December 7, 2017

Alternative Spelling: Kutur-Bulak, Kutur Bulak (Russian: Кутурбулак).

GPS Coordinates: 39°53’5’’N 66°2’55’’E (Szymczak & Gretchkina, 2000).

The following measurements were taken using Google Earth.

Elevation: 518 meters

Distance to Kattakurgan (nearest town): 19.2 km

Distance to the Samarkand city: 82.1 km


Geography and Borders

Kuturbulak is an archaeological Middle Paleolithic open-air site situated near the modern day village kishlak in the Samarkand Region of south-eastern Uzbekistan. Located south of Karadaria river that flows northwest (a tributary of the Syr Darya), the site lies in the southernmost part of the densely populated Zeravshan River valley and on the northern foothills of Utch-airy mountain where waters flow into gorges meridionally leading to formation of springs. About 19.2 km to the east of Kuturbulak situated a large town Kattakurgan. The Samarkand city, capital of the region, is situated about 80 km southeast of the site. Moreover, Zirabulak, another Middle/Upper Paleolithic site, lies about 1 km to the West of Kuturbulak (Tashkenbaev, 1975; Szymczak & Gretchkina, 2000).

Fig 1. General location of Kuturbulak (KB, annotated by the black triangle), the open-air Middle Paleolithic site in Zeravshan River valley (figure from Szymczak & Gretchkina, 2000, drawn by D. Baginska, after T. Madeyska)



Kuturbulak site is abundant in archaeological materials, many of which were preserved intact in the duricrust fossil layer. Two major archaeology expeditions were conducted, providing a comprehensive analysis on the Kuturbulak’s geometrical structures, stone artifacts and faunal remains. N. Kh. Tashkenbaev and R. Kh. Suleimanov first excavated the site during field seasons of 1971 and 1972. Then in 1996, archaeologists from Warsaw University and Uzbek Academy of Sciences in Samarkand, in collaboration, enlarged the excavation area and published a monograph which includes the first record of absolute dating of the site (Szymczak & Gretchkina, 2000).

Stratigraphy and Absolute Dating

The stratigraphy of the trench walls showed five distinct layers with Middle Paleolithic materials corresponding to different cultural phases, according to the interpretation of Tashkenbaev and Suleimanov. Numerous stone artifacts were found in layer I and III to V; animal bones and dark burning spots interpreted as the use of hearth were discovered in layer III. However, analysis by visiting geologists and the archaeology excavations in 1995 agreed that layer I to IV with secondary materials were disturbed and represented cultures much later than Middle Paleolithic, and only the artifacts in layer V had their original provenance. The number of cultural layers and their implications could not thus be ascertained. The hearths examined in a wider context were re-interpreted as historical ones rather than belonging to the Middle Paleolithic settlement. U/Th method dated a poorly preserved bone 85-90cm below the surface to 32.91.1 ka, while the result wasn’t reproduced and the sample might subject to geochemical processes (Szymczak & Gretchkina, 2000).

Stone Artifacts

The lithic artifacts recovered in the 1970s reached 7800 pieces, mostly made of quartz or river quartzite pebbles of different colors. Only a small percent of the assemblage was made of various flints, although natural flint materials were found in continuous layers among limestones near the site and were easily obtainable. During 1995 field season, researchers recovered 1114 stone artifacts from the trench. Due to strong evidence of secondary disturbances of the stratified layers (such as intense human activity), they divided the layers into the upper disturbed layers and lower undisturbed layers. However, even the lower layers might subject to duricrust activity caused by the variations in spring outflow. The stone artifacts were classified into flakes (with irregular retouch traces), flake cores (multiangular or of one-sided discordal shape), blades (with irregular or well-marked retouch), and other retouched tools (side-scrapers, points, end-scrapers, etc.). Only two backed knives, a characteristic type of tools of Middle Paleolithic settlement, were found in the disturbed layers. The proportion of retouched tools was remarkably high, around 41.3% in the upper layer and around 39.0% in the lower layer, while the researchers pointed out the possibility of psuedoretouching of the stone materials caused by temperature, humidity change or carbonate crystallization, as evidenced by the irregular and discontinuous traces of retouch on some of the tools. Nevertheless, a great number of retouched tools showed evidence of intense resharpening, including some heavily reduced cores and some very small flakes without any clearly defined shape. The intense and economic use of materials that produced delicate small tools, along with Kuturbulak’s location (near the mountain with abundant water resources, such as the Kuturbulak spring), indicated long-term inhabitation of the area (Vishnyatsky, 1999; Dani & Masson, 1992). Moreover, produced by lithic reduction (a dominant technology in Upper Paleolithic epoch),  blade and blade tools accounted for a high proportion of the lithics inventory (16.9%). Three complete burin blades, another Upper Paleolithic characteristic tool type, were found in Kuturbulak, two of which were slim and of distinct angled form (Szymczak & Gretchkina, 2000).

Some researchers categorize the technology of Kuturbulak as the Levallois-Mousterian variant due to the great proportion of Levalloisian flake stone tools (Krakhmal, 2005), and the distinct quartzite products reflect the raw material availability in Kuturbulak rich in river pebbles (Vishnyatsky, 1999). The Mousterian culture with flake tools is usually associated with Middle Paleolithic, the epoch that marks the rise and extinction of Neanderthals who were then replaced by modern humans during the late stage. According to an unauthorized Russian website, Neanderthals who inhabited Kuturbulak were the most ancient population discovered in the Samarkand region (Mikhailovich, n.d.). On the other hand, the unbelievably high abundance of retouched tools shows a technological continuity or directional shift of lithic reduction techniques, marking a significant local evolution, the Middle Paleolithic/ Upper Paleolithic transition (Szymczak & Gretchkina, 2000; Biagi, 2008; Soffer, 2014).

Fig 2. Some stone artifacts found in Kuturbulak. Tools (1-7, 9-12, 15, 17) and cores (8,13,14,16). (Tashkenbaev & Suleimanov, 1980)

Faunal Remains

The animal bones were poorly preserved in situ and those recovered were in the form of small fragments, so only a general description of the identified faunal remains was provided. Horse (Equus caballus) was the most dominant species and accounted for almost a half of the identified bones (49.3%). Ox (Bison), wild ass, deer and elephant remains were also identified during the excavations in 1970s. The researchers then argued that remains of elephant in layer III, a species indicative of middle Pleistocene epoch in Central Asia, showed evidence that the stone artifacts were preserved in their primary provenance in the undisturbed layer. Indeed, assemblages of large mammals from various sites in Eurasia show wide distribution of elephants and even some evidence of butchering activities by human in middle Pleistocene (Pushkina, 2007; Anzidei et al., 2012). Based on the assumption that the assemblages were all in their primary position, these researchers further conjectured that the prehistoric landscape was an arid steppe land. However, the expedition team in 1995 only recovered horse remains, including a mandible fragment and some teeth, in the undisturbed layer V. Nonetheless, some researchers concluded that the prehistoric inhabitants of Kuturbulak were Neanderthals chasing after dangerous herbivores including horses and elephants (Szymczak & Gretchkina, 2000).



Kuturbulak is an important open-air site in the Zeravshan river valley region, in that the tool types, including Mousterian flake tools and blade flake tools, mark a technological continuity from Middle to Upper Paleolithic, and an unusually high proportion of small, heavily reduced cores shows long term inhabitation of the area, possibly by Neanderthals.



Anzidei, A. P., Bulgarelli, G. M., Catalano, P., Cerilli, E., Gallotti, R., Lemorini, C., . . . Santucci, E. (2012). Ongoing research at the late Middle Pleistocene site of La Polledrara di Cecanibbio (central Italy), with emphasis on human–elephant relationships. Quaternary International,255, 171-187.

Biagi, P. (2008). The Palaeolithic settlement of Sindh (Pakistan): A review. Archäologische Mitteilungen Aus Iran Und Turan, 40. 1-26.

Dani, A. & Masson, V. (1992). History of Civilizations in Central Asia. Vol. I: The Dawn of Civilization: Earliest Times to 700 BC (A. Dani, Ed.). Paris: UNESCO Publishing.

Krakhmal, K. (2005). On Studying of Historical and Cultural Processes of the Palaeolithic Epoch in Central Asia. International Journal of Central Asian Studies, 10, 119-129.

Mikhailovich, R. O. (n.d.). List of sites of primitive man. Retrieved from http://arheolog.su/kamen_vek/stoyanki/

Soffer, O. (2014). Pleistocene old world: regional perspectives. New York: Springer.

Szymczak, K., & Gretchkina, T. (2000). Kuturbulak revisited: a Middle Palaeolithic site in Zeravshan River Valley, Uzbekistan. Warsaw: Institute of Archaeology, Warsaw University.

Tashkenbaev, N. Kh. (1975). Ob issledovanii paleoliticheskoi stoyanki Kuturbulak (On the investigation of the Paleolithic site of Kuturbulak). Istoria materialnoi kultury Uzbekistana, 12, 5-15.

Tashkenbaev, N. Kh., and Suleimanov, R. Kh. (1980). Kultura drevnekamennogo veka doliny Zeravshana (The Old Stone Age Culture of the Zeravshan Valley), Tashkent.

Pushkina, D. (2007). The Pleistocene easternmost distribution in Eurasia of the species associated with the Eemian Palaeoloxodon antiquus assemblage. Mammal Review, 37(3), 224-245.

Vishnyatsky, L. (1999). The Paleolithic of Central Asia. Journal of World Prehistory, 13(1), 69-121.


December 7, 2017

Also known as: Самаркандская Стоянка (Russian for ‘Site of Samarkand’)

Coordinates: c.39.65° N, 66.94° E (Rabett, 2012)

Image 1. Showing approximate coordinate location of Samarkandskaya from Rabett (2012) at an elevation of 24.05 km. Coordinates put site in center of city, not near a ravine as described by Vishnayasky (2004). There is a river 6 km southwest (measured on Google Earth) which could possibly be the Chashmasiab ravine; however, the exact location of the site could not be found. 

Samarkandskaya is an open air Paleolithic site within the limits of Samarkand, a city in eastern Uzbekistan, close to the Tajikistan border (Image 2). The city is located in the Zeravshan basin, a fertile area created by mountain runoff and the Zeravshan river. The site itself is located in the center of the city, on the right bank of the Chashmasiab ravine (Image 1).

Image 2. Map of Central Asia showing location of Samarkand site and other relevant paleolithic sites (Davis & Ravnov 1999).

Cultural remains are confined to deposits in two terraces, originally thought to make up three cultural layers (Vishnayatsky, 2004). From its discovery in 1939 by N. G Kharlamov, Samarkandskaya was a site of intensive study by multiple successive researchers until the 1970s. It was M.V Voevodskyi who initially lead the research on the site. The next excavations were done by D.N Lev in 1958 and 1967, which revealed the multilayered nature and numerous peculiarities of the materials. The next excavations from 1967-72 were done by M.D Djurakulov and E.N Amartzeva who focused mainly on the lower sediments of the upper terrace (Korobkova & Djurakulov, 2000). A total area of 1000m2 has been excavated and no new excavations are taking place.

