The Badain Jaran Desert is the second largest desert in China after the Taklimakan Desert with the highest sand dune height in the world. There are more than 100 inland lakes with different TDS (it includes five types: light, brackish, salty, salt and bittern) in its hinterland and the lowland between the high sand dunes in the southeast. In recent years, the Badain Jaran Desert has been found to be a place with few people and
relatively weak archaeological research, but it may be one of the ideal areas for important discoveries of Neolithic to Bronze Age cultural relics and the study of the relationship between human activities and environmental changes. When and where the ancients entered the Badain Jaran Desert and settled down, the economic form on which the ethnic groups depended for survival was agriculture, semi-agricultural and semipastoral or animal husbandry has not been scientifically answered. At the same time, the Yabulai Mountain in the southeastern margin of the Badain Jaran Desert is the place with the highest distribution density of rock art in Asia. Rock art are of great value for research of livelihood patterns. Correctly determining the creation age and staging of rock art is also a key scientific issue.
In this thesis, the remains of human activities in the hinterland of the Badain Jaran Desert and the rock paintings of the Yabulai Mountains in the southeastern margin are taken as the research objects. Based on the chronological determination of a series of samples and the dating of rock paintings, the initial time of the population entering the Badain Jaran Desert from outside the region are determined. According to the distribution pattern and types of cultural relics in the hinterland of the desert, the subsistence mode, survival strategy, resource utilization and environmental adaptability
of human activities in this area from Neolithic to Bronze Age were analyzed, and the formation and causes of early nomadic culture in the study area were discussed. The main results and conclusions are as follows:
(1) Based on the regional systematic investigation of human activities in the hinterland of the Badain Jaran Desert and the Yabulai Mountains in the southeastern margin of the Badain Jaran Desert, it is found that there are 135 prehistoric human
activity relics in the hinterland of the Badain Jaran Desert. Spatial analysis shows that the cultural relics in the study area have aggregation characteristics, which are mainly
controlled by the distribution pattern of lake groups. The types of artifacts in typical sites were collected, sorted and analyzed, and combined with the dating of 14C samples, it was concluded that the earliest population entered the Badain Jaran Desert in the middle and late Neolithic Age. No relics of human activities in the pre-Qin, Han and Tang dynasties were found in the hinterland of the desert. Combined with the
cumulative frequency of 14C dating data of cultural relics, it is believed that there is a lack of culture in the Badain Jaran Desert from the pre-Qin to the Han and Tang dynasties, and the population has entered the desert again from the Western Xia Dynasty to engage in related production activities.
(2) The hand stencil rock art all have geomorphic features close to seasonal rivers or water sources in the Yabulai Mountain. The dating results of preserved animal bone was 5657⁓5586 cal yr BP in Taorengaole rock shelter. According to the coexistence relationship between Yabulai rock shelter and the nearby prehistoric human activity relics, or the spatial composing relations, it is preliminarily inferred that the hand stencil rock art in the study area belong to the middle and late Neolithic Age cultural relics.
(3) There are many and widely distributed microliths in the hinterland of the Badain Jaran Desert. The cultural (adaptation) convergence of small eared flatware (rare large-scale painted pottery) and the cultural relics around the lake shore are banded ‘living by water and grass’. It is inferred that the population has the characteristics of frequent migration and should be nomadic. According to the collected type and its age, a kind of original ‘desert grass lake nomadic’ regional type equivalent to Majiayao culture to Siba culture is proposed. According to the age range of the cultural relics
found and the comparison with the archaeological culture of the adjacent areas, it can be basically determined that in the late Neolithic Age, the nomadic mode has appeared
in the Badain Jaran Desert. At that time, the activity area of the human is beyond the current distribution range of herdsmen settlements, which can be called the ‘golden age’ of the Badain Jaran Desert.
(4) The engraved rock art of the Yabulai Mountain can be divided into six types. Compared with the rock paintings in the eastern grassland area, it has significant desert characteristics. The lightness model was used to measure the value of 64 rock art, the lightness-age empirical model is proposed. According to the 2004 engraved rock art of the Mandela Mountains of the Yabulai Mountains and the lightness values of the Western Xia inscriptions of the known ages, the approximate ages of other unknown rock art are obtained. The results suggest, during the period of the Three Kingdoms Southern and Northern Dynasties (220~280 AD, 281~419 AD, 420~580 AD), through
the Sui Dynasty (581~617 AD), Tang Dynasty (618~906 AD), Wertern Xia Dynasty (1038~1227 AD), Yuan Dynasty (1279~1367 AD), until the Ming and Qing Dynasties
(1368~1643 AD, 1644~1911 AD), there were ancient people painting in Mandela Mountain. The highest frequency of rock art is around 700 AD, and the lowest frequency is around 1500 AD during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The frequency of
rock art in Mandela Mountain is related to the warm and cold periods in Chinese history, indicating that climate change, especially temperature fluctuation, is one of the factors
affecting the number of rock art.
(5) By using the excavated strata trench profile or the naturally outcropped strata profile around the site, it is concluded that the Badain Jaran Desert has experienced three stages in the past ten thousand years: the early Holocene carbon formation stage, the middle stage of high lake level and flooding stage, and the late Holocene lake retreat stage, but it has been arid climate. Lake groups are the natural geographical factors that
affect the distribution and migration of ancient people in the Badain Jaran Desert. The evolution of lake environment caused by the Holocene groundwater cycle in response to climate change is the geographical environment background of cultural vicissitude. The resource characteristics of the ecosystem and dersert grass environment play important role in the choice of prehistoric people’s livelihood patterns. The results of pollen analysis of lake sediments show that the Holocene desert ecosystem pattern or bioclimatic zone in the Badain Jaran Desert has not undergone fundamental changes,
which is the direct cause of the nomadic process from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age in the study area. The high lake level and the pan lake period are the water resources
guarantee conditions for the origin of early nomadic. The retreat of water level and gradual salinization of water quality in the late Holocene lakes may be the environmental background factors for the lack of pre-Qin, Han and Tang cultural relics in the desert hinterland. With the development of production technology, especially the technology of ride and dug well, the people began to enter the desert again from the
Western Xia Dynasty to engage in related production activities. In other words, although the Holocene lake groups in the Badain Jaran Desert has changed greatly, However, the non-zonal desert grassland lakes and zonal desert grasslands dominated by Achnatherum splendens and reed meadows have not changed, which has not affected the transformation of livelihood patterns.
This thesis provides geographical and archaeological evidence for the formation of nomadic pastoralism and the early development of civilization in the Badain Jaran Desert and its adjacent areas. These studies are helpful to understand the development process and influence of prehistoric pastoralism in the arid area of Northwest China, provide new evidence for understanding the complex environmental background of
early society, and have important academic value for exploring the interaction between prehistoric population survival strategies, social development and environmental changes.