Radiocarbon-dated archaeological record of early first millennium B.C. mounted pastoralists in the Kunlun Mountains, China
Pastoral nomadism, as a successful economic and social system drawing on mobile herding, long-distance trade, and cavalry warfare, affected all polities of the Eurasian continent. The role that arid Inner Asia, particularly the areas of northwestern China, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia, played in the emergence of this phenomenon remains a fundamental and still challenging question in prehistoric archaeology of the Eurasian steppes. The cemetery of Liushiu (Xinjiang, China) reveals burial features, bronze bridle bits, weaponry, adornment, horse skulls, and sheep/goat bones, which, together with paleopathological changes in human skeletons, indicate the presence of mobile pastoralists and their flocks at summer pastures in the Kunlun Mountains, ∼2,850 m above sea level. Radiocarbon dates place the onset of the burial activity between 1108 and 893 B.C. (95% probability range) or most likely between 1017 and 926 B.C. (68%). These data from the Kunlun Mountains show a wider frontier within the diversity of mobile pastoral economies of Inner Asia and support the concept of multiregional transitions toward Iron Age complex pastoralism and mounted warfare.