The cultural layers of the site are complicated by the extremely complex stratigraphy of the site, poor excavations, and inadequate documentation. In 1980, Nesmeyanov used geological investigations of the site to argue against Lev’s hypothesis of the site containing three unique cultural layers. The layers instead may represent periods of intensive occupation that are marked by deposits of tools, bones, charcoal and ocher (Vishnayatsky, 2004). Nesmeyanov identified four layers of habitation in the lower terrace and three in the upper terrace. This has also complicated the dating of the site.

The occupational episodes are thought to have occurred between the Middle to the late, final Pleistocene. Earlier excavators and researchers, such as Lev, dated the site to 20,000 b.p (methods of dating are not published/accessible); however, the work by Nesmeyanov and closer examination of the upper terrace by Korobkova, Djurakulov, and Amartzeva resulted in a date of 40,000 b.p. Presumably the date was obtained from examination of the materials found. The oldest lithic materials were from the lower level of the upper terraces which is now thought to represent the first habitation of the site. Davis & Ranov (1999), Korobkova & Djurakulov (2000), and Derevyanko & Zun (1993) all decisively place Samarkandskaya in the Upper Paleolithic. This makes Samarkandskaya one of the few Upper Paleolithic sites in the region. The other well known site is Shugnou in eastern Tajikistan (Fig. 1). Vishnayatsky (2004) mentions the finding of charcoal at the site; however, it is unclear if carbon-14 dating has been done to date the site. These dates are mainly based on the lithic composition and its similarity to other sites such as Kulbulak and layer 2 of Karasu.

Fig.1 Chart summarizing the relative dating of Samarkandskaya and other paleolithic sites in the region. The left-hand column represents hypothesized dates while the right hand column is the majority of absolute dates known for Central Asia (Davis & Ranov, 1999).

There is nothing published on the complete composition, numbers, or distribution of stone tools at Samarkandskaya, but from what is reported the tools show a mixture of Mousterian with Upper Paleolithic technologies. Pebble-chopper technology is present with tools such as choppers, side-scrapers, axes, discoid and Levellois type cores (Fig.2). This is mixed with artifacts attributed to the Upper Paleolithic such as retouched bladelets, chisel-like tools, micro-scrapers, and microcores (Fig 3).

Fig. 2. Chopper tools and flakes from Samarkandskaya (Korobkova & Djurakulov, 2000).


Fig. 3. Stone tools demonstrating some the Upper Paleolithic technologies used at the site (Vishnayatsky, 2004)

Samarkandskaya is not the only site in this area or from this time that shows mixed tool technologies, such as Maikop or Shugnou. Although each site has a unique lithic composition, some have used the similarities to make possible cultural and developmental connections between Paleolithic sites in Central Asia. Derevyanko & Zun (1993) describe what they call the Samarkand culture, which in theory, is a step in the line of evolution influenced by the Asia Minor ‘Mediterranean’ province. In this line of evolution, the cultural development started with the site of Karasu, then to the Samarkand culture, and ended with the post-Palaeolithic Hissar culture. This hypothesis is based on qualitative similarities between the tools, such as the knife shape and hollow tools. This hypothesis was strongly supported by Lev; however, little to no concrete evidence is available to support this (Derevyanko & Zun, 1993).

Excavations in 1962 and 1966 resulted in the findings of the only human remains at the site; two fragmented mandibles and teeth. These are attributed to modern Homo sapiens, but there provenance is unknown. Their affiliation with the rest of the paleolithic assemblage has also been questioned. The mandibles have been described as being of  ‘Mediterranean-type,’ supporting the Asian Minor line of evolution. More recent descriptions of the remains are not available and may contradict this description (Derevyanko & Zun, 1993). Aside from human bones, there are more than 3,000 identifiable bones and bone fragments. The majority of the remains are from horses followed by pleistocene ass and aurochs. Also present are remains of camel, red deer, wild boar, steppe sheep, gazelle, wolf and wild ass but in lesser quantities. There are also long bone fragments that most likely correspond to an elephant or rhinoceros (Vishnayatsky 2004).

The vast number of animal bones and the high percentage of tools suggests that Samarkandskaya was a base camp for steppe/desert hunters, who mainly hunted wild horse and Pleistocene ass. There is evidence of almost constant tool production and retouching, as well as evidence of preparing carcasses and skins from kills (Korobkova & Djurakulov, 2000). The culture and chronology of the site have not been determined, but traditionally the archaeological assemblage has been treated as belonging to the same culture. However, this may be incorrect considering there were likely multiple episodes of habitation that occurred widely spaced in time (over tens of thousands of years). More analysis of the tools found and of the geography of the site is still needed for any conclusions on the dates of the site and the culture or cultures that were present.

Works cited

Davis, R. S., & Ranov, V. A. (1999). Recent work on the Paleolithic of Central Asia.  Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews, 8(5), 186-193.

Derevyanko, A. P., & Zun-E, L. (1993). Upper Paleolithic Culutre. In History of Civilizations of  Central Asia(Vol. 1, pp. 89-98). UNESCO.

Korobkova & Djurakulov. (2000). самркандская стоянка как эталон ерхнего палеолита средней азии (The Site of Samarkand as a Model of the Upper Palaeolithic in Central Asia). Stratum plus,1, 385-462.

Rabett, R. J. (2012). Human adaptation in the Asian palaeolithic: hominin dispersal and behaviour during the Late Quaternary. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp 92-95.

Vishnayatsky, L. B. (2004). Paleolithic Interface in Central Asia. In The Early Upper Paleolithic Beyond Western Europe (pp. 151-159). CA: University of California Press.

Parkhai II

December 7, 2017



38°26’10.2″N 56°17’01.1″E (Coordinates of Kara Kala) Site is very difficult to locate on map. No coordinates nor metrics of distance from Kara Kala are reported by Khlopin.


310m (Kara Kala)

Alternate Spellings

Parkhay II, Parhai II, Parhay II

Introduction and Geographical Description

Parkhai II is an Early Bronze Age cemetery, located along the northern edge of the Sumbar Valley in Southern Turkmenistan on the southwestern outskirts of the modern town Kara Kala (Kara Q’ala) (Khlopin 1981; Hiebert et al., 2003). The Sumbar Valley is in the westernmost area of Kopet Dag foothill region (Arkhash Region) (Hiebert, 2002). It is a minor tributary valley, which promotes the existence of vegetation in the region (Gubaev et al., 1998). Surrounded by the Kopet Dag Mountains, this area is an oasis. It is protected from the cold air from the North and the extremely dry air from the Kara Kum Desert to the East (Brummell, 2005). Parkhai II is part of a larger settlement, Parkhai-tepe, which is located 300-400m south of the graveyard (Khlopin 1981; Petrie, 2013). The main settlement has yet to be excavated (Petrie, 2013). The site is located on a hill 10m above the valley floor on a mound on the northern bank of the Sumbar River (Khlopin 1981; Hiebert, 2002). There are few alluvial deposits at the site since it is located on a hill, making the cemetery easily accessible for excavation (Hiebert et al., 2003). 

Parkhai II is indirectly dated the the Early Bronze age. Excavations of the site connect Parkhai to Early and Late Bronze Age sites in the Kopet Dag foothills of Southern Turkmenistan. These Kopet Dag sites were often sedentary farming societies. Additionally, it has striking bronze objects and pottery. More extensive study of this site would aid in dating and a better understanding of what people were doing at Parkhai II.


I.N. Khlopin and members of the Sumbar Archaeological Expedition of Leningrad Sector of the Institute of Archaeology (USSR Academy of Sciences) discovered the site in 1977 (Khlopin, 1981). The first full excavation took place in 1978. The team excavated 27 burials, 300 ceramic vessels, and various stone and bronze artifacts. It seems that the excavation by Khlopin in 1978 was the last excavation of the site since little further published information exists (Petrie, 2013).


The site is indirectly dated to the Late Copper Age or Early Bronze Age in the first half to the middle of the 3rd millennium B.C. (Khlopin, 1981; Hiebert, 2002). The site has been difficult to date and no direct date has been reported. Researchers found evidence that points to two time ranges, resulting in an expansive time range (3000-2250 B.C.) for Parkhai II. This is a result of the indirect dating techniques. Initially, the site was dated closer to 3000-2500 B.C. This date was inferred by pottery found at sites in the northern foothills of the Kopet Dag, Kara-depe and Ak-depe, which seems to be imported from Parkhai II (Khlopin, 1981). Kara-depe and Ak-depe are Early Bronze Age sites (3000-2500 B.C.), placing Parkhai II in this time period (Khlopin, 1981). Khlopin provides additional evidence to date Parkhai to 3000-2500 B.C. by noting that ceremonial rites at Parkhai II are similar to those at Kara-depe, especially in the positioning of bodies (Khlopin, 1981). Finally, Khlopin dates Parkhai to the middle of the 3rd millennium B.C. (2500-2250 B.C.). Khlopin associates a lapis lazuli awl (tools used for making holes) found at Parkhai II with awls at Tureng-tepe and Ur (1981). Tureng-tepe and Ur date to the middle of the 3rd millennium, broadening the time range for Parkhai to 3000-2250 B.C (Khlopin, 1981). A direct date for this site is needed to confirm the Parkhai II date.


Parkhai II is a cemetery consisting of 450 burials; 27 burial vaults were excavated, revealing human remains, 300 vessels, and various stone and bronze objects (Khlopin, 1981). It is associated with the broad cultural area (cultural sphere) of southwestern Turkmenistan during the Early Bronze age based on burial characteristics, spiral headed pins, and pottery. Specifically, Parkhai II is linked to Kopet Dag 6 (sites: Anau II, Late Namazga II, Namazga III), which were settled farming sites (Hiebert, 2002). It is possible that like the people in the Kopet Dag 6 sphere, people at Parkhai II were settled farmers. However, there is no direct evidence to support farming. It is also associated with Late Bronze Age sites in the Sumbar Valley (southwestern Turkmenistan) due to burial characteristics and pottery.

Figure 1. Burial chamber construction (Khlopin, 1981).

