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Central Asia in the Bronze Age: sedentary and nomadic cultures.

The Central Asian Bronze Age: discovery, nature, antecedents

In the 1880s A.V. Komarov excavated a trench through the Anau mound near Ashgabat in Turkmenistan. He had hoped to discover a tomb but instead uncovered a variety of ancient ceramics. Such was the first excavation of the Bronze Age in Central Asia. In 1904 the first scientific excavations at Anau were carried out by the Carnegie Expedition which published a two-volume report (Pumpelly 1908), the first description of the Bronze Age culture of the central area, known as the Anau Culture.

Intensive archaeological research of Bronze Age sites in Central Asia began in the 1950s. The earlier Khorezm Archaeological Expedition set up in 1937 by S.P. Tolstov and the South Turkmenistan Archaeological Complex Expedition (IuTAKE) set up in 1946 by M.E. Masson were of great importance. At present, surveys and excavations of Bronze Age sites are carried out every year in many of the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. A large number of reports, papers and monographs have been published on the results of recent investigations.

In a recent Russian summary, the Chalcolithic settlements of southern Turkmenistan are dated to the late 5th millennium--early 3rd millennium BC (Masson 1982a: 14). By calibrated radiocarbon dates, the middle Eneolithic periods (Namazga II-III) range from 3250 to 2750 BC (Kurbansakhatov 1987: 129). The Namazga IV period at Altyn depe dates from 2700 to 2100 BC (Masson 1979: 29). Radiocarbon and palaeomagnetic dating place the Namazga IV period within the chronological range 2900-2200 BC (Kircho 1986: 138). Western and Russian trained archaeologists disagree upon the absolute dates for the Central Asian Bronze Age chronology. This is particularly true for the late 3rd and the 2nd millennium BC. The Namazga V period at Altyn depe, according to V.M. Masson, ranges from 2300 to 1850 BC (1981: 95). There are no detailed reports on the excavations of the later Namazga VI sites in the foothills of the Kopet dag. I.N. Khlopin and L.I. Khlopina, suggest that Namazga VI dates from the 14th to the 10th centuries BC, based on the excavations of the 'tower' at Namazga depe (Khlopina 1981). On the other hand archaeomagnetic dates for the Namazga VI period indicate a range from the 16th to 10th centuries BC. Radiocarbon analyses of Namazga VI levels from Tekkem depe date to the 11th century BC (Zagnii 1984). Western European and American archaeologists tend to push back these dates for the Namazga V and VI periods by some 500 years; however, there is general agreement about the relative internal chronology in Central Asia based on the ceramics.

The earliest village cultures of Central Asia are located in the foothills of the Kopet dag mountains. Settlements depend upon water sources for irrigating the fields. The evolution of irrigation systems and the necessity of regulating the control of water are thought to be the key factors in the concentration of population that led to the growth of large regional centres (Masson 1976: 142-7). The largest settlements in the Kopet dag foothills were Namazga depe (above 50 ha) and Altyn depe (26 ha), Ulug depe (20 ha), Kara depe (15 ha), and Geoksyur (12 ha).

Towards the end of the Chalcolithic (around 2700 BC) ecological problems and the growth of certain settlement regions led to the collapse of settlement in other regions. The Geoksyur oasis was abandoned, and the population may have migrated to the ancient delta of the Tedzhen river (Lisitsyna 1965). At that time (the early Bronze Age) Khapuz depe became an area of concentrated settlement (Sarianidi 1969). On the other hand the settlement of Ilgynly was abandoned in the Chalcolithic, and most of that population appears to have joined the near-by settlement of Altyn depe (Masson 1981: 21). In a similar pattern, the settlement of Kara depe was abandoned and its population joined the large centre of Namazga located near-by. Social changes in the communities led to both an increasing craft production and social stratification.

Architectural traditions established in the Chalcolithic period document the evolution of one-apartment houses arranged chaotically to clear boroughs of multi-room houses. The communities had distinctive centres with buildings having painted interiors and sanctuaries with circular hearths/altars. From the mid Chalcolithic [Namazga IV], defensive architectural features are found (Khlopin 1964: 80-91; Masson 1988). At Altyn depe, in the early Bronze period, ruins of the encircling defensive walls are found; and by the end of this period a monumental entrance to the settlement was built decorated with two towers/pylons (Masson 1979).

