COUNTLESS RIDDLES OF MARGIANA
The Moscow House of Nationalities hosted the presentation of the book “The World of the Oxus Civilization”. It was organized by the Miklouho-Maclay Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, under which the Margiana archaeological expedition has been operating for the past two decades now. The expedition was established in accordance with the cooperation agreement with the Ministry of Culture of Turkmenistan. Under this agreement, the National Directorate for the Protection, Study and Restoration of Historical and Cultural Monuments acts as a scientific partner from the Turkmen side.
This January, well-known scientific publishing house Routledge (London – New York) released the fundamental research “The World of the Oxus Civilization” under the editorship of Dr. Bertil Lyonne (France) and the head of the Margiana expedition, Doctor of Historical Sciences, Professor Nadezhda Dubova (Russia).
In fact, the book presents the comprehensive synthesis of everything that is currently known about the country of Margush. Specialists from many countries took part in the compilation of this book, including those who participated in the archaeological excavations of the monuments of ancient Margiana and associated monuments of ancient Bactria. The design of the book cover features the work by Allanazar Sopiev and Maksat Babayev, specialists from two Ashgabat museums, who copied the relief image of Bactrian camels on a silver goblet found during excavations. The release of this book by such a prestigious publishing house proves the high international recognition of the results achieved thanks to the collaboration of scientists from Russia, Turkmenistan and the CIS countries.
As Professor Nadezhda Dubova noted during the presentation, the Oxus civilization, which is also called the Bactrian-Margiana archaeological complex (or culture) abbreviated as BMAC, existed in the south of Central Asia in the Middle and Late Bronze Age for about half a millennium – from about 2250 BC until its decline around 1700-1500 BC.
The credit for discovery and excavation of the Bactrian-Margiana archaeological complex goes primarily to the outstanding archaeologist, Viktor Ivanovich Sarianidi (1929–2013). His many years of work in Turkmenistan and Afghanistan became one of the last outstanding achievements of the world archeology and art history of the Ancient East. Nevertheless, BMAK is still a mystery, because the flourishing of this culture was amazing, and its sudden disappearance is inexplicable.
It was centered around the southern part of Central Asia (southern Turkmenistan, southern Uzbekistan and northern Afghanistan) where most of the finds originate, yet similar cultural features are found in Tajikistan and Zeravshan Valley of Uzbekistan, as well as far beyond the region, mostly in eastern Iran and Baluchistan (present Pakistan).
Most of the finds (multiplying as research continues) come from necropolises located in the surrounding “outer” zones, and very few settlements have been discovered so far.
Although this civilization was quite developed with a well thought out and planned architecture, monumental buildings and many magnificent artifacts made of precious stones or metals, it apparently did not have its own writing system that could shed light on the secrets of its culture, language, society, economy and enlighten us on the causes of its prosperity and decline.
There is enough evidence that the Oxus civilization was part of the very developed network of relations, most likely of trade and economic nature, that developed in the last centuries of the third and first centuries of the second millennium BC between Anatolia, Mesopotamia, the Persian Gulf and Elam, as well as the valley of Indus. Unfortunately, the ancient name of this country has not survived, although scientists have put forward several hypotheses.
Later, BMAK area of influence became known as Bactria and Margiana – two provinces that played an important role in the era of the Achaemenids, Parthians and Kushans, when these names were first mentioned in written sources. Many articles and books on the Bactrian-Margiana archaeological culture have already been published, but mostly in Russian, and it is difficult to find them in the West.
That is why it is so important to publish a new book in English, allowing the Western reader to fully understand all the most important that is known to modern science about the Oxus civilization.
“Our book aims to provide the latest data on this mysterious culture, Nadezhda Dubova said. Of course, it is impossible to present the various aspects even on nine hundred pages of a large format. That is why the authors and editors of this collection admit that the new book is far from being exhaustive on this topic.”
The balance of exploration is unequal within the “core area”, and it is regrettable that the book does not present in more detail the finds related to the Bactrian-Margiana archaeological culture, coming from such remote regions as Elam, Mesopotamia, Northern Syria or Anatolia, with which this civilization was closely related.
The editors invited a number of specialists from different countries to write about certain aspects of life of this civilization. Several articles relate to the latest findings from excavations, study of materials and natural environment. Others relate to the myths and religious beliefs of the population of the Bactrian-Margiana archaeological culture.
Finally, several chapters are devoted to the current research in the field of metallurgy and mining that may have been one of the sources of wealth of ancient Bactria and Margiana. In total, “The World of the Oxus Civilization” consists of 29 chapters written by 35 authors from nine countries.
Speaking at the presentation, the editor-in-chief of the Bulletin of the International Institute for Central Asian Studies, Ruslan Muradov, called the book a genuine encyclopedia of BMAK and a kind of monument to Viktor Ivanovich Sarianidi, since not a single chapter in this book could have been completed without referring to the works by this outstanding scientist, who did so much for the study of ancient history of the Turkmen people.
Speaking about the architecture of Bactria and Margiana, Ruslan Muradov noted that existing monuments clearly testify to the emergence of monumentality on the periphery of the ancient Eastern world that did not know such scale before. In his opinion, this became possible following the profound changes in the social life of local communities who accumulated material resources and ideological capital for construction of unprecedented buildings.
Some of the authors of the book also made short reports on the topics of their research. Nadezhda Dubova presented the analysis of a group of elite burials from the “King Necropolis” of Gonur-Depe and spoke about the technical and comparative research of unique mosaics found there.
French anthropologist Dr. Julio Bendezu-Sarmiento presented the research based on data from the burials of Ulug-Depe (Turkmenistan) and Jarkutan (Uzbekistan).
Robert Sataev, candidate of biological sciences from Ufa, presented the results of archaeo-zoological analysis of animal bones found at Gonur-Depe. This topic was continued by Associate Professor of the Bashkir State Agrarian University, candidate of biological sciences Lilia Sataeva, who is currently conducting the paleobotanical research as part of the Margiana expedition.
Senior researcher at the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, candidate of biological sciences Vladimir Kufterin presented bioanthropological data from Bactria and Margiana.
Natalya Vinogradova, leading researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, candidate of historical sciences, presented the results of recent excavation of necropolises in the south of Tajikistan and touched on the issues related to the formation of the BMAC.
Italian archaeologist Dr. Gian Luca Bonora delivered a report on relationship between the ancient population of Margiana and the people of the northern steppes.
Speakers at the presentation of the book noted that despite the timeout in field research caused by the coronavirus pandemic quarantine the past year was productive in its own way, making it possible to focus on processing and analyzing the vast array of archaeological materials accumulated over the past seasons.
The international team of the Margiana expedition continues working in the office and laboratory conditions on a number of new scientific publications on specific topics of their research.
However, all the thoughts of archaeologists are naturally about continuing the excavations in Turkmenistan and the hope for the earliest possible lifting of quarantine restrictions in order to resume work in their native Margiana.