Accepted paper:

Power and Community Organization in Central Eurasian Prehistory


Tekla Schmaus (University of Pittsburgh)

Paper abstract:

In this paper, I consider the spatial and material manifestations of power relationships in a Bronze Age community in Kyrgyzstan. This period in Central Eurasia was traditionally considered to be a time when most communities had an egalitarian social structure. However, recent research from across the mountainous zones of the region has complicated our picture of Bronze Age economies, suggesting that many places had mixed agro-pastoral systems rather than relying on strict pastoralism. The presence of agriculture during this early period clearly indicates contact with states to the west and the east. In addition, such a mixed system would require a division of labor within the community, as the herds would not have been kept in the fields. I question how decisions were made about the allocation of labor, both at the level of the household and at the level of the community. Were decisions truly collaborative and egalitarian, or did some people have more power and authority in the decision-making process than others? Who negotiated relationships with neighboring states? To begin to answer these questions, I will discuss preliminary results from and future plans for an excavation targeted at finding the remains of households in a Bronze Age settlement in the Naryn Valley. If some people or households had more power than others, one might expect to find evidence of those social relationships in the materials left behind, the spatial organization of a house, or even the spatial organization of the community as a whole. I argue that a better understanding of the way power was enacted and negotiated in communities in the mountains of Central Eurasia in Bronze Age will help us to understand the political economy of the region as a whole. Ultimately, a better understanding of Bronze Age social organization might even help to explain the seemingly sudden emergence of Scythian elites in the region during in the first millennium BCE.

panel REG-01
Are there Central Eurasian Forms of Power? Theorizing Configurations and Materialities