Pottery traditions in Central Asia are both continuous and distinctive. From the time of the Chalcolithic the Anau culture was in the sphere of the painted ceramic tradition of the ancient Near East. All the ceramics were manufactured by hand. Distinctive styles of painting were typical for different groups of sites. Thus, distinctive features are observed in the period of the Chalcolithic within the western (Kara depe, FIGURE 3.III.20-22) tradition of design motifs. By the early Bronze Age a gradual unification of composition appears on the painted motifs of the western and eastern ceramic types. The potter's wheel appears in the late period of Namazga IV along with a new technology for firing ceramics in two-tiered furnaces. In the mid to late Bronze Age, all the ceramics of the Kopet dag foothills are manufactured on the potter's wheel and lack painting (Masimov 1976; Masson 1981).

The non-ceramic assemblage also has a long and continuous tradition in Central Asia. Terracotta figurines date from the Chalcolithic and Bronze Age, evolving into distinctive statuary types (Masson & Sarianidi 1973). In the Chalcolithic stone amulets with geometric shapes and designs are found for the first time. In the early Bronze Age some stamp seals of clay and stone are also found for the first time (Kircho 1986: figure 2.3). During the Bronze Age, bronze seals in the form of cross, rosette and zoomorphic patterns become typical (Masson 1981: tables XVI, XVII). Independent centres of metallurgical production are evident in the early Bronze Age of Turkmenistan as indicated by the settlement of Khapuz depe where copper smelting furnaces were uncovered (Sarianidi 1976b: 82-3).

The Bronze Age of southern Turkmenistan

In the early Bronze Age, sites located along the Kopet dag foothills developed an urban character (Kircho 1988). At Altyn depe, in the Namazga V period, dense domestic areas and craft production areas are sharply differentiated from the spacious and roomy households of the elite (Masson 1981). Different social status at Altyn depe were reflected in the level of material culture and in the composition of burial offerings. For example, the most spectacular find was in the cult complex on the eastern outskirts of Altyn depe. In this area a special burial room contained a disk-like stone 'weight', a miniature column, more than 1500 beads, a steatite plate with an image of cross and half-moon, a moulded clay wolf, as well as a golden head of a bull with a turquoise sickle inlaid in the forehead.

In the late period of the developed Bronze Age the settlement of Altyn depe becomes desolate and falls into neglect. The area of Namazga depe is reduced down to 2 ha ('Tower' of Namazga VI) (Khlopina 1972; 1981). In the vicinity appears a new settlement of Tekkem depe whose area is 2 ha (Shchetenko 1972; 1973). Layers of the late Bronze Age are known also in Elken depe (Maruschenko 1959), Ulug depe (Sarianidi & Kachuris 1968) and Anau south (Masson 1959: 97-102; 1966: 169-78). Ceramic articles and pottery, similar to those from the Yangi-kala cemetery of Namazga VI, were also found in the upper levels at Elkin depe (Ganyalin 1956: 375-6).

Margiana and Bactria

The reduction of settlements in the foothills of the Kopet dag coincided with the highly developed culture that appeared in neighbouring Margiana (the Lower Murgab river). More than 150 sites of the Bronze Age have been discovered there in an area of 3000 sq. km (Sarianidi 1990; Masimov 1979; 1986).

Extensive archaeological research in Margiana and Bactria has brought to light an ancient agricultural and farming culture of importance to an understanding of the civilizations of the ancient Near East. Oasis settlements with a combination of non-fortified villages and settlements with fortress and strongholds are characteristic. In three regions of Margiana where sites have been excavated -- Kelleli, Gonur and Togolok -- the distinctive fortified architecture is associated with Bronze Age settlements. The sites of the Kelleli phase, the earliest, are small, none larger than 5 ha, while later Gonur 1 is the largest in Margiana. Togolok 21 has been argued to contain a proto-Zoroastrian shrine associated with a fire cult as well as the production and consumption of intoxicating drinks. Such an interpretation, as well as the term 'proto-zoroastrism', is disputable; although the idea of pre-Zoroastrian or proto-Zoroastrian shrines in Central Asia and Iran has been accepted and supported by many scholars (VDI 1989: no. 1,170-81).

