Monday, November 7, 2011

Along the Amu Darya -- the Oxus River

First, to westerners the Amu Darya is a mystery.  It is a great river that has supported more than one civilization in its history.   To give an authoritative source on its location and the lands it waters:

*Amu Darya or Amudarya , river, c.1,600 mi (2,580 km) long, formed by the junction of the Vakhsh and Pandj rivers, which rise in the Pamir Mts. of central Asia. It flows generally northwest, marking much of the northern border of Afghanistan with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan before flowing through the Kara Kum desert of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, and entering the S Aral Sea through a delta. The river drains c.180,000 sq mi (466,200 sq km). It flows swiftly until it reaches the Kara Kum where its course braids into several channels. The Amu Darya provides water for irrigation.... The Kara Kum Canal (c.500 mi/800 km long) carries water from the Amu Darya near Kelif across S Turkmenistan to Ashgabat and supplements the flow of the Tejen and Murgab rivers.*
"Amu Darya" The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2008. 
The first named culture that settled and flourished in that area East of the Caspian is the Djeitun, a group that had separate small communities of houses made of mud cylinders and earth floors.  The houses varied in size from about 45 square feet to 100 square feet per dwelling.  The land around the few dwellings in each community was used to domesticate wild wheat and barley, goats and cattle.  The people used animal bones to make tools such as sickles to harvest the grain.  They inserted rows of stone blades into the sickle shaped bones. (Ref: Victor Sarianidi, Margiana and Protozoroastrism)
This was happening around 6,000 B. C.  These small settlements endured for a long time, leaving cultural deposits of stone and bone tools and later clay vessels as much as 20 feet deep in some locations.  At some point about twenty-five hundred years after the Djeitun culture was settled in the area between the Amu Darya and the area now covered by the Caspian Sea, a group of nomad farmers, so-called because settlements with related cultural artifacts were scattered over such a wide area from Anatolia (Turkish Plateau) to the Indus Valley, including several settlements in the land watered by the Amu Darya.  
By 2,500 B. C. they were producing amuletic ornaments made of stone, bone, shell and copper, and even some of silver.  The ornaments called seals or stamp seals by Dr. Sarianidi, the excavator of numerous such ornaments, were used to make impressions in clay, because the excavators of this culture have found the stamp seals along with the old impression together in the same level of the excavation.  The seals or amulets are formed with a handle and usually a loop in the handle for hanging on a cord.  

The bronze compartmented seals became much more complex and are the identifying mark of this Bronze Age culture in Central Asia.  Here is a photo of one of the more intriguing examples: 

According to Victor Sarianidi, the excavator of Gonur Depe, Margiana, an ancient walled city on a large channel of the Amu Darya, this is a copper (the primary metal of the Bronze Age) compartmented seal showing 3 serpents entangled.  It is in my collection and was published in Sarianidi's work Myths of Ancient Bactria and Margiana...   

I have two alabaster seals from Bactria in modern day Afghanistan that illustrate the same myth that had prominent currency in the spirituality of ancient Bactria and Margiana, along the Amu Darya.  Here are those two fascinating ornaments to consider:
This serpent is eating its own tail.Here we see two serpents eating a goat.  This symbol of the serpent or serpent dragons (snakes with feet) figures very prominently in the Bactria-Margiana myths.  Oddly enough, each of the seven times my husband went to the excavation site at Gonur Depe, he was reminded to watch out for the huge dragon-lizard that lived along the channel of the Amu Darya and would smell up your tent if you let him get in it.  

I have no idea and have found no speculation by the archeologists or anthropologists that the figures on the amulets could have been related to a real serpent with feet -- a huge lumbering smelly lizard that still lives in Gonur Depe.  

 The items in my personal collection had been clandestinely excavated and sold in the Kabul, Afghanistan bazaar before Dr. Sarianidi did any excavations in Afghanistan or Turkmenistan.  That is how he came to explore the possibility of trying to find the civilization that had produced the ancient artifacts he found in so many hands in Kabul.  When we went searching for information on the items we had bought, we found Dr. Sarianidi and that is how we became interested in his continuing work.

For photos, descriptions, prices, shipping policies  and Certificates of Authenticity for artifacts in my collection from Bactria,  CONTACT ME through the private message form above right.