Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Burial Customs in Ancient Margiana

For a display of my collection of archeological findings from Bactria, visit my Personal Website.

Thanks to my archeologist friend, Dr. Victor Sarianidi of the Institute of Archeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, the burial customs of one of the excavated sites in Margiana are well-documented in English in two of his published works: Margiana and Protozoroastrism, and Necropolis of Gonur.

In Gonur Necropolis, Sarianidi found two different burial rites, one in shallow pit graves with the body simply laid in the earth.  The other burial rite was elaborate, with a ritual cleansing of the grave by burning or cleansing with gypsum, a kind of white wash before the deceased was laid in the deeper pit.

The second rite described above also was found to contain partial burials.  That is, the body was brought there for burial after the bones had been stripped and often parts of the skeleton was left.  Victor was led to consider and then to decide that these rites developed over the next few hundred years into the spirituality of the Zoroastrians.   The purifying of the grave in order to protect the earth from the pollution of receiving a dead body and then the burial of the remaining parts from a body that had been exposed for time before being laid in the earth are still practiced where the Parsees (Persians) are free to practice them.  When I lived in Karachi, there was an area near the Arabian Sea where the Parsees still laid their recently deceased on raised platforms until their burial rites could be performed in the traditional way.

The ancient culture that is now called the Bactria Margiana Archeological Complex  was once a lively cultural region  that included settlements from Anatolia in Turkey to the Indus Valley and from Turkmenistan to East Central Iran.  The people in this cultural complex were not uniform in their artistic expression or in burial practices.  But they shared enough to show a strong relationship among the excavated relics of their settlements.  The archeologists variously name the people proto-Iranians, Indo-Iranians, proto-Zoroastrians, Persians, Indo-Persians and perhaps other names.  The area now bearing the widely accepted name of BMAC or Bactria Margiana Archeological Complex is also called Outer Iran.

In any of the names, there is the association with the people now known as Persians or Iranians, which still includes a huge portion of that very same area that BMAC encompassed.    Certainly Iran itself, along with Afghanistan and parts of India, Pakistan and Turkmenistan are included.  Where we see the old Iranian religion persisting into the present in communities consisting of *cradle Zoroastrians,* that is to say, people who are of that belief system by birth, we recognize language and customs that can be traced back to the time before Alexander's conquest of Persia.

In a coming blog, we will examine some of the utensils, animals, jewelry, and other important cultural objects that are buried with the dead of Gonur in Margiana in particular.

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