In northern Bactria, the oasis settlement is illustrated by the fortified settlement of Sapalli depe and Djarkutan. The later settlement includes a citadel and a structure interpreted as a fire temple (Askarov 1988: figure 1; Rakhmanov 1987: 4-6). In southern Bactria (Afghanistan), south of the Amu Darya river, many fortified sites of the Bronze age were excavated: Dashli 1 is a rectangular fortress with monumental walls and towers; Dashli 3 comprises a round structure thought to be a shrine and a fortified building considered to be a palace (Sarianidi 1977: 34-50), or shrine (Pugachenkova 1982: 23-4).

The Bactrian-Margiana Archaeological Complex and its origins

Sarianidi (1977: 4-5; 1988) proposed the name Bactrian-Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC) for the common culture found in these oases. The material culture includes objects made of metal, stone, terracotta, ornaments of adornment and vessels of stone, ceramic, and metal (for more detail on their characteristic material culture see Hiebert, below, pages 372-87). Glyptics and sphragistics reflect a rich mythology and religious system (Sarianidi 1976a; 1990; Masimov 1981).

There are many hypotheses on the origin of this culture. Archaeologists have not located in Margiana nor in Bactria any local sources for the origins of this complex. That is why most researchers associate its genesis with a migratory processe. According to Masson, the earliest settlements in the Murgab delta can be attributed to the expansion of the urbanized culture from the Kopet dag foothills. Masson believes that the Kelleli complex is a variant of the archaeological culture that characterizes the last occupation at Altyndepe. He does not deny that at a later date populations of northern and eastern derivation also appeared in Margiana and Bactria that were quickly assimilated with local tribes (Masson 1981; 1988). V.I. Sarianidi (1984; 1987; 1990), in contrast, believes that the most typical features of the Bactrian and Margiana complex have their prototype in Iran, not in the culture of Namazga V, although he recognizes that south Turkmenia tribes were assimilated within the BMAC.

Research on Bactrian antiquities led P. Amiet to conclude that Elam played a special role in the creation of the original and eclectic nature of the BMAC. According to his opinion, the nomadic part of the Elamite population ('Trans-Elamites') performed the principal role in organizing long-distance trade. Thus, he believes that the Trans-Elamites were the main intermediaries in the trade and transmission of the culture between Iran and Central Asia. This may explain why deep archaisms appear in the art and metallurgy of the BMAC that can be traced to Elam and Mesopotamia. Amiet (1986: 190-204, 213-14; 1988) offers the hypothesis that an aristocracy of nomadic craftsmen, Trans-Elamites, arrived in Bactria and Margiana, effecting the production of their material culture; the isolated fortresses or castles may belong to this nobility. Alyekshin (1980) suggests that the origins of the BMAC may be found in the steppe zone of Central Asia that subsequently expanded into Margiana and the Kopet dag foothills. This hypothesis, based on the identification of catacombs and the burials of couples in the Sapalli culture, fails to withstand critical analysis in the light of new discoveries.

Udemuradov (1988) contends that the complexes of the Bronze Age in Margiana are local developments based on the occurrence in the Kelleli oasis of painted sherd fragments that he believes are similar to the Chalcolithic pottery of the Geoksyur style (Masimov 1979: figure 2). Typical elements of Geoksyur ornamentation, however, are absent from the sherds published from Kelleli, and the motifs illustrated occur on Iron Age (Yaz I) ceramics in Margiana (Masson 1959: tables XVII-XX). Thus, the present evidence makes no basis for considering a local genesis for the Bactrian-Margiana complex.

The hypothesis that Margiana was initially populated from the Kopet dag foothills is suggested by ceramics. The Margiana ceramics may be classified into three successive complexes. The earliest is represented by materials from the Kelleli oasis, the northern hill of Gonur and the lower horizons of the northern hill of Togolok 1. The second ceramic complex is found at Auchin, Gonur south, the southern hill of Togolok 1, and Togolok 21. Within this second phase it is possible to isolate two phases. The third period, the latest, is represented by the ceramics recovered from Takhirbai 3.

