The mystery of the migration of the Silk Road in the Holocene steppe has been solved

The Central Asian steppe road is of great significance to the exchange of prehistoric Eastern and Western civilizations. The Altai Mountains region is the core of Eurasia, a key area of the steppe Silk Road in central Asia and one of the important passages of early East-West civilization exchanges. However, the climatic background factors of regional population diffusion, especially the history of temperature change and its impact on prehistoric population migration, are not well studied.

On May 29, the team of Professor Huang Xiaozhong of Lanzhou University published the relevant results in Nature Communications with the title of “The optimal Holocene climate of the Altai Mountains drives the expansion of prehistoric humans in Central Asia”.

Schematic diagram of prehistoric population dispersion driven by warm climates in the steppe belt of Central Asia. Photo courtesy of the research group

Comparison of multiple global temperature (red bands indicate warmth) and humidity (blue bands indicate wetness) records. Photo courtesy of the research group

Professor Huang Xiaozhong of Lanzhou University took Kanas Lake and the adjacent Tiewike Lake on the southern slope of the Altai Mountains as the research objects, and used Kanas Lake sediment diatom silicon isotopes and biosilicones to reveal the temperature change history of the region since the Holocene. The results showed that during the 6.5-3.6ka period, the climate in the Altai Mountains was generally warm, and the diatoms of Kanas Lake grew vigorously, and during the period of 4.7-4.3ka, the climate was unusually warm, the lake water was stratified, and the diatoms used isotope-heavy dissolved silicon. Combined with the indicators of borehole pollen, carbon and nitrogen isotopes in Tiwaiike Lake, and compared with regional humidity records, It shows that the climate of the Altai Mountains region is suitable during the period 6.5-3.6ka, the warm and humid climate attracts the Yannaya people living in the warm and dry environment in the northwest of the Caspian Sea, and migrate to southern Siberia and the Altai Mountains region around 5ka, and later in the warmer period of 4.8-4.7ka, the water level of the Caspian Sea decreases due to high temperature and drought, and the Yannaya migrate to the Caucasus region at high altitudes and the northern European region at higher latitudes. This study provides new perspectives and evidence for the drivers of prehistoric population expansion in Central Asia.

This result is a further extension of the research work of Huang Xiaozhong’s research group published in Quaternary Science Review in 2021. The study found that there were tropical and subtropical distribution of thermophilic species Cynophilic Astrophylla in the sediments of Bosten Lake in Xinjiang, indicating the extreme high temperature event 4.7-4.3 thousand years ago, and the warm climate could ensure that the prehistoric people in Xinjiang lived in the Altai Mountains (Chemurchek culture), and as the climate suddenly cooled at 4.2ka and 3.6ka, the population migrated to low latitudes, which contributed to the emergence of early Tarim people (such as Xiaohe sites) and the large-scale pastoral development after 4ka in the Loess Plateau.

It is reported that Xiang Lixiong, a doctoral student at the School of Resources and Environment of Lanzhou University, is the first author of the paper, and Huang Xiaozhong is the first corresponding author of the paper. (Source: China Science News, Wen Caifei, Faisha)

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