The easternmost remains of a Neanderthal — the Teshik-Tash child — were found in Man-Kuan cave near Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Dated to between 100,000 and 40,000 years ago, the fossils are the oldest known hominid remains in Central Asia. Belonging to a Neanderthal child, estimated to be nine or ten years old, they were discovered in 1938 by A.P. Okladnikov in Teshik-Tash – a cave situated in the branches of the Hissar Range south of Samarkand, Uzbekistan, about 1500 meters above sea level. [Source: Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Erhnography ^=^]

Middle Paleolithic (Mousterian) tools and numerous bones of wild goats and other animals were found in the cave deposits. It appears that people living in the grotto mostly hunted mountain goats. Horns of goats, arranged pairwise, were found around the skeleton. They might have been placed intentionally (some, judging by their position, had been stuck into the ground). If so, rather than merely abandoning the bodies of their dead, the Neanderthals buried them according to a rite reflecting some ideas of the other world. ^=^

There was initially some debate as to whether the fossils belonged to a “classical” Neanderthal” or “an evolutionary line leading to anatomically modern humans. The structure of DNA extracted from the bones of the Teshik-Tash child links him with Neanderthals rather than with Homo sapiens. The famed Russian scientist M.M. Gerasimov has reconstructed the complete appearance of the Teshik-Tash child. The skull, in his words, “is much larger and heavier than that of a modern child of the same age. The browridge is much more robust than in a modern adult. The forehead is retreating . The head is large and heavy, especially in the facial part, the stature is low, and the trunk is long. While being 9-10, he looks older. The disproportion between the head and the rest of the body combines with very powerful shoulders and a peculiarly stooped trunk. The arms are very strong. The legs are short and muscular. This trait combination is typical of Neanderthals.” ^=^

Archeological Discoveries in Boysun District

Ravsan Rahmoni of Tajikistan State University wrote: “In the late 1930s archeologists commenced examining the ancient relics in Boysun, with valuable results. Among these were the finds of A. R Okladnikov, of which the great Tajik historian Bobojon Gafurov wrote: “The cave of Tesiktos....is located near the city of Tirmiz, in the Turgondaryo oasis of the Boysun hills. In this cave, five successive levels of intermittent habitation by Neanderthals have come to light. Some 3,000 stone artifacts were excavated, of which 339 are complete. They include two very common types of stone implements, the knife blade and the hand ax. The knife was used both as a cutting tool and a hunting weapon, the hand ax for felling and trimming timber and scraping hides. Numerous bows were also found. The principal quarry of Tesiktos hunters was the Siberian mountain goat (Capra sibirica), which used to be plentiful in the mountains of Central Asia; in addition they hunted deer, bear, leopard, and smaller animals. The chance discovery here of a skeleton from the Mousterian period—— that of an eight- or nine-year-old boy—— was of worldwide significance.”[Source: “Traces of Ancient Iranian Culture in Boysun District, Uzbekistan” by Ravsan Rahmoni, Tajikistan State University, translated by J. R. Perry. This article was originally published in Mardumgiyoh 5(1-2): 154-63 (1997/1376), in Perso-Arabic and Cyrillic scripts. Mardumgiyoh (“mandrake”) is a journal of folklore published in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, founded and edited by Dr. Rahmoni]

“A few years later the journalist Nurali Rajab (1994) recalled an episode from this excavation, which took place near the villages of Darband and Macay, and in which some of the inhabitants of Darband (all of whom are Tajiks) took part.…the archeologists unearthed the bones of an ancient man in the [Boysun] mountain slopes. The [Darband] villager Mahmadquli Ikromboy,an eye-witness of the event, reported it as follows. The first archeologist to come to Darband for a dig was Parfionov. He explored the mountains and valleys for a few years, digging test pits. He lodged at our house. After he left, Oklaanikov came with his family and also stayed with us, for three years. I always helped with their work. Okladnikov asked me to get a few donkeys for a trip to the village of Macay. There were twenty-five of us in all. We took food and water to the archeologists, hunted on the way, and when necessary helped them to dig. Once when Okladnikov was digging, I was the one who carried out the dirt and debris and disposed or it outside the cave. Suddenly my spade struck a human skull. “I called Okladnikov, and he himself took over digging it out. He spent four days with trowel and brush, extracting and cleaning the skull and bones, which turned out to be those of an eight- or nine-year-old boy. Then we packed the remains into crates, loaded them onto six donkeys, and reached Boysun town by way of the Katmancovdl road.

