Human and climatic drivers of ecosystem change in Mongolia: Interdisciplinary collaboration in the study of forest-steppe productivity and pastoral nomadism

Timespan: 
2011-2013
Principal Investigator: 
Department of Anthropology, School of Forestry and Environmental Studies

in a socio-ecologically coupled system, what are the linkages between ecosystems, climate, human culture, and policy that promote sustainability? To answer this question we will examine data on ecosystem response to human and abiotic drivers over multiple time scales: 1) trends in forest productivity as revealed by the tree-ring record; 2) trends in steppe productivity documented by existing studies; 3) ethnohistorical and anthropological evidence of human use of these ecosystems in relation to recent socioeconomic change; and 4) records of climatic variability from local meteorological stations. This data will be contextualized with 2000 years of climatic and socio-cultural observations, compiled from tree-ring chronologies and from archaeological research on the relationship between early nomadic pastoralists and the forest ecosystem.

Results 

Funding from the YCEI collaborative grant was used to fund a multi-tiered archaeological field investigation in the Tarvagatai river valley of North Central Mongolia.  This project began in 2010 and is tentatively scheduled to conclude spring 2015.  This project is a collaborative effort between Yale University and the Mongolian Academy of Sciences and consists of intensive regional survey in the Tarvagatai valley and small-scale excavation of ephemeral nomadic habitation sites.  Specifically, funding from the YCEI grant covered the costs of the 2012 field season as well as provide equipment for large scale excavation.  To date, researchers from the Mongolian Academy of Science and Yale University have surveyed 51 km² and we have documented 109 previously unrecorded stone monuments and 68 previously undiscovered collections of artifacts associated with habitation sites dating from approximately 1400 BC to 1200 AD. Based on these results, the Tarvagatai valley fieldwork is providing the high quality spatial and diachronic data required to address important research questions about early nomadic community transformations.  Specifically answering questions that pertain to the ephemeral habitation sites of nomadic pastoralists, an important aspect of Mongolian archaeology that has as of yet been addressed.  As a result of the project sufficient data has been collected to support the completion of two doctoral dissertations as well as several scholarly articles published both in the United States and Mongolia.

Publications

James T., K. Mack, E. Heyerdahl, P.M. Ashton, N. Pederson “Spatiotemporal trends in multi-century forest productivity along a boreal forest-steppe ecotone, Mongolia”. Global Change Biology.(In Prep)

James T., K. Mack, E. Heyerdahl, P.M. Ashton. “Climate and historical fire shape a southern boreal forest ecotone, Mongolia”. Forest Ecology & Management. (In Prep)

Gardner, William R. M., and Jargalan Burentogtokh. “iSurvey: Systematic Survey and Electronic Data Collection on the Mongolian Steppe”. Journal of Field Archaeology. (In Prep)

Burentogtokh, J., William R. M. Gardner. Ganbaatar Galdan, “Archaeology of Tarvagatai”. Acta Arceologica Mongolian Academy of Science, Ulaanbaatar Mongolia. (Submitted)

Gardner, William R. M., Jargalan Burentogtokh, and Galdan Ganbaatar. “Cultural Resource Inventory Report Of the Tarvagatai River Valley”. Field Report Series. Mongolian Academy of Sciences, Institute of Archaeology. Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. (2013)

Gardner, William R. M., Jargalan Burentogtokh, and Galdan Ganbaatar. “Cultural Resource Inventory Report Of the Tarvagatai River Valley”. Field Report Series. Mongolian Academy of Sciences, Institute of Archaeology. Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. (2011)

Gardner, William R. M. and Jargalan Burentogtokh.  A Bird?s Eye View: Archaeological and Remote Sensing Analysis of   Mongolia?s Mobile Pastoralists, in preparation for Journal of Anthropological Archaeology

Gardner, William R. M., and Jargalan Burentogtokh.  Survey: Systematic Survey and Electronic Data Collection on the Mongolian Steppe, in preparation for Journal of Field Archaeology.