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Re-membering Agricultural Futures: Enlivening the Latent Vitalities of Agricultural Land Management Across the Proto- Silk Road


The vision of agricultural modernity promoted by the Chinese Communist Party in relation to grain agriculture is fundamentally undergirded by an ethos of productivism and extractivism. The pursuit of this vision has materialized in concrete forms of dismemberment such as; land dispossession, degradation of agricultural land and widespread famine. This paper examines how an archaeobotanical approach to agricultural land management along the proto-Silk Road can be harnessed to “re-member” through the latent vitalities of archaeological material in the context of contemporary agricultural practices in NW China. “Re-membering” is used as a form of praxis that stitches together buried narratives into non-linear temporalities as a tool to unsettle targeted political projects. By engaging with archaeobotanical material as containing latent vitalities (Perley 2012), the analysis of this archaeological material enlivens seeds through placing them into conversation with a contemporary political context. Focusing on archaeobotanical materials from various sites in the Tao River valley in NW China, I present a narrative that actively contests the imaginaries produced by the CCP to promote their vision of agricultural modernity, as a form of “re-membering”. Punctuated moments of heterogeneous agricultural management during a period of extensive contact between agriculturalists and pastoralists become a site of subversive re-imagining potential. Archaeobotanical evidence from the site Dayatou offers a clear narrative of punctuated moments of localized agricultural cropping strategies that contests the CCP’s vision of grain centralization, high yield teleologies and the construction of seeds as extractible commodities.

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