The ceramics of the earliest stage in Margiana, that of the Kelleli, are similar to that recovered from the late Namazga V in the foothills of the Kopet dag, i.e. Altyn depe (Masimov 1976a; Udemuradov 1987). In Margiana, terracotta figurines also typical of the Namazga V are manufactured in a more coarse and more schematic manner. For example, in Margiana there are no women with braids or plaits as are commonly found on sites from the Namazga V in the Kopet dag region. In Bactria the materials that characterize the earliest phase in Margiana, the Kelleli, have not been discovered. In Margiana, despite the similarity in their material culture to the complexes of the late Namazga V period from the Kopet dag, the settlements represent a new phenomenon. The monumental buildings and fortresses with their characteristic geometrical lay-out, typical of the Bactrian-Margiana Archaeological Complex, are without prototype.

Ceramics and pottery from the second Margiana complex (the BMAC) have precise parallels in the materials of the Yangi-kala cemetery related to the Namazga VI period (Ganyalin 1956). However, a comparative analysis of the BMAC ceramics with the Namazga VI ceramics of the Kopet dag foothills is not possible as detailed reports for this period from the Kopet dag have not been published. Yangi-kala may represent an earlier complex than the Namazga VI, a view supported by the evidence from the excavations made by B.A. Kuftin on the Namazga depe settlement (Masson 1956: tables XXXVIII-XL).

The second period in Margiana, the BMAC, corresponds in northern Bactria to the early phases of the settlement at Sapalli and Djarkutan. Dashli 1 and Dashli 3 in south Bactria belong to this same period. The BMAC represents the period of maximum settlement in Margiana and Bactria. The ceramics show a continuity of traditions as well as the appearance of new forms unknown from the Namazga V period. Ceramics from robbed tombs in southern Bactria include forms and shapes unknown in the early Margiana settlements. It is possible to suggest that this population settled in Margiana and Bactria during the second chronological phase, the BMAC. The arrival of new inhabitants there may relate to events elsewhere; perhaps related to the general abandonment of large sites in northeastern Iran at the end of the Bronze Age during the 2nd millennium BC.

The common features in the cultural traditions of south Turkmenia, the BMAC and northeastern Iran are usually explained by commercial exchange and cultural influences. However these relations may also have had a genetic character. Many types of stone and metal articles, as well as ritual objects, endured in all of the above areas for a long time. There are connections with the 'international' art which flourished and prospered in Iran in the last centuries of the 3rd millennium and the beginning of the 2nd millennium Bc (Amiet 1986). These shared artistic traditions had their deep roots in the art of the highly developed civilizations of Mesopotamia. The aesthetic products of the BMAC have connections with Elam as well as the Syro-Hittite world, as Amiet, Sarianidi and Pottier have shown. Pottier also believes that the influence of the Indus can be detected in BMAC metalwork. Even though such influences have been detected it must be admitted that no items of direct import from Mesopotamia, Elam or the Indus have been recovered in Bactria or Margiana.

If the hypothesis be accepted that tribes from northeastern Iran participated in the formation of the Bactrian-Margiana Archaeological Complex it must be acknowledged that a minimum influence is seen in the sphere of ceramics. A number of new ceramic forms in the BMAC can be associated with northeastern Iran. Grey ware, perhaps made in Iran, was found in Dashli 1 and in some of the robbed tombs of southern Bactria (Sarianidi 1977: figure 29). The grey ware found at Sapalli depe were manufactured in situ but appeared to follow the north Iranian tradition (Askarov 1977: 94). It is possible that the burnished decoration commonly found on Sapalli ceramics may have been introduced into Central Asia by north Iranian tribes (Askarov 1973: tables 13, 14).

Sarianidi believes that the initial settlement of tribes in Margiana and Bactria occurred as a result of migrations from eastern Iran, directed to the north through Hissar III to Bactria and Margiana. There was also a subsequent migration of the BMAC to Baluchistan and perhaps even further to the valley of the Indus 'Jhukar culture'. Sarianidi believes that the earlier sources for the BMAC are to be found in the western regions, as is testified by similar subjects and compositions in Bactrian-Margiana, Mesopotamian, Elamite and Syro-Hittite glyptics. Sarianidi associated these movements with the settlement of Indo-Iranian tribes, by collating the data of archaeology with linguistic conclusions made by Gamkrelidze and Ivanov on Indo-European origins (Sarianidi 1987; 1989).