Pre-History of Central Asia

Much of the history of Central Asia before the time of Alexander the Great is not clear and is based on speculation. Ancient people’s in Central Asia left behind petroglyphs, bas-reliefs and clay sculptures. It is believed that the Indian tribes that brought Indo-European languages to Europe passed through Central Asia around the 10th century B.C. on their way to Iran (which speaks an Indo-European language) and Europe. These people were related to the Aryans that conquered India. They used compound bows, fought in chariots and herded cattle. The Tajiks are related linguistically to these tribes. Remains of hunter-gatherers and early farmers show no signs of war but there were signs of conflict in Pakistan, where farmers began too put up walls 6,000 years ago.

The first people known to have occupied Central Asia were Iranian nomads who arrived from the northern grasslands of what is now Uzbekistan sometime in the first millennium B.C. These nomads, who spoke Iranian dialects, settled in Central Asia and began to build an extensive irrigation system along the rivers of the region. At this time, cities such as Bukhara (Bukhara) and Samarqand (Samarkand) began to appear as centers of government and culture. By the fifth century B.C., the Bactrian, Soghdian, and Tokharian states dominated the region. [Source: Library of Congress]

8000-Year-Old Earthworks and “Nazca” Lines in Kazakhstan?

The discovery of 8000-year earthworks and lines in northern Kazakhstan, largely revealed using satellite imagery from Google Earth, made global headlines in 2015. Ralph Blumenthal wrote in the New York Times, “High in the skies over Kazakhstan, space-age technology has revealed an ancient mystery on the ground. Satellite pictures of a remote and treeless northern steppe reveal colossal earthworks — geometric figures of squares, crosses, lines and rings the size of several football fields, recognizable only from the air and the oldest estimated at 8,000 years old. The largest, near a Neolithic settlement, is a giant square of 101 raised mounds, its opposite corners connected by a diagonal cross, covering more terrain than the Great Pyramid of Cheops. Another is a kind of three-limbed swastika, its arms ending in zigzags bent counterclockwise.” [Source: Ralph Blumenthal, New York Times, October 30, 2015 ^^^]

Described in 2014 “at an archaeology conference in Istanbul as unique and previously unstudied, the earthworks, in the Turgai region of northern Kazakhstan, number at least 260 — mounds, trenches and ramparts — arrayed in five basic shapes. Spotted on Google Earth in 2007 by a Kazakh economist and archaeology enthusiast, Dmitriy Dey, the so-called Steppe Geoglyphs remain deeply puzzling and largely unknown to the outside world.” ^^^

“At first Mr. Dey thought it might be a leftover Soviet installation, perhaps one of Nikita S. Khrushchev’s experiments to cultivate virgin land for bread production. But the next day, Mr. Dey saw a second gigantic figure, the three-legged, swastikalike form with curlicue tips, about 300 feet in diameter. Before the year was out, Mr. Dey had found eight more squares, circles and crosses. By 2012, there were 19. Now his log lists 260, including some odd mounds with two drooping lines called “whiskers” or “mustaches.” ^^^

In October 2015, “in the biggest sign so far of official interest in investigating the sites, NASA released clear satellite photographs of some of the figures from about 430 miles up. “I’ve never seen anything like this; I found it remarkable,” said Compton J. Tucker, a senior biospheric scientist for NASA in Washington. Ronald E. LaPorte, a University of Pittsburgh scientist who helped publicize the finds, called NASA’s involvement “hugely important” in mobilizing support for further research. ^^^

“I don’t think they were meant to be seen from the air,” Mr. Dey, 44, said in an interview from his hometown, Kostanay, dismissing outlandish speculations involving aliens and Nazis. (Long before Hitler, the swastika was an ancient and near-universal design element.) He theorizes that the figures built along straight lines on elevations were “horizontal observatories to track the movements of the rising sun.” ^^^

Archeology of the Ancient Earthworks and “Nazca” Lines in Kazakhstan

Ralph Blumenthal wrote in the New York Times, “In the Cretaceous Period 100 million years ago, Turgai was bisected by a strait from what is now the Mediterranean to the Arctic Ocean. The rich lands of the steppe were a destination for Stone Age tribes seeking hunting grounds, and Mr. Dey’s research suggests that the Mahandzhar culture, which flourished there from 7,000 B.C. to 5,000 B.C., could be linked to the older figures. But scientists marvel that a nomadic population would have stayed in place for the time required to fell and lay timber for ramparts, and to dig out lake bed sediments to construct the huge mounds, originally 6 to 10 feet high and now 3 feet high and nearly 40 feet across. [Source: Ralph Blumenthal, New York Times, October 30, 2015 ^^^]

