Centering the Northern Realms: Integrating Histories & Archaeologies of the Mongol Empire (1200-1500 CE)

Northern Mongolia
Northern Mongolia. Photo: Alicia Ventresca Miller

This project came together as an equal collaboration between anthropologists, historians, and linguists, weaving together the different approaches of each discipline to produce a more comprehensive outcome. It focuses on uncovering the people, practices, and places that existed along the margins of the Northern Realms of the Mongol Empire. The Mongol Empire (c. 1162-1367) expanded rapidly from its center at modern day Mongolia, encompassing a vast geographical range including China, Russia, and Middle East. In comparison to the more central located cities of the empire, such as Karakorum, the Northern Realm is much less known and explored. As a result, patterns of human habitation, landscape use, and population in this area are scarcely understood. While the heart of the empire relied on trade networks, it is still unclear how peripheral groups took part in these networks or how the northern trade and steppe roads factored into the larger trade taking place along the Silk Road. Recent excavation of Khorig cemeteries uncovered silk, ceramics and buddhist motifs suggesting that the northern communities engaged in trade along the Silk Road and exchanged goods, services and ideas within larger networks.

The project focuses on four themes: Pathways of Exchange, Central Places, Religions and Rituals, and Economic Patterns.