The burial chambers were usually 0.9-2.0m below the contemporary surface and were reached by through a side entrance covered by a stone slab (Khlopin, 1981; Dani & Masson, 1999) (Figure 1). They were round, collective tombs with multiple burials (Petrie, 2013). Tombs were often collective burials (Khlopin, 1981) For example, Chamber 24 (Figure 2) had a woman (23-25 years old) buried with two pottery vessels and a bronze pin, a child (8-9 years old) buried with bronze earrings and a steppe tortoise shell, and two infants buried without grave goods (1981). Additionally, chambers were used for subsequent burials; bones of the first burial were pushed deeper into the chamber and the newer burial took their place (Khlopin, 1981). It is unclear how Khlopin came to this conclusion, but it may have been based on stratigraphy. The collective tombs with multiple burials are similar to those at Ilgynly-depe, uniting them under a similar cultural sphere in southern Turkmenistan during the Early Bronze Age (Petrie, 2013). Interestingly, the burials do not seem to emphasize wealth or status (Petrie, 2013). They are unique because they are completely separate from the residential part of the settlement (Petrie, 2013). This separation of burial and residential areas groups Parkhai II culturally with Late Bronze Age burials in the valley region of Southern Turkmenistan (Parkhai I, Sumbar I, Sumbar II, Yangi Q’ala) (Petrie, 2013).

Figure 2. Burial Chamber 24. Woman with child and two infants. (Khlopin, 1981)

Additionally, bronze six spiral double-headed pins were among some of the most striking finds at the burial (Khlopin, 1981, Dani & Masson, 1996). The pins (Figure 3) all had more than four loops (Khlopin, 1981). The Parkhai II pins are distributed all over the Sumbar Valley in Southwestern Turkmenistan, once again uniting this cultural area (Khlopin, 1981). According to Hiebert (2002), these bi-spiral pins help associate Parkhai II with Kopet Dag 6 cultural region. The Kopet Dag 6 cultural region, in the foothills of the Kopet Dag mountains, had farming settlements (Hiebert, 2002). These settlements used dams to irrigate the already fertile loess soil (Hiebert, 2002). Though the Parkhai settlement itself has yet to be excavated, the association with Kopet Dag 6 suggests that people at Parkhai II could have been settled farmers.

Figure 3. Bi-spiral pins at Parkhai II (Objects 1-8). ( Khlopin, 1981)

The pottery was a highlight of the site. Khlopin uncovered 300 ceramic vessels (Figure 4), which were made by hand without a potter’s wheel with a high level of perfection (1981). Ceramics were gray-black, engraved with designs and motifs (Salvatori et al., 2005). The earliest pottery had impressed or burnished engravings, but later pottery had no designs (Khlopin, 1981). Khlopin uses the pottery characteristics to link Parkhai II culturally with other sites in Southern Turkmenistan. It has a relationship to Late Bronze Age Sumbar cemetery sites due to similar ceramic traits of spouts, tube shaped feet, and button handles (Khlopin, 1981). This cultural association with Late Bronze Age sites based on pottery characteristics was discussed earlier in burial descriptions. According to Salvatori et al. (2005), Turkmenistan during the 3rd millennium B.C. (Early Bronze Age) has two distinct cultural regions based on pottery. One region is to the west with gray-black ceramics and one is to the east with polychrome ceramics. Parkhai II is grouped with sites west of Ashgabat, which are marked by gray-black ceramics with engraving and motifs (Salvatori et al., 2005).

Figure 4. Gray-black pottery at Parkhai II. (Khlopin, 1981).


The Parkhai II cemetery is an intriguing burial site in the Sumbar Valley Region of southwestern Turkmenistan. It seems to date to the Early Bronze Age, but information currently dates the site to a broad time range (3000-2250 B.C.). Direct dating techniques are needed to confirm that this was an Early Bronze Age site. It is culturally associated with other Early Bronze Age sedentary farming sites in the Kopet Dag foothills. These associations suggest that the Parkhai settlement was a sedentary farming group. The Parkhai II cemetery itself does not confirm the presence of farming in the area. The Parkhai settlement needs to be excavated to ascertain this information. The beautiful pottery at Parkhai II was a highlight of the finds and helps link Parkhai with the Sumbar cemetery from the Late Bronze Age and to Early Bronze Age sites west of Ashgabat. The cemetery site itself and the Parkhai II settlement would both benefit from further study and excavations.


Works Cited

Brummell, P. 2005. Turkmenistan. Globe Pequot Press Inc.

Dani, A., Masson, V. 1999. History of Civilizations of Central Asia- The Bronze Age in Khorasan and Transoxania. Motilal Banarsidass, 194-235.

Gubaev, A., Koshelenko, G., and Tosi, M. 1998. The Archaeological Map of the Murghab Delta Preliminary Reports 1990-95. IsIAO, Roma, 5-13.

Hiebert, F. 2002. The Kopet Dag Sequence of Early Villages in Central Asia. Paléorient, 28(2), 25-41.

Hiebert, F., Kurbansakhatov, K., and Schmidt, H. 2003. A Central Asian Village at the Dawn of Civilization: Excavations at Anau, Turkmenistan. UPenn Museum of Archaeology, Philadelphia, 21-162.

Khlopin, I.N. 1981. The Early Bronze Age Cemetery of Parkhai II: The First Two Seasons of Excavations: 1977-1978. Soviet Anthropology and Archaeology, 19(1-2), 3-34.

Petrie, C. 2013. Ancient Iran and its Neighbors: Local Developments and Interactions in the 4th Millennium BC. Oxbow Books, Oxford, U.K.

Salvatori, S., Masson, V., Muzio, C., Sarianidi, V., Vidale, M., Littvinskjj, B., Biscione, R., and Cattani, M. 2005. L’eta del Bronzo dell’Asia Centrale meridionale. Il Mondo dell’Archeologica. http://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/l-eta-del-bronzo-dell-asia-centrale-meridionale_%28Il-Mond o-dell%27Archeologia%29/. (translated with Google Translate from Italian).

Okladnikov Cave

December 7, 2017

Names: Okladnikov Cave, Sibiryachikha (former name), Пещера Окладникова (Russian)

GPS Coordinates: 51.732883, 84.033390

Though Okladnikov Cave is 92 miles as the crow flies from the Russian border with Kazakhstan, all roads in and out of the Altai mountains go through Biysk (ПЕЩЕРА ИМ. А. П. ОКЛАДНИКОВА), which is 167 km away from the site. It would then take another 442 km of driving to reach the Kazakh border, for a driving total of 609 km. In the northern reaches of the Altai Mountains in Altai Krai Oblast, Russia, Okladnikov Cave is 387 meters above sea level, and is only 1.15 km southwest of the nearest small town of Sibiryachikha. The cave itself is a karst cavity on the banks of the Sibiryachikha River (Derevianko et al 2013).

Discovered and initially excavated in the 1970s by Alexei Pavlovich Okladnikov, the cave was first called Sibiryachikha, in reference to the nearby town. It has since been renamed in honor of its first surveyor, with Sibiryachikha now referencing a lithic culture of the Altai Middle Paleolithic (ПЕЩЕРА ИМ. А. П. ОКЛАДНИКОВА; Derevianko, 2013). The cave was mainly excavated by S. Markin and A.P. Derevianko in the 1980s (Viola and Pääbo, 2013). The vast majority of the sources available in English referencing this site focus on the skeletal and faunal remains, wherein Okladnikov Cave is mainly treated as a footnote to the more impressive Denisova Cave and others in the area such as Ust-Karakol-1, Ust-Kanskaya, and Kara-Bom.  Some lithic analysis is also available in English (Derevianko et al, 2005; Viola and Pääbo, 2013). The nearest paleolithic site, Chagyrskaya Cave, is even more overshadowed, having fewer skeletal remains, but lithically is most similar to Okladnikov Cave (Derevianko et al, 2013). The discovery of neanderthal remains at Okladnikov, however, was pivotal to understanding the movement of neanderthal populations. This discovery in the 1980s, even as the neanderthal provenience of the Tekish-Tash child remained questioned, pushed the boundary of neanderthal habitation over 2,000 km further east (Krause et al, 2007, Dobrovolskaya and Tiunov, 2013). The subsequent discoveries at Denisova Cave, as well as others, have confirmed a neanderthal presence now generally referred to as the Altai Neanderthal (Viola and Pääbo, 2013).

Image 1: The range of neanderthals, including Okladnikov Cave (Krause et al, 2007).

Okladnikov Cave was the first neanderthal site to be discovered in the Altai. The site itself consists of seven stratigraphic layers (named 1-7), with 1-3, 6, and 7 containing cultural remains. While there have been some disturbances, mainly in the upper two layers, the artifacts and faunal and skeletal remains inside the cave (rather than on the terrace area under the roof) were found in situ. The layers were dated to between 44,800±4000 BP (stratum 7, uranium series dating of soil) to 33,500±700 BP (stratum 1, faunal bone, C14 dating) (Krause et al, 2007 supplement). Bones from stratum 3 were radiocarbon dated to between 43,700±1500 to >16,210 BP (Kuzmin, 2004), though the latter date is likely because the roofed terrace was used by animals to avoid inclement weather, rather than from cultural remains. Derevianko is of the opinion that the cultural layers date to 45-40 ka BP (Derevianko et al, 2013).

Okladnikov Cave and Chagyrskaya Cave are the two examples of the Sibiryachikha tool industry. This industry is characterized by primary radial reduction strategies, mass production of flakes coming off cores from multiple angles, scrapers, and déjeté type tools (Derevianko et al, 2013). Lithics are mainly sourced from pebbles from the nearby rivers, which are predominately igneous, though 25.8% of the assemblage at Okladnikov cave is made of Zasuriye jasperoid, which was used selectively (Derevianko et al, 2013, 2015). There is a fairly high ratio of tools to flakes, and preliminary knapping was likely preformed offsite. Core blanks were then brought into the cave to be modified into tools onsite. In addition to radial cores, Levallois reduction strategies are present in relation to many morphological products (Derevianko et al, 2013). Derevianko et al agree that there is one cultural tradition present in the Altai in the Paleolithic, but that within it different tool industries exist. One, the Altai Mousterian, is associated with Denisova Cave and Tyumechin-1, while the other, a Levallois variant, is associated with Kara-Bom, Ust-Karakol-1, Anui-3, Ust-Kanskaya Cave, and possibly others. The Sibiryachikha tool industry from Okladnikov and Chagyrskaya Caves, thus, represents a third (likely very small) Mousterian neanderthal population, who may have moved into the Altai from southwestern Central Asia. Whether these people then assimilated, moved elsewhere, or died out is unclear, since there are no examples of the Sibiryachikha tool industry by the Upper Paleolithic (Derevianko et al, 2013).

Image 2: Examples of tools from Sibiryachikha tools from Okladnikov Cave (Derevianko et al, 2013).

