CESS Award for archaeologist of Iron Age Kazakhstan

The CESS Blog recognizes the valuable contributions of both young and more senior scholars in our field.  One of these annual recognitions is the CESS awards.  At the October 2014 meeting, Tekla Schmaus received the 2014 CESS Graduate Student Paper Award for the paper “The Pastoral Landscape in Semirech’ye, Past and Present.”

Tekla Schmaus<tschmaus@umail.iu.edu> is a PhD candidate in anthropology at Indiana University, where she is also affiliated with the Department of Central Eurasian Studies. She is an archaeologist who specializes in faunal remains, and also the Iron Age of Kazakhstan. Her primary interests are social structure in nomadic groups, and the ways in which people’s interactions with their environment are reflected in the archaeological record.

“The Pastoral Landscape in Semirech’ye, Past and Present”
This paper presents new work on the archaeology of mobile pastoralism in prehistoric Semirech’ye, Kazakhstan. By using faunal and dental remains to determine season at death, I am able to study human-environment interactions during the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age. To date, our understanding of these interactions comes from ethnographic analogy, which is how archaeologists have always built their models for understanding past behaviors.

While these models are a good place to start, we must refine them in light of new data, which suggest that past patterns of mobile pastoralism were not necessarily as rigidly shaped by the environment as some ethnographic work might suggest. Rather, although the environment was certainly a major factor in people’s decisions about when to move, there was a good deal of flexibility in migration patterns. At some places, there is evidence of prehistoric human presence in months when we would not expect to find people there today. It may be the case that the environment is not as much of a limiting factor on human behavior as was previously assumed.