Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Karakalpak-Australian Excavations in Ancient Chorasmia

Photo - The head of a king, from the newly uncovered mural atKazakl'i-yatkan
The traditional fascination visitors have in visiting Uzbekistan lies in the ancient oasis towns along the Great Silk Roads. The blue tiled medressehs, minarets and mausolea of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva are among the most spectacular medieval monuments in the world, and stand testimony to the culture and civilisation of this ancient land. Yet beyond theses monuments are even older cities, citadels whose walls were standing in the time of Alexander the Great, as his armies passed by on their way to India.These cities, long lost under the desert sands, were first investigated by Soviet Archeological & Ethnographic Expeditions to Khoresm led by Sergei Tolstov starting in the 1930s. The expeditions found hundred of ancient sites, many with massive fortifications still standing preserved almost intact in the dry desert air.

The best of these sites lie in Karakalpakstan and Khorezm (ancient Chorasmia) at the western end of Uzbekistan, where the Amu-Dariya river spreads out into a delta before draining into the Aral Sea. Today, the land here is a patchwork of cotton and rice fields and pasture by the ever encroaching desert. The canals that sustain the oasis today were constructed during the Soviet era but the first irrigation channels were cut in about the 7th century B.C. to support newly established kingdoms in the region. A team of University of Sydney archaeologists and specialists from the Karakalpak Branch of the Uzbek Academy of Sciences have found magnificent ancient paintings in a monumental building (temple), within the massive fortified settlement of Kazakl'i-yatkan in the east of Karakalpakstan.The site they are excavating dates from the 6th century BC to the 2nd century AD. Kazakl'i-yatkan became independent around the 5th century BC and grew increasingly isolated, but during this period it developed a rich indigenous civilisation.

The region was never conquered by Alexander and remained cut off from almost all outside influence until around the 1st century AD.On the evidence they have unconvered so far, these murals may have covered more than a kilometre of wall. They show amazing scenes including a long procession of a desert caravan with men on and aside pack horses and camels and also a gallery of magnificent portrait heads, possibly depicting members of the ruling families. Some of these paintings are being lifted from the ground and walls before being restored with additional help from UNESCO specialists on loan from the French Government and transferred to state museums and eventually for international exibition.

From about the 7th/6th centuries BC ancient Chorasmia was located south of the Aral Sea, in the delta of the Classical Oxus River (mod. Amu-dar'ya). To the north lay the Inner Asian steppe (now Kazakhstan), to the west the cliffs of the inhospitable Ustiurt Plateau (further west, the Caspian Sea), to the east the delta of the Classical Jaxartes (mod. S'ir-dar'ya), and to the south two deserts, the Kara-kum and Kz'il-kum which separated Chorasmia from Margiana and Sogdiana. Its geographical isolation form the "civilsed" ancient Indo-Iranian world resulted in virtually independent cultural development for much of its early history and, later on, after the devastation caused by the Mongols and particularly Timur, remarkable preservation of pre-Islamic monuments the like of which cannot be found anywhere else in Central Asia. Long before archaeological explorations began, Chorasmia was known from Persian and Greek texts as a province (satrapy) of the Achaemenid Persian empire; it also stands as the possible area of the "Aryan Expanse" of the Avesta, as the best land created by Ahura Mazda and therefore of signal importance regarding the early stages of the Zoroastrian faith. By the time of Alexander the Great Chorasmia was independent and had a king. This is the last textual mention of Chorasmia until the early medieval period, although it may have had relations with the Kushan empire at least from the 2nd century AD onward. Exploration began in the I930s under the leadership of S. P. Tolstov who founded the Chorasmian Archaeological Expedition whose work continued up to the collapse of the Soviet Union in I991.


The Northern Frontier of the 'Civilised' Ancient World = Les fouilles australo-karakalpak dans l'Antique Chorasmie : les frontières les plus septentrionales du monde civilisé antique. Auteur(s) / Author(s) HELMS S. W. (1) ; YAGODIN V. N. (2) ; BETTS A. V. G. (1) ; KHOZHANIYAZOV G. (2) ; NEGUS M. ; Affiliation(s) du ou des auteurs / Author(s) Affiliation(s) (1) Department of Archaeology, University of Sydney, NSW 2006, AUSTRALIE (2) Institute of History, Archaeology and Ethnography, 179a Amir Timur Street, Nukus 742000, Karakalpakstan, OUZBEKISTAN Résumé / Abstract Excavations at Kazakl'i-yatkan & Tash-kirman-tepe.

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