new and surprising data that can help shed light on the standing question of how technologies diffused and developed across the Eurasian continent.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
Standard Grant (Standard)
Application #
Program Officer
John E. Yellen
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Washington University
Saint Louis
United States
Zip Code