Skip to comments.Turkmenistan: Making Bid For Cradle-OfCivilization Bid
Posted on 05/23/2007 4:33:27 PM PDT by blam
TURKMENISTAN: MAKING A BID FOR CRADLE-OF-CIVILIZATION STATUS
Even in mid-spring, a stark landscape greets visitors to the Gonur-depe historical site in eastern Turkmenistan. Standing amid sand and rock at the edge of the Karakum desert, it is hard to imagine that a rich civilization once thrived here, built around a lush oasis fed by the Murgab River.
Yet Greek-Russian archaeologist Viktor Sarianidi has uncovered just that since his expedition began in 1972. He says Gonur-depe was the capital or imperial city, as he prefers to call it of a complex, Bronze Age state one that stretched at least a thousand square miles and encompassing hundreds of satellite settlements.
Sarianidi claims that this society was so sophisticated that it should be considered the worlds fifth center of ancient civilization. This would add Turkmenistans Murgab River society, officially known as the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex, to a more familiar list of cultural cradles of antiquity: Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, and China. Although the debate continues, Sarianidis views have gained credence, particularly once his work became more accessible to the world upon the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Unsurprisingly for such a parched region, the areas early history was dictated not by humans, but by the vagaries of the wandering Murgab River. Civilization followed the Murgabs course as it meandered south and west, abandoning the Gonur-depe site and, later, the Silk Road city of Merv. The river currently flows through the modern regional capital of Mary, situated about 40 miles from the archeological site.
As with many detective stories, Sarianidi relied on a lot of sleuthing to find Gonur-depe, which dates to the late 3rd millennium BC. According to a local guide who worked at the site with Sarianidi, the team began to notice that minor ruins to the north of Merv itself established in the 6th century BC got progressively older the deeper one pushed into the Karakum. Tipped off in part by herders who spoke of desert mounds covered with smashed pottery, Sarianidis researchers followed the trail to Gonur-depe.
After 35 years, excavations at the sprawling maze of sun-baked adobe have revealed much of the Murgab civilizations way of life. An agricultural and herding community, residents grew grain, raised sheep, built sophisticated irrigation and sewage systems, and produced ceramics in the many kilns that dot the landscape. The main city was fortified by thick walls and packed with one-story buildings that included a vast palace featuring living quarters, funeral chambers, and what researchers believe are a pair of observatories. Cemetery digs have revealed exquisite objects of both local and foreign origin, the latter indicating trade with cultures as far off as Egypt and the Indus Valley.
Religious life in Gonur-depe appears to have been complex, with ritual sheep sacrifices and separate temples dedicated to the elements of fire and water. According to Sarianidi, these rituals included the drinking of soma-haoma, a mind-bending brew believed to contain opium, ephedra, and a local narcotic. It was likely this beverage that Zoroaster criticized as he promoted his eponymous new religion, considered by some to be the worlds first monotheistic faith. Based on the soma-haoma connection and other links between Murgab society and descriptions in Zoroastrian texts, Sarianidi proposes that Gonur-depe was the religions birthplace.
The archaeological community has yet to fully accept some of these theories, fascinating as they may be. But academic debates surrounding Gonur-depe may be cut short by more pressing circumstances.
In a painful irony, some of the dust that swirls around Gonur-depe comes from the crumbling walls themselves. To study the city, Sarianidis team had to remove the protective earthen shield laid down over millennia, thereby exposing the structures beneath to the desert sun and wind. Indeed, todays photographs of Gonur-depe show a significant deterioration when compared to those of the 1970s and 1980s.
The archaeologists must therefore make the difficult decision whether to preserve and partially rebuild the ruins thus altering their current state, even if they are true to ancient techniques or to let them continue to crumble. An added consideration from a tourists perspective is that the right angles and smooth surfaces of the new areas, while perhaps giving a more complete picture of life at Gonur-depe, lack the mystery of the unreconstructed ruins.
