Review Summary: Explorer Baumer, author of 14 books on Asian topics, has written the first of a projected comprehensive four-volume series on Central Asian prehistory and history. This volume covers the earliest times through Greek incursions (50,000 to ca. 200 BC). In nine chapters, he briefly covers the geology, geography, and regional climatic change, then focuses on the archaeology of the earliest cultures from the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic periods, but provides in-depth treatments of Bronze and Iron Age cultures, ending with Alexander the Great and the Graeco-Bactrian Empire. The narrative is accompanied by 262 magnificent illustrations (most in color), 12 maps, a chronological chart (Neolithic-Iron Age, 7000 BC-AD 100), scholarly endnotes, and 915-item bibliography. I examined this book in the context of the extant literature from this area. As an archaeologist, I have some concerns about his definition of the region and certain omissions; there are a few very minor errors. However, this well-bound volume is a welcome addition to a slender regional literature and at less than $40.00 US is a financial bargain for any library. Charles C. Kolb, Independent Scholar.
This volume and others mentioned below (in-print and out-of print) may be found at Amazon.com.
Detailed Review: Legendary Europeans who were Central Asian explorers bring to mind Hungarian-British archaeologist Sir Aurel Stein (1862-1943) and Swedish geographer Sven Hedin (1865-1952), both of whom published numerous scholarly works on the results of their travels and expeditions. See brief authorative biographies [...] and [...]. Add to these pioneers our contemporary, Christoph Baumer, a Swiss (born 1952) who studied Psychology, Philosophy and Art History at the University of Zurich. See [...] and a different biography in German [...] He was especially influenced by Hedin's explorations and led five International Taklamakan Expeditions to the Tarim Basin (1994, 1998, 2003, and 2007) in the southwest portion of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in northwest China. Baumer has also explored areas from Turkey to Tibet and Mongolia, western China, and southern India. Since 1996, he has worked as a freelance author with emphasis on the cultural history of Central Asia and has published books and articles illustrated with his own photographs in six languages, mainly in English and German. Among his significant articles is "Die `Tausend-Särge-Nekropole' von Xiaohe: Die Wiederentdeckung eines bedeutenden bronzezeitlichen Grabfeldes in der Lop Nor-Wüste (China) wirft viele neue Fragen auf" ["The `Thousand Coffins Necropolis' Xiaohe: The rediscovery of an important Bronze Age grave field in the Lop Nor desert (China) raises many new questions'] in Antike Welt Ausgabe 37(6):39-49 (2006). A list of his significant books is appended to this review. He is a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, of the Royal Geographical Society, London and of the Explorers Club, New York. In 2004 he was instrumental in founding the international Society for the Exploration of EurAsia and serves as its President and Treasurer.
A Problem of Definition: What is Included and Excluded
Cultural geographic terms like the Middle East, Near East, and Southwest Asia require definition as to what areas are included or excluded and the criteria that define these units. The same is true of "Central Asia." The term Central Asia actually has varied meanings to explorers, historians, archaeologists, geographers, cartographers, and political scientists, among others. The geographer-naturalist-explorer Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) - better known for his Latin American expeditions -- traversed the expanse of the Russian empire from the Neva to the Yenesei rivers (9,614 miles/15,472 km) and is credited with proposing the idea of "Central Asia" in 1843. However, the borders of Central Asia are subject to multiple definitions, see [...]. The most limited definition was the official Soviet Union designation, which defined Middle Asia as consisting solely of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, with Kazakhstan added after the break-up of the Soviet Central Asian Republics. Other areas sometimes included are northeastern Iran, Afghanistan (at least Afghanistan north of the Hindu Kush), northern and western Pakistan, northern India (Jammu and Kashmir), Mongolia, and sometimes Tibet and Xinjiang in western China, and southern Siberia in western Russia. The Russians recognize two distinct terms: Srednjaja Azija or "Middle Asia", the restrictive definition, which includes only the traditionally non-Slavic, Central Asian lands that were incorporated within those borders of historical Russia, and Central'naja Azija or "Central Asia," the broader definition, which includes Central Asian lands that have never been part of historical Russia.
