Sunday, December 13, 2015

Prehistoric Caves and Rock Paintings of Uzbekistan

The earliest evidence of human life in Uzbekistan dates back to the Stone Age, or middle paleolithic. These are petroglyphs, burials, and temporary settlements discovered by archeologists. The people living in the middle paleolithic hunted wild goats, leopards, wild boars, and other animals. These people also gathered the roots and fruits of wild plants. They used fire: hearths made of stone were found inside the dwellings. The men made their tools of stone using the split-off method, applied to siliceous limestone, quartzite, and jasper. Among these finds are stone plates, arrowheads, scrapers and axes, and wooden and bone articles. Bent skeletons encircled by goat horns and the like, found in graves, show how the thinking of the primitive men developed.

Currently there are more than 140 locations of rock art sites in Uzbekistan. The overwhelming majority of these are ‘petroglyphs’ (engraved or pecked images in stone) which spread up from the southern borders of the country to the north and across the Tien-Shan in the east to the extremely arid Kara-Kum desert in the west. Their presence gives scientists a good understanding of the great cultural diversity of these lands.

Anghilak Cave - Qashqadaryo Region.

Anghilak Cave is located about 45 km south-west of Samarkand in the Kashkadariya region of south-eastern Uzbekistan. It sits in the foothills of the Zerafshan mountain range's southern slopes. Here have been found stone tools made from flint, quartz, siliceous limestone, and quartzite. Of the animal remains, nearly half are tortoise and the remainder appears to be sheep and goat. It also contains remnants of Middle Palaeolithic people. The oldest remains are of a metatarsal which dates between 40,000 to 46,000 BP. However it has not been possible to definitely identify whether the remains belonged to a Neanderthal or human.

Obi-Rakhmat Grotto - Tashkent Region.

The Obi-Rakhmat (or Abirakhmat Cave) is located just west of the border with Kyrgyzstan about 85 km north-east of Tashkent at the south-western end of the Koksui mountain range, in the western Tian Shan, near the junction of the Chatkal and Pskem Rivers. It sits at an elevation of 1,250 m above sea level in a Palaeozoic limestone reef formation overlooking the picturesque Paltau river Valley. The site was first explored in the 1960s and excavations began in the 1970s and have yielded more than 60,000 stone artefacts that have been determined as having a mixture of Middle and Upper Palaeolithic features with radiocarbon dates from approximately 40 to 48,000 BP. In addition some 5,300 animal remains have been found. Hominin remains discovered in strata/layer include maxillary teeth and over 120 crania fragments. The remains exhibit some Neanderthal traits and are up to 90,000 years BP. Important finds of Upper Palaeolithic humans who lived there around 50 thousand years ago have also been found.

Petroglyphs of Prisarykamyshya - Karakalpakstan.

The rock carvings of Prisarykamyshya were discovered in 1940 in the north-western foothills of Kara-Tepe in Karakalpakstan. These petroglyphs are very diverse; many of them have linearly geometric compositions, as well as images of people and the images of fishing nets, boats, hunting scenes. On the walls of caves applied strange images as large and broad lines and furrows. Linear-geometric style images, according to many researchers are so-called hunting and fishing theme of the final phase of the Neolithic era. Pictures of animals (sheep, saiga antelope, goats, horses and camels) and astral themes and various solar symbols.

Sarmishsay Ravine - Navoi Region.

This picturesque gorge covers an area of about 20 km² on the southern slopes of the Karatau mountain range, 30–40 km to the north-east of Navoi on the edge of the Kyzyl Kum desert. It is famous for various ancient monuments of anthropogenic activity which include burial mounds, crypts, pagan altars and petroglyphs from the Stone, Iron, Bronze Ages and from Scythian tribes of the early Iron IX-II cent. BC and inscriptions from Middle Ages which depict medieval domestic goats, camels, dogs, and just as easily dated Arabic inscription.

There are over 4,000 petroglyphs still intact which are in the main located in a narrow stone canyon of 2.5 km long. The paintings are made on vertical, and sometimes on horizontal outcroppings of reddish sandstone streaked with slate and limestone. Next to the petroglyphs the burial grounds of ancient nomads. Since ancient times this territory has been a sacred zone, where locals performed their sacred ceremonies on holy days. The Petroglyphs of Sarmishsay give a very comprehensive picture of local fauna thousands of years ago. Today most of which have disappeared, unable to compete for food with man and domestic livestock.

Siypantosh Rock Paintings - Qashqadaryo Region.

The rock paintings are situated on the concave rock on the faces of granite-diorite outcrops. These petroglyphs show geometrical figures painted in black, yellow and red-brown pigments, and include foot-shaped designs, a bull with curved horns, various animals, small hand prints, among others.

Teshik Tash Cave - Surxondaryo Region.

Teshik Tash is said to mean 'stone (with an) opening. It is  located some 18 km north of Baysun and 125-130 km south of Samarkand. It is situated about 1,500 m above sea level in the Baysun-tau mountains on the craggy walls of the Zautolosh Darya Sai (gorge) in the north of Surkhandarya region, between the rivers Sherabad Darya (upstream Turgan Darya) and the Surkhan Darya, upstream and north from where the two rivers meet the great Amu Darya.

In this cave in 1938-39 archaeologist Alexey Okladnikov made his famous discovery of a camp of prehistoric Mousterian culture and the shallow burial site with the 70,000 year old fossilised remains of the skeleton (skull and some bones) of a Neanderthal child (previously called the 'Teshik Tash Boy  recently they were found to be from a young girl) of some 8-9 years old. Burial was surrounded by the horns of an ibex 'mountain goat', dug into the ground, which indicated the existence of the religious-ritual worship in Neanderthal culture.

Zaraut-kamar Grotto - Surxondaryo Region.

A small grotto in the Zarautsoy gorge which is covered with prehistoric, ancient and medieval petroglyphs. These rock paintings are considered the oldest petroglyphs in Central Asia. The images describe primitive man’s everyday life, with hunting scenes (wild animals - bulls, goats, buzzards, goitered gazelles, etc.) and their rituals.

Who were the Neanderthals and the importance of the finds in Central Asia ?

Neanderthals are a now extinct species of the genus Homo, possibly a subspecies of Homo sapiens. They are closely related to modern humans, differing in DNA by only 0.3%, just twice the variability across contemporary humans. Remains left by Neanderthals include bones and stone tools, which are found from western Europe to central Asia. The species is named after Neander's Valley near Dusseldorf  the location in Germany where they were first discovered in 1856…..The first humans with proto-Neanderthal traits are believed to have existed as early as 600,000–350,000 years ago…..The exact date of their extinction is disputed or if they did actually all become extinct but some actually blended with early modern humans approx. 35,000-24,000 BP. Prior to the discovery of the Teshik-Tash skull in 1938, it was thought that Neanderthals had not spread east enough to reach Asia. The Neanderthal population was known to be dense in Europe along the Mediterranean. The discovery of the Teshik-Tash child's skull and the preponderance of lithic assemblages identified as Mousterian in character identified Central Asia as  the eastern-most extent of the Neanderthal range. Supported later by discoveries at Obi-Rakhmat, where a sub-adult represented by part of a permanent maxillary dentition and a fragmentary cranium also expressed a relatively Neanderthal-like dentition coupled with more ambiguous cranial anatomy. As the remains found in Anghilak Cave a diminutive right fifth metatarsal (AH-1) which most probably was also from a Neanderthal. All are important to the hominin fossil record of Central Asia.

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