Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Ekaterina Pechenkina


Vincent Stefan

Committee Members

William Harcourt-Smith

Felicia Madimenos

Rowan Flad

Subject Categories

Biological and Physical Anthropology


Silk Road, Morphology, Central Asia, Forensic, Admixture


Large-scale human migrations over long periods of time are known to affect population composition. In the second century B.C the demand for silk threads in the West opened trade opportunities between China and the Europe. This allowed for new pathways to be established and old ones reinforced across the vast region of Central Asia; a network of overland and sea routes linking East with West for sixteen hundred years that became collectively known as the Silk Road. Populations living along these routes were affected by a constant influx of traders, merchants, and invading armies attempting to control the region. Although Central Asian populations have always exhibited some degree of admixture, genetic, archaeological, socio-cultural and linguistic evidence indicate an increase in admixture within these populations during the period when the Silk Road was active. Very little work has been done to confirm these findings from a morphological perspective.

This study investigates the craniofacial variation seen in populations living during the time of the Silk Road and analyses the patterns of admixture as a result of population migrations during this time. This was accomplished using 3D geometric morphometric analysis to assess the differences in craniofacial morphology of Central Asian populations living along the Silk Road before the opening of the trade routes with those living in the same region at the height or the close of the trade routes. Cranial series were selected from three locations: China/Mongolia, Central Asia, and Western Europe. Specimens were chosen to correspond with the time period and geographic span of the Silk Road. The data collected was analyzed using multivariate statistical methods and the results offer a morphological explanation for the population diversity seen in the region during that period.

The craniofacial morphology of this Central Asian sample fell between those examined from European and East Asian contexts, with a mosaic of traits that marked them as part of a statistically significant group distinguishable from those to the east or west, within the broader Eurasian human population. In this framework, they were considered an admixed group. Large cranial breadth, broad zygomatic area, a prominent glabella, and a specific nasal configuration (i.e., wider, long, and projecting) are characteristic of this population sample. Admixture in this population was found to have increased over the time span of the Silk Road, with the most pronounced jump observed in the early to middle period of the Silk Road from around the 5th to the 15th Century AD. This rapidly evolving craniofacial morphology cannot be characterized as secular change, but rather was strongly influenced by large migrations of people through the region mixing with the local population.