Traditionally researchers associate the arrival of the Indo-Europeans in Central Asia with the settlement of the steppe tribes from the north some time in the Bronze Age. In Margiana, steppe ceramics appear occur during the BMAC period. In the fortress of Togolok 1 these ceramics was found in situ on the floor levels (Sarianidi 1990; P'yankova 1993). According to Kachalova (P'yankova 1993), these sherds have proto-Srubnaya as well as Srubnaya aspects. Kuzmina suggests that these ceramics predate the steppe ceramics found from the Namazga VI layers in the Kopet dag foothills.

Steppe cultures

In the period when there was a proto-urban civilization at Altyn depe, in the area of the southern Aral and in the mountainous regions of Central Asia, Neolithic hunting and plant-collecting still remained the dominant way of life. This non-uniform development is typical of the various regions of Central Asia throughout history. The steppe sites of Central Asia are correlated by ceramic parallels and burial practices into broad time periods based on absolute dates. In the southern Aral area (ancient Khorezm) a small number of sites known as Kamyshlin (Itina 1977: 40-41) persisted until the end of the 3rd millennium. Vinogradov relates these sites to the local Chalcolithic, while Itina relates them to the early Bronze Age. Kamyshlin complexes are an initial phase of the local Suyargan Culture that identifies the initial Bronze Age in the southern Aral area.

The most numerous sites in Central Asia dating to the 2nd millennium BC are associated with successive waves of northern steppe tribes settling in this region. In the Eurasian steppes (which cover a huge zone to the north of Central Asia), there were two principal cultural-historical communities -- Srubnaya in the west and Andronovo in the east. The cattle-breeding economy of these cultures allowed for considerable movement of the population. Central Asia, the southern border of the steppe zone, was characterized by a mixed ethnic composition, and Khorezm was a contact zone for the Srubnaya and Andronovo tribes. Most of the Khorezm sites belong to the Tazabagyab Culture, directly related to populations from the southern Aral region. Newcomers partially assimilated aborigines of Khorezm. By these migratory movements the Tazabagyab, the Srubnaya, the Andronovo, and the Suyargan cultures were all interdependent and related. The Tazabagyab populations had a mixed economy of cattle-breeding and farming. This farming economy and the irrigation systems distinguish the Tazabagyab culture from the other Bronze Age cultures of the Eurasian steppes. Excavations at Tazabagyab settlements recovered the remains of both cattle and horses (Tolstov 1948: 67-8; Itina 1977: chapter V).

The mountainous areas of Central Asia were settled by various groups of Andronovo tribes (Zadneprovskii 1966). In the Fergana valley, the Kairak-Kum culture was associated with that of the Andronovo cultures of Kazakhstan and to a lesser degree, with the Srubnaya and Tazafagyab cultures (Litvinskii et al. 1962) and possibly even the Hissar Neolithic culture of Tajikistan (Litvinskii & Ranov 1961). Kairak-Kum sites are located on the banks of the Syr Darya but not in the deltaic regions. Cattle-breeding formed the most important aspect in their economy. The burials of these ancient herdsmen and shepherds have been located in the Tien Shan mountains as well as in the Pamirs.

Settlements of the steppe tribes were short-term and dispersed. In the southern Aral area, settlements depended upon the water regime in the deltaic regions of the river while among the Kairak-Kum settlements depended upon the change of pastures for the grazing of their cattle. Houses include both surface and semi-subterranean types. A typical Tazabagyab house was a four-corner structure of frame-pile design having a large central hearth and an entrance on the southern side. In the Kairak-Kum dwellings hearths were disposed along a horizontal chain. The dwellings were almost always large -- up to 20 m long and 12-15 m wide. In some mountainous regions, caves were used for dwellings (Ranov 1963).

The steppe cultures were well acquainted with bronze-casting. Metal working throughout the steppe is dated to the early 3rd millennium (Vinogradov & Kuzmina 1970). Rich fields of raw resources, in particular copper and tin, contributed a great deal to their metallurgical development. In Kairak-Kum at a number of sites archaeologists discovered up to 1.5-2 tons of ore and slag. The production of bronze articles was of lesser significance in the southern Aral area (Khorezm), perhaps due to their remoteness from the raw resources. Even there, moulds and metal-casting waste have been discovered. Slags and waste from copper production were found by Vinogradov in the Inner Kyzyl-Kum near the Bukantau ridge that was associated with Tazabagyab and Andronovo ceramics.