The authoritative Encyclopedia Iranica [...] provides another set of definitions. Central Asia is defined as the land mass situated approximately between 55° and 115° E and 25° and 50° N, and comprises two geographically distinct areas. The western part includes the Transcaspian plains and the low tablelands between the Aral Sea and the Tien Shan range (roughly equivalent to the territory of western Turkistan (the former Turkmen, Uzbek, and Tajik Soviet Socialist Republics and the southern and western portions of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic). The eastern part includes the high plateaus and mountainous perimeters of the Tarim Basin (approximately Eastern Turkistan, now Sinkiang Uighur province of the People's Republic of China) and Tibet, the area north of the Tien Shan Mountains to the southern Siberian plains and the Altai Mountains (the northern and eastern portions of the Kazakhstan), and the Gobi desert (comprising parts of the Mongolian People's Republic and Chinese Inner Mongolia), and high mountain ridges extending east and south into China and Southeast Asia. Although the term Central Asia has been used to designate various regions within this vast area, most Western scholars simply apply it to western Turkistan, designating the area between 70° and 100° E and 25° and 45° N as Inner or Innermost Asia (Haute Asie, Inner-Asien, or Tsentral'naya Aziya).
The UNESCO History of Civilizations of Central Asia (Paris: UNESCO) published from 1992 to 2005 [...] is a six-volume treatment of the area from the "Dawn of Civilization" to the present time, published in English and now online. Only the first volume (1992) and portions of the second (1996) are applicable to Baumer's new book. The UNESCO effort was the first attempt to present a comprehensive picture of the cultures that flourished and vanished at the heart of the Eurasian continent and was written by an international team of scholars, many native to the region, using a wealth of then available archaeological data. Most volumes were written before the collapse of the Soviet Union. The series defines the region based on climate and expands the borders so that "Central Asia" includes Mongolia, Tibet, northeast Iran (Golestan, North Khorasan and Razavi provinces), all of Afghanistan, Northern Areas, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly called N.W.F.P.), Azad Kashmir and Punjab provinces of Pakistan, Punjab, Kashmir and Ladakh of India, central-east Russia south of the Taiga, and the five former Central Asian Soviet republics.
"Middle Asia," the vast expanse between Mesopotamia, with its Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and the Indus River Valley was for many years dismissed by many scholars as a marginal region of trading paths and small settlements that supplied raw materials or goods to urban societies in the three river systems. Archaeological evidence from Oman, Iran, and Turkmenistan presented at the meeting of the International Association for the Study of Early Civilizations in the Middle Asian Intercultural Space, 7-8 July 2007, in Ravenna, Italy has, however, reinforced the concept that Middle Asia was not marginal but a region of high civilization comparable to Mesopotamia and Indus Valley. The participants concluded that many state-level urban societies areas existed at the same time - about 5,000 years ago - in an arc that extended from Mesopotamia east for thousands of kilometers across to the areas of modern India and Pakistan, according to Andrew Lawler, the only journalist present at the meeting. See "Archaeology -- Middle Asia Takes Center Stage" (Science 317(5838):586-590, 3 August 2007; DOI: 10.1126/science.317.5838.5862007).
