Monday, November 17, 2014

The Lost River the Uzboy

The Uzboy River (Uzboj) is  located in the north-western part of the Karakum Desert of Turkmenistan. Once a distributary of the Amu Darya it is now a dry river channel and a centre for archaeological excavations. The Uzboy once flowed some 750 kilometers, from a branch in the Amu Darya River via Sarykamysh Lake to the Caspian Sea.

A riverine civilization existed along the banks of the river from at least the 5th century BC until the 17th century AD, when the water which had fed the Uzboy abruptly stopped flowing out of the main course of the Amudarya and into the Sarykamysh depression. Today the bed of the ancient Uzboy River passes through these vast sandy expanses of the Karakum desert as a narrow, blue broken stripe.  

In the early 1950s, construction work started to build a major irrigation canal roughly along the river bed of the former Uzboy. However, the project was abandoned in 1953; later on the Qaraqum Canal was constructed along an entirely different, much more southerly, route.

According to scholars, humans started to settle on the lands along the course of the Uzboy in the 5th century BC. The river witnessed many historic events. The troops of King Cyrus II crossed it during his march on the Massagetae. During the war of Alexander the Great with the Persian ruler, King Darius, the tribe of Aderbics, part of the Massagetae, sent 40 thousand infantrymen and 2 thousand horsemen from the region to the camp of Darius the Great in Babylon, evidence of the large population living on the banks of the Uzboy. The numberless hordes of Genghis Khan and the cavalries of Tamerlane would have also crossed the Uzboy.

To protect their territory from the enemy, to control the water and trade routes the inhabitants of the Uzboy built fortification structures. One  such edifice is the stone-built Parthian Fortress the Igdy  Qala built by the parthians to ensure traders using the great silk road paid taxes..


 Igdy quala is a Pathian era fortress built to ensure the payment of taxes. It corresponds to irregular trapezium with 60 х 60 х 75 х 45 m size. The northeast wall is constructed on a steep at a height of 30 m, from remaining 3 sides the fortress is surrounded with a ditch carved in a rock. The fortification is built up from flat stone flags and fortified by right-angled towers (11 towers like these remained throughout the walls’ perimeter, but walls themselves today are only up to 1.5m height).

Inside of the walls and towers there are narrow loopholes arrow-shaped, typical of the military architecture of Khorezm. The outside walls were covered by puddle clay and on the inside there used to be a corridor used as an archers shooting gallery. S.P.Tolstov mentioned that the fortress was constructed from stone which is non-typical of material in Khorezm, however in all other details its external design didn’t differ much from other late Khorezm fortifications. 

By 1717 in the time of Peter the Great an expedition led by Prince Alexander Bekovich-Cherkassky, who had explored the Caspian region made new maps of the Aral and Caspian basins, in which the Amudarya did not flow into the Caspian Sea any more. With the drying out of the Uzboy, the population started to leave this territory. Some went to the east to live on the banks of the Amudarya, the others settled in the foothills of the Kopetdag Mountains, closer to the mountain streams. Nowadays, only a few villages exist on the banks of the Uzboy. There is the preserved moisture in some parts of the bed, but it is salty and is formed due to the nourishment of subsoil waters.

Several small water reservoirs are however still in existence. One of them is salty, and the second one — the Yaskha Lake — is full of fresh water.  From here drinking water is pumped by the 150 km conduit to the residents of the city of Balkanabat, the capital of the oil region of Turkmenistan.

One can observe an unusual thing in other places of the Uzboy riverbed. Very often, small reservoirs consist of two parts — salty and fresh water. In winter, when the sun rises, wild animals and birds come to the small reservoirs to drink water. At this time, the salty layer, due to its heaviness, lies beneath serving as a "cushion" for the fresh water. As soon as it heats the salt water rises (under the effect of temperature) and the water becomes salty.

Well recommended that those interested in this fascinating river read the following publication
Uzboy and the Aral regressions: an hydrological approach
by Igor Plotnikov and Nikola Aladin -Academy of Science, Saint Petersburg, Russia; René Létolle - Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris, France and Philip Micklin - Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan USA go to

No comments:

Post a Comment