Sultan Palace Merv

Stone Age Oxus Cultures. The Largest Sites And Their Interconnection

Earliest Oxus Civilization sites

Jeytun Depe, 26 km to the north from Kopet Dag mountains and Ashkhabad. Jeytun name is associated with the all of Neolithic period settlements in the northern foothills of the Kopet Dag area, 7200-4600 BCE. The excavations revealed that the inhabitants started the farming, kept herds of goats and sheep and grew wheat and barley.

Anau culture,12 km to the east from Ashkhabad. Anau IA period 4600-4000 BCE, Kopet Dag piedmont area. The only discovery witnessing the possibility of writing in the Bactria- Margiana Archeological complex (BMAC), 2400-1900 BCE, revealed in 2000 at Anau and known as <Anau seal>. The seal has five geometric markings what are similar to Chinese small seal characters.

Namazga Depe culture

Namazga I 4000-35000 BCE/contemporary with Anau IB2 period. Namazga II 3500-3200 BCE, Namazga III 3200-2800 BCE as a village settlement.

Namazga IV 2800-2400 BCE, a proto urban site. Last part of this period – the beginning of pottery made on a fast wheel. The carinated forms of ceramics and vertical rims (with the fine geometric painted designs). Central Asia ceramics traditional forms.

Namazga V 2400-2000 BCE, production and administrative, governmental center, with Altyn Depe likely second capital in the area. Main town reaching to 52 hectares and around 17-20 thousand inhabitants.

Namazga VI Late Bronze Age 1800- 1500 BCE, characterized by the incursions of nomadic pastoralists from Alekseyevka culture/ Andronovo. Around 1600 BCE, Namazga Depe shrinks to a fraction of its former size. Altyn Depe is abandoned.

Altyn Depe culture,Eneolithic (Chalcolithic) period 4000-2800 BCE.

In the Early Bronze Age 2800-2400 developed a proto urban society. Altyn Depe become one of major centers. It became a town, with fortification wall around it. Creating town defense system and construction planning inside. Power, Administrative and Residential quarters outlined.

Pottery done with use of potter's fast wheel (Altyn Depe horizons 4-5/ Namazga IV level). Ceramics have the distinctive carinated side and vertical-lipped rims. Grapes were grown. In the middle Bronze Age, 2400-2000 BCE, Altyn Depe having maximum size of 25 hectares and around 7- 10 thousand inhabitants.

The two models of wheeled carts found at Altyn Depe dated to 3000 BC. This is the earliest evidence of wheeled transport use in Central Asia. Type of harness, carts initially pulled by oxen or a bull. Another cart drawn by a camel, found at Altyn Depe dated to 2200 BC.

During the Copper Age, the population of the region grew. Mason V.M conjecture that people migrated to the region from central Iran and during this process many artisans brought their skill and knowledge of metallurgy, ceramics and other innovations. Soon, they became blended with Jeytun farmers. Around 3500 BCE, become distinct the cultural unity of the settlement, splitting in two pottery styles: Anau, Kara Depe, Namazga Depe had the colored painted pottery and in the east, Geoksyur and Altyn Depe settlements had more austere pottery style. This fact may indicate the formation of two tribal groups.

The first occurrence of unpainted fast-wheel ceramics so typical of the desert oases of Margiana and Bactria is in the early Namazga V period in central and eastern foorhill zone at sites such as Shor Depe, Namazga Depe, Alten Depe and Ulug Depe. The ceramics, which often have a sharp carination on the shoulders and rim, are often considered elegant in shape with their distinctive forms. The forms are very standardized, most likely indicating a high degree of craft specialization, especially in comparison with the earlier handmade ceramics. Two chronological phases of Namazga V ceramics are particularly well documented at Altyn Depe where extensive Namazga V deposits have been excavated.

The early Namazga V sites of the foothill zone are dense settlements with differentiated quarters. At both large and small sites the architecture is similarly compact, with multi-roomed houses, long alleys or corridors and courtyards. These sites are better characterized as large agglomerated villages, since there is no difference in the structure of the settlements between the large and the small sites.

The regional interaction of the early Namazga V appears to be a continuation of the late Namazga IV pattern with a limited regional network. The occurrence of isolated exotic small objects in the absence of other evidence of contact is more indicative of a pattern of trickle trade than of culture contact.

The early Namazga V period deposits at Altyn Depe include imported or imitated mature Harappa artifacts. The small seals, beads, and ivory sticks appear to be trade items. If not made in the Indus Valley, they are of a type at least foreign to the Central Asian small- finds traditions. While the early levels of the Harappan outpost of Shortughai (Northern Afghanistan) are cotemporary with the early Namazga V, it must be noted that ceramic parallels between Altyn Depe and Shortughai for this period are negligible.

