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Environmental Stress And Steppe Nomads: Rethinking The History Of The Uyghur Empire (744–840) With Paleoclimate Data

Nicola Di Cosmo, Amy Hessl, Caroline Leland, Oyunsanaa Byambasuren, Hanqin Tian, Baatarbileg Nachin, Neil Pederson, Laia Andreu-Hayles, Edward R. Cook

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Newly available paleoclimate data and a re-evaluation of the historical and archaeological evidence regarding the Uyghur Empire (744–840)—one of several nomadic empires to emerge on the Inner Asian steppe—suggests that the assumption of a direct causal link between drought and the stability of nomadic societies is not always justified. The fact that a severe drought lasting nearly seven decades did not cause the Uyghur Empire to collapse, to wage war, or to disintegrate gives rise to speculations about which of its characteristics enabled it to withstand unfavorable climatic conditions and environmental change. More broadly, it raises questions about the complex suite of strategies and responses that may have been available to steppe societies in the face of environmental stress.