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  • Modules of Stone Construction and the Building of Ritual and Social Traditions in Prehistoric Xinjiang (China) and Mongolia
  • Annie Chan (bio)


Organized clusters of stone structures are a stark and ubiquitous archaeological feature of the Inner Asian steppe. Diverse in form but rather homogenous in constructional concept, these built forms represent significant episodes of human activity, particularly in funerary and commemorative respects, from the beginning of the second millennium b.c.e. to late in the first millennium c.e. Interest in their distributional characteristics has stimulated a critical development in methods of spatial and statistical analysis tailored to the idiosyncrasies of prehistoric steppe landscapes, most notably through field studies of Bronze Age and Xiongnu sites in Mongolia (Allard and Erdenebaatar 2005; Brosseder and Miller 2011; Honeychurch et al. 2007; Houle 2010; Jacobson-Tepfer et al. 2010; Kovalev 2005), southern Siberia (Bourgeois et al. 2014; Kiryushin et al. 2015; Kiryushin et al. 2006; Plets et al. 2012; Tishkin and Gorbunova 2005), and, more recently, Xinjiang, China (Caspari; Chan and Cong, this issue).

Although such survey data have contributed to a more holistic view of longitudinal and spatial changes in the area (Caspari, this issue), scholars have rarely addressed data of a scope that traverses international boundaries. The difficulty of integrating cross-regional studies can be attributed to linguistic barriers and disparities in research approach among different long-established academic traditions, some of which are represented by the authors in this special section. Naturally, such barriers have hindered the circulation and publication of primary field data. Zhang and Festa’s well-referenced literature review ameliorates the problem by offering a rare background analysis useful for grasping the current modus operandi of archaeology in Xinjiang, especially for an English-speaking readership (also see Bennett 2012). Their article comprehensively outlines the key theories and methods of analysis underpinning the major discoveries and local research developments in Xinjiang archaeology from the 1950s through the 2000s. [End Page 330]

Paucity of excavation data is another important limitation, both because of the small number of excavations that have been carried out of, for example, Iron Age funerary-commemorative complexes in Mongolia (Tishkin, this issue) and Bronze Age settlement structures in Xinjiang (Caspari; Chan and Cong, this issue), and the scant availability of primary field data, which are often distributed only through local publications (see Zhang and Festa’s Table 1 list of primary excavation reports, this issue). Previous ventures have shown that the translation and transference of such latent scholarly materials onto international publishing platforms have the potential to advance our collective understanding of the status of research in various fields (e.g., Bemmann et al. 2009; Brosseder and Miller 2011).

The idea of compiling such studies originated in a post-conference discussion following the Seventh Society for East Asian Archaeology meeting in Boston, Massachusetts in 2016. With the exception of Zhang and Festa’s valuable later addition, the articles herein were developed from presentations given by the authors at a panel entitled “From the Tian Shan to the Altai: Recent advances in archaeological research.” In presenting a selected body of primary field research conducted by Russian and Chinese teams in western Mongolia and Xinjiang on remains of ancient stonework, this special section aims to take a step toward building the representation of non-Western scholarship in more internationally accessible venues of publication, particularly those concerned with the archaeology of Inner Asia. The articles detail findings from field surveys and excavations as well as secondary literature that has hitherto largely been absent from the English language literature. This special section thus showcases the extent and value of a corpus of material that has yet to be assimilated into mainstream discourse.

The areas of study encompass several important geographical nuclei of archaeological sites, including the western peripheries of Dzungaria and the Chinese Tian Shan and, further east, the regions of the Chinese and Mongolian Altai. Three articles report on field expeditions in Xinjiang (Caspari; Chan and Cong; Zhang and Festa) and one in Mongolia (Tishkin). The authors address findings spanning a period from the middle of the Bronze Age to the Iron Age (covering the second through first millennia b.c.e.), with a focus...


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