The distinctive steppe ceramics were manufactured by hand and contain a large amount of mineral and vegetal temper. The vessels appear to have been fired on an open fire. Most of the steppe ceramics are decorated with smooth or toothed stamps, and with cut and impressed patterns. Motifs on the vessels and bowls included geometrical, zigzag, and 'herring-bone' patterns.

Steppe tribes in Central Asia lived in close proximity to the southern settled farming civilizations. Contact between the peoples of the steppe and the settled communities was of increasing frequency and importance toward the second half of the 2nd millennium. Nevertheless, the migratory movements of these pastoral nomads and the interaction of the farmers and the peoples of the steppe characterized the entirety of the 2nd millennium, beginning around 2000 BC (Kuzmina 1986).

A hypothesis that some of the Bactrian populations migrated to the northern steppes seems probable (Askarov 1981; Sarianidi 1989). The Zamanbaba settlement and burial ground located in the Lower Zeravshan river, near Buhkara, may be related to the communities of Bactria while also having a steppe appearance (Gulyamov et al. 1966). Sarianidi dates the Zamanbaba culture to between 2000 to 1000 BC, and Askarov places it in the second half of the 2nd millennium. The second date seems correct since Tazabagyab ceramics and pottery were found on the surface of the settlement of Zamanbaba (Gulyamov et al. 1966: table VII.3), and the closest similarities to the material culture can be seen in the complexes of the Aral area, dated to the 14th-13th centuries BC on the basis of uncalibrated radiocarbon dates (for examples see Itina 1977: 145 and figure 55.1). The Zamanbaba ceramics include non-ornamented grey ware and pottery of high quality typical of the Bactrian (Oxus) settlements.

Ancient cattle-breeders of Bactria

Southern Tajikistan is associated with ancient Bactria by territory and culture but differs in its ecological conditions. Broad assimilation of this territory was carried out by tribes of the Bronze Age in the last half of the 2nd millennium. Populations representing the Mollali phase of the Sapalli Culture settled along the valley of the Surkhan darya river. At that time the Mollali settlement and cemetery was settled near Denau. Additional sites of the late phases of the Sapalli culture, the Mollali and Bustan phases, are situated along a chain in the Hissar Valley and in the foothills adjacent to the Tairsu Valley. In the last half of the 2nd millennium, as shown by a number of researchers, a considerable infiltration of steppe populations occurred in the southern regions of Central Asia. Evidence based on material from southern Tajikistan allows us to assert that it was a region of active contact between different tribes. In southern Tajikistan all of the Bronze Age sites show at least some form of contact with the Oxus Civilization. There can be little doubt that the local populations were genetically associated with the agricultural sites of Bactria.

The earlier sites of the Bronze Age in this region of southern Tajikistan remain undetected, although they may relate to the earlier local Neolithic Hissar culture. Vinogradova discovered under the floor of a late Bronze Age Kanguttut settlement a stratum of the Hissar Neolithic. The Hissar Culture most probably endured in the mountainous regions of southern Tajikistan until the end of the Bronze Age (Ranov 1982: 21; P'yankova 1986; Mandelshtam 1968). It is possible that these steppe tribes caused the intensification of herding among the Bactrian farmers (mountainous settlements in southern Tajikisan are favourable for cattle-grazing and for dry-farming). Settlements include both permanent and seasonal dwellings. In the composition of herds, sheep and goats prevail but the role of large horned cattle was also considerable. Within the settlements bones of mice and dog also were found. The stone architecture differs from the mud-brick structures of the agricultural tribes in Bactria. On the other hand, stone architecture was quite common among the steppe tribes of central Kazakhstan.

At some sites in the Tajikistan Bronze Age, the ceramics of the Late Andronovo steppe variety form a considerable percentage of the total inventory. Eventually the steppe tradition of manufacturing ceramics is extinguished, and there is an increase in the number of wheel-thrown vessels made of light paste typical of the Bactrian tradition. Also a fabric pattern makes its appearance which is widely characteristic of Bactrian ceramics of the later period.