The History of Central Asia, Volume One: The Age of the Steppe Warriors
The history of Central Asia is characterized by the region's climate and geography as well as archaeological, ethnographic, historic and linguistic data. Portions of the region were dominated by the nomadic horse peoples of the steppe and relations between the steppe nomads and the settled people were marked by conflict. This nomadic lifestyle was well suited to warfare, and the steppe horse riders became some of the most militarily powerful societies in the world. For this reason, Baumer selected the subtitle for his new book "The Age of the Steppe Warriors"; it shouldn't convey the idea that Central Asia has been a militant area throughout prehistory - that happens in the Late Bronze and Iron Ages. This volume is the first of a projected four-volume set on the prehistory and history of Central Asia which, for him, includes present-day Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, northern Afghanistan, western and central Mongolia and portions of southern Russia and northern China. Hence, the east-west span covers western China to Romania, but the north-south span isn't as well defined and seems to fluctuate depending on the time periods and topics he considers. The Caucasus and northeastern Iran and northern Afghanistan are selectively included but mostly excluded from some essays. Baumer does not detail why he selected the particular collection of regions he calls "Central Asia" and I wish that there had been more elaboration of this topic. However, the splendid color end-paper maps, adapted from Joan Aruz's edited book The Golden Deer of Eurasia: Scythian and Sarmatian Treasures from the Russian Steppes (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000), give a better picture of the geographic regions he embraces in the term.
In nine chapters, Baumer briefly covers 50 million-years of geological history, the geography, and climatic changes in this region, then focuses on the archaeology of early cultures from the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic periods, but provides greater in-depth treatments of Bronze and Iron Age cultures, ending with Alexander the Great and the Graeco-Bactrian Empire. The volume includes 262 magnificent illustrations (most are in color and taken by the author himself), 12 maps, a chronological chart (Neolithic to Iron Age, ca. 7000 BC-AD 100), and 1,197 scholarly endnotes The 915-item bibliography, in the main, cites, English-language books and book chapters rather than journal articles; some French, German, and Russian volumes are referenced. Journal articles (notably in archaeology in history), many of which provide more current information and interpretations than the books he cites, would update and expand his narrative. The author also includes 16 backstories (excursuses), generally in the form of full pages rather than sidebars that document relevant, ancillary topics. These excursuses include information on individuals such as paleontologist Roy Chapman Andrews, cultures like the Indus civilization, religious concepts such as Zoroastrianism, and objects, for instance, the Oxus Treasure. These are interesting and well-chosen.
The first very short chapter covers the definition of Central Asia, and the interdependence of geography, climate and history, citing the UNESCO History of Civilizations of Central Asia. The second chapter, "The Settlement of Central Asia in the Paleolithic," provides a brief overview of human evolution, theories on migration, and Shanidar (Iraq) Neanderthals; rock painting and artifactual art are emphasized, as is the evolution of archery. Recent hominin-hominid finds from Denisova in the Caucasus are mentioned but not a Homo sapiens neanderthalensis/sapiens sapiens transitional specimen (combining Neanderthal and modern human characteristics) dated ca. 50,000 BP and associated Middle Paleolithic artifacts from Darra-i-Kur in northern Afghanistan, although its contemporary from Teshik-Tash, Uzbekistan is referenced. A variety of Upper Paleolithic stone tools, many similar to those from classic French archaeological sites, excavated at Aq Kupruk Afghanistan, are, unfortunately, not cited; see Louis Dupree's Chapter 13 in Afghanistan (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973). Baumer's Chapter III, "A Global Climatic Warming Ushers in the Mesolithic," documents glacial retreats, petroglyphs, and the development of microliths as tools. An excursus on Mongolian petroglyphs is quite good; Esther Jacobson and James Meacham's Archaeology and Landscape in the Mongolian Altai: An Atlas (Redlands, CA: ESRI Press, 2010) is a valuable source that he consulted and would be of interest to the public as well as scholars. "The Economic Revolution of the Neolithic," Baumer's fourth chapter, provides a review of the concept of the primary and secondary Neolithic revolutions, hunters and gatherers in the mountains and on the waterways of inner Central Asia, the beginning of agriculture and early permanent settlements in southern Central Asia, and frontier between hunters and herders with farmers in the northern steppes of Central Asia. Examples from Eastern Europe and the Ukraine as well as the Pakistani site of Mehrgarh, Jeitun, Turkmenistan, and a number of south Siberian sites are noted. Published works by a series of international teams conducting research in the Caucasus, a current hotbed of archaeological research, would add to the discussion. For example: Ceramics in Transitions: Chalcolithic through Iron Age in the Highlands of the Southern Caucasus and Anatolia (Karen S. Rubinson and Antonio Sagona, eds., Louvain: Peeters, 2008) and Sören Stark and Karen S. Rubinson, with Zainolla S. Samashev and Jennifer Y. Chi (eds.) prepared the very useful Nomads and Networks: The Ancient Art and Culture of Kazakhstan (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012).
