Robert Spengler

Robert Spengler
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (Max-Planck-Institut für Menschheitsgeschichte) · Archaeology

Doctor of Philosophy

About

87
Publications
60,428
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2,263
Citations
Additional affiliations
December 2014 - present
Washington University in St. Louis
Position
  • Research Associate
January 2014 - April 2016
Freie Universität Berlin
Position
  • Volkswagen and Mellon Foundations Postdoctoral Fellow

Publications

Publications (87)
Article
While early Turkic populations of northern Central Asia are traditionally thought to have been specialized nomads, over the past few years archaeological studies have shown that at least some of these peoples were engaged in farming, especially low-investment millet cultivation. The Turkic populations that spread across West Asia are thought to hav...
Article
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The pistachio (Pistacia vera L.) is commercially cultivated in semi-arid regions around the globe. Archaeobotanical, genetic, and linguistic data suggest that the pistachio was brought under cultivation somewhere within its wild range, spanning southern Central Asia, northern Iran, and northern Afghanistan. Historically, pistachio cultivation has p...
Article
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The high-altitude landscape of western Tibet is one of the most extreme environments in which humans have managed to introduce crop cultivation. To date, only sparse palaeoeconomic data have been reported from this region. The authors present archaeobotanical evidence from five sites (dating from the late first millennium BC and the early first mil...
Article
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The main goal of this paper is to present results of preliminary archaeological research on the south side of Lake Issyk-Kul in Kyrgyzstan. We test the hypothesis that agropastoral land use changed over four millennia from the Bronze Age through the Kirghiz period due to economic, socio-political, and religious shifts in the prehistoric and histori...
Preprint
Full-text available
The main goal of this paper is to present results of preliminary archaeological research on the south side of Lake Issyk-Kul in Kyrgyzstan. We test the hypothesis that agropastoral land use changed over four millennia from the Bronze Age through the ethnographic Kirghiz period due to economic, socio-political, and religious changes in the prehistor...
Article
Full-text available
Olfaction has profoundly shaped human experience and behaviour from the deep past through to the present day. Advanced biomolecular and ‘omics’ sciences enable more direct insights into past scents, offering new options to explore critical aspects of ancient society and lifeways as well as the historical meanings of smell.
Preprint
The origins and dispersal of the chicken across the ancient world remains one of the most enigmatic questions regarding Eurasian domesticated animals1,2. The lack of agreement regarding the timing and center of origin is due, in large part, to issues with morphological identifications, a lack of direct dating, and poor preservation of thin bird bon...
Article
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Rice is one of the most culturally valued and widely grown crops in the world today, and extensive research over the past decade has clarified much of the narrative of its domestication and early spread across East and South Asia. However, the timing and routes of its dispersal into West Asia and Europe, through which rice eventually became an impo...
Poster
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It is an honour and pleasure to invite you to the 19th Conference of the International Work Group for Palaeoethnobotany (IWGP) which will be held in České Budějovice (Budweis in German), the capital of South Bohemia region and centre of academic life. IWGP in České Budějovice will offer the results of archaeobotanical research on a global scale at...
Article
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During the Early Bronze Age, populations of the western Eurasian steppe expanded across an immense area of northern Eurasia. Combined archaeological and genetic evidence supports widespread Early Bronze Age population movements out of the Pontic–Caspian steppe that resulted in gene flow across vast distances, linking populations of Yamnaya pastoral...
Article
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The urban center of Paykend was an exchange node just off the main corridor of the Silk Road in the Bukhara Oasis on the edge of the hyperarid Kyzyl–Kum Desert. The city was occupied from the end of 4 century B.C.E. to the mid–12 century C.E.; our study focuses on the Qarakhanid period (C.E. 999 – 1211), the last imperial phase of urban occupation...
Article
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The development and dispersal of agropastoralism transformed the cultural and ecological landscapes of the Old World, but little is known about when or how this process first impacted Central Asia. Here, we present archaeological and biomolecular evidence from Obishir V in southern Kyrgyzstan, establishing the presence of domesticated sheep by ca....
Article
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Over the past decade, niche construction theory (NCT) has been one of the fastest-growing theories or scholarly approaches in the social sciences, especially within archaeology. It was proposed in the biological sciences 25 years ago and is often referred to as a neglected evolutionary mechanism. Given its rapid acceptance by the archaeological com...
Article
Full-text available
The mountain foothills of inner Asia have served as a corridor of communication and exchange for at least five millennia, using historically documented trade routes such as the Silk Road and the Tea-Horse Road. Recent research has illustrated the important role that this mountain corridor played in the dispersal of crops and farming technology betw...
Article
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Nomads, or highly specialized mobile pastoralists, are prominent features in Central Asian archaeology, and they are often depicted in direct conflict with neighboring sedentary peoples. However, new archaeological findings are showing that the people who many scholars have called nomads engaged in a mixed economic system of farming and herding. Ad...
Article