The human remains found from Okladnikov cave were the first neanderthals found in the Altai. The remains are as follows: adult humerus and human M3 tooth from stratum 2, subadult humerus and femur, adult middle hand phalanx, and three teeth (P3, M1, M3) from stratum 3, and lower dm2 tooth from stratum 7 (Krause et al, 2007 supplement). Krause et al posit that the humerus and femur in stratum 3 are from the same subadult individual. The mtDNA sequence of these individuals clearly shows a gene pool distinct from modern humans, and confirms their neanderthal provenience. Their study compares the mtDMA from European neanderthals with Tekish-Tash and the Okladnikov individuals, which showed that, though Tekish-Tash was more closely related to Western European neanderthals than it was to the Okladnikov individuals, the minimal mtDNA divergence suggested that none of these population had been separated for very long (Krause et al, 2007). Moreover, Dobrovolskaya and Tiunov confirmed that neanderthals at Okladnikov cave had a diet similar to European neanderthals—namely, hunting large herbivores (Dobrobolskaya and Tiunov 2013).

Okladnikov Cave has played a pivotal role in further understanding neanderthal population migrations, pushing their habitation extent 2,000km further east. Subsequent excavation and research have confirmed the existence of a neanderthal population in the Altai, with their associated lithic assemblage. Okladnikov and Chagyrskaya Caves show evidence of an offshoot neanderthal population associated with the Sibiryachikha tool industry, who may have been later arrivals to the region. This site furthers our understanding of the Middle Paleolithic in the Altai and, more broadly, in Central Asia as a whole.


Derevianko, A.P., Postnov, A.V., Rybin, E.P., Kuzmin, Y.V., Keates, S.G., 2005. The Pleistocene Peopling of Siberia: A Review of Environmental and Behavioral Aspects. Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association Bulletin. 25 (3) pp. 57-68.

Derevianko, A.P., Markin, S.V., and Shunkov, M.V., 2013. The Sibiryachikha Facies of the Middle Paleolithic of the Altai. Archaeology Ethnography & Anthropology of Eurasia. 41 (1) pp. 89-103.

Derevianko, A.P., Markin, S.V., Kulik, N.A., Kolobova, K.A., 2015. Lithic Raw Material Exploitation in the Sibiryachinkha Facies, The Middle Paleolithic of Altai. Archaeology Ethnography & Anthropology of Eurasia. 43 (3) pp. 3-16.

Dobrobolskaya, M.V., and Tiunov, A.V., 2013. The Neanderthals of Okladnikov Cave, Altai: Environment and Diet Based on Isotopic Analysis. Archaeology Ethnography & Anthropology of Eurasia. 41 (1) pp. 78-88.

Krause, J., Orlando, L., Serre, D., Viola, B., Richards, M.P., Hublin, J.J., Hänni, C., Derevianko, A.P., Pääbo, S., 2007. Neanderthals in Central Asia and Siberia. Nature 448 (18) pp. 902-904.

Kuzmin, Y.V., 2004. Origin of the Upper Paleolithic in Siberia: A Geoarchaeological Perspective. The Early Upper Paleolithic beyond Western Europe. University of California Press, pp. 196-206.

Skoglund, P., Northoff, B.H., Shunkov, M.V., Derevianko, A.P., Pääbo, S., Krause, J., Jakobsson, M., 2014. Separating endogenous ancient DNA from modern day contamination in a Siberian Neandertal. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 111 (6) pp. 2229-2234.

Viola, B., and Pääbo, S., 2013. What’s New in Central Asia? Basic Issues in Archaeology, Anthropology, and Ethnography of Eurasia. pp. 555-565.

ПЕЩЕРА ИМ. А. П. ОКЛАДНИКОВА. Welcome to Altai. n.d. Web. 7 Dec 2017. <http://welcometoaltai.ru/attractions/peshhera_okladnikova/>


December 7, 2017

Alternate Spellings:

Terekty-Auliye, Terekty-Aulie, Теректы-Аулие (Cyrillic)

Introduction and Geographic Location:

Coordinates: 48°12’44’’ N and 68°36’37’’ E

Elevation: 498 m

Terekty Aulie is an archaeological site in Central Kazakhstan featuring 3 granite hills with petroglyphs and multiple burial areas dating to the Bronze Age (2nd century BCE), the Early Iron Age and the 18th/19th centuries. The site is located in the district of Ulytau (Ulutau) in the Qaraghandy (Karaganda) region (Lymer 2015: 96). Terekty Aulie is ~90km northeast of the city Jezqazghan (Zhezkazgan) and ~20km north of Terekty Station (Lymer 2015:96, Rogozhinskiy 2011: 31). Using GoogleEarth, I measured the main area of the granite hills to be approximately 17,439 square meters. While the region is located in the heart of the desert steppe, this site is located in the mountainous area of the Terekty Hills, which are within the larger mountain Range known as the Ulytau (Ulutau) Mountains (Lymer 2015: 96). Jezqazghan (Zhezkazgan) is known for its abundance of oxidic copper, which was a prime resource for mining and creation of goods during the Bronze Age (Lymer 2015: 97).

Research on the site has mainly focused on the petroglyphs, which have been attributed to the pastoral nomads living in the area during the Bronze Age. Today, the site is an important religious location because of the petroglyphs and their connection to Islam (Lymer 2014).

The site was first recorded in the 1940s by Kazakh archaeologist, A. Kh. Margulan (Samashev et al 2000: 4). Between the years of 1946 and 1950, Margulan led many field expeditions throughout the Ulytau area and which was when he first explored and noted Terekty Aulie (Tursinbaeva et al 2016: 172). Unfortunately, not much of this information was published and the original documents are difficult to find online.

In 1996, a program was started to continue research at the site by the A. Kh Margulan Institute of Archaeology led by Zainolla Samashev. (Samashev et al 2000: 4).


Findings and Interpretations:

As mentioned, Terekty Aulie encompasses 3 granite hills, which are engraved with mostly zoomorphic figures. The petroglyphs are mainly carved on the flatter surfaces of the hills, but also occasionally on the more vertical wall-like slopes (Samashev et al 2000:5). Typically rock art from this time period and region is found on sandstone because it is a much softer stone to carve into and makes it easier to create detailed images. Terekty Aulie is a unique example because it was created on granite using a technique of deep pecking and smoothing over, leaving us with the polished final product we see today (Lymer 2015: 96, Samashev et al 2000: 5). As with many petroglyph sites, it is difficult to determine exactly what the site represented or was used for. The site has more recently been adopted as an area for Islamic pilgrimage, which will be discussed below, but it is impossible to say what its exact purpose was at the time of its creation based on the information available.

Images of horses make up approximately 90% of the petroglyphs, but other images include lines, chariots, dots, bulls, Bactrian camels, goats, feline-like creatures, snakes and deer (Lymer 2015: 96-97, Rogozhinskiy 2011: 31). Horse imagery is common in Central Asia because of the important role these animals played in pastoral nomadism. Pastoral nomadism was a dominant lifestyle in Central Asia beginning around the Bronze Age that relied on mobility and herding of animals. Horses provided means of transportation as well as a resource for meat and secondary products (i.e. milk), which made them a prominent aspect of the nomadic lifestyle (Cunliffe 2015). It seems likely that the individuals who created the petroglyphs at Terekty Aulie lived a nomadic lifestyle because of the emphasis on horses in their art (Tursinbaeva et al 2016: 171).

The petroglyphs found at Terekty Aulie have been connected to the Seima Turbino phenomenon based on the similarities in horse image style to other zoomorphic designs in Central Asia. The “solid bodies, curved necks and prominent manes,” on the horses, which make up the majority of petroglyphs at Terekty Aulie, are comparable to images of horses found on daggers from Seima Turbino sites (Samashev et al 2000:5). This phenomenon is attributed to the rise of pastoral nomadism, which influenced the flow of ideas, materials and people on the Central Asian landscape.

Figure 1: Horse petroglyphs at Terekty Aulie

Lymer 2015


Non-horse images, specifically the deer and feline animals, are more similar in style to petroglyphs found in the Altai Mountains, which are considered to be from an early Scythian culture (Samashev et al 2000: 5). Images of humans are uncommon at Terekty Aulie, but the few instances of anthropomorphic figures have generated many varying interpretations. For example, the image below, known as “the antenna”, has a circular design with animals drawn inside the circle and a human with a twisted leg standing beneath it. Some believe that this image is of the sun or another astrological figure, which could be related to a type of “solar symbolism” while others imagine that it represents a human on a shamanistic journey (Samashev et al 2000: 6, Lymer 2015: 99, Tursinbaeva et al 2016: 171). Personally, the shape of the petroglyph reminds me of the desert kites found in Eastern Central Asia and the Middle East which were are dated to the Iron Age. These kites are hypothesized to be hunting traps used to efficiently herd ungulates to a pit humans could easily kill them (Zeder et al 2013: 110, 114). Below is the petroglyph at Terekty Aulie in comparison with petroglyphs of desert kites in Syria (Figure 2, Figure 3).

Figure 2: Image of “the antenna” at Terekty Aulie, possibly depicting a desert kite

Samashev et al 2000

Figure 3: Image of petroglyphs in Syria possibly depicting desert kites

Zeder et al 2013


To the southeast of Terekty Aulie, there is a small cemetery that has been dated to the Bronze Age. The cemetery includes 20 burials that have been attributed to the Alakul culture or the Begazy-Dandybai culture, which are both regional variations within the larger Andronovo culture describing pastoral nomads living in Kazakhstan and Southern Siberia (Lymer 2015: 97, Lymer 2010, Frachetti 2008). The site also includes scattered Neolithic tools, Early Iron Age burials in the style of kurgans and a more recent, 18th/19th century mausoleums (Samashev et al 2000: 4).


In the present day, Terekty Aulie serves as a sacred Islamic shrine because some of the images have been interpreted as being Islamic figures. Currently, a wooden post sits at the top of one of the engrave granite hills, which replaced a stone shrine shown in Figure 4 that had been there until 2001 (Lymer 2014: 3).

Figure 4: Shrine at Terekty Aulie (before 2001), replaced by wood post in 2001

Lymer 2014


Terekty Aulie is a place of pilgrimage because it is believed to hold healing properties that can help situations of sickness or infertility (Lymer 2010). This belief comes from the story of Khazrat ‘Ali, the son-in-law of the prophet Muhammad, visiting Terekty Aulie with his horse, Dudul. Khazrat ‘Ali was wounded when he arrived to the site and fell asleep on the rocky hills expecting to die. Instead, when he awoke he found that at all his wounds had been healed (Tursinbaeva et al 2016: 171). In the rock art are images of human footprints and horse hoof prints, which are thought to belong to Khazrat ‘Ali and his horse (Figure 5, Figure 6) (Lymer 2014: 4).


Figure 6: Image of human foot print petrogylphs at Terekty Aulie

Lymer 2004

Figure 7:  Image of horse hoof print petroglyph at Terekty Aulie

Lymer 2004


At the base of one of the hills are 18th/19th century mausoleums, which have more recently been fenced in and expanded with the addition of modern mausoleums. Individuals make the pilgrimage to Terekty Aulie, not only for its healing properties and connection to Islam, but also to pay homage to the people buried in the mausoleums. Individuals often hold ritual meals near the base of the hill, which are rooted in prayer, specific meal preparation and memorial offerings (Lymer 2010, Lymer 2014: 4).



