Michael Frachetti

Michael Frachetti

​Associate Professor of Archaeology
PhD, University of Pennsylvania
research interests:
  • Eurasian Prehistory
  • Bronze Age Steppe Pastoralism
  • Landscape Archaeology
  • Paleo-Environment and Geographic Information Systems
  • Ethnographic Nomadism
  • Central Asia

contact info:

office hours:

  • Tuesday 3:00 - 5:00 pm​
Get Directions

mailing address:

  • WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY
  • CB 1114
  • ONE BROOKINGS DR.
  • ST. LOUIS, MO 63130-4899
image of book cover

​The main focus of Professor Frachetti’s research is on the dynamic strategies of pastoral nomadic societies living in the steppe region, mountains and deserts of Central and Eastern Eurasia during the Bronze Age.

His work centers primarily on pastoralism in the Bronze Age (~ 3500-1000BC), which is intricately tied to questions of social and economic interaction between regional populations across Central Asia at that time. His theoretical interests center on how social groups utilize economic and political strategies to communicate inter-regionally, and how variability in their economic and social strategies introduces opportunities for reshaping the boundaries of their social landscapes and human interactions. He is also interested in the relationships between pastoral strategies and the environment, and how the choices and ways of life of mobile groups contributed to the formation of wide reaching networks as early as 2000BC (the Mid-Bronze Age). Frachetti currently conduct field research in Eastern Kazakhstan, where he is exploring the ways by which pastoral societies employed flexible temporal and spatial patterns of mobility to negotiate ecological constraints as well as alter the political and social conditions of their landscape.

Methodologically, he specializes in spatial analysis and archaeological landscape modeling using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and remote sensing. He has a strong interest in the reconstruction of paleo-ecological, geo-morphological, and land-cover changes in extreme environments (e.g. high mountains, deserts). His current work centers on modeling prehistoric rangelands of mountain and steppe regions of western and eastern Eurasia by analyzing contemporary satellite data combined with paleo-climatic regressions. Within GIS, these reconstructions are paired with data recovered from his regional archaeological survey and excavations, bringing together environmental and social components of the prehistoric context. He is also interested in questions of ecology and adaptive strategies (social and economic) of mobile societies more generally.

Although his fieldwork is primarily archaeological, he also has conducted ethnographic studies of Kazakh pastoralists, and (to a lesser extent) nomadic societies of North Africa and reindeer herders of Finland. He also has carried out research on prehistoric rock-art in the Italian Alps, Roman and Islamic landscapes in North Africa, and Neolithic hunter-gatherers in Finland.

Recent Courses

Nomadic Strategies and Extreme Ecologies

This course will explore the archaeology and anthropology of nomadic pastoral societies in light of their ecological, political, and cultural strategies and adaptation to extreme environments (deserts, mountains, the arctic). The aim of the course is to understand both the early development of pastoral ways of life, and how nomads have had an essential role in the formation and transfer of culture, language, and power from prehistoric time to the current era.

    Ancient Eurasia and the New Silk Roads

    This course will explore the rise of civilization in the broad region of Eurasia, spanning from the eastern edges of Europe to the western edges of China. The focus of the course is the unique trajectory of civilization that is made evident in the region of Central Eurasia from roughly 6000 BC to the historical era (ca. AD 250). In addition to this ancient focus, the course aims to relate many of the most historically durable characteristics of the region to contemporary developments of the past two or three centuries. Fundamentally, this course asks us to reconceptualize the notion of "civilization" from the perspective of societies whose dominant forms of organization defied typical classifications such as "states" or "empires" and, instead, shaped a wholly different social order over the past 5000 years or more. This class provides a well-rounded experience of the geography, social organization, and social interconnections of one of the most essential and pivotal regions in world history and contemporary political discourse.

      Social Landscapes in Global View

      From the beginning of the human campaign, societies have socialized the spaces and places where they live. This socialization comes in many forms, including the generation of sacred natural places (e.g., Mt. Fuji) to the construction of planned urban settings where culture is writ large in overt and subtle contexts. Over the past two decades or so, anthropologists, archaeologists, and geographers have developed a wide body of research concerning these socially constructed and perceived settings -- commonly known as "landscapes". This course takes a tour through time and across the globe to trace the formation of diverse social landscapes, starting in prehistoric times and ending in modern times. We will cover various urban landscapes, rural landscapes, nomadic landscapes (and others) and the intersection of the natural environment, the built environments, and the symbolism that weaves them together. Chronologically, we will range from 3000 BCE to 2009 CE and we will cover all the continents. This course will also trace the intellectual history of the study of landscape as a social phenomenon, and will investigate the current methods used to recover and describe social landscapes around the world and through time. Join in situating your own social map alongside the most famous and the most obscure landscapes of the world and trace the global currents of your social landscape!

        Selected Publications

        2008  Frachetti, Michael D.  Pastoralist Landscapes and Social Interaction in Bronze Age Eurasia. Berkeley: University of California Press.

        2012  Frachetti, Michael and Lynne Rouse. Central Asia, the steppe and the Near East, 2500-1500 BC. In Companion to the Archaeology of the Near East, ed. D. Potts, pp. 687-705.  London: Blackwell Publishers.

        2012 Frachetti, Michael D. The Multi-Regional Emergence of Mobile Pastoralism and the Growth of Non-Uniform Institutional Complexity Across Eurasia.  Current Anthropology. 53(1): 2-38.

        2011 Frachetti, Michael D.  The Migration Concept in Central Eurasian Archaeology.  Annual Review of Anthropology 40:195–21.

        2010 Frachetti, Michael D., Spengler, R.S., Fritz, G. J., and A.N. Mar’yashev.  Earliest Evidence of Broomcorn Millet and Wheat in the Central Eurasian Steppe Region. Antiquity 84 (326): 993-1010.

        2010 Frachetti, M., Benecke, N, Mar’yashev, A. N., and P. Doumani. Eurasian Pastoralists and Their Shifting Regional Interactions at the Steppe Margin:  Settlement History at Mukri, Kazakhstan. World Archaeology 42(4): 622-646.

        2009 Frachetti, M.D. and N. Benecke.  From Sheep to (Some) Horses: 4500 Years of Herd Structure at the Pastoralist Settlement of Begash (Southeastern Kazakhstan). Antiquity 83 (322): 1023-1037.

        2009 Frachetti, Michael D.  Differentiated Landscapes and Non-Uniform Complexity among Bronze Age Societies of the Eurasian Steppe. In Social Complexity in Prehistoric Eurasia: Monuments, Metals and Mobility, eds. Bryan Hanks And Kathryn Linduff, 19-46.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

        2008  Frachetti, Michael D. Variability and Dynamic Landscapes of Mobile Pastoralism in Ethnography and Prehistory.  In The Archaeology of Mobility: Nomads in the Old and in the New World, eds. H. Barnard and W. Wendrich, 366-96. Cotsen Advanced Seminar Series 4. Los Angeles: Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, UCLA.

        2007  Frachetti, Michael D. and Alexei N. Mar’yashev.  Long-term Occupation and Seasonal Settlement of Eastern Eurasian Pastoralists at Begash, Kazakhstan.  Journal of Field Archaeology 32(3): 221-42