In contrast to the ceramics, the metal artefacts found in southern Tajikistan are all typical of the Steppe Bronze Age. In the burial grounds of the Hissar Valley local as well as Andronovo objects were uncovered in individual tombs; as were objects typical of the Sapalli culture.

In the far south of Tajikistan, in the Vakhsh and Beshkent valleys, conditions are not suitable for dry-farming. Settlements in this region throughout the Bronze Age focussed on herding. The Vakhsh valley culture is characterized by burial in tumuli, while Beshkent valley burials involve the burning of the dismembered skeleton in stone boxes and catacomb graves with materials from the Vakhsh. The Beshkent burial pits relate to the late phases of the Sapalli culture (Askarov & Abdullaev 1983: table XVII.2). Thus, in the Vakhsh Culture there are no steppe-type metal objects, while in Beshkent complexes there are both steppe and Bactrian types.

The ceramics of southern Tajikistan contain 70% wheel-made and 30% hand-made wares. In the Beshkent burial grounds, Bactrial type ceramics of the Mollali phase were recovered. Pottery vessels at Beshkent are similar to those in northern Afghanistan, for example, from Dashli 17 and 19 (Sarianidi 1977: figure 31). A considerable number of similar types are found in the upper levels at Shortughai, in eastern Bactria (FIGURE 9; Francfort 1989). The Vakhsh ceramics are typologically identical, in form and decoration, to those in eastern Bactria. On some of the hand-made vessels there are concentric applied decorations. This mode of decorating the vessel is typical of the final phase of the Steppe cultures, i.e. the Andronovo Culture.

Some Vakhsh burials were found in the northern regions that lead to the mountains encircling the lowland regions of southern Tajikistan, the area which corresponds to the contemporary seasonal routes used to drive the cattle herds from one pasture to another. It is quite possible that ancient cattle-breeders also used these mountainous pastures for grazing their cattle. Such seasonal routes might also have been directed to the south -- to the Pamirs (Babyev 1980; Francfort 1985: 130) as well as to the foothills and mountains of northern Afghanistan. Bactrian cattle-breeding tribes were not nomadic in the precise meaning of this word, for the cattle-breeders used the distant pastures but maintained firm relations with the farming oases in Bactria.

Concluding remarks

The agricultural cultures of Bactria and Margiana during the Bronze Age maintained complex ties with the steppe cultures to the north and to the east. The most difficult problem to be resolved is the chronological relationship and the nature of the cultural interaction that characterized these distinctive cultural traditions. Chronologies developed separately in the West and in the former Soviet Union (FSU) have yet to be reconciled.

The cultural developments at the end of the Bronze Age and the beginning of the Iron Age remain extremely unclear. The BMAC is followed by the Takhirbai and Yaz I periods in Margiana. Sagdullayev (1982) isolates the Yaz I culture as a transitional phase between the Bronze Age and the Iron epoch. Stratigraphically the Yaz I period directly succeeds that of the Namazga VI period. Russian and FSU archaeologists consider the subsequent Yaz II and Yaz III periods to overlap with the pre-Achemenid and Achemenid periods forming a continuous stratigraphic sequence from the Neolithic to the mid 1st millennium BC (Pilipko 1986, for example). The early dates given to the Bronze Age complexes by western European and American archaeologists create lacunae in the stratigraphic scale that are difficult to reconcile. An example of this type of Central Asian chronology indicating discontinuities and chronological gaps has been put forward by Philip Kohl (1984).

Finally, the origins of many of the archaeological complexes are far from being resolved. Central Asia was ethnically and culturally diverse throughout the Bronze Age. On the basis of archaeological materials, migrations to new sites and regions can be well documented. The reasons for these migrations remain little known save for trade and exchange. As is well known, mechanisms of migration are widely employed in Russian archaeology. A pure evolutionary approach to resolving all of the problems of cultural genesis would be a distortion of the historical process. Migrations were a typical feature of primitive societies having various forms, reasons and consequences (Masson 1964: chapter 6; Titov 1982; Lamberg-Karlovsky 1986). In each case it is necessary to research in detail the components forming the substratum and superstratum of these complexes, especially where rapid transformations and cultural change is observed as they are in the context of the BMAC.


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Title Annotation:Special Section
Author:P'yankova, L.
Date:Jun 1, 1994
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