History : Nov-Dec 2018
DISCOVERIES to Western researchers, like Fredrik Hiebert, now a National Geographic ex- plorer. Hiebert was one of several scholars who worked at Gonur with Sa- rianidi in the 1990s to un- cover more about the Oxus civilization. These later findings, cou- pled with Sarianidi’s earlier work, create a fuller picture of a Bronze Age culture and its distinctive style. Similar items discovered at sites on the Indus River in Pakistan and the Indus-produced goods unearthed at Gonur suggest that such objects were spread between cit- ies along extensive trading routes. Unlike ancient Egypt, Gonur flourished then fad- ed over the course of a few centuries. Some evidence suggests the city may have been sacked, or perhaps succumbed when the Mur- gap River changed course, which would have strained the city’s water supply. Legacy of the Oxus Long after Gonur had waned, another city rose to prominence: Merv. Locat- ed 45 miles to the south, it grew in a part of the delta that remained fertile. The oldest of the oasis cities on the Silk Road between China and the West, Merv flour- ished in part due to the trad- ing roots laid down by the earlier Oxus culture. Gonur and its region may also provide insights in- to early religious develop- ments. When excavating the ancient city, Sarianidi came across vessels with traces of poppy, cannabis, and ephedra, the ingredients used for making the soma drinks that form a central ritual of Zoroastrianism, a faith that would influence Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Scholars are still di- vided as to the significance of this find, but it is an in- triguing theory that this place may hold the key to an enduring mystery: the an- cient origins of the world’s oldest monotheistic faith. —Alejandro Gallego Gonur’s culture, with its colossal fortifications and miniaturist objects, formed a distinctive “Oxus style.” GOLDEN AMULET, PERHAPS DEPICTING A MESOPOTAMIAN DEITY, FOUND AT GONUR TEPE VIKTOR SARIANIDI (center) dedicated nearly four decades of his long career to Gonur Tepe. This photograph was taken in May 2005, when he was 75.