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.

Tepe Hissar

May 9, 2017

Alternate spellings: Tappa Hesār, Tapeh Hesar, Tappeh Hesar, Tappe Hesar

The site of Tepe Hissar was an important location in Central Asia during the Late Neolithic time period and leading up to the Iron Age. It is located in northeastern Iran, just south of the city of Damghan. It experienced three major periods of inhabitation, and is known for its burnished grey pottery and lapis lazuli bead-working.

The first excavation of Tepe Hissar was led by Erich F. Schmidt in 1931-1932 on behalf of University of Pennsylvania Museum. There were two seasons of excavation, the first from July to mid-November in 1931 and the second from May through November in 1932. While Schmidt’s main objective in these excavations was to uncover more information about Tepe Hissar, he was also preoccupied with having to provide artifacts for the sponsoring museums in Pennsylvania and Tehran, which would be split 50/50 as according to the revised Iranian Antiquities Law. He often accredited signs of cultural change to the invasion of foreign ethnic groups, as was typical of anthropologists during this time period. There was another excavation organized in 1976 by the University of Pennsylvania Museum, Turin University, and the Iran Center for Archaeological Research (Gürsan-Salzmann, 2016).

Schmidt divided the stratigraphy of the site into three parts: Hissar I, Hissar II, and Hissar III. The starting point of Hissar I is slightly unclear, but is recognized as having occurred after 5,000 BCE. The second period, Hissar II, is dated from the 4th millennium to the beginning of the 3rd millennium BCE. It is believed that Hissar III ended before the Iron Age, and most sources place the end of occupation at Tepe Hissar at sometime in the first half of the second millennium BCE (Voigt and Dyson, 1992). This is evidenced by the absence of iron in Hissar III (Gürsan-Salzmann, 2016). While Schmidt relied heavily on ceramic findings in dating the various periods of human occupation at Tepe Hissar, more modern techniques, such as radiocarbon dating, have provided more accurate boundaries between the periods. For example, radiocarbon samples have provided a range of between 2800 to 2400 BCE for the Hissar III time period (Bovington, 1974). The dates of these time periods have also been largely inferred through looking at other sites in the area, which has resulted in some confusion but has also been fairly effective. For example, many of the metal and stone artifacts found resemble those of the Early Dynastic period in Mesopotamia, while others appear to belong more to the Akkadian or Ur III periods. This means that the objects date between 2500 BCE to 2100 BCE (Gordon, 1951).

Small amounts of calcite and steatite found with artifacts signifying various stages of bead-making. Additionally, there were bits of lapis and flint blades and drills found throughout the site, indicating that the manipulation of precious stones was a viable industry. An abundance of small clay and alabaster animals was also found, which Schmidt attributed to both spiritual and utilitarian uses. Clay “stamp seals” with geometric designs were also uncovered, but there is a lack of evidence of imprints of the stamps, leading anthropologists to believe that they could be small ornaments or buttons instead. The lack of evidence could also be explained by how hastily the excavators were working. However, one “stamp seal” of interest depicted two human figures, an ibex, and snakes. This incorporation of human figures into geometric and animal designs was very unusual for the Hissar I time period (Gürsan-Salzmann, 2016).


Figure 1: Three alabaster animal figures found in grave “Warrior 2″(Penn Museum, object nos. 33-15-526, 33-15-525, 33-15-524) (Photo by Jason Francisco)


The burials at Tepe Hissar were mostly found on the Main Mound and North Flat areas. Three main types of burials were identified. Most of the bodies were buried in the “pit” style, or they were wrapped in wool clothes and interred in a pit. “Cist graves” were burials within enclosures, and the objects buried with the dead are often indicative of more wealth. There were also “communal chamber burials,” ranging from two to 28 individuals. Both the “cist graves” and the “communal chamber burials” are much more uncommon than the “pit” graves. Schmidt also identified four especially wealthy graves that were discovered, which he labeled “warrior 1,” “dancer,” “little girl,” and “priest.” These individuals were buried with metal weapons, agricultural tools, and domestic utensils, including stone and copper seals, a “fan”/mirror, small clay animal sculptures, and copper, silver, and alabaster female figurines (Gürsan-Salzmann, 2016).


Figure 2: GIS map of Tepe Hissar, showing the burials concentrated in the Main Mound and North Flat areas (Gürsan-Salzmann, 2016; Kılınç Ünlü and Torres, 2010)


The people who occupied Tepe Hissar are often referred to as belonging to the Hissar, Gurgan, or Eastern Grey Ware culture. They are believed to have assisted communication and contact throughout Iran and Mesopotamia, especially towards the end of the Bronze Age (Bovington, 1974). According to The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, the Hissar culture “represents a culture, archaic in appearance, of tribes of the foothills and mountain valleys that evidently developed at the same time as the more developed, settled farming cultures in other parts of Middle Asia.” This definition reveals ideological biases related to the supposed “underdeveloped” nature of Central Asian cultures in comparison to more northern settlements. In looking at archaeological evidence, the economy of Tepe Hissar was based on agriculture. Plant remains indicate “an agricultural system based on cereals [glume and free-threshing wheats, naked and hulled barley] and the utilization of local fruit [olive, grapevine] plant resources” (Costantini and Dyson, p. 66). Some of the clay figures were cattle and sheep, indicating herding activities (Mashkour, 1996).

The site of Tepe Hissar is clearly visible on Google Earth. The coordinates are 36°09’16.13″ N 54°22’59.30″E and the elevation is approximately 3,679 feet. The site is cut in half by what seems to be a paved road, and half of the site is enclosed within another curving road.



Works Cited

Bovington, C. H., Jr., R. H., Mahdavi, A., & Masoumi, R. (1974). The Radiocarbon Evidence for the Terminal Date of the Hissar IIIC Culture. Iran, 12, 195. doi:10.2307/4300513

Costantini and Robert H. Dyson, Jr., “The Ancient Agriculture of the Damghan Plain: The Archaeological Evidence from Tepe Hissar,” in Naomi F. Miller, ed., Economy and Settlement in the Near East: Analyses of Ancient Sites and Materials, MASCA, Research Papers in Science and Archaeology 7, Suppl., Philadelphia, 1990, pp. 46-68.

Gordon, D. H. (1951). The Chronology of the Third Cultural Period at Tepe Hissar. Iraq, 13(1), 40. doi:10.2307/4199538

Gürsan-Salzmann, A. (2016). The new chronology of the Bronze Age settlement of Tepe Hissar, Iran. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

M.M. Voigt and R.H. Dyson, Jr., “The Damghan/Khorasan Sequence,” in R.W. Ehrich, ed., Chronologies in Old World Archaeology, 2 vols., Chicago, 1992, I, pp. 169–74; II, pp. 127–28, 135-36.

Okladnikov, A. P. “Issledovaniia pamiatnikov kamennogo veka Tadzhikistana.” In Tr. Tadzhikskoi arkheologicheskoi ekspeditsii. vol. 3. Moscow-Leningrad, 1958.

Yaghmay Mashkour “faunal remains from Teppeh Hissar (Iran),” in Proceedings of XIII International Congress of Prehistoric and Protohistoric Sciences, Forli, Italia,September 1996 I, (3), Forli, 1998, pp. 543-51.


Also Known As: Su Beixi /  苏贝希 (Chinese – “Suibei”)

(Closest) Coordinates: 42.858519 N, 89.691976 E

Most commonly known in its scholarship as “The Subeixi Site,” this site shares its named both with the nearby village of Subeixi (meaning “origin of water,” as the village lies in a small oasis north of Mt. Huoyan) as well as with what its referred to as the “Subeixi culture,” believe to have occupied areas in the Turpan Basin nearly 3,000 years ago (Lu & Zheng, 2003; Hirst , 2016). Though located in the Turpan Basin, Shanshan County, Xinjiang Uighur (/Uyghur) Autonomous Region of China, there is some ambiguity in texts referring to work done at the site regarding its precise location, as some merely say it lies within the Tuyugou Valley (Gong et al., 2011). With many of the accounts not providing a set of coordinates by which to easily locate the site, the description which Lu & Zheng give is:

“The site lies in the center of the Mt. Huoyan, 3 km south of the Subeixi Village. It is on an irregular terrace, which likes an isolated island, surrounded by cliffs. The terrace’s east side is lower than the west side, with uneven surface.” (Lu & Zheng, 2003)



[With several accounts saying the Subeixi site lies within the Tuyugou Valley and and/or is under the control of Tuyugou Township, Shanshan County, the closest image capable on Google Earth is of the whole Tuyugou Valley. The site is cited as being somewhere north of the valley, on the eastern-facing side of the Flaming Mountains/Mt. Huoyan. The distance from the Tuyugou Valley to the town of Shanshan is measured as approximately 42.47 km. ]


Site location map from Jiang et al. (2006) provided in several articles, yet no definitive coordinates have been cited.


The site itself contains the remains of three houses and three cemeteries, holding several large deposits of artifacts both in surface findings as well as when excavations were performed. Radiocarbon dating of items found both in the house remains and from the coffin beds within the cemetery graves dates the overall site between 500-300 BCE, further confirmed by dating performed on several of the unearthed artifacts (Lu & Zheng, 2003). Though involving so many different individual sites, the houses and cemeteries were grouped together under the label of “Subeixi site” as per not only similarities found between different items but also as there were no other large sites of such items found in the nearby vicinity (Gong et al., 2011). Excavations performed at the site began in May 1980 (focusing on the house remains and cemeteries No. 1 & 2) and continued with the discovery of cemetery No. 3 in 1992 during major highway construction, most of which were headed by Professor Enguo Lu of the Xinjiang Institute of Archaeology, in cooperation with other institutions.

The three house remains covered an area of 400 m² and included items like scattered stone artifacts, woolen textile fragments, pottery shards, and adobe wall foundations (Lu & Zheng, 2003). The first house (F1) is described as rectangular in shape (13.6 m x 8.1 m), consisting of three separate rooms with the west most room containing an oblong trough, leading it to be interpreted as a room for food storage (with bits of straw and shells of broomcorn millet being found). The middle room contains a hearth-like structure, and the east room includes many differently shaped tanks and pits, causing researchers to believe it served as a pottery workshop. Much of items unearthed were millstones (grindstones), stone pestles, and potshards, with the potshards showing a variety of pottery types including fu-cauldrons, guan-jars, bo-bowls, wan-bowls, hu-pots, and lamps (Lu & Zheng, 2003). The other 2 housing remains are described as “badly preserved,” with very few artifacts being recovered and those that were being of very poor quality (Gong et al., 2011).


Layout of house F1, alongside images of unearthed artifacts showing the house’s use for crafting pottery.

Perhaps the more sensationalized parts of the Subeixi site are the cemetery artifacts that have been recovered, specifically those of human remains. Spread across three different labeled cemeteries (No. 1, 2, & 3), a total of 19 sets of mummified remains have been catalogued and recovered (13 identified as Caucasian, 3 as Mongolian/Mongoloid, and 3 as being of mixed race/ethnicity), with associated artifacts/grave goods appearing like those found in the house remains (Shevchenko et al., 2013). Cemetery No. 1, located 600 m north of the site, covers over 3000 m² and is split into two sections, with the east section containing 20 burials (8 of which were excavated in 1980, labeled M1-M8) and the west section containing 32 burials (5 excavated in 1980, labeled M9-M13) (Lu & Zheng, 2003). Of the western section excavations, consisting of 4 earth-pit and 1 cave-cum-shaft burials, held unearthed items of pottery, stone, iron, bronze, leather, and other woolen artifacts, with the human remains of one burial (M11) including a woman, man, and infant (Image below). Cemetery No. 3, located on a terrace 80 m west of the site (Area of 80 m x 20 m), was excavated in 1992, unearthing 30 burials and similar funerary objects like ceramic vessels (some containing food remains), wooden wares, ironware, stone tools, bone artifacts, and woolen/leather articles (Gong et al., 2011).

Complete set of mummified female remains found in labeled grave M11 at Cemetery No. 1 site.

Several recent examinations of this site have turned to food remains found within the cemetery grave goods, looking to reveal potential ancient food preparation techniques in the hopes of revealing similarities in these to other groups moving near/through this area at the time (Gong et al, 2011; Shevchenko et al., 2013; Hong et al., 2012). Utilizing methods involving proteomic examinations of food residue/remains such as sourdough bread (Svechenko et al., 2013) and milk components (Hong et al., 2012) as well as performing simulated cooking methods of cakes, millet, and noodles (Gong et al., 2011) found mostly within grave goods, the researchers present similar hypotheses that these preparatory procedures further indicate the Subeixi site as an integral part of eastern and western societal/group communication. With the Turpan basin constructed with the role of route for cultural communication, as well as with work done at other nearby sites like the Astana cemeteries and its evidence of Cannabis fiber being utilized in ancient burial practices (Chen et al., 2014), it may be possible to see that the East/West divide of Eurasia might have been closer than previously thought.



Chen, Tao, Shuwen Yao, Mark Merlin, Huijuan Mai, Zhenwei Qiu, Yaowu Hu, Bo Wang, Changsui Wang, and Hongen Jiang. 2014. “Identification of Cannabis Fiber from the Astana Cemeteries, Xinjiang, China, with Reference to Its Unique Decorative Utilization.” Economic Botany 68 (1): 59-66. Bronx, NY: The New York Botanical Garden Press.

Gong, Yiwen, Yimin Yang, David K. Ferguson, Dawei Tao, Wenying Li, Changsui Wang, Enguo Lu, and Hongen Jiang. 2011. “Investigation of ancient noodles, cakes, and millet at the Subeixi Site, Xinjiang, China.” Journal of Archaeological Science 38: 470-479. doi: 10.1016/j.jas.2010.10.006.

Hirst, K. Kris. 2016. “The Gushi Kingdom – Archaeology of the Subeixi Culture in Turpan: The First Permanent Residents of the Turpan Basin in China.” ThoughtCo., October 16. Accessed May 9, 2017. https://www.thoughtco.com/gushi-kingdom-subeixi-culture-in-turpan-169398.

Hong, Chuan, Hongen Jiang, Enguo Lu, Yunfei Wu, Lihai Guo, Yongming Xie, Changsui Wang, and Yimin Yang. 2012. “Identification of Milk Component in Ancient Food Residue by Proteomics.” PLoS ONE 7(5). doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0037053.

Lu, Enguo, and Boqiu Zheng. 2003. “The Subeixi Site and Cemeteries in Shanshan County, Xinjiang.” Translated by Yi Nan. Chinese Archaeology 3: 135-142.

Shevchenko, Anna, Yimin Yang, Andrea Knaust, Henrik Thomas, Hongen Jiang, Enguo Lu, Changsui Wang, and Andrej Shevchenko. 2013. “Proteomics identifies the composition and manufacturing recipe of the 2500-year old sourdough bread from Subeixi cemetery in China.” Journal of Proteomics 105: 363-371. doi: 10.1016/j.jprot.2013.11.016.

Ulug Depe

May 9, 2017

Ulug depe, in what is now the nation of Turkmenistan, is an important Central Asian archaeological site. It is known for its pottery assemblages and citadel structural remains from multiple cultural layers, from the Late Namazga IV and V (Bronze Age) to the Yaz II and III (Iron Age). The remains of the site lie in the steppe of the eastern Kopet Dagh piedmont zone where alluvial fanning spread throughout the land starting from the Kelet River (Bendezu-Sarmiento et al., 2013). The nearest major city is Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, which is 175 km west of the site. The nearest small town is Dushak, about 5 km north. (Bendezu-Sarmiento et al., 2013). Ulug depe’s coordinates according to Google Earth are 37 ° 09’17.38”N, 60 ° 01’46.42”E, and its elevation is 931 feet. The main citadel’s area is 1.7 square km. Although Ulug depe is the most common spelling, occasionally the archaeological site is referred to as Ulug tepe.

Archaeologists V. I. Sarianidi, K. A. Kachuris, and I. S. Masimov conducted multiple excavations at Ulug depe starting in the late 1960s and early 1970s (Bendezu-Sarmiento et al., 2013). From 2001-2010, Lecomte, Bendezu-Sarmiento, and Mamedov took part in the Turkmen-French Archaeological Expedition (also known as the French-Turkmen Archaeological Mission) and excavated multiple trenches by Ulug depe’s main citadel. (Bendezu-Sarmiento & Lhuillier, 2011).

Various Yaz II potsherds from Ulug depe.

Ulug depe contains many cultural layers that denote its ages of occupation; in fact, it contains the longest stratigraphic sequence in Central Asia (Boucharlat et al., 2002). The main mud-brick citadel has been dated to the Iron Age/Yaz II period according to ten charcoal samples upon which radiocarbon dating was performed. This dating process determined the structure was built between 979833 BCE to 799759 BCE at 99% probability (Bendezu-Sarmiento et al., 2013). Going deeper into the soil (and therefore further into the past), older ceramics were dated to the Bronze Age/Late Namazga IV and V periods. Potsherd slip testing specifically provided the dates of 2646 ± 100 BCE – 2690 ± 100 BCE (Masson, 1988). Clearly, Ulug depe was inhabited during drastically different time periods, and therefore it can be argued that different “cultures” lived at the site. However, it is most likely that the people who occupied the site during the different eras were actually similar people. Nomadism, trade, and environmental changes could have caused them to leave, then come back again generations later.

Many materials, especially pottery, have been found at the site of Ulug depe. Approximately 40 different pottery shapes have been discovered dating to the Iron Age/Yaz II period. In particular, pieces of large jars with convex walls and sealings typical of the Iranian Iron Age/Yaz II period were found in ground floor rooms of the citadel, indicating the citadel’s possible function for food storage (Bendezu-Sarmiento et al., 2013). The jar sherds appear to be mainly coil-built and wheel-fashioned (despite a few handmade coarse wares for storage. Potsherds for the Yaz II period number in the hundreds, and more than half indicate closed, rather than open, profiles (Bendezu-Sarmiento & Lhuillier, 2011). Fine horizontal lines on much of the Yaz II period pottery walls indicate the wheel-throwing technique of pottery (Bendezu-Sarmiento et al., 2013). Three paste types were found: fine and light, coarser paste with mineral temper, and very coarse. About a quarter of the pottery from Yaz II was decorated with painted motifs (Bendezu-Sarmiento & Lhuillier, 2011). What is unique to Ulug depe is the red slip covering some sherds.

Skeletonized remains of about 15 people were discovered, associated with potsherds and animal bones from the Iron Age. One of these graves included a two to four year old child from the Middle-Late Iron Age, with his arms positioned bent against the thorax and his body bent so that his feet almost touch his skull. These remains possibly indicate sacrifice and decarnization based on Zoroastrian religion and culture (Bendezu-Sarmiento & Lhuillier, 2011).

Pottery from Ulug Depe with characteristic red slip.

Ulug depe was probably the village center based on its large size and centrality of the citadel, which was built on the highest elevation of land in the immediate vicinity. The high concentration of pottery and evidence of a main road also point to its importance as a settlement center (Bendezu-Sarmiento et al., 2013). Other smaller buildings that indicate the existence of a city were also excavated, such as a treasury and palatial complex associated with a fortification wall (Bendezu-Sarmiento et al., 2013). In some of the remains of multiple-room houses at the site, two-story kilns were uncovered point to pottery firing in the Early Bronze Age (Kohl, 2015).

Many of the ceramics unearthed at Ulug depe represent the Yaz II culture, which is characterized by beak- and hooked-rim jars. Yaz II has been identified in other sites such as Bektepa, Kuchuk II, and Kyzylcha 6 (Bendezu-Sarmiento et al., 2013). Chronologically, the Yaz II cultural period in Ulug depe dated to more recent times than these other sites, possibly because aspects of Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC) culture took a longer time to reach the Kopet Dagh foothills. Related to this, the use of red slip indicates cultural contact with people of the Iranian plateau because similar slip has been found at sites such as Sialk A in modern-day Iran (Bendezu-Sarmiento et al., 2013). The archaeological evidence of wheel-made pottery beginning in the Yaz II period marks the transition between Bronze Age and Iron Age cultures. In the Bronze Age, pottery was mainly handmade coarse ware (Bendezu-Sarmiento & Lhuillier, 2011). The painting of pottery occurred in all layers including as far back as Namazga IV, but became the predominant style by Yaz II across Central Asia, and specifically at Ulug depe (Kohl, 2015). This evidence of cultures comes together to the conclusion that the Yaz II type artifacts did not arise autochthonously, but rather as a result of cultural contact between those at Ulug depe in the foothills of the Kopet Dagh and other cultures in the BMAC (Kohl, 2015).


Works Cited

Bendezu-Sarmiento, J., Dupont-Delaleuf, A., Lecomte, O., Lhuillier, J. “The Middle Iron Age in Ulug-depe: A preliminary typo-chronological and technological study of the Yaz II ceramic complex.” Marcin Wagner. Pottery and chronology of the Early Iron Age in Central Asia, The Kazimierz Michalowski Foundation. 2013.

Bendezu-Sarmiento, J. and Lhuillier, J. “Iron Age in Turkmenistan: Ulug depe in the Kopet-Dagh piedmont.” M. Mamedow. Historical and Cultural sites of Turkmenistan. Discoveries, Researches and restoration for 20 years of independence, Turkmen state publishing service, 2011.

Boucharlat R., Francfort H.P., Lecomte O., Mamedow M. “Recherches archéologiques récentes à Ulug Dépé (Turkménistan).” Paléorient, Vol. 28, no. 2, pp. 132-131. 2002.

Kohl, P. L. The Bronze Age Civilization of Central Asia: Recent Soviet Discoveries. Routledge, 2015.

Masson, V. M. Altyn-Depe. UPenn Museum of Archaeology, 1988.



May 8, 2017

Also Known as: Sel’Ungur, Сельунгур, Сель-Унгур, Селюнгур

Coordinates: 39.95°N, 71.32°E

Originally discovered in 1955 by A.P. Okladnikov, the Sel-Ungur cave-site was officially excavated in 1980 by Islamov’s team from the Soviet Institute of Archaeology (1988). Sel-Ungur is a Lower Paleolithic site located in the Alai mountain region of Kyrgyzstan and is one of the most significant finds of Paleolithic Central Asia. Most notably, it houses human remains whose origins have been recently disputed in anthropological literature. These remains may be critical in tracing the early hominids’ pattern of migration across inner Asia. Earlier finds, such as Teshik-Tash and Obi-Rakhmat, have clearly established a Neanderthal presence in the region and even suggested that these Central Asian Neanderthals were in contact with other species of humans during that time. Further research into the Sel-Ungur site may provide us with critical insight of what types of humans were living in Central Asia and when.

Map of Lower Paleolithic sites found in Central Asia. Taken from Davis & Ranov (1999).

Cave Site

The Sel-Ungur cave is located in the Ferghana basin of the Alai mountain system at an elevation of about 1,900 meters. The entrance to the cave itself is about 50 meters above the lower portion of the Katrantau Ridge. The site is 120 m long, and its width and height at the mouth are 34m and 25m respectively. Archaeologists have identified 5 main cultural layers (0.2-0.4m thick) separated by thin strata (0.3-1.0 m thick) and lying at a depth of 2.5 to 6.5 m (Markova, 1992). A uranium-thorium date of 126,000 B.P. ± 5,000 years was obtained on a travertine sample taken from the stratum overlying the upper cultural layer (Davis & Ranov, 1999).

In an extensive paleoecological analysis of the site, Velichko et al. (1991) were able to establish that the sediment strata enclosing the cultural layers were generally homogeneous, showing no significant changes of ecological conditions during the period of the archeological layers’ formation. Put more simply, pollen and sediment sample analysis suggest that in contrast to the drastic environmental changes characteristic of Central Asia during the Lower Paleolithic, Sel-Ungur’s climate has remained relatively stable over time. As previously suggested by Glantz (2010), it is probable that the cave’s location at the base of a mountain may have shielded the site from any severe climatic fluctuations. In this way, Sel-Ungur’s relatively stable climate may have attracted long-term human settlement.

Satellite image of Sel-Ungur cave opening taken through Google Earth

Tool Industry

The Sel-Ungur site contains the oldest and most expansive tool industry found in the Ferghana region of Kyrgyzstan. 1,500 stone tools were found on site, with most items made of jasper and slate pebbles, and a few others from volcanic rock (Islamov, Zubov, & Kharitonov, 1988). The most common type of tool found were short massive flakes with wide smooth platforms. Other prevalent artifact types included choppers, side scrapers, notches, retouched flakes, and fragments. Vishnyatsky (1999) was also able to identify at least one cleaver from the items found at the site. Importantly, however, almost no blades nor prepared cores were found at Sel-Ungur. Instead, the collection is mostly derived from pebbles that have been worked by discoidal and opposed platform-core techniques.

According to Glantz (2010), the Lower Paleolithic of Central Asia is comprised of four technological industries, each of which is identified by key tool types such as Acheulian-like bifaces, pebbles, cores and flakes, and “small” artifacts. The original excavators of Sel-Ungur considered the tool industry to be Acheulean because they believed that they had found a bi-facial hand axe within the artifacts. However, Vishnyatsky (1999) considers this particular hand axe to be morphologically vague and argued that the artifact be considered a stone core instead. Consequently, in the absence of true hand axes, as well as the tools’ morphological similarities to other pebble assemblies in the region, there is reasonable argument to attribute Sel-Ungur to the group of the Lower Paleolithic pebble industries of Central Asia. This culture is not often associated with Neanderthal tool industries, and suggests that another species of human may have been inhabiting the site.

Bifacially retouched artifact from Sel-Ungur Cave, Kyrgyzstan. Taken from Vishnyatsky (1999).

Animal Remains

In addition to the expansive stone artifacts found at Sel-Ungur, the site also contained 4,000 mammal bone fragments, most of which are badly preserved. The two upper layers of the site are dominated by wild sheep (Ovis cf. ammon), wild goat (Capra sibirica), deer (Cervus cf. elaphus bactrianus), and cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) remains. The third and fourth cultural layers yielded aurochs (Bos primigenius), rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus cd. Kirchbergensis), sheep, and goat. Other layers bore wolf (Canis cf. lupus), fox (Vulpes vulpes), cave hyena (Crocuta spelaea), cave lion (Panthera cf. spelaea), Pleistocene ass (Equus hydruntinus) and horse (equus sp.) The variety of species found in the Sel-Ungur animal remains were critical in categorizing the cave as a Lower Paleolithic site. Furthermore, the Sel-Ungur’s rodents were also useful for providing insight into the environmental conditions surrounding the prehistoric site. The rodents are represented by 10 species, most important of which are Neodon, Microtus juldaschi, Ellobius tancrei, Cricetulus migratorius, alticola argentatus, meriones libycus, and Ochotona rufescens. According to Markova (1992), such a composition of rodents (which does not undergo any significant change from layer to layer) is indicative of the existence of mountain steppes with patches of woods and shrubbery in the cave’s surroundings. These environmental conditions are usually attributed to the Middle Pleistocene age in Central Asia and provides strong evidence to that the site can be dated to this time period.

Wild sheep (Ovis cf. ammon) bones found in Layer 1 of Sel-Ungur Cave. Taken from Glantz et al. (2004)

Human Remains

Besides the animal bones, the Sel-Ungur cave deposits included some human and some putatively human remains. In the first excavation, six teeth (three upper incisors and three lower premolars) belonging to two or three individuals, and a humerus fragment were identified (Islamov et al., 1988). The original paleoanthropologists attributed these hominid remains to be from a local specialized variant of Homo Erectus. By comparing the size and shape of the bones to other human remains, Zubov and Islamov (1988) considered the Sel-Ungur individuals to be a species of humans that were somewhere between Homo Erectus and Homo sapiens neanderthalensis . However, a more recent analysis of the remains by Glantz et la. (2004) determined that the teeth are in reality a mixture of cave bear and possibly ungulate teeth, while the long bone is probably a juvenile hominin humerus, whose species is indeterminate. Although the origins of these human remains are still debated, Sel-Ungur remains a major Central Asian site because it provides us with the first Central Asian hominid fossil find since Teshik Tash. In response to the recent findings of diverse human species (Donisovans, Neanderthals, and Cro-magnons) in Central Asia, new research is currently underway to excavate the potential of Sel-Ungur’s human remains. Most notably, researchers are now determined to uncover the DNA origins of Sel-Ungur juvenile humerus to determine which species of human were occupying the site during the Lower Paleolithic period (Lykosov, 2016). Their identification will provide invaluable insight into the diverse populations of humans living and migrating in the previously understudied area of Central Asia.


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

Glantz, M. M. (2010). The History of Hominin Occupation of Central Asia in Review. Asian Paleoanthropology Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology, p. 101-112.

Glantz, M. M., Viola, B., & Chikisheva, T. (2004). New hominid remains from Obi-Rakhmat Grotto. In A.P. Derevianlko (Ed.), Grot Obi-Rakhmat (pp. 77-93). Novosibirsk: Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Siberian Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences.

Islamov, U. I., Zubov, A. A., & Kharitonov, V. M. (1988). Paleoliticheskaya stoyanka SelUngur v Ferganskoi doline (The Paleolithic site of Sel-Ungur in the Fergana valley). Voprosy antropologii, 80, p. 38-49.

Lykosov, M. (2016, December 01). Archaeologists Resume Digging in Sel-Ungur Cave. Retrieved May 7, 2017, from https://english.nsu.ru/news-events/news/research/archaeologists-resume-digging-in-sel-ungur-cave/?sphrase_id=6710

Markova, A. (1992). Fossil rodents (Rodentia, Mammalia) from the Sel’- Ungur Acheulian cave site (Kirghizstan). Acta zool. cracov., 35(2), p. 217-239.

Velichko, A.A., Arslanov, K. A., Gerasimova, S.A., Gerasimova, A., Islamov, U.I., Kremenetski, K.V., Markova, A.K., Udartsev, V.P., & Chikolini, I. (1991). Paleoecology of the Acheulian cave site Sel-Ungur (Soviet Central Asia). Anthropologie, 24(1), p. 9-15.

Vishnyatsky, L.B. (1999). The Paleolithic of Central Asia. Journal of World Prehistory, 13(1), p.69-122.


May 7, 2017

Alternate spellings: “Tamsag Bulag,” “Tamsagbulak,” “Tamsag,” “Tamsak Bulak,” Mongolian: “Тамсагбулагийг”

Tamsagbulag was a major site during the relatively understudied Mongolian Neolithic. While originally presumed to have been active during the 3rd millennium BCE, recent radiocarbon dating techniques place the site between 4753 and 4155 BCE (Okladnikov and Derevianko, 1970), (Séfériadès, 2004). This site, or constellation of sites, rather, served as the key location of a sophisticated but short-lived Tamsagbulag culture. This culture was characterized, among other things, by both sedentary hunter-fisher-gatherers and agriculturists who occupied southeastern Mongolia and northern China during the late Neolithic.

(Location of Tamsagbulag within Mongolia) (Séfériadès, 2004)

Tamsagbulag lies in the Dornod region – the easternmost province of Mongolia – just a few kilometers away from the Chinese border (Manchuria) (see figure 1). The sites can be accessed after a five-hour drive southeast from the town of Choibalsan, the province’s capital. In Mongolian, “Bulag” means spring, and it’s likely that a fertile spring once existed here though the area today more closely resembles a dry desert steppe (Okladnikov and Derevianko, 1970). Most of the sites in Tamsagbulag are situated on a high plateau terrace (at an elevation of 700 m) with a flood plain at its foot. About 1 km away from the area exists the remains of a large, shallow lake that is almost completely dry today. Natives of the region, in conjunction with some fossil finds, suggest that the area was once rich in gazelles, boar, and saiga antelopes before the Soviet Army drove them out (Séfériadès, 2004).

The site itself is constituted by at least three major clusters (villages?) of semi-subterranean, quadrangular, wattle-and-daub houses. As a whole, this constellation of houses occupies around 12-13 km of area, with each house individually spanning 30-40m2 (7.60 m long, 5.60 m wide and 0.60 m deep) (Séfériadès, 2004). The position of the houses atop the plateau allowed for its inhabitants to observe the surrounding landscape and its fauna. The houses all lack any ostensible windows or doors, suggesting that the inhabitants entered and exited through the pyramidal roofs (Dani, 1993, 172).

Several artifacts have been discovered in each of the three recorded ‘villages’, all of which suggest a very distinct, relatively advanced Tamsagbulag culture. Tamsagbulag 1, which was first investigated in 1970 by a Russian research team led by A. P. Okladnikov and A. P. Derevianko, revealed several stone implements made from flakes and cores of a variety of shapes. One such shape of core scraper was so anomalous that it is now referred to as the “Tamsagbulag type” (Dani, 1993, 172). The Tamsagbulag type of stone tools is characterized by “a bevelled striking surface fashioned by making transverse chips. The flakes were removed from only one side and the shoulder was cut into a point or wedge shape” (Dani, 1993, 172) (See figure 2). At the time of Tamsagbulag 1’s discovery, tools of this nature were entirely unique to the Tamsagbulag culture alone. In addition to these distinct scrapers, remnants of arrowheads, hammers, adzes, and primitive hoes were also found in great quantity. The presence of these artifacts, in addition to fossil discoveries of ostensibly domesticated livestock, suggest that the Tamsagbulag people enjoyed a relatively rich and sophisticated culture of hunting, gathering, fishing, and even agriculture (Dani, 1993, 172).

(Illustration of Tamsagbulag stone tools) (Dani, 1993)

Further evidence of the sophistication of the Tamsagbulag culture was discovered during a second excavation of the site in by a French research team led by Séfériadès (1997). This session revealed the sites of Tamsagbulag 2 and 3, which were discovered on the opposite bank of the ancient lake (Séfériadès, 2004). In addition to the discovery of these sites, several new artifacts were also unearthed, including chipped stones, ceramics, and grave goods. The chipped stone remnants discovered at both of these sites suggest a diverse and thriving stone industry within Tamsagbulag culture. Many utilitarian stone remnants were found, including bladelets and fragments of both adzes and hoes, further suggesting that the inhabitants of Tamsagbulag engaged in some form of early agricultural behavior. This behavior has been referred to as the earliest known indicator of farming in Mongolia, and helps provide a narrative about Central Asian cultures during the Neolithic that deviates from the traditional nomadic archetype (Eisma, 2012).

In addition to stone tools, the research team discovered semi-precious stones of a variety of colors, such as jasper, quartz and chalcedony (Séfériadès, 2004). They were also able to recover two pieces of obsidian, which are not native to the area, and may suggest the presence of medium and long-distance exchange network patterns within the Tamsagbulag culture (Séfériadès, 2004). Following these discoveries, Séfériadès began to refer to the inhabitants of Tamsagbulag as “les preimiers paysans de Mongolie,” or, “the first peasants of Mongolia” (Séfériadès, 7, 1999).

Excavation of all three Tamsagbulag sites have also yielded pottery fragments from the Neolithic and possibly Early Bronze Age (Séfériadès, 2004). These pieces of pottery are also seen as a distinct aspect of the Tamsagbulag culture, as “nothing like it has been found among remains from the same period in other parts of Central, North and East Asia” (Dani, 173, 1993). The fragments are distinguished by grey, thick-walled, friable, pieces of clay with high sand content and geometrically incised or impressed surfaces (Dani, 1993), (Séfériadès, 2004). The distinct nature of these ceramic fragments are seen by Dani (1993) as “unquestionable evidence” of a local thriving ceramic industry (172).

A third indicator of a relatively sophisticated, distinct Tamsagbulag culture is found in their burial customs. Tamsagbulag burials were first reported by Okladnikov and Derevianko (1970), when the researchers found human skeletal remains beneath the floor of Tamsagbulag 1. Remarkably, the skeletons were discovered in a sitting position, which is almost entirely anomalous in Europe and Asia and more akin to mummies of ancient Peru (Séfériadès, 2004) (see figure 3). A series of grave goods accompanied these skeletons, including bone knives and necklaces fashioned from Maral incisors and mother of pearl beads (Séfériadès, 2004) (see figure 4).

(Recreation of Tamsagbulag burials) (Séfériadès, 2004)

(Illustration of necklace found in Tamsagbulag burial site) (Séfériadès, 2004)

Fortunately, a scholar by the name of Alex Humbolt has already mapped out key sites of the Tamsagbulag expeditions on Google Earth. In my opinion, the most impressive set of coordinates, (47°15’46.65″N, 117°17’23.50″E) depicts what appears to be an ancient Neolithic, Tamsagbulag village with many houses. The site becomes visible from an eye altitude of 13,869 feet and spans an area of roughly 7km. However, from the Google Earth view, it’s difficult to discern which notches in the earth are ancient houses and which are the result of archaeological excavations. Another set of coordinates: (47°16’20.25″N, 117°16’9.38″E) very clearly show the remnants of a few long semi-subterranean houses characteristic of Tamsagbulag culture. These houses individually are consistently 42 m long and 7.5 m in width and are still remarkably visible today.




Séfériadès, M. L. 2004. An aspect of Neolithisation in Mongolia: the Mesolithic-Neolithic site of Tamsagbulag (Dornod district). Universités Rennes 1, Laboratoire d’Anthropologie. Retrieved from: <http://revije.ff.uni-lj.si/DocumentaPraehistorica/article/view/31.10>


Séfériadès, M. L. 1999. A Tamsagbulag, les premiers paysans de Mongolie. Archeologia 0570-6270. Retrieved from: <http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=2022715>


Dani, A. H. 1993. History of Civilizations of Central Asia: The Dawn of Civilization: Earliest Times to 700 B.C. United Nations Educational.


Eisma, D. 2012. Agriculture on the Mongolian Steppe. The Silk Road. Retrieved from: <http://www.silk-road.com/newsletter/vol10/SilkRoad_10_2012_eisma.pdf>


Humbolt, A. 2006. Mongolia – Tamsagbulag neolithic site (5.000 BC) Google Forums. Retrieved from: <https://productforums.google.com/forum/#!topic/gec-history-illustrated/LfqBNkf0n18>


Okladnikov, A. P., and A. P. Derevianko (1970). Tamsag-Bulak. Neoliticeskaja kul’tura Vostocnoj Mongolii. Materiali po istorii I filologii Tsentral’noy Azii 5: 3–20.

Sarazm (Саразм)

May 7, 2017

Sarazm ( Саразм) is an Aneolithic site located in Western Tadjikistan in the Sughd region about 5.0 km from the Uzbekistan border. Situated on the Samarkand plain on the left bank of the Zarafshan river, Sarazm provides evidence for a sophisticated sedentary settlement with agricultural and metallurgical advancements in the Steppic landscape (Isakov 1981). Sarazm is located at  N39 30 28 E67 27 37 (UNESCO World Heritage Convention).

The site is easily identified using Google Earth, coming into view at approximately 6,500 ft. The entire site’s total area is approximately 130,100 m2 and its perimeter is approximately 1,682 m. Its elevation is around 3020 ft (Google Earth).

Excavations sponsored by the USSR began in 1976 under Abdullah Isakov. During this initial period there were two small villages, Avazali and Sokhibnazar, on either end of the site and Penjikent was the nearest city at 15 km east (Spengler and Willcox, 2013, 213). Today the area is more populated, featuring developed areas on the outskirts of the site (Google Earth). Later excavations were done collaboratively between Isakov, his team and French and American archaeologists after the dissolution of the USSR. The site has been excavated and researched continuously since the initial dig.

Circular building (Besenval and Isakov 1989, 9)

According to Isakov et. al (1987) Sarazm dates back as early as the fourth millennium BCE placing it around 6000 years old via radiocarbon dating of materials such as clay and bones (90).  Isakov et al.(1987) divides the chronological frame of Sarazm into three distinct phases; Sarazm I is dated to the early fourth millennium, Sarazm II to the late fourth and early third millennia, and Sarazm III to the later half of the third millennium (90).  According to a later archaeologist Razzokov (2008) there are four distinct occupation phases; Sarazm I dates from 3500-2900 BCE, Sarazm II from 2900-2600 BCE, Sarazm III from 2600-2300 BCE, and Sarazm IV from 2300-2000 BCE (Spengler and Willcox 2013, 213). Razzokov’s phases are more supported and concrete, as dating techniques have improved.

Isakov’s initial excavations unearthed multiroom buildings, burials, and other artifacts including pottery, stone objects, and metal pieces. During the second excavation, evidence of occupation during all three of Isakov’s phases was discovered.The findings from the Sarazm I phase were limited due to disturbances from later building by the former occupants of the site. A courtyard and three rooms were found; two of the rooms were connected by a doorway. The Sarazm II phase findings included five living complexes, each having an exit to a courtyard containing a hearth and bread oven (Isakov 1981, 274). Within the Sarazm III phase, more rooms were found along with five burials of two children and three adults. These graves had no grave goods, instead artifacts such as bones, ceramics, and ashes were found in courtyards (Isakov, 1981, 276). Circular hearths found within some of the rooms showed parallels in design to those in Turkmenian sites Geoksyur and Aina-depe.

Excavation II map (Isakov 1981, 275)

Isakov’s third excavation contained the remains of seven rooms constructed from brick unlike the former excavation which had clay as the predominant material. This complex is suggested to be a communal building with storage areas for grain, supported by its layout and the lack of material remains within the complex (Isakov 1981, 278). The ceramic fragments found are of particular interest to researchers because of their painted nature and similarity to those of the Namazga culture from southern Turkmenistan. The pottery was either polychrome, featuring dark-brown and dark-rose designs on red or light-yellow backgrounds, or monochrome with dark-brown designs on a lighter background.  The triangles and sawed designs within rectangles on certain ceramics parallel designs from Geoksyur and Kara-depe (Isakov 1981, 278). Issakov and Lyonnet (1988) note that there is an absence of local ceramics and suggest that this is because those from Turkmenistan colonized Sarazm (42). Sarazm was an ideal location because of its proximity to lapis-lazuli and mineral rich mountains, its proximity to the Zerafshan River, and its formation and preservation of long term trade (Issakov and Lyonnet 1988).

Ceramic fragments studied by Issakov and Lyonnet (1988, 41)

Reconstructed ceramics (Isakov and Besenval 1989, 15).

According to Isakov (1981) stone objects such as plummets, cups, mortars, grinding stones, pestles, spindle whorls, beads, jambs, and whetstones showed similarities to those from Anau, Kara-depe and other non-Central Asian sites including those in Iran and Afghanistan (279).  Bronze knives, daggers and an axe-adze were found indicating the presence of metallurgy.

Excavation III Map (Isakov 1981, 277).

During Isakov’s fourth excavation four terracotta venus statuettes were found (Isakov 1994, 4). One statuette with a bird-like head shows similarities to statuettes found at Göksür, but, overall, the statuettes resemble those found in Southern Turkmenistan. Bone awls, piercers, and needles were found, suggesting they were used in conjunction with bronze tools. Shells were also found suggesting that contact was established and maintained with distant places (Isakov 1994, 5). Four other burials with grave goods were found, contents included domestic and cosmetic objects including a bronze mirror, seashells, and gold and silver beads indicating the high statuses of those buried (Isakov 1994, 6).  Isakov’s later excavations revealed religious buildings along with more communal buildings and residential buildings.

Evidence for metallurgy at Sarazm include vast amounts of bronze tools and ornaments along with stone metal-casting molds and crucibles. Tools included daggers, knives, a fishhook, spear tips, darts and needles while other objects included beads, a mirror, a stamp and pins. (Isakov 1994, 9).  Isakov et al. (1987) studied the chemical composition of metals present in the objects found, showing that many are essentially pure copper combined with lead or iron in some cases (100). Cold-working produced the bronze mirror found; this process involves hammering the metal to the desired shape and then heating it to 500 Celsius. Other objects were produced in the more traditional manner of heating and then pouring into a mold. The latter method is similar to other metallurgical contemporaries in Mesopotamia, Iran, and the Indus Valley (Isakov et al. 1987, 101). Sarazm’s copper was likely smelted from malachite, cuprite, or azurite from the Zerafshan Valley. The settlement likely had its own stores of metal since many objects come from the same smelting batches (Iakov et al. 1987, 101).

Bronze daggers and bronze axe-adze (Isakov 1981, 284)

Evidence for the agricultural nature of Sarazm include archaeobotanical analysis of seeds at the site. (Spengler and Willcox 2013). Seed samples, taken from hearths, house floors and middens, were analyzed by flotation, allowing comparison between native flora of the area. Wheat and barley seeds were found along with other wild flora suggesting that the settlement did grow crops but also still depended on native flora to survive (Spengler and Willcox 2013). Lentils were also found, however, their wild or domestic origin is unclear. Sarazm’s granary along with bread hearths near residential areas suggest that they had a surplus of grain from farming (Benseval and Isakov 1989). Sarazm also depended on herding, as shown by the remains of sheep, goat and cattle, however hunting of gazelle, wild pig, fox and birds also supplemented their diet (Spengler and Willcox 2013, 214). It is theorized that since the area is unable to be irrigated traditionally that dry farming was implemented (Spengler and Willcox 2013).

Sarazm is an ancient permanent settlement known for the presence of agriculture and metallurgy. The site contains multi-room residential complexes, communal buildings complete with granaries, religious buildings, and areas where burials have occurred. Sarazm demonstrates a greater span of communication during the Aneolithic period as evidenced by the similarities its ceramics and metal objects show compared to Turkmenian, Iranian, and Mesopotamian sites. It is likely a member of the same culture that Namazga sites as evidenced by the analogous designs and paintings on ceramics.

Besenval, R. and Isakov, A. “Sarazm et les débuts du peuplement agricole dans la région de Samarkand.” Arts Asiatiques Vol. 44 (1989), pp. 5-20.  http://www.jstor.org/stable/43484861


Isakov, A.Excavations of the Bronze Age Settlement of Sarazm.” Soviet Anthropology and Archaeology, 1981, 19:3-4, 273-286, http://dx.doi.org/10.2753/AAE1061-1959190304273


Isakov, A. “Sarazm: An Agricultural Center of Ancient Sogdiana.” Bulletin of the Asia Institute. Vol 8, 1-12. 1994. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24048761


Isakov, A., Kohl, P. L., Lamberg-Karlovsky, C. C. and Maddin, R. (1987), Metallurgical Analysis  From Sarazm, Tadjikistan SSR. Archaeometry, 29: 90–102. doi:10.1111/j.1475-4754.1987.tb00400.x


Isakov, A., and Lyonnet, B.. “Céramiques De Sarazm (Tadjikistan, URSS): Problèmes D’échanges et de Peuplement à la Fin du Chalcolithique et au Début de l’âge du Bronze.” Paléorient, vol. 14, no. 1, 1988, pp. 31–47., www.jstor.org/stable/41492267.


Spengler, R. and Willcox, G. “Archaeobotanical results from Sarazm, Tajikistan, an Early Bronze Age Settlement on the edge: Agriculture and exchange.” Journal of Environmental Archaeology. 2013. Vol.18:3. 211-221.


UNESCO “Proto-Urban Site of Sarazm” http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1141