In Chapter V, "The Chalcolithic and the Early Bronze Age," he reviews the early cultural history and the beginnings of metallurgy, the development of urbanism with the "first cities" of Central Asia situated in southern Turkmenistan, notably at Altyn Tepe, but also Sarazm, Tajikistan as well as Shahr-i-Sokhta in southeastern Iran and Shortugai in northern Afghanistan. The interactions of farming and stockbreeding cultures in northern Central Asia draw attention to a variety of cultures: Cucuteni-Tripolye Samara, Khvalinsk, Srednyi-Stog, Botai, Maikop, Kura-Araxes,Yamnaya, and Afanasievo. The emergence of horse riding, the invention of the wheel and wagons, and details on sun deities and horse sacrifices are well-documented in this splendid chapter. A particular feature in this chapter are mummified Europid corpses, one from Sarazem, Tajikistan dated ca. 3000 BC, but images of others from locales in western China are dated 800 BC are also included. Likewise, a photograph of a gold artifact from Achaemenid era Oxus Treasure (4th-5th century BC) is also included and chronologically identified in this chapter. The Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age span ca. 5200-1500 BC and the insertion of these later materials might confuse a reader. Although an appendix provides a Neolithic to Iron Age cultural chronology (ca. 7000 BC-AD 100), a chronological chart of important sites as well as cultures would be a valuable asset to this chapter and add clarity for the reader.
The next chapter covers the Middle and Late Bronze Age, a complex and varied period that Baumer handles very well. The BMAC (Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex) defined by Viktor Sarianidi, is reviewed and a chronological chart includes chronological periods and names of settlements. One accessible English-language source on the BMAC is Fredrick Hiebert's Origins of the Bronze Age Oasis Civilization in Central Asia ) Cambridge: Harvard University, Peabody Museum, 1994). He provides an in-depth discussion of the BMAC and associated sites from Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and northern Afghanistan. Hiebert and Baumer review the BMAC manifestations in both Margiana and Bactria, and the former author includes more recent data from the sites of Gonur and Togolok. Baumer details the cultures represented in the Taklamakan and Lop Nor deserts areas, the focus of his own prior research expeditions. Indo-European mummies from north-western China are detailed, a useful chart compares graveyards (p. 129), and early Chinese metallurgy is reported. He also considers the steppes of Central Asia as an area of the potential origin of Indo-European languages. The "mysterious" stone stelae of the Okunev Culture in Khakassia, Russia and the idea that the region from the Volga to the Yenisei is the homeland of the Indo-Iranians are among the topics. Cultures located east of the Urals, notably Andronovo, are documented and the discussion includes depictions of large settlements and some ethnographic cultural parallels (carts and motorcycles). Lastly, he turns to Karasuk, its metallurgy, the cultures of khirigsuurs (stone fenced cairns), and slab graves during the transition to the Iron Age. More recent materials from northwestern Iran and Afghanistan would supplement his discussion, and he seems unaware of the major research over the past decade in the vicinity of Termez, Uzbekistan undertaken by an international team from the University of Barcelona; the publications are in English.