“Persis B. Clarkson, an archaeologist at the University of Winnipeg who viewed some of Mr. Dey’s images, said these figures and similar ones in Peru and Chile were changing views about early nomads. “The idea that foragers could amass the numbers of people necessary to undertake large-scale projects — like creating the Kazakhstan geoglyphs — has caused archaeologists to deeply rethink the nature and timing of sophisticated large-scale human organization as one that predates settled and civilized societies,” Dr. Clarkson wrote. ^^^

“Enormous efforts” went into the structures, agreed Giedre Motuzaite Matuzeviciute, an archaeologist from Cambridge University and a lecturer at Vilnius University in Lithuania, who visited two of the sites” in 2014. She said by email that she was dubious about calling the structures geoglyphs — a term applied to the enigmatic Nazca Lines in Peru that depict animals and plants — because geoglyphs “define art rather than objects with function.” Mr. Dey said some of the figures might have been solar observatories akin, according to some theories, to Stonehenge in England and the Chankillo towers in Peru. “Everything is linked through the cult of the sun,” said Mr. Dey, who spoke in Russian via Skype through an interpreter, Shalkar Adambekov, a doctoral student at the University of Pittsburgh. ^^^

“With no genetic material to analyze — neither of the two mounds that have been dug into is a burial site — Dr. Matuzeviciute said she used optically stimulated luminescence, a method of measuring doses from ionizing radiation, to analyze the construction material, and came up with a date from one of the mounds of around 800 B.C. Other preliminary studies push the earliest date back more than 8,000 years, which could make them the oldest such creations ever found. Other materials yield dates in the Middle Ages.” ^^^

Discovery of the Ancient Kazakhstan Earthworks

Ralph Blumenthal wrote in the New York Times, “In March 2007, Mr. Dey was at home watching a program, “Pyramids, Mummies and Tombs,” on the Discovery Channel. “There are pyramids all over the earth,” he recalled thinking. “In Kazakhstan, there should be pyramids, too.” Soon, he was searching Google Earth images of Kostanay and environs. There were no pyramids. But, he said, about 200 miles to the south he saw something as intriguing — a giant square, more than 900 feet on each side, made up of dots, crisscrossed by a dotted X. [Source: Ralph Blumenthal, New York Times, October 30, 2015 ^^^]

“Before setting out to look for the figures on the ground, Mr. Dey asked Kazakh archaeologists whether they knew of such things. The answer was no. In August 2007, he led Dr. Logvin and others to the largest figure, now called the Ushtogaysky Square, named after the nearest village. “It was very, very hard to understand from the ground,” he recalled. “The lines are going to the horizon. You can’t figure out what the figure is.” When they dug into one of the mounds, they found nothing. “It was not a cenotaph, where there are belongings,” he said. But nearby they found artifacts of a Neolithic settlement 6,000 to 10,000 years old, including spear points. ^^^

“Now, Mr. Dey said, “the plan is to construct a base for operations.” “We cannot dig up all the mounds. That would be counterproductive,” he said. “We need modern technologies, like they have in the West.” Dr. LaPorte said he, Mr. Dey and their colleagues were also looking into using drones, as the Culture Ministry in Peru has been doing to map and protect ancient sites. But time is an enemy, Mr. Dey said. One figure, called the Koga Cross, was substantially destroyed by road builders this year. And that, he said, “was after we notified officials.” ^^^

Before the Silk Road, the Grain Road?

In April 2014, the New York Times reported: “Nomadic shepherds in the high plains of Central Asia used grain imported from China and southwestern Asia more than 5,000 years ago, according to a new study — perhaps to sprinkle over bodies in funeral rituals. The discovery came from a recent investigation of burial sites in Kazakhstan. The scientists, led by Michael Frachetti, an archaeologist at Washington University in St. Louis, included a botanist and local archaeologists. [Source: Sindya N. Bhanoo, New York Times, April 7, 2014]

“Because what is now Kazakhstan was at a crossroads in the nomads’ path, the findings, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, provide clues about the later emergence of the trade route known as the Silk Road. Early on, the nomads moved only by foot, spending winters in warmer valleys and summers in the mountains. Their seasonal moves broadened their interactions and helped disperse the grains, Dr. Frachetti said.

