What is it about?

Toponyms and hydronyms encode important information about human perceptions of the environment in a specific context. This article discusses the Loptuq, a group of Turkic-speakers, who until the 1950s lived as fishers-foragers at the Lower Tarim River, Taklamakan desert. Their use of common reed (Phragmites australis) is an example of the close connection between language, culture, social relations, economic activities, and human perceptions about the surrounding environment. Operating in lakes and swamps for their economic activities (fishing, hunting, foraging, and occasional transport), exploring and observing vegetation and animal life, the Loptuq developed and transmitted information through naming their habitat.

Featured Image

Why is it important?

Today both the habitat of the Lop Lake (Lop Nor) and the earlier knowledge of the Loptuq have disappeared, but the perceptions and uses of resources can at least partly be reconstructed through foreign explorers’ narratives and field notes. The naming of the waterscape environment helped the Loptuq to pinpoint, describe, and transmit information. The toponyms can today be seen as a history book and mental map of the Lop Nor area at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century, seen through the eyes of the local inhabitants, the Loptuq. Important ecological, economic, and social information, crucial for a fishing-hunting-foraging culture subsisting on a waterscape, were embedded in the toponyms and hydronyms and other expressions for the environment. The abundance of different reed-related names reflected the importance of reed in Loptuq everyday life, culture, collective memory, and understanding and perception of their surroundings.


The Loptuq developed multiple strategies in their environment, and some of them could probably be implemented even today in desert areas. Our knowledge can never be complete, but we can at least to some extent reconstruct different kinds of perceptions, even from already extinct cultures and on the basis of very limited sources, to enrich our understanding about human survival and subsistence in challenging environments. To remind about and trying to reconstruct local knowledge of a lost culture is important for the future of humanity.

Dr. Sabira Ståhlberg
Independent Scholar

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Fisher-foragers Amidst the Reeds: Loptuq Perception of Waterscapes in the Lower Tarim Area, Ethnobiology Letters, October 2020, Society of Ethnobiology,
DOI: 10.14237/ebl.11.1.2020.1701.
You can read the full text:



The following have contributed to this page