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Chan, Annie; Cong, Dexin (2020): Results of Field Research on Ancient Stonework in the River Valleys of Bortala and Ili in Western Tian Shan (Xinjiang, China). In: Asian Perspectives-the Journal of Archaeology for Asia and the Pacific, Vol. 59, No. 2: pp. 385-420
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Ground-level stone structures constructed of unworked or minimally shaped slabs and cobbles are a ubiquitous feature of the archaeological landscape of western Tian Shan. However, little is known about their architecture other than surface morphology, which can appear quite homogeneous. This article presents the latest results of surveys and excavations of selected clusters of Bronze Age stonework from the contiguous Bortala River Valley and Ili River Valley in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China. In examining the distinctive forms and layouts applied to different building functions, including burial and habitation, we delve into regional variations in construction and land use straddling the intermontane valleys. In Bortala, the configuration and characteristics of the building components evince cumulative phases of use and construction on staggered timescales resulting from the aggregation of burials, repurposing of building parts, and designation of specific locales as alternately transhumant encampments and sites of burial and commemoration of broad social networks and lineal relations. In comparison, the architectural remains in Ili reflect a prolonged temporality that correlates with sedentary agricultural practices, diversified space use, and localized craft production and exchange. The field research provides important data for identifying autochthonous features of building practices independent of existing typologies of highly homogenized architectural schemas to inform broader contexts of subsistence patterns and social customs that resurgent interests in the Andronovo of Xinjiang seek to address.