Zooarchaeology Analysis

From at least 2500 BC, Begash was occupied by small groups of mobile pastoralists, whose economy was based on vertically transhumant sheep and goat herding in the Dzhungar Mountains.   Recent excavations at the pastoralist settlement Begash, located in eastern Kazakhstan, provide well-stratified assemblages of domesticated animal remains spanning from the Early Bronze Age to later historical periods (c. 2500 BC – AD 1900).  This faunal record provides invaluable long- term data to document changes in the pastoralist subsistence economy when sheep and cattle herding became dominant across the steppe.

Analysis Findings:
The prehistoric settlement Begash, located in the Semirech’ye region of eastern Kazakhstan, was excavated in 2002, 2005, and 2006 as part of the joint Kazakh-American Dzhungar Mountains Archaeology Project (DMAP). From at least 2500 BC, Begash was occupied by small groups of mobile pastoralists, whose economy was based on vertically transhumant sheep/goat herding in the Dzhungar Mountains. Recent excavations at the pastoralist settlement Begash, located in eastern Kazakhstan, provide well-stratified assemblages of domesticated animal remains spanning from the Early Bronze Age to later historical periods (c. 2500 BC – AD 1900).

The faunal record from Begash was analyzed by Dr. Norbert Benecke (German Archaeological Institute, Berlin).  This analysis provides invaluable long- term data to document changes in the pastoralist subsistence economy from that key period in the 3rd millennium BC when sheep and cattle herding became dominant across the steppe and traces the comparative herd structure of pastoral communities over an extended timeframe.
According to the archaeozoological evidence from all phases of occupation at Begash, the local population relied most heavily on herding domestic sheep/goat and cattle. Wild animals are generally represented by low numbers of various taxa of prey (and furry) mammals and birds. From this we may conclude that hunting was only of limited significance for providing food and raw materials at Begash.

The results of the faunal analysis at Begash interestingly show that horses never comprising more than 15% of the sample – and this is limited to the later historical periods (i.e. post-Mongolian phases).  Although horse remains were not highly represented in the domestic context, this may belie the degree to which horses were used for purposes other than food. Begash’s zooarchaeology suggests that although the core herd structure (sheep/goat and cattle) employed by the site’s earliest pastoralists remains broadly continuous into later periods, the number of horses increases slowly and parallels evidence for wider-range hunting and political expansions of the social landscape.


Discovery Highlights:

According to the archaeozoological evidence from all phases of occupation at Begash, the local population relied most heavily on herding domestic sheep/goat and cattle. Wild animals are generally represented by low numbers of various taxa of prey mammals and birds.

From this we may conclude that hunting was only of limited significance for providing food and raw materials at Begash.

The results of the faunal analysis at Begash interestingly show that horses never comprising more than 15% of the sample – and this is limited to the later historical periods (i.e. post-Mongolian phases).  Although horse remains were not highly represented in the domestic context, this may belie the degree to which horses were used for purposes other than food.

Begash’s zooarchaeology suggests that although the core herd structure (sheep,goat and cattle) employed by the site’s earliest pastoralists remains broadly continuous into later periods, the number of horses increases slowly and parallels evidence for wider-range hunting and political expansions of the social landscape.

Relevant Publications:
2009 FRACHETTI, M.D. and N. Benecke. From Sheep To (Some) Horses: 4500 Years Of
Herd Structure At The Pastoralist Settlement of Begash (southeastern Kazakhstan).
Antiquity 83 (322): 1023-1037.

2007 FRACHETTI, Michael D. and Alexei N. Mar’yashev. Long-term settlement, mobility,
and landscape formation of Eastern Eurasian pastoralists from 2500 CAL B.C.
Journal of Field Archaeology 32(3): 221-42