Migration flows of people, animals and even plants that took place in the mountainous regions of Central Asia formed human history. The article “How Ancient Exchanges in Central Asia Shaped the Modern World” of William Taylor, Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, published by The Diplomat, tells how it happened and why.
Today, shepherds drive herds of horses along the paved roads of mountain areas of southern Kyrgyzstan, where once the winding paths of the ancient Silk Road passed.
This road will eventually lead to the Fergana valley – a huge geographical basin, which is the junction of the international border of three modern countries – Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Throughout most of human history, this mountainous area has served as a natural route for the movement of people, animals and plants.
Thus, researchers from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, headed by Dr. Svetlana Schneider during archaeological excavations at Obishir site in Fergana found evidence that the human occupation of Central Asia dates back at least 120,000 years. According to Schneider, this part of Asia was an important corridor for the resettlement of the first peoples of the continent.
Here, anatomically modern man first met with Neanderthals and Denisovans, arrived from the African continent. In addition, Russian anthropologists, together with specialists from the American University of Central Asia, have identified cultural ties that have developed following last Ice age between Central Asia and such remote areas as the Levant (Eastern Mediterranean) and Zagros mountains (South-West Iran), which confirms the role of the region in the movement of people across the Eurasian expanses.
And along with people, livestock and plants traveled between East and West. Scientists call this phenomenon “proto-globalization”. The dry climate of the mountainous regions of the Pamirs, Tien Shan and Alai mountains stimulated the development of some types of agriculture in these places.
Thus, a colleague of the author, paleobotanist Dr. Robert Spengler believes that Central Asia served as a hotbed of distribution on the continent of millet, wheat, barley and rice. His work says that the exchange of different varieties of agricultural crops in Central Asia created the economy of the ancient world in the third Millennium BC. Moreover, in the middle of the first Millennium BCE there were cultivated grapes and winemaking. In the era of the Roman Empire the merchants through the complex trading networks of the Silk Road exported local apples and pears to China and the Mediterranean.
The social and economic landscape of Eurasia was also influenced by the exchange of animals, especially the horse trade. Recent genomic studies have shown that Central Asian horse breeders in 600 BCE have already practiced selective breeding. Over the centuries, the demand for hardy and gorgeous heavenly horses of Central Asia – the ancestors of the modern Turkmen Akhal-Teke – has become one of the main driving forces of the economy on the Silk Road routes.
Vegetables and fruits from the remote corners of the Earth can be found on the shelves of modern markets in Central Asian countries. For example, bananas take the place near the local varieties of melons grown in the region for centuries. However, as Spengler says, “What you see sold in the markets today are the result of several millennia of cultural exchange and interaction.” The globalization processes that shapes our “today” are, in fact, deeply rooted in the events of the past. The Great Silk Road is also being revived, and, like hundreds of centuries ago, the role of Central Asia in this reincarnation is relevant and vital.