A Dynamic Analysis of Pastoral Society in Central Asia: From Domestication to Climate Change

Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research (A) (Grant Number, 18H03608; Research period, FY 2018-2022)

Research Overview

Key Words: Domestication, Pastoral continuum, Central Asia, Large domesticated animals

Outline of the study

 This study is intended to clarify, in historical-ecological terms, the use of the environment, subsistance-economic activities, and relationships with other ethnic groups among pastoralists of Central Asia from the perspective of the “pastoral continuum.”
It also examines “domestication,” focusing on its history. Central Asia is the part of the world where horses, camels, and other large livestock were first domesticated. In response to changes in the natural environment and socioeconomic circumstances, the forms of domesticated animals and structures of their herds have been transformed, accompanied by changes in human society.  This interaction is historical ecology, and it is clarified by analysis methods from anthropology, ecology, genetics, and history.
This study not only clarifies the process of domestication in human history; it can also facilitate a more accurate understanding of the historical uniqueness and present state of this region, which has been subject to the ongoing political and economic impact of neighboring great powers. Furthermore, this study can contribute to the sustainable use of the resources of Central Asia, which is susceptible to the effects of climate change.


 Central Asia is the region where humans first domesticated large animals such as horses and camels. Recent research has shown that domestication was not a one-time occurrence; it was a long process that began with the use of the meat, milk, hides, and fur of animals and continued as humans gradually began to develop and utilize animals’ capabilities, such as transportation capacity and mobility. This process changed animals’ form and behavior at the same time as it transformed the social organization and genetic characteristics. Especially large animals are still undergoing a process of domestication. This study clarifies an overall view of domestication in this sense.

Pastoral continuum

 The perspective called the “pastoral continuum” is introduced in order to understand Central Asia as an integrated region in which various ethnic groups mutually influence each other. A characteristic of pastoral society (nomadism is one form of pastoralism) is that it is a society in which the people have technologies that move along with their domesticated herds, and pastoralism is a form of life that is only possible when humans and herds of domesticated animals coexist. So, for pastoral society, livestock are not a mere economic method; they have been closely intertwined with social systems, concepts of time, a society’s ethics, social organization, and so on.
Their kinship organizations or social systems are impacted by their herds of domesticated animals, and by symbiotically developed herds of domesticated animals and human families. They engage in extensive trade in products and frequent exchanges of population with other groups. This compound relationship is called a “pastoral continuum” (Spencer, 1997). This study treats the various ethnic groups of Central Asia as a “pastoral continuum” with unique characteristics to analyze the actual state and present condition of Central Asia. It also attempts to clarify the origins that gave rise to pastoral society in Central Asia by tracing the historical formation of this pastoral continuum.