ARCHCROP: Crossing Paths: Millet, Wheat and Cultural Exchanges in the Inner Asian Mountain Corridor, China

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: School of Archaeology


The Bronze Age (3rd to 2nd millennia BC) witnessed the spread of millet consumption westwards from China, while southwest Asian crops (wheat and barley) spread eastward. These cross-continental movements of cereals first coincided with each other in the Inner Asian Mountain Corridor (IAMC), and this horizon is believed to have important implications for understanding early East-West interactions. Focusing on the eastern portion of the IAMC in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China, a multi-disciplinary study is proposed here to explore the chronology, routes, ecological conditions and social influences involved in the spread of these ecologically and isotopically distinct crops. Multiple research techniques (i.e. archaeobotany, stable isotope analysis, radiocarbon dating) will be applied to various sample materials (i.e. plant remains, human and animal bone/tooth bioapatite, human serial
dentine) from Bronze Age sites in Xinjiang (i.e. Tongtian Cave, Chemurchek, Xiaohe, Tianshanbeilu & Wubao). The aims of this project are to clarify 1) the ways in which millet, wheat and barley were cultivated when they first met; 2) the scale at which these crops, especially millets, were consumed and if this involved any diachronic or spatial change; 3) the reasons why millet, wheat and barley moved across Xinjiang and whether this was associated with any specific social factors or ecological conditions; 4) was adoption of new crops influenced by gendered relationships visible through individual life histories. The findings of this research will be examined in the context of early East-West interactions to provide new key knowledge about the pivotal role that Xinjiang played in the Trans-Eurasian Exchange of crops. The topic of Old-World crop globalization is particularly important in the context of health, gender and food security in today`s world. The current topical nature of the studied region, Xinjiang, also adds to the relevance and timeliness of this project.


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