“These folks were not traveling extremely long distances, but it spread fairly rapidly,” he continued. “You can imagine a story where a person goes down in the valley, starts trading seeds and takes them back.” The scientists also found evidence that by about 1500 B.C., the nomads were cultivating their own barley, wheat, millet and peas. Dr. Frachetti’s graduate students found remnants of grains from the period in an ancient domestic oven, a storage vessel and a kiln. “We see the evolution,” he said, “from the introduction of seeds used for ritual purposes to something that has impact on the local economy.”

Begash: Home of Grain-Eating, Trading Horsemen?

Together with his Kazakh colleagues, Frachetti began digging a decade ago in the Dzhungar Mountains of Kazakhstan. A site called Begash has yielded some interesting discoveries related ancient horsemen. Ancient pastoralists built this dwellings there dated to around 2500 B.C. In a nearby grave, archaeologists found tiny grains of millet and wheat, the oldest domesticated grains yet found in Central Asia. [Source: Andrew Lawler, Archaeology, May/June 2012 \^/]

Begash is a Eurasian pastoralist campsite, located in Semirch'ye in the piedmont zone of the Dzhungar Mountains of southeastern Kazakhstan, which was occupied episodically between ~2500 BC to AD 1900. The site is located at about 950 meters (3110 feet) above sea level, in a flat ravine terrace enclosed by canyon walls and along a spring-fed stream. Archaeological evidence at the site contains information about some of the earliest pastoralist "Steppe Society" communities; the important archaeobotanical evidence suggests Begash may have been on the route which moved domestic plants from the point of domestication into the broader world. [Source: K. Kris Hirst, About.com]

Andrew Lawler wrote in Archaeology magazine: “Covering nearly 500 square miles” is a region between “the Tian Shan and Altai mountain ranges” that “boasts sharp peaks topping 12,000 feet, as well as harsh desert. At a site near a village called Begash, on a flat terrace enclosed by steep canyon walls alongside a small stream, the team uncovered the foundations of simple stone structures along with an array of potsherds and bronze and stone artifacts in stone-lined oval and rectangular tombs. The earliest layers at Begash date to at least as early as 2,500 B.C.,based on alpha magnetic spectrometry dating of organic remains, says Frachetti. One woman was laid to rest with a bell-shaped hooked bronze earring around 1700 B.C., according to electron spinresonance dating. Similar earrings are only found several centuries later some 600 miles to the north on the Siberian steppes, hinting at styles that moved north over time. \^/

“More surprisingly, the excavators found wheat, which was first domesticated in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, and broom corn millet that was first widely grown in northern China. The grains were used ritually in a burial, and radio- carbon dating of the remains dates them to about 2200 B.C.,making them the oldest known domesticated grains in Central Asia. The people of Begash may not have grown either grain—there are no grinding stones, the telltale sign of grain preparation—but instead received it via trade networks stretching from the Near East to China. \^/

“Dorian Fuller,a leading expert in ancient grains based at University College London, calls the finds“important and well dated.” He adds that Chinese crops such as millet began to appear in southwest Asia around 1900 B.C., a few centuries after they reached Begash, which could mean the passage through the mountain regions was a means of gradual transmission from east to west. Frachetti speculates that the grains may have been acquired from other tribes and used for ritual purposes, and then perhaps were passed on in turn to other pastoral peoples. What makes the Begash discoveries so important is that previously this region was assumed to have been a land of scattered foragers until steppe people trickled down into the area’s valleys and mountain ranges after 2000 B.C. But it is becoming evident that the people of Begash were not simple foragers, but sophisticated pastoralists who tended their fiocks, much as people in the area still do today. They built small encampments, favored sheep and goat over cattle, and ate few wild animals. \^/

Plants, Animals and Artifacts from Begash

Archeologist and science writer K. Kris Hirst wrote on About.com; “Within soils samples taken from the Phase 1a burial cist and associated funerary fire pit were discovered seeds of domesticated wheat, broomcorn millet and barley. This evidence is interpreted by the excavators, an assertion supported by many other scholars, as indication of a distinct route of transmission of wheat and millet from the central Asian mountains and into the steppes by the late 3rd millennium BC (Frachetti et al. 2010). [Source: K. Kris Hirst, About.com]