Late Namazga V is a crucial period in the development of Central Asian oases cultures because of two important events in the foothill region. First is the appearance of several extremely large and dense settlements emerge with all of the indicators of statelevel urbanism. Second , the oases area of Margiana is widely occupied.

During the late Namazga V period, Namazga is the largest site, 50 ha, in the central foothill zone. Altyn Depe 25-26 ha, is the central site in the eastern foothill zone. The architecture at both sites is distinctive, with multi-roomed houses, courtyards and narrow streets. Further excavations at Altyn Depe focused on the final phase of occupation, revealed the potters' quarters, monumental architecture, and the large areas of domestic architecture. The results of the excavations permit characterize these large sites as cities, as the word is defined in the Near East.

Future research focus that the sites exceeded the carrying capacity of the agricultural land around them. The rivers of the foothill zone do not allow irrigation, because their discharge of water is too small. Agriculture is restricted to dry farming with limited liman irrigation. No other complex irrigation system developed in the foothill zone until the later introduction of the qanat system of underground canals – a development that followed the mid-first millennium BCE.

The suggestion is that given a food production limits in the foothill sites, the long known richness of the desert oases would seem attractive. People from foothill sites would then invest the energy necessary to clear the land and settle there. There may be a correlation between the depopulation of the urban foothill sites of the end of Namazga V foothill zone and the origins of widespread occupation in Bactria.

Late Namazga V materials are found widely in Margiana, covering an area of approximately 3,000 sq km. The initial settlement in Margiana happened at the same time that the foothill site of Altyn Depe was in its largest urban phase.

Connection with Andronovo culture

Alakul 1800-1500 BCE, between Amu Darya (Oxus) and Syr Darya (Jaxartes), Kyzylkum desert.

Alekseyevka 1200-1000 BCE final Bronze Age in eastern Kazakhstan, contacts with Namazga VI in Turkmenistan.


Geoksyur oasis in the delta of Tejen river (Harirud) had similar settlements to early Anau settlements. In 3000 BCE, people from Geoksyur migrated in the Murghab river delta in search of new lands and water. Some of them reached the Zeravshan river valley in Transoxiana, at Sarazm (Pendjikent). This conjecture based on the Geoksyur pottery found in both areas. This fact suggests the connection between the farmers of the region.

Farming in deltaic fans practiced in the Geoksyur sites of the Tejen river. These sites located outside of the dry farming belt and required a simple irrigation system for agriculture. The seasonally stable discharge of Tejen river did not require long canals or complex irrigation systems. Simple irrigation systems of the late Namazga III to early Namazga IV period around the Geoksyur sites consisted of parallel canals from a major branch of the delta drainage. Only one or two settlements occurred on the each canal system. Thus the ability to transform areas outside of the dry farming belt through irrigation was known one thousand years before the development of irrigation in Margiana.

The Geoksyur sites lacked important natural resources, the same like the areas of Margiana and Bactria. Thus Geoksyur provide evidence for the first extensive relations with distant areas, bringing imported materials. The metal objects were made from imported ingots, and even Indian ocean shells were imported for the production of bangles.

Ilgynly Depe settlement,Early to Early Late Chalcolithic period 3800-3000 BCE. Located in Kopet Dag foothill zone, Chacha- Meana. Abandoned at the beginning of Late Chalcolithic, when the inhabitants moved to near by center of Altyn Depe.

The settlements had special houses with elaborate infrastructures, painted walls. Provided with semi-refined copper ingots produced near unknown extraction areas. Then these ingots have been re-melted for casting a variety of objects (hammers, awls, needles, blades, sickles. Chisels and points, socleted axe-adzes; different ornamental goods such as pins, round mirrors and beads. Done with use of casting in ceramic moulds and forging with re-heating and annealing treatments and utilizing a large number of ground stone tools.

Andronovo culture

Complex or Archeological horizon of Bronze Age cultures between 2000- 900 BCE in western Siberia and central Eurasian Steppes. Speaking Indo-Iranian languages and Uralic speaking northern fringe.

Subcultures of the Andronovo horizon:

  • Fedorovo 1900-1400 BCE, southern Siberia, earliest evidence of cremation and fire cult
  • Alakul 1800-1500 BCE, between Amu Darya (Oxus) and Syr Darya (Jaxartes), Kyzylkum desert

  • Eastern Fedorovo 1750-1500 BCE Tian Shan mountains (Northwestern Xinjiang, China,southeastern Kazakhstan, eastern Kyrgyzstan

  • Alekseyevka 1200-1000 BCEfinal Bronze Age in eastern Kazakhstan, contacts with Namazga VI in Turkmenistan