Agriculture along the upper part of the Middle Zarafshan River during the first millennium AD: A multi-site archaeobotanical analysis

Basira Mir-Makhamad*, Pavel Lurje, Vikentiy Parshuto, Abdurahmon Pulotov, Firuz Aminov, Michael Shenkar, Muminkhon Saidov, Nikita Semenov, Sharof Kurbanov, Sirojiddin Mirzaakhmedov, Khusniddin Rakhmanov, Rita dal Martello, Robert Spengler

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Zarafshan River runs from the mountains of Tajikistan and terminates in the sands of the Kyzyl-Kum Desert in Uzbekistan; it served as a communication route and homeland for the Sogdians. The Sogdians are historically depicted as merchants existing from the end of the first millennium BC through the first millennium AD. While recent research has provided the first glimpse into cultivation, commerce, communication, and consumption in the Lower Zarafshan, the agricultural heartland of the Middle Zarafshan Basin has remained unstudied. This paper presents the results of archaeobotanical investigations conducted at five ancient urban sites/areas spanning the fifth to the twelfth centuries AD: Kainar (Penjikent citadel), Penjikent (shahristan), Sanjar-Shah, Kuk-Tosh (pre-Mongol Penjikent), and Afrasiab. Collectively, these data show that cereals, legumes, oil/fiber crops, fruits, and nuts were cultivated on the fertile Zarafshan floodplains. In this paper, we discuss evidence for the diversification of the agricultural assemblage over time, including the introduction of new staple crops and fruits into an already complex cultivation system. In addition, we contrast our data with previously published results from sites along the course of the Zarafshan to determine whether there is a dietary difference between pre-and post-Islamic conquest periods at settlements located along the river.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere0297896
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number3 March
StatePublished - Mar 2024

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