The site has been dated to the Bronze Age (approximately during the 2nd century BCE) using contextual clues. Since the petroglyphs are carved into rocks, they are impossible to date using typical scientific measures such as carbon dating or electron spin resonance dating. The archaeologists researching this site instead used methods of comparison and inference to come up with an approximate date but these are not scientifically proven dates.

The cemetery southeast of Terekty Aulie was dated to the Bronze Age based on its materials. However, there is no conclusive link between the cemetery and the petroglyphs to prove that these two sites were created at the same time or by the same group of people (Lymer 2015: 97). Unfortunately, there is little information published about this cemetery and the materials recovered from it. The knowledge that Jezqazghan was a city known for copper resources during the Bronze Age makes it more likely that Terekty Aulie was used during the same period, but again it is impossible to make definite conclusions about when the petroglyphs were created (Lymer 2015: 97).

A secondary method of dating used at the site was a comparison technique to examine the similarities and differences between this site and other sites in the area with more certain dates. As mentioned previously, the style of the horse petroglyphs are similar to designs from Seima Turbino sites, which are dated between 2200–1700 BCE (Lymer 2015: 97).



While the petroglyphs at Terekty Aulie produce archaeological difficulties with regards to dating and deciphering the original purpose of the site, the site also provides an amazing opportunity to understand how the area has changed over time. The remains from multiple time periods, the unique material of rock and the connection to Islam continues to attract a variety of people. From tourists to researchers to individuals on religious journeys, Terekty Aulie is an important site to many.

To check out a 3D interactive model of the site created by Kenneth Lymer, please see the link below!



Works Cited

Cunliffe, Barry. “Horses and Copper.” Steppe, Desert and Ocean. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. 71-109.

Frachetti, Michael D. “An archaeology of Bronze Age Eurasia.” Pastoralist Landscapes and Social Interaction in Bronze Age Eurasia. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2008. 31-71.

Lymer, Kenneth. “Rock Art and Folk Islamic Practices in Central Asia.” Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures. Springer Science & Business Media, 2014.

Lymer, Kenneth. “Rock Art and Religion: The Percolation of Landscapes and Permeability of Boundaries at Petroglyph Sites in Kazahkstan.” DISKUS. 11 (2010).

Lymer, Kenneth. “The Petroglyphs of Terekty Aulie in Central Kazakhstan.” Expression. 8 (2015).

Rogozhinskiy, Alexey E. “Rock Art Sites in Kazakhstan.” Rock Art in Central Asia. Ed. Jean Clottes. Paris: International Council on Monuments and Sites, 2011. 9-43.

Samashev, Zainolla, et al. “The Petroglyphs of Terekty Aulie, Central Kazahkstan.” International Newsletter on Rock Art. 5 (2000).

Tursinbaeva, K. S., et al. “Petroglyphs Terekty-Aulie in Central Kazahkstan.” Eurasian Journal of Ecology. 38.2 (2016).

Zeder, Melinda A., et al. “New perspectives on the use of kites in mass-kills of Levantine gazelle: A view from northeastern Syria.” Quarternary Internation. 297 (2013).


December 7, 2017

By Jack Leddy

Alternative Spelling: Kul’Bulak

Coordinates: 41°00′31′′N, 70°00′22′′E (Flas, 2010)

Elevation: 1044m asl


Geography: Kulbulak is an open-air Paleolithic site in the Tashkent region of Uzbekistan, lying at the base of the Chatkal range of the Tian Shan mountains. The Tashkent region is in the northeast of Uzbekistan and contains its capital, also named Tashkent. Kulbulak is not particularly remote, as it is only a few kilometers from the town of Angren (Flas, 2010). Kulbulak was also a prime location for prehistoric inhabitation, having all the resources necessary for their way of life, including a nearby source of flint at Kyzyl-Alma, evidently used to make much of the tool assemblage at Kulbulak. Additionally, Kulbulak is close to the Dzhar-sai and the Kyzylalma rivers (Vandenberghe, 2014), along with several smaller brooks and streams which would have provided a source of drinkable water to Paleolithic peoples.

Excavation and Dating: Kulbulak was first discovered in 1962 by M.R. Kasymov, and has been excavated several times since. To date, the total area that has been excavated is about 600 square meters (Flas, 2010). In this area, close to 70,000 artifacts have been recovered (Vandenberghe, 2014). Much like many other open-air Central Asian sites, the dating at Kulbulak is quite complicated, especially due to the remarkably complex stratigraphy. The excavated artifacts were initially relatively dated, as the bladelets found are quite similar to those at another Uzbek site, Dodekatym 2, which has been dated to about 23ka (Flas, 2010). More recent attempts, however, employed luminescence dating, a method which examines when sediments were exposed to light, revealing when they were deposited. The dating resulted in a range of about 39ka to about 82ka. This suggests an Upper Paleolithic origin of more recent layers, and a Middle Paleolithic origin of the deeper ones.

Lithic Analysis: As indicated by the luminescence dating, the tool assemblage of the site has been separated into two main categories loosely based on their stratigraphic layers, representing the technology of either the Middle or Upper Paleolithic. Kasymov originally thought there was a third layer, consisting of Lower Paleolithic Acheulian tools, but there is no evidence to support his hypothesis (Dani, 1999). The entire tool assemblage at Kulbulak is overwhelmingly flint-based, with a few instances of limestone, diorite, and quartzite (Vishnyatsky, 1999). The Upper Paleolithic tool-kit consists of cores, bladelets, and debitage, as is to be expected of an Upper Paleolithic assemblage in this region, but the stratigraphic layers also contain several tools indicative of a Middle Paleolithic core and flake industry.

A sample of the tool assemblage at Kulbulak, image from (Flas, 2010)

Another interesting anomaly of the Kulbulak artifacts is the presence of several “Pseudo-tools” (Vandenberghe, 2014). These pseudo-tools take the shape of denticulate blades, but they have been discounted by some as having been made naturally by alluvial processes rather than deliberately by humans. This is supported by the fact that much of the sediment where the tools were excavated is attributed to flood deposits from the nearby rivers (Vandenberghe, 2014). Kulbulak is also made distinct by the presence of bifacial Middle Paleolithic hand-axes. These bifaces, shaped into leaf-shaped points, differentiate Kulbulak from nearby sites, as it is the only site at which such tools are found. In fact, there are no other bifaces at all in the general area. Most of the other sites were limited to core and flake industries in the Middle Paleolithic.

Anthropological Analysis: Unfortunately, due to a lack of organic material found at Kulbulak (with the exception of a single human molar and a few assorted animal bones), any understanding of human activity must rely on mostly conjecture. Furthermore, the complex stratigraphy makes it difficult to make assumptions about the technological progression of Kulbulak’s inhabitants, but it lends credence to another theory regarding the cultures of the area. Analysis of multiple nearby sites has resulted in the idea of a ‘Kulbulakian’ culture existing throughout the region (Kolobova, 2014). The Middle to Upper Paleolithic tool assemblage indicates that this culture was present for a long period of time, as was the site itself, though perhaps intermittently. Despite the nomadic tendencies of Upper Paleolithic Central Asian people, the allure of a source of abundant flint could have convinced the Kulbulakians to maintain a more sedentary community than most of their contemporaries.

Single human molar found at Kulbulak, image from (Flas, 2010)

The site’s proximity to water also makes Kulbulak a prime location for a settlement, but despite these facts, there have been no hearths or fire pits discovered (Vishnyatsky, 1999). This of course does not mean that hearths and fire pits did not ever exist there, but it contributes to the enigmatic nature of the site. Another discovery pertinent to anthropological analysis of Kulbulak is the Kyzyl-Alma site. Kyzyl-Alma is only about one kilometer away from Kulbulak, and the two sites seem to have been home to one group of people (Kolobova, 2014). The first piece of evidence for this hypothesis is that the tool assemblages of the two sites are remarkably similar. The second, and more compelling, piece of evidence is the proximity of Kyzyl-Alma to flint outcroppings (Kolobova, 2014). This is relevant because of the overwhelming number of flint tools unearthed at Kulbulak. It is likely that Kyzyl-Alma served as an excavating point for the raw material. Due to the fully formed tools found there (Kolobova, 2014), it can be inferred that the crafting of the tools took place at this site as well. The completed tools would then have been transported to Kulbulak. This hypothesis can be corroborated by the lack of cores in recent stratigraphic layers at Kulbulak, meaning they probably were not making new tools there (Kolobova, 2014).

As is the case with many Central Asian sites, the anthropological implications of Kulbulak remain clouded by uncooperative stratigraphy and lack of reliably datable artifacts, but through inference and examination of available data it is possible to form a vague picture of the lives of the Kulbulakians.



Dani, Ahmad Hasan., Masson, V.M., Harmatta, J., Litvinovski, B.A., Bosworth, C.E. History of

Civilizations of Central Asia. Vol. 1, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1999.


Flas, D., Kolobova, K., Pavlenok, K., Vandenberghe, D., De Dapper, M., Leschinsky, S., Bence,

V., Islamov, U., Derevianko, A., Cauwe, N., 2010. Preliminary results of new excavations at the Palaeolithic site of Kulbulak (Uzbekistan). Antiquity. 325.


Kolobova, K.A., Krivoshapin, A.I., 2014. Кульбалбекская культура в контексте

ауриньякского языка в Азии. Publishing Department of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography.


Vandenberghe, D.A.G., Flas, D., De Dapper, M., Van Nieuland, J., Kolobova, K., Pavlenok, K.,

Islamov, U., De Pelsmaeker, E., Debeer, A.E., Buylaert, J.P., 2014. Revisiting the Palaeolithic site of Kulbulak (Uzbekistan): First results from luminescence dating. Quaternary International. 324, 180-189.


Vishnyatsky, Leonid, 1999. The Paleolithic of Central Asia. Journal of World Prehistory. 13, 28-




May 21, 2017

(Written by Jonathan Rodriguez)

Alternative Spelling: Cherchen, Chärchän, Charchan, Qarqan, Shanshan //  Chinese: 且末 (Qiĕmò)

Coordinates: 38°08′N 85°31′E

Geography + Borders

Qiemo exists as a region, considered as both a city and a county. Qiemo is located within the contemporary borders of the Xinjiang region of Northwestern China, landlocked and sharing borders with many Central Asian countries (Mongolia, Russia, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, India, etc.) and sits at a diverse crossroads of a geographic distinctiveness. Facing the south, the county lies on the northern foothills of the Kunlun Mountains and eastern foothills of the Altun Mountain range, scattered across the southeast end of the Taklimakan Desert perpendicular to the Altun and Tian Shan Mountain range. Qiemo town is found on the bountiful oasis within the desert, along the riversides of the Qarqan River that drains from the Tian Shan glacier banks across the Tarim Basin (Google Earth) (Stein 1995: 380).

