Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Gonur Necropolis Grave Goods a Cultural Legacy

The Bactria-Margiana  Bronze Age Central Asian culture lasted from about 2,500 B. C. to 1,600 B.C.  The people there developed high skills in art, especially miniature art, are still a very powerful influence in jewelry designs, and domesticated the sheep, goat and horse.

One of their legacies is the large Gonur burial grounds that cover not only a wide space of ground but at least a millennium of time and embracing different cultures'  burial customs.  Some bodies were buried in the fetal position while some others were found buried in a hole with head down.  A few bodies were found with domestic animals buried near them.  A horse with head and hind quarters missing, and a portion of a lamb's body were found alongside human burials at the same level of excavation.

I am less interested in the method of reposing the body in its resting place than I am in the personal and household items buried with some of the bodies.  Combs, beads, amulets, seals, cosmetic containers, vases and pots are common items to find still in the graves or eroded out of the graves and revealed on the surface for scavengers to pick up and take to the market place.  Such unofficial picking over of ancient ruins brought the Bactria-Margiana culture to light.  But before the official excavations began, thousands of items had been found or illicitly dug up and put on the market in the cities of Central Asia.

My own collection of such items began while I lived in Kabul, Afghanistan.  Kabul is not so far from the central settlement of the Bactrian culture, closely related to the Margiana culture.  Two items of grave goods will illustrate the similarities.  Here is a photo of a ceramic vessel in my own collection:

Ancient Bactrian Ceramic Vessel from Bronze Age Central Asia

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This small pot or cup resembles other vessels of that area and historical period in that it does not have handles. According to the writing of Dr. Victor Sarianidi, the excavator of several Bronze Age sites of Central Asia, in his book on Margush, Ancient Oriental Kingdom in the Old Delta of the Murghab River, the potters of that time and place were more interested in mastering the creation of various shapes of clay vessels. As a result, we see very interesting fluting and elaborate pedestals, spouts and footings on otherwise fairly plain clay vessels. Some are compartmented, others are kidney shaped, still others are tall with narrow necks. 

This particular small vessel has uniform thickness in its wall; the bottom curves seamlessly into the sides, and the rim is flared in a very pleasing way. Inside the vessel we can see traces of the impression of very fine cross hatching that may have been made by finely woven cloth.The firing of the clay was advanced in this area. The kiln was built by digging a rectangular or oval pit lined with mud bricks. This was the fire chamber. Firewood was loaded into it through a hole. Inside this chamber a wall was built that supported the upper baking chamber where the vessels were placed. Holes were drilled in the floor of the baking chamber to allow the heat to come through, but the vessels were protected from open flame and ash. 

This item is complete, undamaged, after about 3,000 years.  Measurements: Rim 2.75 inches diameter; bottom 2.5 inches diameter; 2 inches high.

It is very like the bronze vessel found in Margiana, a related settlement to the North in what is now Turkmenistan, shown in this photo from the work by Dr. Victor Sarianidi, Necropolis of Gonur, plate 87.  

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