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The morphology of ancient cereal grains in Central Asia has been heavily discussed as an indicator of specific genetic variants, which are often linked to cultural factors or distinct routes of dispersal. In this paper, we present the largest currently existing database of barley (n = 631) and wheat (n = 349) measurements from Central Asia, obtaine...
Article
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Megafaunal extinctions are recurring events that cause evolutionary ripples, as cascades of secondary extinctions and shifting selective pressures reshape ecosystems. Megafaunal browsers and grazers are major ecosystem engineers, they: keep woody vegetation suppressed; are nitrogen cyclers; and serve as seed dispersers. Most angiosperms possess set...
Article
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Arid Central Asia (ACA), with its diverse landscapes of high mountains, oases, and deserts, hosted the central routes of the Silk Roads that linked trade centers from East Asia to the eastern Mediterranean. Ecological pockets and ecoclines in ACA are largely determined by local precipitation. However, little research has gone into the effects of hy...
Article
Historically, agricultural and culinary traditions on the Tibetan Plateau have centered on a specific variety of naked frost-tolerant barley. Single-crop-dominant cultivation systems were rare in the ancient world, and we know little about how, why, and exactly when and where this unique barley-dominant economy developed. Previous research has show...
Article
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The evaluation of ancient crop production and its response to climate change is key to exploring the ancient demographic and social changes. Wheat is currently the third most widely cultivated crop worldwide and was a major component across of the agricultural systems of the ancient Eurasia. In this study, the Δ ¹³ C values of 116 charred wheat gra...
Article
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The question of what the ecology communities of the Loess Plateau looked like before the extensive anthropogenic reshaping processes of the lateHolocene has stirred a long debate. A better understanding of these human-induced changes will not only help us understand the extent of paleoeconomic practices, but also inform future conservation actions...
Article
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Scholars have argued that plant domestication in eastern North America involved human interactions with floodplain weeds in woodlands that had few other early successional environments. Archeological evidence for plant domestication in this region occurs along the Mississippi river and major tributaries such as the Tennessee, Ohio, Illinois, Missou...
Article
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The oasis villages of the Tarim Basin served as hubs along the ancient Silk Road, and they played an important role in facilitating communication between the imperial centers of Asia. These villages were supported by an irrigated form of cereal farming that was specifically adapted to these early oasis settlements. In this manuscript, we present th...
Article
Excavations at the site of Bashtepa, at the western interface of the Bukhara oasis and the Kyzyl-kum desert, and at the kurgan sites at Kuyu-Mazar and Lyavandak on the eastern and north eastern fringes of the oasis, are detailed here, enriching our understanding of agro-pastoralism in Antiquity. At Bashtepa, results indicate a shifting site functio...
Article
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Ecosystem engineering is an innovative concept that recognizes that organisms impact their environment, and that these changes can be detected over time. Thus, additional datasets from the ecological longue durée are necessary, specifically in response to the onset of the Anthropocene and the impacts of humans and their commensal organisms upon eco...
Article
The origins and prehistoric spread of rice agriculture between East and West Asia are hot topics in the current archaeological community. In this study, we present the results from a preliminary archaeobotanical study at the Khalchayan site in Uzbekistan, where we recovered the oldest securely dated rice thus far identified in Central Asia. We dire...
Article
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An amendment to this paper has been published and can be accessed via a link at the top of the paper.
Article
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Populations in Mongolia from the late second millennium B.C.E. through the Mongol Empire are traditionally assumed, by archaeologists and historians, to have maintained a highly specialized horse-facilitated form of mobile pastoralism. Until recently, a dearth of direct evidence for prehistoric human diet and subsistence economies in Mongolia has r...
Article
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Wheat and barley evolved from large-seeded annual grasses in the arid, low latitudes of Asia; their spread into higher elevations and northern latitudes involved corresponding evolutionary adaptations in these plants, including traits for frost tolerance and shifts in photoperiod sensitivity. The adaptation of farming populations to these northern...
Article
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It is well documented that ancient sickle harvesting led to tough rachises, but the other seed dispersal properties in crop progenitors are rarely discussed. The first steps toward domestication are evolutionary responses for the recruitment of humans as dispersers. Seed dispersal–based mutualism evolved from heavy human herbivory or seed predation...
Article
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While classic models for the emergence of pastoral groups in Inner Asia describe mounted, horse-borne herders sweeping across the Eurasian Steppes during the Early or Middle Bronze Age (ca. 3000–1500 BCE), the actual economic basis of many early pastoral societies in the region is poorly characterized. In this paper, we use collagen mass fingerprin...
Article
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Environmentally transformative human use of land accelerated with the emergence of agriculture, but the extent, trajectory, and implications of these early changes are not well understood. An empirical global assessment of land use from 10,000 years before the present (yr B.P.) to 1850 CE reveals a planet largely transformed by hunter-gatherers, fa...
Chapter