Nonetheless, according to the local guide, most of the archaeologists working the site would prefer to rebuild, if only they had the funds. The excavation continues to operate on a shoestring budget, paid mostly by foreign donors. Without a greater commitment from the Turkmen state, funding will dry up, the guide said, and Gonur-depe will slowly blow away.
But the sites most critical dilemma may be its least solvable: the mortality of Gonur-depes main champion, Viktor Sarianidi. At 77 years old, he is still active, but a time will come when he can no longer work, nor carry on equally important fundraising in the off-season. Sarianidi has no obvious successors, and there is fear that the project will expire soon after he does. If so, Gonur-depe may indeed return back to the sands of the Karakum.
After the rule of Turkmenbashi,
they have to start from the cradle again,
Rethinking a History That's Carved in StoneThree months after the announcement of its discovery in Central Asia, a tiny stone object inscribed with symbols thought to be the writing of an obscure desert culture from 4,000 years ago is more of an enigma than ever. If this is indeed an early form of writing, as its discoverer has suggested, it is strong evidence for a previously unknown civilization that began about 2300 B.C. across much of modern Turkmenistan and parts of Uzbekistan and Afghanistan... An even more puzzling aspect of the discovery has been raised by specialists in ancient Chinese writing. They contend that the inscription bears more than a passing resemblance to Chinese writing -- not an early script, but one that was not used until about 200 B.C... There is no clear evidence for Chinese writing before about 1300 or 1200 B.C. -- 1,000 years after people lived at the Anau site in Turkmenistan where the mysterious inscription was unearthed... Another possibility, which would throw the scholarship of Chinese writing into turmoil, is that the 2300 inscription date is correct. That would suggest that influences from Central Asia or farther west might have contributed to the invention of Chinese writing. Dr. Mair, who holds that such influences were greater than previously thought, has raised this controversial point.
by John Noble Wilford
July 31, 2001Another ancient civilization found"It's not ancient Iranian, not ancient Mesopotamian. I even took it to my Chinese colleagues," he said. "It was not Chinese." ...No one knows the extent of this civilization, which may reach beyond Margiana, deep in the Kara Kum desert, and Bactria, which straddles the Uzbek-Afghan border. Hiebert said he believes that a third area, Anau, outside Ashgabat near the Iranian border, is connected to this civilization, perhaps even the origin of the culture. It is about 2,000 years older, going back to 4500 BC, or the Copper Age.
by Faye Flam
May 3, 2001 [no url]
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Have they re-found that statue of Ozymandius?
Ancient writing found in TurkmenistanA previously unknown civilisation was using writing in Central Asia 4,000 years ago, hundreds of years before Chinese writing developed, archaeologists have discovered... The discovery suggests that Central Asia had a civilisation comparable with that of Mesopotamia and ancient Iran as far back as the Bronze Age, University of Pennsylvania archaeologist Fredrik Hiebert told the BBC... It is not known what the people of the civilisation called themselves, so researchers have dubbed the society the Bactria Margiana Archaeology Complex (B-Mac), after the ancient Greek names for the two regions it covers.
Tuesday, 15 May, 2001, 05:57 GMT 06:57 UK
Demirel calls for action to end delayThe difficulty has been caused by what the Turkish side calls the reluctance of Mongolia to provide data to Turkey for Ankara's plans to renovate the 8th century monuments left from the Gokturk civilization. According to Turkish diplomats, Ankara has already earmarked "a considerable sum" for the project... Demirel was driven for 90 minutes -- mostly over rugged roadless terrain -- to the Tonyukuk monument, where the first script to use the word "Turk" is found. Tonyukuk, left from the Gokturk era, has resisted harsh weather conditions and negligence since 1235.
in restoring historical Mongolian Orhun monuments
by Nazlan Ertan
13 September 1995
Thanks for the post.
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Port of Merv, ancient city in central asia, today in Turkmenistan.