Qiemo town claims ownership to many important excavated sites that lie in proximity to the town’s center, and due to its historic abundance in resources within the desert, consequently holds a rich historical importance as a geographic hub over trade and power.


Qiemo, the Tarim Basin, and the Taklimakan Desert are known for claiming origin to many incredible archeological finds that are established as well known artifacts of the region, and as milestone excavations celebrity to Central Asian archeological evidence in the formation of its prehistoric regional identity.

The most striking and important excavation is that of the famous Chärchän Man (Qarqan Man). In archeological debates on the “Indo-European problem” and the ethnographic information on the racial genetic identity of this early modern human, this particular Tarim mummy proves the most in tact – a spectacle questioning the construction of prehistoric migration direction and biological diversity in the region.

The excavation of the site, led by Victor H. Mair and J. P. Mallory in 1971, was carried out around 6 kilometers from Qiemo town in Zaghunluq village in the county (named after tuzluqqash, the rich salt mined from the very deposits that conduces the coincidental mummification process), uncovering a multitude of tombs, some untouched and some already discovered/looted. A number of things were found in the tombs, including drinking vessels, sheep’s heads, horse remains, animal skins (one of a horse and two od wild buffalo), organized tree limbs, tomb carving art, pottery, textiles, reeds, bone utensils (such as spoons, hair combs, cups), ritual yarn and wood (Anthony 2001: 77).

Figure 2: A preserved female corpse found in Tomb 85QZM 2 (Photo courtesy of excavation study by Dolkun Kamabri)

Focusing on the mummified corpses, Tarim tombs at large have held a number of mummies, buried meticulously amongst the several tombs and the organized objects within them. Of the corpses, the bodies of men, women, and even toddlers were found, mummified with intricate dress and objects. One corpse (one male found in Tomb 85QZM 2) was found traces of makeup on his face, braided hair, and colorful clothing. A female corpse was also found, with similar makeup (made of ochre in sun symbolism patterns) with artificial braided hair. These corpses were found in a tomb amongst 2 other decaying ones, with crossed arms and legs, buried amongst wall art (with animal and hand symbology) and items that may have been used as fire symbols (wooden objects, yarn0, on an enclosed tomb covered with layers of material (tree limbs, willow and reed mats, animal hide), found in proximity to horse skull and legs (Kamabri 1994: 5-6). Amongst these corpses, a small oval tomb was also found, holding the corpse of an infant (~ < 3 months old) wrapped in purple wool on its body and blue wool on its head, and buried with other fabrics, a leather “baby bottle” in proximity to a sheep’s head buried nearby (Kamabri 1994: 5).

Figure 3: The Charchan Man. (Photo courtesy of excavation study by Dolkun Kamabri)

Anthropology + History

Using radiocarbon dating, the Bureau of Cultural Relics of Beijing tested 5 samples within the tomb, all indicating dates around 1000 BCE. The clothing and art style and food items emulating Bronze Age cultures in the tombs also relegate connection to modern Uyghur people, indicating possibility of being related to the Saka people of the area 3,000 years age (Kamabri 1994: 5-6).

Looking closer at the site details and context, considering Qiemo as an oasis site in the Taklimakan desert, is found to be an important site on the Silk Road, both historically and contemporarily in Northwestern China, which contributes to the high concentration of rich archaeological material found on the Basin.

The contemporary geopolitical context of these findings are important, as they debate the historical legitimacy of the ancestral lineage and agency of the Uyghur people currently in the area (amongst a diversity of indigenous lineages within the area). Previous studies based on linguistic analysis of ancient texts from the site come to the conclude that this Tocharian ancient language belonged to the Indo-European language family (Pringle 2010: 32-35) More recent studies of mitochondrial DNA of the several mummies on the basin provide to challenge Mair’s previous assertion about Caucasoid/Europoid DNA constituting the oldest dated mummies in the Tarim Basin, including research on the nearby Loulan Beauty and revisiting Charchan DNA sources. Archeologist Zhou Hui, amongst other academics, excavated nearby ancient cemeteries are currently conducting research to find DNA data connesting to lineages in Siberia and East and South Asia (Xiequan, M. 2010).  Disparages between ancient Uyghur inscriptions, DNA data, and constant new archeological finds keep this debate of the Indo-Europian vs Asian ancestry debate rolling, sensitive to contemporary Uyghur identity and historical pride.

Qiemo is clearly visible on the map, populated in the oasis strip laying on the the Qarqan River, with its respective surrounding geography.


Anthony, D. (2001). Tracking the Tarim Mummies. Archaeology, 54(2), 76-84.

Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/41779400

Bovington, C. H., Jr., R. H., Mahdavi, A., et al. (1974). The Radiocarbon Evidence for the Terminal Date of the

Hissar IIIC Culture. Iran, 12, 195. doi:10.2307/4300513

Kamberi, D. (1994). The Three Thousand Year Old Charchan Man Preserved at Zaghunluq : Abstract

Account of a Tomb Excavation in Charchan County of Uyghuristan


Kamberi, D. (1986). Tarim Arkheologjyasidiki Bir Qetimliq Zor Tepilish, Xinjiang Miidiiniy Yadikarliqliri, 1-11.

Pringle, H. (2010). Battle for the Xinjiang Mummies. Archaeology, 63(4), 30-35. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/41780584

Stein, A. (1925). Innermost Asia: Its Geography as a Factor in History. The Geographical Journal, 65(5), 377-403.


Xiequan, M. (2010, April 29). Xinjiang discovery provides intriguing DNA link. Retrieved May 9, 2017, from



May 10, 2017

Alternate Spellings: Qi Jiaping, Ch’i-Chia

Chinese: 齊家坪



35º29’48.40” N  103º49’58.44” E  (Google Earth)


6363 ft

Qijiaping is a Late Neolithic site located just outside of Qijiaping Village in Guanghe, Gansu, China, about 35 miles east of the Linxia Hui Autonomous District.  At an elevation of around 6,000 ft, Qijiaping is nestled between the Tibetan and Loess plateaus on a terrace above the Taohe River, as well as roughly 300 miles east of the Yellow River (Zhimin, 1992).  Qijiaping site covers an area of 1.5km² and neighbors a number of surrounding cities and villages such as Paizipingcun, Shijiatan and Dongping.

The Qijiaping site was first discovered and excavated by Swedish geologist and archaeologist Johan Gunnar Andersson in 1924.  Andersson’s initial excavation not only revealed numerous graves and preserved artifacts, but was simultaneously the discovery of an entire culture.  Qijia Culture, named after it’s respective locale, is the only known Neolithic culture in China that shows northern Eurasian influence (Xia, 2008).  Qijia culture is centered by the archaeological site at Qijiaping, but spans further, reaching as close as the upper Taohe, Daxia and Weihe rivers in the Gansu Province and as far as the Huangshi Basin in the upper reaches of the Yellow River in Qinghai (Zhimin, 1992). Additional site discoveries and excavations, like those of Chinese archaeologists Pei Wenzhong and Xia Nai in the neighboring villages of Yangwawan and Cuijiazhuang in the 1940s and 50s, spearheaded the conceptualization of Qijia culture.  Their discoveries, among others, concluded that Qijiaping was not unique, but rather the piece of a larger puzzle.

(Map of Qijiaping (4) and other Qijia culture sites like Dadiwan (1), Zongri (2), Lajia (3), Shangsunajia (5)) (Ma, Dong et al. 2013)

Qijiaping and Qijia culture have been dated back to c. 2200 – 1900 BCE via radiocarbon analysis and subsequently discerned to be a transitional period between the end of the Neolithic Age and the beginning of the Bronze Age (de Laet, Dani 1994).  This transcendence of era is directly manifested in retrieved artifacts from the site(s).  In a 1975 excavation of Qijiaping, dozens of artifacts were unearthed, ranging from stone tools and clay pottery to bronze mirrors.

Qijia pottery however is nothing ordinary.  In fact, it is some of the best evidence of transcultural influence and trans-Eurasian contact to date.  Qijia pottery was crafted by hand with fine red ware and a coarse reddish-brown ware, a commonplace resource of China.  What is markedly different about Qijia pottery however is its design.  While it has its own stylistic characteristics, Qijia pottery is often found with comblike designs and amphora-like vases, both of which were presumably alien to China.  Anthropologists suggest this to be evidence of cultural contact and trade across Eurasia.

(Potter urn: container (left-up, height 11.8 cm); Painted pottery fragment with triangle design: (right-up, height 4.7 cm); Pottery fragment from the ear of vessel: (up of the right-mid, height 4 cm); Pottery fragment from the ear of vessel: (bottom of the right-mid, height 4.8 cm); Painted pottery amphora with the pattern of triangle: food container (height 10.2 cm)) (Chen 2013)

The bronze mirror found in the 1975 excavation of Qijiaping serves a similar purpose.  The discovery of the mirror dismantles all presumptions of cultural development in the Gansu Province – it suggests that early Chinese bronze casting may have originated in Western China, and may even have lineage to bronze casting in Central Asia and the Iranian area, suggesting, like the pottery, the existence of trans-Eurasian exchange (Chen, Mao, et al. 2012).

(Bronze mirror, Gansu. Qijia culture (2400 – 1900) National Museum of China)

Stone and bone tools were also found at the site, keeping the conception of Qijia culture in the Neolithic Age.

In addition to tools, pottery and bronze mirrors, the 1975 excavation of Qijiaping yielded hundreds of animal and human bone remains, shedding light on lifestyle, tradition and even diet.  The discoveries reveal a sedentary lifestyle based on agriculture.  Pig, sheep, goat and cow remains suggest domestication.  Furthermore, large quantities of millet have also been found and is surprisingly the impetus behind the search for evidence of trans-Eurasian trade.  Human bones from Qijiaping were isotopically analyzed to study the diet patterns of the Qijia people and unexpectedly revealed the existence of not only millet in the diet, but wheat and barley as well.  The presence of wheat and barley in Qijia diet is crucial because at the time, wheat and barley only really existed in the west.  Therefore to be included in their diet, the Qijia people must have had contact and trade with western civilizations (Ma, Dong, et al. 2013).

Qijiaping and its neighboring Qijia sites have also produced over 800 burial sites since discovery in 1924.  These burial sites, organized in cemeteries of various size, express social sophistication and potential hierarchical tradition in Qijia culture.  For example, while many burials are singular, it is not uncommon to find a man and woman buried together.  Moreover, there are even cases in which two flexed women are buried on either side of a deceased man, indicating the inferiority of women and their subjugation to men in Qijia culture.  Furthermore, grave goods vary greatly across Qijia sites, suggesting some form of social hierarchy.  For example, at the Huangniangniangtai cemetery in Wuwei County, Gansu Province, men are buried with up to 37 pieces of pottery.  At the Qinweijia cemetery in Yongjing County, Gansu Province, men are buried with up to 68 pieces of pigs’ mandibles.  Anthropologists believe this to be evidence of social hierarchy in Qijia culture (de Laet, Dani 1994).

