Some like it hot: Environmental determinism and the pastoral economies of the later prehistoric Eurasian steppe

Robin Bendrey*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Pastoral systems may be envisaged as a product of a number of interacting variables: the characteristics of the animals, the environment, and of the human culture. Animal physiological and behavioural characteristics affect their suitability to different climatic, topographical and ecological environments. This paper attempts to advance our understanding of the environmental factors constraining animal husbandry on the prehistoric Eurasian steppe, an area that exhibits a broad range of environmental conditions, through comparisons of data on archaeological animal bone assemblages and historic and modern herd compositions (specifically the proportions of cattle, sheep/goats and horse). 

Results: There are strong biases towards different taxa dependent on region. The consistencies between the later prehistoric animal bone data and the modern and historic livestock herd compositions indicate the constraining role of the environment on the pastoral economies practiced across the Eurasian steppe, in that pastoral strategies appear to be focussing on species best adapted to regional environments. Other patterns may be indicative of socioeconomic trends, such as the relatively low proportions of horse herded in modern times. 

Conclusions: The results indicate variability in herd compositions across the study area being influenced in part by regional climatic, topographical and ecological conditions. Thus, it is suggested, that part of the variability seen in herd compositions is environmentally determined, with herders making decisions based on the animals' biological and behavioural characteristics. Better understanding of the environmental constraints on pastoral economies will enable us to address a range of questions relating to past pastoralists, and allow us to better assess the cultural factors at play.

Original languageEnglish
Article number8
Number of pages16
JournalPastoralism: Research, Policy and Practice
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2011


  • archaeozoology
  • climate
  • domestic animals
  • Eurasian steppe
  • herd compositions
  • pastoralism
  • prehistory


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