History : Nov-Dec 2018
DISCOVERIES T he Oxus civiliza- tion thrived for only a short time, roughly 2100- 1800 b.c. Located in the ancient region known as Margiana in Central Asia, the culture took root in a harsh landscape of steppe, marsh, and desert that sprawls over eastern parts of modern Turkmenistan and northern Afghanistan. For much of the 20th cen- tury, these lands lay under control of the Soviet Union, which kept much of the world from exploring the area’s deep history. After the Soviet Union fell in the 1990s, the region opened up to Western scholars. They found a vibrant Bronze Age urban network that linked east and west long before the Silk Road. The key to its secrets? A remote site in Turkmenistan: Gonur Tepe. Behind the Iron Curtain Soviet archaeologist Vik- tor Ivanovich Sarianidi had made it his life’s work to study the people and cul- ture that flourished in this region, known in scholar- ly circles as the Bactrian- Margiana Archaeological Complex. Sarianidi first no- ticed the site in the 1950s when traveling in Turk- menistan, then a part of the Soviet Union. He ob- served a series of mounds in the bleak, wind-sculpted terrain of the Garagum desert. He wouldn’t return to the site until the early 1970s, but when he did, he located the mounds again and began excavating them. At first Sarianidi sus- pected the site contained medieval-era ruins, but he soon found that the site was much older. His work revealed that Gonur Tepe first rose to prominence between the late third mil- lennium and the early sec- ond millennium b.c . Its fortunes depended heav- ily on the Murgap River, which rises in Afghanistan and dries to a trickle in the sands of the Garagum. The region was wetter then, and Gonur enjoyed the fertile environment of a delta re- gion, conditions that en- abled it to create a magnifi- cent, if short-lived, culture present throughout the Margiana region. Sarianidi’s pioneering work unearthed a series of nested fortifications on the principal, northern mound of the site. At the center, Gonur Tepe: Lost City of the Bronze Age Four thousand years ago, the Oxus Civilization arose in Central Asia. Linking Mesopotamia to the Indus Valley, Gonur Tepe was capital of this vibrant culture, rediscovered in the 20th century. GONUR TEPE thrived in the second millennium b.c. The site, located in Turkmenistan, consists of a central citadel surrounded by an outer wall containing water cisterns, essential for the survival of this oasis city. ALL PHOTOS: KENNETH GARRETT CASPIAN SEA AFGHAN. TURKMENISTAN IRAN Gonur Tepe SEAL BEARING AN ELEPHANT FROM THE INDUS VALLEY, FOUND AT GONUR TEPE AND PROOF OF THE CITY’S EXTENSIVE TRADING LINKS Viktor Sarianidi dies after decades of work at Gonur that has attracted global scholarly interest. A study is published on Gonur’s extensive necropolis, bringing to light beautifully crafted artifacts. Extensive excavations are undertaken in Gonur Tepe, revealing a great fortified palace at its center. Soviet archaeologist Viktor Sarianidi begins digging at the site of Gonur Tepe, Turkmenistan. 2013 2002 1990s 1972 LOREMIPSJDASAmuDarya(OxusR.) MERV MurgapR. UZB.