Arid Ecosystems

, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp 157–165 | Cite as

The Tarim Basin and the Transformation of its Landscapes

  • T. N. PrudnikovaEmail author


The study of ancient crop farming in the arid lands of central Asia (Tuva Depression, Ubsunur Hollow, and Central Mongolia) revealed unique characteristics of the paleogeography of the studied regions, i.e., the prior occurrence of forest-steppe vegetation on currently desert landscapes. In the opinion of the authors, the main reason for the environmental change is anthropogenic, specifically, the destruction of the forest cover, which causes a decrease in groundwater levels and subsequent desertification. From the perspective of the results obtained for the Tarim Basin landscapes, the research presumes that the anthropogenic factor was determinant in the desertification of its area. The natural features of the basin and its surroundings (high-elevation mountainous terrain, glaciers as a water source, active volcanoes, fertile foothill plains, mineral resources, and climate) and the economic advantages of geographic location at a trade crossroads predetermined the emergence of large focal point for the formation of Asian ethnoses in this area; this led to a major anthropogenic impact on the basin ecosystems, which ultimately resulted in landscape degradation and the emergence of deserts (Taklamakan Desert). The desertification processes were augmented by specific relief features, i.e., the rather significant differences in elevation between the basin margins and floor, its endorheic nature, natural disasters associated with volcanic eruptions and melting of glaciers, and the insignificant amount of precipitation. Russian researchers believe that, in the distant past, there was an occasional eruption of people relocating from large focal points of the development of early civilizations to other territories due to the large population size, human energy, and social problems (Gumbatov, 2018). The “exodus” of the tribes from a scanty hollow of the Tarim Basin towards the Mongol Steppe could have been one of the manifestations of those “eruptions.” This can be further supported by the origin of a sacral image of Odugen in the area of the modern-day volcanism in the Eastern Sayan and Khangai Mountains, which appears to have been preserved since the distant past and to be related to the deification of the active volcanoes in the Kunlun Range skirting the Tarim Basin. Another wave of migration from the desertified Tarim Basin was apparently directed toward the Indus Valley, where, in symbiosis with the indigenous population, it gave rise to the Vedic Period. The severe anthropogenic impact on the environment in the Indus Valley and adjoining areas played a part in the formation of new desert landscapes (Thar Desert). The proposed material can be, to some extent, considered a working hypothesis.


Tarim Basin Tarims Taraa focal point of the formation of ethnic groups desertification Taklamakan anthropogenic factor modern-day volcanism of the Kunlun Range sacred Odugen Indus Valley Thar Desert 



Conflict of interest. The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest. Statement of the welfare of animals. This article does not contain any studies involving animals or human participants performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Pleiades Publishing, Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ubsunur International Center for Biosphere Research of the Republic of TuvaKyzylRussia

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