Anthropologist offers answers on discovery of anci...

Anthropologist offers answers on discovery of ancient nomadic city, connections to ‘Silk Road’

Ever wondered if nomadic cultures stopped in one place longer than a few days for supplies or a few weeks to graze their livestock? An anthropologist whose team discovered an ancient nomadic city in Uzbekistan has some answers at MTSU Tuesday, Feb. 6.

Dr. Michael Frachetti, an associate professor at Washington University in St. Louis, will speak on “Nomadic Cities and Silk Road Dynamics: Reconnecting the Steppe and the Sown” at 7 p.m. Feb. 6 in the State Farm Lecture Hall, Room S-102, in MTSU’s Business and Aerospace Building.

The discussion is free and open to the public. A campus map with parking notes is available at

Frachetti and his colleagues first visited the site in the Malguzar mountains near the Tajikistan border in 2011. They’d expected to find only the remains of nomadic campsites in the high pasture after documenting those same kinds of campsites in nearby valleys for the National Science Foundation.

Instead, the director of Washington University’s Spatial Analysis, Exploration and Interpretation Laboratory in the Department of Anthropology and his Uzbek co-investigator, Farhod Maksudov, found a hidden valley on the plateau, covered in “large mounds and undulations … as well as an unusually large density of broken ceramics scattered across the structures.”

Dr. Michael Frachetti

Suspecting they’d found a large urban settlement at the high elevation, Frachetti and the team returned in 2012 to find stone foundations for several small buildings — exactly what they’d expected after studying 3-D topographic reconstructions based on drone photos and computer modeling.

They continued excavating the site and finally confirmed their find: the remains of the ancient town of Tashbulak, probably founded around 1,000 A.D. by the Qarakhanids, the first Turkic nomads to convert to Islam.

The Qarakhanids ruled Central Asia then, spreading their faith across their empire and building along the medieval “Silk Road,” the ancient network of passages from the Far East to Europe that connected East and West through business and cultural interaction.

Frachetti and his associates are still studying how building and maintaining a large town at high elevation affected the environment and how Tashbulak fit into the medieval politics and economy of the Silk Road.

You can watch a video about the Tashbulak project below. He’ll also be the guest on this weekend’s “MTSU On the Record” radio program, airing 6 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 4, on WMOT-FM Roots Radio 89.5 and

Frachetti, an expert on Bronze Age nomadic pastoralists in Central Asia, addresses how economic and political strategies shaped inter-regional networks form East Asia to Southwest Asia as early as 2500 B.C.E. and how those networks laid the foundation for the later Silk Roads. He’s also the author of “Pastoralist Landscapes and Social Interaction in Bronze Age Eurasia.”

This Feb. 6 lecture is sponsored by MTSU’s College of Liberal Arts. For more information, contact Connie Huddleston at 615-494-7628 or

— Gina E. Fann (