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Multiregional Emergence of Mobile Pastoralism and Nonuniform Institutional Complexity across Eurasia

Michael D. Frachetti
Current Anthropology
Vol. 53, No. 1 (February 2012), pp. 2-38
DOI: 10.1086/663692
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/663692
Page Count: 37
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Multiregional Emergence of Mobile Pastoralism and Nonuniform Institutional Complexity across Eurasia
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Abstract

In this article I present a new archaeological synthesis concerning the earliest formation of mobile pastoralist economies across central Eurasia. I argue that Eurasian steppe pastoralism developed along distinct local trajectories in the western, central, and (south)eastern steppe, sparking the development of regional networks of interaction in the late fourth and third millennia BC. The “Inner Asian Mountain Corridor” exemplifies the relationship between such incipient regional networks and the process of economic change in the eastern steppe territory. The diverse regional innovations, technologies, and ideologies evident across Eurasia in the mid-third millennium BC are cast as the building blocks of a unique political economy shaped by “nonuniform” institutional alignments among steppe populations throughout the second millennium BC. This theoretical model illustrates how regional channels of interaction between distinct societies positioned Eurasian mobile pastoralists as key players in wide-scale institutional developments among traditionally conceived “core” civilizations while also enabling them to remain strategically independent and small-scale in terms of their own sociopolitical organization. The development of nonuniform institutional complexity among Eurasian pastoralists demonstrates a unique political and economic structure applicable to societies whose variable political and territorial scales are inconsistent with commonly understood evolutionary or corporate sociopolitical typologies such as chiefdoms, states, or empires.

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