Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

East Asian Languages & Civilizations

First Advisor

Nancy S. Steinhardt


How architecture reflects the configuration of physical and social spaces among prehistoric pastoral nomads is a topic scarcely explored in the archaeology of Inner Asia, not least because the common preconception is that structural remains are not in keeping with the mobile lifestyle. Yet, the juxtaposition of these two seemingly contrasting strategies of human subsistence forms an interesting paradox that underlies precisely the nature of nomadism. Accordingly, this study questions how pastoral nomads relate to stationary structures and the idea of a locale.

To do so, it draws on the archaeological record of stone architecture in the Bortala River Valley of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, an area where pastoral nomadism developed in the second and first millennia BCE. With data collected from survey and excavation, this study employs GIS, statistics, and 3D photogrammetry to examine the environment and building patterns of these stone structures on three spatial scales. Built in simple geometric forms recurring in space and time, they correspond typologically to different epochs of human habitation, funerary and ritual activities. Instead of approaching the material typologically, however, this study questions the connection between site selection and architectural design and how the prehistoric landscape of Western Tian Shan was shaped.

Three characteristics of place-making and space use are identified. First, the significance of these sites is reinforced through recurring access of specific locations and the adherence to certain building codes. Second, the aggregation of building components over time, like the symbolisms they carry, is cumulative and continuously reconfigured. Third, spatial knowledge is communal. It is anchored to a cartographic palimpsest comprising diverse forms of architecture and art. These preliminary observations form the basis for further modeling, in future research, the logistics of building and cultures of space use among early pastoral societies in Inner Asia on more explicit timescales and in more defined spatial forms.

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