The Political Economy of Qalas and Canals in Greater Khorasan

Author(s): Kyle Olson

Year: 2016


Neo-evolutionary models for the emergence of early complex polities propose a causal relationship between political centralization and the development of large-scale irrigation networks. Decades of field research and historical analysis have made available a large dataset of settlement patterns and irrigation networks in lowland Central Asia, but information regarding settlement and agriculture in the highlands of Central Asia during this time is less well understood. The relationship between settlement distributions and irrigation networks can be studied at a coarse resolution using Google Earth. Systematic documentation of a single river valley (Esfarayen) in Northern Khorasan demonstrates that there is a correlation between the size of fortified sites and their location relative to the irrigation network. The largest sites are consistently located nearest to the sources of irrigation waters and presumably controlled the downstream distribution of this water. This finding suggests that the khanate model proposed by Hiebert and Lamberg-Karlovsky may fit the patterns observed, there is little evidence to support the purported connection between the development of complex irrigation systems and centralized states in the study area until the Sasanian period at the earliest (224-651 CE).

Cite this Record

The Political Economy of Qalas and Canals in Greater Khorasan. Kyle Olson. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Orlando, Florida. 2016 ( tDAR id: 403953)