“The wheat consisted of 13 whole seeds of domesticated compact free-threshing wheat, either Triticum aestivum or T. turgidum. Frachetti et al. report that the wheat compares favorably to that from the Indus Valley region in Mehrgarh and other Harappan sites, ca. 2500-2000 cal BC and from Sarazm in western Tajikistan, ca. 2600-2000 BC. A total of 61 carbonized broomcorn millet (Panicum miliaceum) seeds were recovered from various Phase 1a contexts, one of which was direct-dated to 2460-2190 cal BC. One barley grain and 26 cerealia (grains unidentified to species), were also recovered from the same contexts. Other seeds found within the soil samples are wild Chenopodium album, Hyoscyamus spp. (also known as nightshade), Galium spp. (bedstraw) and Stipa spp. (feathergrass or spear grass).

“Domesticated wheat, broomcorn millet and barley found in this context is surprising, given that the people who occupied Begash were clearly nomadic pastoralists, not farmers. The seeds were found in a ritual context, and Frachetti and colleagues suggest that the botanical evidence represents both a ritual exploitation of exotic foods, and an early trajectory for the diffusion of domestic crops from their points of origin into the broader world.

“The faunal evidence (nearly 22,000 bones and bone fragments) at Begash contradicts the traditional notion that the emergence of Eurasian pastoralism was sparked by horse riding. Sheep/goat are the most prevalent species within the assemblages, as much as 75 percent of identified minimum number of individuals (MNI) in the earliest phases to just under 50 percent in Phase 6. Although distinguishing sheep from goats is notoriously difficult, sheep are much more frequently identified in the Begash assemblage than goats.

“Cattle are the next most frequently found, making up between 18-32 percent of the faunal assemblages throughout the occupations; with horse remains not present at all until ca 1950 BC, and then in slowly increasing percentages to around 12 percent by the medieval period. Other domestic animals include dog and Bactrian camel, and wild species are dominated by red deer (Cervus elaphus) and, in the later period, goitered gazelle (Gazella subgutturosa).

“Key species at the earliest Middle and Bronze age levels at Begash indicates that sheep/goats and cattle were the predominant species. Unlike other steppe communities, it seems apparent that the earliest phases at Begash were not based on horse riding, but rather began with Eurasian pastoralists. See Frachetti and Benecke for details. Outram et al. (2012), however, have argued that the results from Begash should not be considered necessarily typical of all steppe societies. Their 2012 article compared proportions of cattle, sheep and horses from six other Bronze Age sites in Kazakhstan, to show that dependence on horses seems to varied widely from site to site.

“Textile-impressed pottery from Begash dated to the Early/Middle and Late Bronze ages reported in 2012 (Doumani and Frachetti) provide evidence for a wide variety of woven textiles in the southeastern steppe zone, beginning in the early Bronze Age. Such a wide variety of woven patterns, including a weft-faced cloth, implies interaction between pastoral and hunter-gatherer societies from the northern steppe with pastoralists to the southeast. Such interaction is likely, say Doumani and Frachetti, to be associated with trade networks postulated to have been established no later than the 3rd millinennium BC. These trade networks are believed to have spread animal and plant domestication out of the along the Inner Asian Mountain Corridor.”

Connections with Begash

Andrew Lawler wrote in Archaeology magazine: “Seeking more evidence, Frachetti and his colleagues in recent years turned to an area 400 miles southwest of Begash in today’s Uzbekistan. Frachetti and Farhad Maksudov of the Uzbek Archaeology Institute chose a region north of Samarkand, the ancient Silk Road city, because of its proximity to another, even more ancient, town called Sarazm (Sogdian for “where the land begins”). Founded in the fourth millennium B.C., Sarazm—just over the modern border in Tajikistan—flourished for a thousand years and is the oldest large-scale settlement in CentralAsia, what scholars call a “proto-urban center.” It also marks, at least prior to the fiNDS at Begash, the northeastern frontier of the Fertile Crescent’s reach. Sarazm, discovered accidentally by a villager in 1976 and excavated in the 1980s by Soviet archaeologists, was once a pros- perous center of trade for goods such as turquoise, agate, wool, and leather. It was connected through trade networks to the flourishing civilizations of Mesopotamia, Iran, and the Indus, as well as with traders as far north as Siberia and as far east as Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush Mountains. As with cities from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indus River, Sarazm’s economy was based on wheat, barley, sheep, and goats. [Source: Andrew Lawler, Archaeology, May/June 2012 \^/]