Chapter VII, "The Iron Age," focuses on nomadic horse cultures of northeastern Central Asia, megaliths and petroglyphs, burial mounds (kurgans), the rise of the Scythians and the Alans, Scythian art styles, specialized stockbreeding cultures of northeastern Kazakhstan and the western Siberian forest steppe. Achaemenid Persian invasions into Saka territory began the lengthy conflict between nomadic horse-riding cultures and state-level urban societies. Several regions are detailed: Choresmia, the Pamir Mountains, Ferghana Valley, the Chinese Altai, and oasis cultures of the Tian Shan Mountains. Baumer returns to further details on the Cimmerians and Scythians focusing on their religion, animal style art, Greek influences, warfare, burial customs, and regional subgroups of the latter. He then moves to a discussion of Sauromatians, Sarmatians, Alans, and "Amazons" - myth versus reality for the latter. The subsequent Chapter VII, "Greeks in Central Asia," begins with the Asian campaign of Alexander the Great after the 331 BC Battle of Gaugamela (located in present-day Iraq), the pursuit of Darius III and the Achaemenid usurper Bessus. The campaigns into Bactria (northern Afghanistan/southern Uzbekistan) are recounted in a few paragraphs as are the Alexandrian conquests in western and southeastern Afghanistan (Drangiana, Arachosia) and the development of the subsequent Greco-Bactrian Kingdom. Prolific historian Frank Lee Holt covers these in more detail in Thundering Zeus: The Making of Hellenistic Bactria (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), Alexander the Great and Bactria: The Formation of a Greek Frontier in Central Asia, 3rd ed. (Leiden: Brill, 1993), Into the Land of Bones (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005, new edition 2012), and Lost World of the Golden King (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012). Baumer completes the chapter with details on Bactrian art of the steppe, Hellenism, and Zoroastrianism. The second volume of the History of Civilizations of Central Asia (1994) also provides a great deal of coverage on Alexander and the Bactrian Kingdom.
This volume doesn't replace the dated scholarly UNESCO History of Civilizations of Central Asia (Volumes I-II, 1992-94) or 59 related entries in Encyclopaedia Iranica (1986-ff., some updated to 2011): [...]. For further older but still valuable sources, readers may wish to consult: Vasily Barthold, Turkestan Down to the Mongol Invasion, 4th ed. (London: Gibb Memorial Trust, 1977); Rene Grousset, The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia (Rutgers: Rutgers University Press, 1970); Erik Hildinger, Warriors of the Steppe: A Military History of Central Asia, 500 BC. to 1700 AD (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo, 2001); Denis Sinor, The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990) and Svat Soucek, A History of Inner Asia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).
Christoph Baumer's Major Books (by Language):
2002 Tibet's Ancient Religion: Bön. Bangkok: Weatherhill and Orchid Press.
2003 Southern Silk Road. In the Footsteps of Sir Aurel Stein and Sven Hedin, 2nd rev. ed. Bangkok: Orchid Press.
2005 Eastern Tibet: Bridging Tibet and China. Bangkok: Orchid Press.
2006 The Church of the East. An illustrated History of Assyrian Christianity. London: I. B. Tauris.
2008 Traces in the Desert. Journeys of Discovery across Central Asia. London: I. B. Tauris.
2011 China's Holy Mountain. An Illustrated Journey into the Heart of Buddhism. London: I. B. Tauris.
2012 Kanisa al-maschraq. Dehuq, Iraq: Assyrian Writers League.
1999 Der Bön. Die lebendige Ur-Religion Tibets. Graz: Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt.
2002 Die Südliche Seidenstrasse. Inseln im Sandmeer. Versunkene Kulturen der Wüste Taklamakan. Mainz: Verlag Philipp von Zabern.
and Therese Weber 2002 Ost-Tibet: Brücke zwischen Tibet und China. Graz: Akademische Druck und Verlagsanstalt.
2005 Frühes Christentum zwischen Euphrat und Jangtse. Eine Zeitreise entlang der Seidenstrasse zur Kirche des Ostens. Stuttgart: Verlag Urachhaus.
2008 Wutai Shan. Mittelpunkt des chinesischen Buddhismus. Klöster und Pilger am heiligsten Berg Chinas. Hamburg: Pedro Detjen-Verlag.
2008 Zeitreisen zu verborgenen Kulturen: Entdeckungen in Innerasien. Graz: Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt.
2009 Sledi B Pustine. Moscow: Veche Publishing. (In Russian).