2013 Fellows | July 29, 2013

SSRC Dissertation Development Fellow Tekla Schmaus

The Environment and Social Change in Prehistoric Central Eurasian Societies

Discipline: Anthropology

University at Time of Fellowship: Indiana University at Bloomington


My project studies the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age in southeast Kazakhstan (Semirech’ye).  During this transition, people began to rely more on agricultural products, and a group of elites emerged.  I study the faunal remains from different settlements in Semirech’ye in order to understand variations in herd structure across time and space.  Herd structure can tell us about the environments that people exploited, as different animals have different grazing requirements.  I am also doing a more detailed analysis of sheep teeth from the settlements in order to determine the season in which the animals were slaughtered.  This information about seasonality can help us to infer people’s mobility patterns, and to pinpoint when and if people in a particular settlement may have incorporated agricultural products into their diets.

This research will contribute more broadly to our understanding of the ways mobile pastoralists relate to neighboring groups, and whether the practice can be viewed as a way of resisting state control, or whether it is simply an adaptation to the environment. Our current knowledge about pastoralism comes from ethnographies and other observations done over the course of a relatively short period, in which people were interacting with either the Russian Empire or the Soviet Union.  A more diachronic perspective will demonstrate the range of variation in practice that is possible in the region.


Tekla Schmaus is a PhD candidate in anthropology at Indiana University.  She did her archaeological fieldwork in Kazakhstan, and has participated in related research projects in Kyrgyzstan.  Tekla has previously received funding from the Wenner-Gren Foundation, and completed her BA in anthropology at the University of Chicago.

Field Images: