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. o-dell%27Archeologia%29/. (translated with Google Translate from Italian).

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