Regions that are commonly home to mobile peoples are often typified by sharp contrasts and frequent environmental change that can take place unexpectedly. Environmental variability that generally epitomizes the homelands of mobile societies has often fostered a romanticized perception of nomadic people as "stoic" figures that are the product of a long life, lived in isolation, always moving as the natural environment dictates. Subsequently, researchers studying the processes through which large scale socially complex societies emerge and the mechanisms which bind members together into a functioning unit will often ignore mobile societies in favor of "stable" sedentary populations. This project argues that the distinctiveness of pastoral nomadic society allows analysis of general questions of political organization in relation to a wider range of variables and thereby provides insight into how political strategies play out differently over a range of varying conditions. Ultimately, the research will do much to illustrate how "mobile" polities provide examples of alternative trajectories for the development of alternative political systems and as such should provide better insight into the ways in which human societies do or do not adopt more complex forms of organization.

To address this research topic, Dr. William Gardner of Yale University, along with colleagues in Mongolia, will explore the "bottom-up" processes at play in the local acceptance, configuration, and enactment of political changes during the Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age (ca. 10th to 4th century B.C.) that eventually led to the first regional-scale polity founded on the steppe of Mongolia, The Xiongnu (ca. 3th century B.C.). Working in the greater Burgastai/Tarvagatai region of north central Mongolia, data from the Late Bronze and Early Iron Age periods will consist of 1) trends in exchange relationships as revealed by neutron activation analysis of ceramics; 2) trends in long distance interactions and movements as understood by isotopic analysis of herd animals; and 3) the role of monumentality in sociopolitical development. This data will be contextualized by previous archaeological research in the neighboring Egiin Gol region in an effort to determine the extent to which individual members and households were involved in a community's effort to establish itself within larger political organization. In total, the question addressed by studies of steppe societies are not just "pastoral" question per se but instead, a general question on human organization at the household and community scale viewed through the lens of mobility and agro-pastoralism.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Wyoming
United States
Zip Code