“The people produced fine pottery and had a taste for luxury items imported from afar. use horses until well into the second millennium B.C.,and the varieties of sheep and goat found here today appear to be related to the varieties first domesticated thousands of years before in western Iran, near ancient Mesopotamia. This indicates that Begash was “at the crossroads of extremely wide networks among Eurasian communities by the third millennium B.C.,” asserts Frachetti. That doesn’t mean that traders traversed thousands of miles in this early period. Instead, the archaeologist envisions pastoralists taking their fiocks to higher pastures in the summer, where they encountered neighbors from other valleys doing the same. Thus, ideas and technologies might have passed gradually through the mountain corridors of southern Central Asia. This corridor, Frachetti believes, may have been a key conduit for Bronze Age developments farther into East Asia and Mongolia. Fra- chetti’s team is now busy analyzing both human and animal bone and tooth samples in order to garner isotopic, DNA, and health data. \^/

“Frachetti and Maksudov’s goal was to understand how pastoralists may have interacted with their neighbors, with Sarazm, and with more distant places during the third and second millennia B.C. One of the questions they asked was whether the area’s ancient pastoralists indeed guided their herds as high up as alpine meadows, as Frachetti speculated. If so,then they might easily encounter pastoralists from other valleys who had made the same trip. Such seasonal meetings might have forged networks that explain the diffusion of goods and technologies without the need for mass migration. No evidence of such interaction, however, had been found. But in June of 2011, surveying a pasture more than 6,000 feet above sea level, in an area of 3.5 acres, Frachetti and Maksudov uncovered evidence of at least fifteen ancient dwellings on a mound, as well as more than 1,000 pieces of ceramic. Though some are from medieval times, others appear to be from the Bronze Age. The team hopes to begin excavating the site this summer to gather more data.

Begash: a Sign of Ancient Urbanization and Steppe Trade?

Andrew Lawler wrote in Archaeology magazine: “In the past, these southern mountains and deserts were considered too remote, rugged, and inhospitable to have played a role in early migrations or the emergence of urban life. The Karakum Desert, where it might rain once in a decade, covers nearly two-thirds of today’s Turkmenistan, while the perpetually snow-covered Tian Shan Mountains of western China and eastern Kyrgyzstan soar 24,000 feet into the thin air. [Source: Andrew Lawler, Archaeology, May/June 2012 \^/]

“Based on ethnographic research, knowledge of the local geography, and a measure of intuition, Frachetti and Maksudov also sought out likely Bronze Age settlement spots in the steep valleys below the alpine meadows. A tone site dubbed“the eagle’s nest”after the resident bird of prey’s massive home, they found pottery and charcoal amid the remains of a small settlement. Preliminary radiocarbon dates place the site at roughly 2000 B.C., in the middle of the Bronze Age, and long before steppe pastoralists from the north might have migrated here. Other sites, including one in a protected ravine, yielded medieval Islamic pottery, Iron Age potsherds, and what appear to be remains of Bronze Age pots, which are still under analysis. “Even if the settlement only dates to 1200 B.C., it will add 3,000 years to the pastoral record of Uzbekistan,” Frachetti says. Though not permanent, these sites appear to have been repeatedly used for millennia, and they appear to be scattered over vast areas. “If you consider there are thousands of valleys in this region, and if there were five to 15 villages per valley, then you have an incredible force for civiliza- tion,” Frachetti says. The combined finds in Uzbekistan and at Begash suggest to Frachetti that the people living in Central Asia around 2000 B.C. were part of the rapidly urbanizing world, when the great cities of Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Indus were at their first peak, and just as Chinese urbanization was beginning. Though these pastoralists may never have traveled more than a few dozen miles from plain to valley to alpine meadow, Frachetti maintains they had access to the wider world. \^/

“Victor Mair of the University of Pennsylvania sees the debate as an old one, pitting those who view the dominance of Mesopotamia and Iran to the south against those who are focused on the steppe societies to the west and north. David Anthony, an archaeologist at Hartwick College and a long- time critic of Frachetti’s theory, acknowledges, however, the importance of the discovery. “Begash is one candle shining in this vast dark region,”he says.“Anything dating to 2000 B.C. or earlier is incredibly important.”However, he adds that there is still not enough evidence that the people of Begash were anything other than an anomaly. \^/