Qijiaping is one of the most imperative archaeological sites in ancient western China.  The discovery of Qijiaping in 1924 not only unearthed artifacts but an entire lost culture.  Qijiaping has drawn attention to a seemingly stagnant area.  It has become one of the most pertinent archaeological sites in China today and has shaped the ways in which anthropologists understand prehistory in Eurasia.  Qijiaping has enlightened the anthropological community to trans-Eurasian trade and has opened new doors to understanding how the west and the east are more connected than previously presumed.


Works Cited

Chen, Honghai. “The Qijia culture in the upper Yellow River valley.” A Companion to Chinese Archaeology. Blackwell. pp 105-124. 2013.

Chen, Jianli, Mao, Ruilin, Wang, Hui, Chen, Honghai, Xie, Yan, Qian, Yaopeng. The iron objects unearthed from tombs of the Siwa culture in Mogou, Gansu, and the origin of iron-making technology in China. Wenwu (Cult. Relics) 8,45-53. 2012. (in Chinese)

de Laet, Sigfried J., Dani, Ahmad Hasan. History of Humanity: From the third millennium to the seventh century B.C. UNESCO, 1994.

Ma, M., Dong, G., Liu, X., Lightfoot, E., Chen, F., Wang, H., Li, H., Jones, M. K. Stable Isotope Analysis of Human and Animal Remains at the Qijiaping Site in Middle Gansu, China. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology. 13 Dec, 2013.

Xia, Zhihou. Chinese History: Qijia Culture. Encyclopedia Britannica. 5 Sep, 2008.

Zhimin, An. “The Bronze Age in eastern parts of Central Asia.” History of Civilizations of Central Asia, volume 1: The Dawn of Civilization: Earliest Times to 700 B.C. UNESCO. pp. 308 – 325. 1992.



May 10, 2017

NB: Not all of the sites’ coordinates are published, and those that are are somewhat inaccurate, requiring the author to survey the landscape on Google Maps to find the sites. Dashly 3 is not visible on Google Maps.

Dashly 1 : 37°05’15.75″ N, 66°24’02.98″ E. Elevation: 286 meters.

Map Data: Google, US Dept of State Geographer, Image Landsat, Copernicus 2017

Dashly 1 from elevation of 2.47 kilometers. Map Data: Google 2016, Image 2017, copyright CNES/Airbus


Dashly (Dashlyji, Dashli, Dašlī, Dashlydzhi, Dashlin Oasis, Russian: дашлы, Dari (Afghan Persian): داشلى , داشلي) is a collection of 41 archaeological sites comprising an ancient urban set of settlements located in Jowzjan and Balkh Provinces, Northern Afghanistan (Amiet 1994). These are not to be confused with the sites called ‘Dashlyji-depe’ in Turkmenistan. The data on other Dashly sites is often difficult to find, even online. Thus, only Dashly-1 and Dashly-3 will be discussed in detail. There were no images of the grave goods or other findings online or in books, so images of the sites will be shown.

The Dashlyji sites date from the Eneolithic Age, also known as the Chalcolithic or the Copper Age. The nearest town is Faruk Qala, approximately 8 kilometers south-southwest of Dashly-1. The coordinates for Faruk Qala are 37°01’30.49″ N, 66°21’24.51″ E and at an elevation of 287 meters. The nearest large city, Aqcha, is 27.3 kilometers southwest of Dashly-1, and its coordinates are 36°54’47.20″ N, 66° 11’12.94″ E and at an elevation of 293 meters. The area is located in an arid area characterized by vast deserts, the Amu Darya River, formerly known as the Oxus River, towns and villages, and sand dunes. Roads, paths, and game trails course through this landscape. Sand dunes and other geological formations obscure the ruins on mapping technologies. The Dashly sites contain architectural ruins, human and animal burials, and artifacts such as ceramics, metal objects. The Amu Darya river is 30 kilometers to the north. 75 kilometers to the south is the city of Sheberghan, which is the site of a potential natural gas development project (See Ministry of Mines, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan for the Asian Development Bank 2009). While natural gas was presumably not used during the Dashly sites’ occupation, the natural gas project could introduce an economic stimulus that would provide impetus for further investigation.

Site Summaries and Finds

The settlements also include burials of both people (Livinsky and P’yankova, 1993:380) and sheep sacrifices (Masson and Sarianidi, 1969; Joglekar 2006:234). Some of the other findings include jewelry and ceramics similar to those of the Andronovo assemblages (Kuz’mina, 1996: 286; Sarianidi, 1977, fig.6). The presence of fortifications and sheep indicates that settlement was intentional and extensive. The ceramics found were dated to multiple stages: around 1400-1200 BCE, and the Namazga, V and VI periods, around 2100-c.1800 BCE (Kuz’mina 2007:286 ;Shaw and Jameson 2008:416). Kuzmina posits that Dashly was occupied on-and-off for a long time. The ruined buildings were re-used as burial grounds at a later date (Litvinsky and P’yankova, n.d.:371), possibly indicating this intermittent use.

Sarianidi argued that the people who who inhabited the Dashly sites were Indo-Iranians (Sarianidi, 1976; Lamberg-Karlovsky 2002:70). There were 87 graves discovered, and excavations revealed that Sarianidi specifically compared Dashly-3 to temples from Mesopotamia (Lamberg-Karlovsky 2002:70). He did this to present the possibility of influence from Mesopotamian cultures on Dashly’s inhabitants, indicating contact with multifarious peoples.

Dashly 3 Temple, (Kohl 1983:21, fig. 2.3)

An image of the Dashly-3 ‘palace’ (Kohl 1983:22, fig.2.4).

According to radiocarbon dating, these sites have been dated as follows: Dashly-1 has been dated to 1250 BCE  and 1570 BCE, while Dashly-3 has been dated to 1490 BCE (Dulukhanov et al. 1976). Dashly-1 is the remains of a fortified building and associated burials. Dashly-1 and Dashly-3 both have buildings often termed ‘palaces’ (see Salvatori, 2000:98). The buildings’ constructions typically involve the use of square or rectilinear forms, multiple small rooms, and walls. Dashly-3, however, has a circular building as part of the temple. The buildings’ actual uses and the cultural attributes of their occupants and/or users, however, is still a matter of conjecture. However, Dashly-3 is the only site with a supposed ‘temple’ complex. Sarianidi’s assertion that the ruins at Dashly-3 were once those of a temple, particularly a proto-Zoroastrian temple, is contested (Amiet 1994). Sarianidi argues that the rituals involving fire, which are rituals associated with Zoroastrianism, happened at temples throughout the BMAC (Sarianidi and Puschnigg 2002; Sarianidi 1994). According to Pilipko, the Dashly sites’ location along the river and away from the mountains was ideal for defense (Pilipko 2015:82). The ruins and burials have been subject to unauthorized excavations, further obfuscating the sites’ histories (Amiet 1994).

Dashly in Historical Context

Central Asia has been peopled since the paleolithic, its people migrating to find resources and avoid the harsh weather. The complex is located in the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC), which spans parts of Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The BMAC consists of the remains of the Oxus civilization, which is dated from approximately 2200-1700 BCE (Lamberg-Karlovsky 2013:1). Sarianidi argues that Indo-Iranians peopled the BMAC, linking the ancient Persian civilizations with those of the Indus Valley. Bactria was at one point part of the Persian and Greek empires. This area’s centralized location means that a multitude of people could of passed through or traded goods amongst the locals.

(Kaniuth, 2007:27)

The Dashly sites are as much a part of Afghanistan’s contemporary and future cultural heritage landscape as they are an anchor to Afghanistan’s past. The Dashly sites’ current situation is typical of many cultural heritage sites around the world in that they are situated in the midst of a protracted and destructive conflict. Tragically, many artifacts taken from Dashly and housed in the National Museum of Afghanistan have been destroyed during the wars. Currently, the United States is engaged in a war with the Taliban, an insurgent group in Afghanistan. this war threatens multiple archaeological sites, including the Dashly sites. The United States Central Command (USCENTCOM) requires military personnel and contractors to abide by Afghan cultural property law and to help protect these sites from harm United States Department of Defense – United States Central Command, 2004).

Important Investigators

Viktor Sarianidi (1929-2013), a Russian archaeologist born in the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic, discovered the sites. His works are famous, but somewhat difficult to find in English. He, along with his collaborators from the Soviet Academy of Sciences in Moscow, excavated the sites from 1969-1979, halting work when Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan (Salvatori, 2000:97). He also discovered a large amount of golden objects in Tillya Tepe, which drew much attention to the region.

Bactrian treasure – ram figurine. Not from Dashly, but a cool thing from the BMAC! (Kjullver, 2007)

Until his death, he was the foremost expert on the Dashlyji sites and is lauded for his discoveries, which elucidated Bactria’s and Margiana’s history and cultural connections between this region and its neighbors. Other investigators included V.M. Masson (1929-1910), who taught Sarianidi at the Central Asian State University.

Challenges and Lessons

Because of these sites’ location within a conflict zone, studying them and learning from their artifacts is jeopardized. The human and animal burials, ceramics, and metal artifacts gesture towards a long history of occupation and development of this currently arid location. Preserving the ruins and artifacts can provide Afghanistan with a wealth of knowledge that will empower future generations for years to come.



