Botai: Early Horse Herders on the Steppes of Northern Kazakhstan  


One of the most important goals of this joint Kazakh-American research project has been the training of future Kazakh archaeologists. In 1994-1995, we took 50 students from Petropavlovsk University into the field. In 2000, we trained 20 undergraduate students from Kokshetau University and Eurasian University in Astana. This was continued and expanded to include graduate students from Eurasian University in 2001 at the nearby Neolithic site of Zhusan. Again, in 2002, 30 students from Kokshetau and Eurasian University were trained during the excavations at Vasilkovka. American and British student assistants also participated in each year’s program (Fig. 47).


Fig. 47 Kazakh crew, 2001  


Fig. 48 Kazakh crew, 2002  

The local university students received several benefits from this training. First, they worked closely with experienced professional Kazakh and American archaeologists on important sites. Second, they were carefully trained in the latest archaeological techniques, including the use of a global positioning system, an infrared Total Station for surveying, and electrical resistivity and magnetic gradient instruments for remote sensing. They were trained to carefully collect and record all artifacts, sieve soil, and excavate various architectural features properly. Such special methods as taking pollen profiles, soil sampling, radiocarbon sampling, and modern botanical collecting were also part of the curriculum. Extensive experiments were conducted to expose the students to prehistoric technology. The students received formal lectures by all of the professional archaeologists as part of their curriculum, in addition to their field training. A variety of professional specialists were brought to the excavations and they, too, helped to train the students.


This research was sponsored by the USA National Science Foundation Archaeology and Archaeometry Program grants, BCS 9816476 and BCS 0415441 and their REU Supplements, the National Geographic Society, and Carnegie Museum of Natural History, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. It was conducted in cooperation with the Presidential Cultural Center in Astana, the Kokshetau Museum, the University of Kokshetau, and the Petropavlovsk University. The archaeological collections obtained through excavation are the property of the Presidential Cultural Center. Other participating institutions include the University of Exeter (UK), Bristol University (UK), the University of Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania, USA), and Kokshetau University, Kokshetau, Kazakhstan, and Eurasian University, Astana, Kazakhstan.


Olsen, S.L. 2008
Hoofprints. Natural History 117(4): 26-32.

Olsen, S. L. 2008
This Old Thing? Copper Age Fashion Comes to Life. Archaeology 61 (1): 46-47.

Olsen, S.L. and D. Harding 2008
Women’s Attire and Possible Sacred Role in 4th Millennium Northern Kazakhstan. In K. Linduff and K. Rubinson (eds.), Are All Warriors Male? Gender Roles on the Ancient Eurasian Steppe. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, Lexington Books, and Madison Books, 67-92.

F. Allard, D. Erdenebaatar, S. Olsen, A. Caralla, and E. Maggiore 2007
Ritual and Horses in Bronze Age and present-day Mongolia: Some Preliminary Observations from Khanuy Valley. In Laura Popova, Charles Hartley, and Adam Smith (eds.), Social Orders and Social Landscapes: Proceedings of the 2005 University of Chicago Conference on Eurasian Archaeology. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press.

S. L. Olsen, S. Grant, A. Choyke, and L. Bartosiewicz, (eds.) 2006
Horses and Humans: The Evolution of the Human-Equine Relationship. BAR, International Series 1560, Oxford, (375pp).

Olsen, S.L. 2006
Early horse domestication on the Eurasian steppe. In M. A. Zeder, D.G. Bradley, E. Emshwiller, and B. D. Smith, Documenting Domestication: New Genetic and Archaeological Paradigms. Berkeley: University of California Press: 245-269.

Olsen, S. L. 2006
Introduction. In S.L. Olsen, S. Grant, A.M. Choyke and L. Bartosiewicz (eds.), Horses and Humans: The Evolution of Human-Equine Relationships. Oxford: BAR International Series 1560:1-10.

Olsen, S.L. 2006
Early horse domestication: Weighing the evidence. In S.L. Olsen, S. Grant, A.M. Choyke and L. Bartosiewicz (eds.), Horses and Humans: The Evolution of Human-Equine Relationships. Oxford: BAR, International Series 1560: 81-113.

Olsen, S.L., B. Bradley, D. Maki, and A. Outram 2006
Community organisation among Copper Age sedentary horse pastoralists of Kazakhstan. In D. Peterson, L.M. Popova, and A.T. Smith (eds.), Beyond the Steppe and Sown: Proceedings of the 2002 University of Chicago Conference on Eurasian Archaeology, Colloquia Pontica 13. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers: 89-111.

Olsen, S.L. 2003
The exploitation of horses at Botai, Kazakhstan. In M. Levine, C. Renfrew and K. Boyle (eds.), Prehistoric Steppe Adaptation and the Horse. McDonald Institute Monographs. Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, pp. 83-104.

S.L. Olsen (ed.) 2003
Horses Through Time. Roberts Rinehart, Boulder, Colorado, (222pp). 2nd Edition.

Olsen, S.L. 2001
The importance of thong-smoothers at Botai, Kazakhstan. In A. Choyke and L. Bartosiewicz (eds.), Crafting Bone: Skeletal Technologies through Time and Space. BAR International Series 937, Oxford, pp. 197-206.

Olsen, S.L. 2000
Reflections of ritual behavior at Botai, Kazakhstan. In K. Jones-Bley, M. Huld, and A. Della Volpe (eds.) Proceedings of the Eleventh Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference. Journal of Indo-European Studies Monograph Series No. 35. Institute for the Study of Man, Washington, D.C., pp.183-207.

Olsen, S.L. 2000
The sacred and secular roles of dogs at Botai, Kazakhstan. In S. Crockford (ed.), Dogs Through Time: The Archaeological Evidence. B.A.R., International Series 889, Oxford, pp.71-92.

Olsen, S.L. 1996
Prehistoric adaptation to the Kazak steppes. In G. Afanas’ev, S. Cleuziou, J. Lukacs, and M. Tosi (eds.), The Colloquia of the XIII International Congress of Prehistoric and Protohistoric Sciences, Vol. 16: The Prehistory of Asia and Oceania. A.B.A.C.O. Edizioni, Forlì, Italy, pp. 49-60.

Olsen, S.L. S. Grant, A. Choyke, and L. Bartosiewicz, (eds.) 2006
Horses and Humans: The Evolution of the Human-Equine Relationship. BAR, International Series 1560, Oxford, (375pp).

Shnirelman, V.A., S.L. Olsen and P. Rice 2003
Hooves across the steppes: The Kazak life-style. In S. Olsen (ed.), Horses Through Time. Roberts Rinehart, Boulder, Colorado, pp. 129-154.

 1. Introduction
 1.1 Horses and Humans
 1.2 The Botai People
 1.3 Recent Excavations
2.1 Paleoenvironment of Northern Kazakhstan 5,500 Years Ago
2.2 Sedentary Horse Pastoralism
 3.1 Mapping whole villages with remote sensing
3.2 Reconstructing Botai house structures
3.3 Other Fauna
 4.1 Ceramic Tradition
 4.2 Stone Technology
 4.3 Bone Artifacts
 4.4 Shell Beads
5 Death and the Botai
 6.1 Kazakh Archaeology Student Training Program
 6.2 Institutional Collaboration and Funding
 6.3 Recommended Readings  

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