“Anthony suggests that in the end, researchers may well discover that both sides are right, and that Central Asian pastoralists had links with both western steppe peoples as well as the civilizations to the south. But the key role that Central Asian pastoralists played in the emergence of civiliza- tion across the vast continent may no longer be at issue. For the moment, all agree that more fieldwork in places long ignored s necessary. For example, one of Frachetti’s students is now digging in the Altai, far to the north of Begash, to explore possible southern connections through the mountain corridor. Researchers also hope that genetic and isotopic analysis of both human and animal bones may help resolve the controversy. Analyses of modern sheep in the area point to an Iranian origin, strengthening Frachetti’s argument that Begash and other Central Asian sites were connected with peoples to the south and west. Whatever the outcome, the image of the nomad as solely a bloodthirsty marauder may finally be laid to rest.\^/

“Whether through small networks, mass migrations, or some combina- tion, pastoralists in fact served as the connective tissue as civilization expanded across the Asian continent, funneling goods, ideas, and innovative technologies. Frachetti is eager to add to slowly mounting data that are certain to revamp our ideas about their role. “We’re going to find many Begashes,” he predicts. “We don’t have to worry—they are out there.” \^/


Sarazm, which means “where the land begins”, is an archaeological site in Tajikistan bearing testimony to the development of human settlements in Central Asia, from the 4th millennium B.C. to the end of the 3rd millennium B.C.. The ruins demonstrate the early development of proto-urbanization in this region. This centre of settlement, one of the oldest in Central Asia, is situated between a mountainous region suitable for cattle rearing by nomadic pastoralists, and a large valley conducive to the development of agriculture and irrigation by the first settled populations in the region. Sarazm also demonstrates the existence of commercial and cultural exchanges and trade relations with peoples over an extensive geographical area, extending from the steppes of Central Asia and Turkmenistan, to the Iranian plateau, the Indus valley and as far as the Indian Ocean. [Source: UNESCO ~]

Sarazm is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The proto-urban site of Sarazm illustrates the early rise of proto-urbanization in this region in the sophistication of the dwellings, infrastructures, and archaeological findings. It came into being as the result of the complementarity initially between pastoralism and early agrarianism, and subsequently between the exploitation of mineral resources in the Bronze Age and the development of handicrafts. Sarazm was a long-lasting and prosperous proto-urban metropolis, at the north-eastern extremity of a vast area stretching from Mesopotamia to the Indus and the Iranian plateau. ~

The ancient Sarazm settlement was discovered in autumn 1976 by the archaeologist Abdullojon Isakov. The monument is located 15 kilometers west of Panjikent and 45 kilometers east of Samarkand. The original area of the uncovered settlement spread over an area of 130 hectares. A city existed there more than five thousand years ago and had its highest level of development near the start of the bronze age. According to radio-carbon dating, the civilization existed in four separate periods: 3,500-3,200 B.C; 3,200-2,900 B.C.; 2,900-2,700 B.C.; and 2,700-2,000 B.C. [Source: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan, www.tdc.tj /*/]

The area had an agricultural economy centred around farming (irrigated and non-irrigated) cattle-breeding and craftwork. At the end of the 4th millenium B.C. Sarazm became one of largest centres for metallurgy in Central Asia. This came from the riches found near the top of Zarafshon’s mountains such as gold, silver, copper, lead and tin. Sarazm had a strong ecomony and a well-developed industrial culture by Central Asian standards of that period. By the middle of the 4th millemium B.C., the Sarazmians had improved their network of contacts, spreading their culture and trading with ancient settlements in Southern Turkmenistan, Iran, Baluchistan, India and Afghanistan. Sarazm city is a unique monument which shows the variety of cultural relationships and contacts of early bronze age people. /*/

The results of the excavations in Sarazm have been presented in many international symposia – in Tajikistan (1979 & 1994), Washington (1981 & 1986), Paris (1985), Germany (1992), Iran (3004), Italy (2007) and Africa (2008). According to the decision of the Republic of Tajikistan (#391, dated 21 September 2001) the 5,500-year old Sarazm site in Panjikent region was declared a historical-architectural treasure which forms part of the culture of the land, history and tradition of the Tajiks. /*/

Genetic Data on the Origin of the Central Asian Peoples

Modern Central Asia ethnic groups represents varying degrees of diversity derived from fact that many ethnic groups traveled through Central Asia and had varying impacts on the region. Originally populated by Iranian tribes and other Indo-European peoples, Central Asia experienced numerous invasions and intrusions emanating out of Mongolia, the Altai region and Eurasian steppe. Genetic studies show that the Uzbek population, for example, has substantial Asian and Indo-European ancestry. The Uzbeks display a somewhat closer genetic relationship with Turkic-Mongols than with Iranic populations to the south and west. [Source: protobulgarians.com]