Amiet, Pierre. “Dašlī.” Encyclopæedia Iranica. Encyclopædia Iranica Foundation, Columbia University, December 15, 1994. http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/dasli.
Dulukhanov, P. M., A. A. Semyontsov, Yu. S. Svezhentsev, V. I. Timofeyev, Ye. N. Romanova, and N. S. Malanova. “Radiocarbon Dates of the Institute of Archaeology III.” Radiocarbon 18, no. 2 (1976): 190–201.
Hiebert, Fredrik T. 1994. Origins of the Brongze Age Oasis Civilization in Central Asia. Peabody Museum Press.
Kaniuth, Kai. (2007, January). [Bactria with major late-third and early-second-millennium sites mentioned in the text. Encircled is the area covered by the LBA Sapalli Culture.]. Retrieved May 9, 2017, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/240790708_The_Metallurgy_of_the_Late_Bronze_Age_Sapalli_Culture_Southern_Uzbekistan_and_its_implications_for_the_%27tin_question%27/figures
Khlopina, L.I. “Namazga-Depe and the Late Bronze Age.” In The Bronze Age Civilization of Central Asia: Recent Soviet Discoveris, edited by Philip Kohl. Routledge, 2015.
Kluijver, Robert. (2007.). [Digital image]. Retrieved May 8, 2017, from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bactrian_treasure_-_ram_figurine.jpg
Kohl, Philip. “The Bronze Age World-System.” In Centre and Periphery in the Ancient World, edited by Michael J. Rowlands, Morgens Larsen, and Kristian Kristiansen. Cambridge University Press, 1983. https://books.google.com/books?id=YDs9AAAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=centre+and+periphery&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwje7Ont–TTAhWLOyYKHR71DyoQuwUIKDAA#v=onepage&q=Dashly&f=false.
Kuz’mina, Elena. The Origin of the Indo-Iranians, 2007. https://books.google.com/books?id=juivCQAAQBAJ&dq=dashly+ceramic+2000+bce&source=gbs_navlinks_s.
Lamberg-Karlovsky, C.C. “Archaeology and Language: The Indo-Iranians.” Current Anthropology 43, no. 1 (2002). https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/260f/240e22913c536f64e1689d11650b73156802.pdf.
———. “The Oxus Cvilization/La Civilización del Oxus.” CuPAUAM, 2013. https://www.uam.es/otros/cupauam/pdf/Cupauam39/3902.pdf.
Litvinsky, B.A., and L.T. P’yankova. “Pastoral Tribes of the Bronze Age in the Oxus Valley (Bactria).” UNESCO, n.d. http://en.unesco.org/silkroad/sites/silkroad/files/knowledge-bank-article/PASTORAL%20TRIBES%20OF%20THE%20BRONZE%20AGE.pdf.
Ministry of Mines, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan for the Asian Development Bank. “Proposed Multitrance Fincncing Facility and Admininistration of Grant from the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction Islamic Republic of Afghanistan: Energy Sector Development Investment Program: Rehabilitation of Sheberghan Gas Fields (Jowzjan Province).” Asian Development Bank, September 2009. https://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/project-document/64092/42094-02-afg-iee.pdf.
Pilipko, V.N. “Archaeological Landscape of the Dashlin Oasis and Its Historical Interpretation.” Edited by M.G. Abramzon, V.A. Gaibov, V.D. Kuznetsov, S.V. Mokrousov, I.V. Oktabrskaya, S.G. Shulezhkova, and I.E. Surikov. Journal of Historical, Philological, and Cultural Studies 1, no. 47 (2015): 80–98.
Salvatori, Sandro. “Bactria and Margiana Seals: A New Assessment of Their Chronological Position and a Typological Survey.” East and West 50, no. 1/4 (2000): 97–145.
Sarianidi, V., and Gabriele Puschnigg. “The Fortification and Palace of Northern Gonur.” Iran 40 (2002): 75–87. doi:10.2307/4300619.
Sarianidi, Viktor. “Temples of Bronze Age Margiana: Traditions of Ritual Architecture.” Antiquity 68, no. 259 (1994): 388–97. doi:10.1017/S0003598X00046731.
Shaw, Ian, and Robert Jameson, eds. “Namazga.” A Dictionary of Archaeology. John Wley & Sons, April 15, 2008.

Further Reading

Griffith, Ralph T.H., trans. The Rig Veda, 1896. https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Rig_Veda.
 Sarianidi, V.I. The Early Agriculturalists of Afghanistan. Moscow, 1977.

Gonur Depe

May 10, 2017

Also: Gonur Tepe / гонур депе (Russian)

Location: 38° 12′50′′N 62°02′15′′E (Vladimir Kufterin)

Elevation: 635 feet

Gonur-depe is a Bronze Age archeological site in Southeastern Turkmenistan, specifically located north of the city of Bayramaly (Kufterin). Researchers now know that this site, which has been translated from Turkmen and means “the gray hill”, is not a stand alone prehistoric site; it is one of and the largest of about 500 sites all located in the Murghab River delta (Molodin). Though the site seems barren now, situated in the Kara-Kum deserts of Turkmenistan, the roughly 4000-year-old site is believed to have thrived for a few centuries as ancient civilization and to have been dependent on the Murghab River, the sole stable water source with the Kara-Kum (Lawler).

Gonur’s initial discovery and preliminary archeological finds are interwoven into the past political and historical circumstances of the region. Even though Gonur’s civilization was initially studied in the early 1970’s, investigations came to a halt in 1979 due to Iran’s revolution and a war in Afghanistan, which blocked any archeologists from accessing the site (Lawler). Furthermore, Russian archeologists avoided investigating the area after the Soviet Union fell in 1990. These conditions stalled a thorough archeological study of Gonur until 35 years ago, when V.I Sarianidi was finally able to lead a thorough excavation (Molodin). The historical and political factors affecting Gonur’s discovery are interesting to consider when thinking to larger questions considering the relationship between science and politics.

Sarianidi’s excavation of Gonur proved to be fruitful, as this settlement is one of the largest Bactria-Margiana archeological complex (BMAC) sites, which was inhabited between 2300 – 1500 BC (Kufterin). For context, the term BMAC arises due to “Bactria” being the Greek term for modern day northern Afghanistan and “Margiana” being the Greek term for a town in modern day Turkmenistan (Molodin). Gonur’s discovery was significant not only because of the structures and artifacts found, but also because of the way it pushed scholars to acknowledge the region’s participation in and major contributions to an overall global trade amongst goods, ideas, and technologies (Lawler).

Archeologist Frederik Heibert observed Sarianidi’s initial observations, conducted field research under Sarianidi, and built upon the foundational knowledge known about Gonur-Depe. This site is one of many that he discusses in his text, Origins of the Bronze Age Oasis Civilization in Central Asia. Heibert’s text allows us to learn about specifics of the site, what it looks like, and the artifacts researchers have found there. To begin, he explains that the site is made up of several low-lying mounds that span 22 hectares (Heibert). Ceramic scatter and sherds can be found all over the area, and these, along with other artifacts found, show variances (in the materials from which they were made) based on the specific regions they were found. The architecture of the Gonur-depe site is also worth noting, and Heibert discusses one building, called the kremel, in particular. This building was excavated by Heibert from 1981 till 1983. The kremel exhibits strong external walls and carefully designed linear internal rooms. Burials and cenotaphs widely surround this structure as well (Heibert).

Heibert also conducted a deep sounding stratigraphic excavation of Gonur North in 1989, although his analysis of the different layers is not presented with dates. Although he does provide a reason for not being able to date the top layer (surface level objects can be windblown so dating is difficult in multiperiod sites), he does not provide reasons for not being able to date the other layers. However, his analysis of the different layers – there being 7 in total – did provide some insight into people’s lives who lived there at the time. For example, Heibert states that in layers 3 and 4, evidence of fragments from a kiln or oven were found (Heibert).

Transitioning from overall structure and artifacts found at Gonur-depe, Kufterin’s paper, “A preliminary analysis of Late Bronze Age human skeletal remains from Gonur-depe, Turkmenistan” delves into providing a summary on the paleopathology of the population, made up of 920 individuals, whose remains were found at the Gonur Ruins. The researchers are also careful to differentiate between the Gonur Ruins and Gonur’s necropolis. The former refers to burials found directly in the walls of the architectural structures, while the latter refers to a large cemetery. In Gonur’s necropolis, the burial constructions are looked at closely. Specifically, of all the burials in Gonur-depe necropolis, more than half are shaft graves, which are either oval or rectangular wells with a depth of about one or two meters (Molodin). As for the burials from Gonur’s ruins, however, researchers state that they mostly date back to the last period of Gonur’s existence (Kufterin).

Aerial View of Gonur-depe. Photo From Lawler 2006.

As for their findings, Kufterin implements macroscopic investigation in order to compile and discuss the common paleopathological conditions that they find evidence for: dental abscesses and antemortem tooth loss (AMTL), cribra orbitalia, traumatic injuries, degenerative joint diseases and infectious processes (Kufterin). In comparing the frequency of these paleopathologies from the Gonur Ruins to the necropolis, researchers ultimately found that most of these conditions were more prevalent in the latter location. As a result, they conclude that the population that inhabited Gonur–depe towards the end of its existence was well adapted to not only their lifestyles but also their environmental conditions.

Transitioning, once again, from the specifics of paleopathologies and burial sites to artifacts found at the Gonur-depe site allow for a different perspective of understanding of time period in which this site was inhabited as well as its ties to other parts of the world. Archeologist D.T Potts discusses these topics via his discovery of an Umm an-Nar-type vessel found in the Gonur-depe site. For context, Umm-an-Nar refers to a period of history in the Oman peninsula at around 2500 BC (al-Jahwari).Pott’s article describes the presence of typical Umm-an-Nar-type, rectangular, compartmented vessel that had two rows of five double-dotted circles on either sides. This vessel was found in one of the graves at the Gonur-depe burial excavation sites.

Potts 2008.


Potts uses this discovery to encourage other scholars to acknowledge the possibility of contact between the Bactria, Margiana, and eastern Arabia (Potts). He proceeds to include possible routes that people might have taken in order to travel from Oman to present day Turkemenistan, and though he can not definitively prove these routes existed, he does state that the Umm-an-Nar-type vessel at Gonur-depe, and other finds like it, support the theory of interconnectedness between societies and their cultures in the Bronze Age era.

Hopefully, research in the Gonur-depe and surrounding Turkmenistan region will continue in order to more fully build a picture of what life in this ancient civilization along the Murghab River was like. Though the architecture, pathologies, burial rituals, and artifacts discussed above begin to paint a picture, Gonur-depe can definitely be better understood and contextualized within a larger prehistoric Central Asia context.



Al-Jahwari, Nasser Said. “The Agricultural Basis of Umm An-Nar Society in the Northern Oman Peninsula (2500-2000 BC).” Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 20.2 (2009): 122-33.

Hiebert, Fredrik Talmage., C. C. Lamberg-Karlovsky, and Viktor Ivanovič. Sarianidi. Origins of the Bronze Age: Oasis Civilization in Central Asia. Cambridge, MA: Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, 1994

Kufterin, Vladamir, and Nadezhda Dubova. “A Preliminary Analysis of Late Bronze Age Human Skeletal Remains from Gonur-depe, Turkmenistan.” Bioarchaeology of the Near East 7.33 (2013): 33-46.

Lawler, Andrew. “Central Asia’s Lost Civilization.” Andrew Lawler. WordPress, 23 Nov. 2006.

Potts, D.t. “An Umm An-Nar-type Compartmented Soft-stone Vessel from Gonur Depe, Turkmenistan.” Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 19.2 (2008): 168-81.

Кузьминой, Елена Ефимовны. “Арии Степей Евразии: Эпоха Бронзы И Раннего Железа В Степях Евразии И На Сопредельных Территориях.” Барнаул: Издательство Алтайского Государственного универцитета, 2014. **


**My last source is the one I translated in Russian and is cited in my text using the editor’s last name, Molodin. The English name of the book is: THE ARYANS IN THE EURASIAN STEPPES: THE BRONZE AND EARLY IRON AGES IN THE STEPPES OF EURASIA AND CONTIGUOUS TERRITORIES.