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Despite the hostile climate, since the Bronze Age the populations of Southern Turkmenistan have been able to create, through an impressive network of canals, an artificial agricultural territory with villages and large towns. Between 2400 and 1950 BCE, the Murghab alluvial fan was characterised by the presence of complex urban societies. This perio...
Article
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In addition to large-seeded cereals, humans around the world during the mid-Holocene started to cultivate small-seeded species of herbaceous annuals for grain, including quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, the millets and several lost crops domesticated in North America. The wild ancestors of these crops have small seeds with indigestible defences and do...
Article
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Cannabis is one of the oldest cultivated plants in East Asia, grown for grain and fiber as well as for recreational, medical, and ritual purposes. It is one of the most widely used psychoactive drugs in the world today, but little is known about its early psychoactive use or when plants under cultivation evolved the phenotypical trait of increased...
Article
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The apple (Malus domestica [Suckow] Borkh.) is one of the most economically and culturally significant fruits in the world today, and it is grown in all temperate zones. With over a thousand landraces recognized, the modern apple provides a unique case study for understanding plant evolution under human cultivation. Recent genomic and archaeobotani...
Article
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In the early 1980s Naomi Miller changed the field of palaeoethnobotany; her research into whether the ancient seed eaters of southwest Asia were human or herbivore opened an ongoing debate over the impact that burning of animal dung had on the formation of archaeobotanical assemblages, and how researchers can differentiate between human and animal...
Article
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A new project aims to understand the early prehistoric use of animals and plants along the ancient Silk Road through archaeological fieldwork in southern Kyrgyzstan's high Alay Valley.
Book
The foods we eat have a deep and often surprising past. Many foods we consume today—from almonds and apples to tea and rice—have histories can be traced along the tracks of the Silk Road out of prehistoric Central Asia to European kitchens and American tables. Organized trade along the Silk Road dates to at least Han Dynasty China in the second cen...
Article
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Paleoethnobotany is the scientific investigation of human and plant interactions in the past; this includes both human environmental impact and cultural practices involving plants. In practice, a paleoethnobotanist studies the preserved remains of plants in archaeological sites or in a cultural landscape around the site. These investigations includ...
Article
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During the first millennium A.D., Central Asia was marked by broad networks of exchange and interaction, what many historians collectively refer to as the “Silk Road”. Much of this contact relied on high-elevation mountain valleys, often linking towns and caravanserais through alpine territories. This cultural exchange is thought to have reached a...
Data
Full archaeobotanical data table for the Tashbulak project. (PDF)
Article
Full-text available
Claudia Chang. Rethinking prehistoric Central Asia: shepherds, farmers, and nomads. 2018. Abingdon & New York: Routledge; 978-1-138-73708-2 £105. - Volume 92 Issue 363 - Robert N. Spengler
Chapter
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Article
Central Asia is commonly referred to as a pastoral realm, and the first millennium B.C. is often thought to mark a period of increased mobility and reliance on animal husbandry. The economic shift of the first millennium B.C. is usually interpreted as a transition toward specialized pastoralism in Central Asia, and the point in time when the Centra...
Article
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This paper discusses archaeobotanical remains of naked barley recovered from the Okhotsk cultural layers of the Hamanaka 2 archaeological site on Rebun Island, northern Japan. Calibrated ages (68% confidence interval) of the directly dated barley remains suggest that the crop was used at the site ca. 440–890 cal yr AD. Together with the finds from...
Data
Total counts of domesticated and wild seeds and floated litres from the Okhotsk culture layers of Hamanaka 2. (XLS)
Data
Morphological data of well-preserved carbonised naked barley seeds recovered from the Okhotsk culture layers of Hamanaka 2. (XLS)
Data
Morphological data of carbonised barley seeds from archaeological sites in the regions of Hokkaido, northern Tohoku, and the RFE collected from published and unpublished records. (XLS)
Article
Full-text available
For well over a century, scholars from across the social and biological sciences have been trying to understand the origins and spread of agriculture. This debate is often intertwined with discussions of climate change and human environmental impact. Over the past decade, this debate has spread into Central Eurasia, from western China to Ukraine an...
Article
Full-text available
Over the past decade researchers have directed greater focus toward understanding Bronze (3200-800 BC) and Iron Age (800 BC-AD 400) economies of Central Asia. In this article, we synthesize paleobotanical data from across this broad region and discuss the piecemeal archaeological evidence for agriculture in relation to environmental records of vege...
Article
The two East Asian millets, broomcorn (Panicum miliaceum) and foxtail millet (Setaria italica), spread across Eurasia and became important crops by the second millennium BC. The earliest indisputable archaeobotanical remains of broomcorn millet outside of East Asia identified thus far date to the end of the third millennium BC in eastern Kazakhstan...
Article
For well over a century scholars from across the social and biological sciences have been trying to understand the origins and spread of agriculture. This debate is often intertwined with discussions of climate change and human environmental impact. Over the past decade, this debate has spread into Central Eurasia, from western China to Ukraine and...
Chapter
Full-text available
Online Article - A summary of the introduction of Archaeobotanical methods into Central Asia