According University of Chicago study on genetic genealogy of Central Asia ethnic groups, the Uzbeks cluster somewhere between the Mongols and the Iranian peoples: From the 3d century B.C., Central Asia experienced nomadic expansions of Altaic-speaking oriental-looking people, and their incursions continued for hundreds of years, beginning with the Hsiung-Nu (who may be ancestors of the Huns), in 300 B.C., and followed by the Turks, in the 1st millennium A.D., and the Mongol expansions of the 13th century. High levels of haplogroup 10 and its derivative, haplogroup 36, are found in most of the Altaic-speaking populations and are a good indicator of the genetic impact of these nomadic groups. [Source: A Genetic Landscape Reshaped by Recent Events: Y-Chromosomal Insights into Central Asia, Tatiana Zerjal, R. Spencer Wells, Nadira Yuldasheva, Ruslan Ruzibakiev, and Chris Tyler-Smith, American Journal of Human Genetics, September 2002]

“The expanding waves of Altaic-speaking nomads involved not only eastern Central Asia, where their genetic contribution is strong, as is shown in figure 7dbut also regions farther west, like Iran, Iraq, Anatolia, and the Caucasus, as well as Europe, which was reached by both the Huns and the Mongols. In these western regions, however, the genetic contribution is low or undetectable (Wells et al. 2001), even though the power of these invaders was sometimes strong enough to impose a language replacement, as in Turkey and Azerbaijan (Cavalli-Sforza et al. 1994). The difference could be due to the population density of the different geographical areas. Eastern regions of Central Asia must have had a low population density at the time, so an external contribution could have had a great genetic impact. In contrast, the western regions were more densely inhabited, and it is likely that the existing populations were more numerous than the conquering nomads, therefore leading to only a small genetic impact. Thus, the admixture estimate from northeast Asia is high in the east, but is barely detectable west of Uzbekistan.”

According to an Uzbekistan study despite the fact that the majority of modern Central Asians speaking Turkic languages, they derive much of their genetic heritage from the conquering Mongol warriors of Genghis Khan. “ The Turkic peoples as a whole share common languages and many common cultural traits, but do not have common origins. The Uzbeks are descended to a large degree from Turkic-Mongol invaders whose invasions span literally millenia from the first millenium CE with the early migrations of the Gokturks to later invasions by the Uzbeks themselves during the early and mid period of the 2nd millenium. These migrating Altaic peoples outnumbered the native Iranian peoples of Central Asia and appear to have assimilated the vast majority through intermarriage, while mainly the Tajiks survived albeit with some Turkic intermingling as well. Thus, in the case of Uzbekistan and most other Central Asian states, it was not a process of language replacement, such as what took place in Turkey and Azerbaijan, but rather a mass migration and population replacement that helped to shape the modern Turkic peoples of Uzbekistan and other Central Asian states.

Indo-Europeans in Central Asia

A. K. Narain wrote in the “Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia”: “No barbarians survived so long and became so famous as those who are conventionally known as the Indo-Europeans. No discovery has created such a mirage as the possibility that so many languages of Europe and Asia are derived from a common origin and that we must look for the original people and their home in antiquity. For more than a century, this pursuit has withstood the challenges of science and prejudice alike. The truth may defy us, but the lure of it is still there.This gift of the comparative philologist is yet to be accepted by the archeologist, and the task of the historian is unenviable. While the original home of the Indo-Europeans remains to be finally settled, the charm of Chinese links with them has not ceased to attract. Perhaps Inner Asia holds the key. [Source: The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia, edited by Denis Sinor. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990]

“The earliest linguistic remains of the Indo-Europeans in this area date from about the third quarter of the first millenium A.D. This consists of a literature, largely of Indic origin, Buddhistic in content, mostly translations or adaptations of religio-philosophical works, and a few commercial documents. They are written in a variety of the Indian syllabic script known as Brahmi, remains of which have been recovered in various states of preservation from the ruins in the region of the modern cities of Kucha, Karashahr and Turfan. This linguistic relic, which is demonstrably Indo-European, strangely enough bears close affinity with the Western languages of the so-called “centum” group, rather than with the Indic and Iranian, the so-called “satem,” languages of the geographically contiguous areas.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated April 2016

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from factsanddetails.com, please contact me.