Friday, August 28, 2015

Route to Bactria Pt 2: Tracing Archeological Findings

Part 2 of the proposed routes from the steppes to the Murghab-Amu Darya and Indus Valley regions.

This blog does not attempt to discuss the proposed routes traveled by every migratory culture that settled in this region, only the Bronze Age culture known as the Bactria-Margiana Archeological Complex.   The most detailed publications on the subject that I have read through the years are (1) Victor Sarianidi, Myths of Ancient Bactria-Margiana on Its Seals and Amulets; (2) J. P. Mallory, In Search of the Indo-Europeans; and (3) David W. Anthony, The Horse, the Wheel and Language.

Sarianidi is the foremost field archeologist and publisher of material on the Bactria-Margiana Archeological Complex.  Mallory is a historical anthropologist and wrote the afterword for another of Sarianidi's work, Margiana and Proto-Zorastrism.  Anthony is an anthropology professor at Hartwick College in New York where he also teaches courses in archeology.  For his work, The Horse, the Wheel and Language, he won the 2010 book award, Society for American Archeology.

This will be a short blog on the proposed routes of migration following the archeological evidence that reveal burial customs.

One of the most interesting finds in the tombs of the proto-Iranian people that constituted the Bactria-Margiana culture (generally dated 2500 - 1600 B.C.) is the presence of domesticated animal burials, sometimes alongside the deceased human's body.  Here is a photo of a buried horse, minus the head:

                                         p. 128 Necropolis of Gonur, Sarianidi

But before we gallop forth on our horses, let us see all the possible routes that are scattered with the burial remains of settlers with related burial practices.  J. P. Mallory considers the varied routes suggested by Marija Gimbutas as a possible solution to the origins of the cultures that this blog discusses:
Mallory, In Search of the Indo-Europeans

From left to right, the handwritten labels  show the geographic expansion of people with similar burial rituals and related grave goods; Medi (Mediterranean); Bos (Bosphorus); the Black Sea and below it, Anatolia and the Red Sea; the Caspian Sea and below it the Tigris and Euphrates rivers flowing into the Persian Gulf; then farther right are the Aral Sea and the Indus River Valley.  

Note that Gimbutas provided a map that suggests an expansion of what she called the Kurgan culture from settlements in the steppe regions from the Black Sea to the East of the Aral Sea.  The Kurgan culture takes its name from the shape of the grave in which the deceased humans and sacrificial animals were placed.  A kurgan is a pit grave with a rock mound above it.  This type of burial was uncovered in the Russian steppes and dated to about 4,500 years B.C. 

Gimbutas shows arrows indicating that some of people of the Kurgan culture went West from the steppes north of the Caspian.  That would explain why the language of the people still living in parts of India and the people now living in Iceland speak a modern version of what we now classify as "Indo-European."

For our search it is important to note that the arrow pointing south from the Caspian region and the two arrows pointing south from the region of the steppes surrounding the Aral Sea show routes into the areas in which the later Bronze Age culture of Bactria and Margiana (ca. 2,500 - 1,600 B.C.) and the related Indus Valley were found by the archeologists.  

Anthony p 249

The pit graves often contained not only the human remains but also pottery and ritually buried animals such as horses, cows and sheep.  Above you see the location of a horse skull indicated by an arrow in the sketch of a disturbed burial.  This archeological finding is dated to 4200 - 3700 B.C.  

Below is a photo taken at an archeological site in Kazakhstan, in the steppe zone above the Caspian Sea.  The remains are dated about 3700 - 3000 B.C.  Many such excavated house pits yielded about 300,000 horse bones.  In addition the hunters of this region left remains of large bovids (bison?), elk, deer, boar, bears, beavers, saiga antelopes, and gazelles.

horse burial 3700-3000 Anthony p 217

burial with pots, horse, and  partial wheels Anthony p 398

The photos and drawings above show a "Chariot grave," in the kurgan style left by the Sintashta culture in the Russian steppes.  Pottery, weapon points, a partial horse skeleton, horseback riding equipment such as cheek pieces, and spoked wheel impressions from wheels that had been set into slots in the floor of the grave.  

The horse burials left a trail for archeologists to follow from the steppes to the oases along such rivers as the Amu Darya, the Murghab and the Indus.  In future blogs we will discuss the archeological, the historic and the linguistic "solutions" to identifying the origins and the migrations of the proto-Indo-Iranians.  

At some point in this series, I will post Anthony's proposed route of the people from Gimbutas' Kurgan Culture who went east from the zone of the Aral Sea. 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Tracing the Route to Bactria Part One: Methods

There are at least three ways of tracing the ancient migration route of the people from the steppes to the oases they found and settled.  The three different methods are used by a variety of interested authors.  I find a great deal of information on the proposed origins of the ancient Bactrian people and their proposed routes to Bactria.  You will find illustrations and captions borrowed from two of my sources with acknowledgment. 

1. Archeological excavations lead archeologists to follow pot shards and burial customs.  Often the pot shards are found in the tomb with the deceased.  This photo shows this method of tracing a certain culture:

A male and a female burial from Tulkhar [in upper Central Asia].  The male was buried with a rectangular hearth and with bones of a sheep, a dagger, pot, bead-amulet and a flint arrowhead.  The female was buried with a round hearth, sheep bones and a pot.  -- from In Search of the Indo-Europeans by J.P. Mallory, 1989   -- See the hearths in the upper left of the tomb sketch.

The author from which I took the photo above is not an archeologist, but has written the important work mentioned in the previous paragraph in which he includes the various methods of identifying ancient cultures.  He is perhaps best known as a historian of anthropology; he seems to be entranced with the Indo-European language and the cultures in which the various branches of the Indo-European cultures developed.  

2. Historians base their suppositions about pre-literate cultures on the archeological finds of ritual objects, personal adornment, utensils, tools, weapons and service animals.  For example, here are some early stories told in images.
Luristan [in Western Iran] bronze covering for a quiver dating to about the eighth or seventh century B.C....Georges Dum├ęzil has interpreted the figures as representatives of the three Indo-European 'functions'.  Three Registers are shown in detail: Sovereigns (figures enthroned between lions), warriors (figures dressed for battle with assistants holding weapons) and twins (two figures with ram's horns).  -- from Mallory, p. 134

3.  Linguists solve the problem of tracing ancient cultures through the language that is finally put into writing as the culture develops.  After identifying the language, they then trace backward through the methods of the archeologists and historians to a satisfactory -- and often debatable --conclusion.  Here is an example of how linguists trace backward from the present or recent language to their assumption of the original form of a certain language group.

Caption: A diagram of the sequence and approximate dates of splits in early Indo-European as proposed in this book, with the maximal window for Proto-Indo-European indicated th the dashed lines.  The dates of splits are determined by archaeological events.... -- from David W. Anthony, The Horse, the Wheel and Language, 2007.

In the chart you will notice that the Greek, Iranian and Indian language had split from the original proto-Indo-European root language used by the Greek speakers stemming from the Central Steppe regions as early as 2,500 B.C.  A dialect of Greek was certainly brought to the Iranian people in the Bactrian region by Alexander the Great (the 300s B.C.) in Bactria.

There is much more to be learned from the chart.  For example, the Germanic people from the West Steppe region  in 3,300 B.C. had developed a language that had also split from the proto-Indo-European mother tongue.  English is one of its great grandchildren.  

Through archeological findings and scientific examinations of the corpses and the grave goods in Bactria-Margiana tombs, the interpretation of the narrative images made in stone or metal, and finally the translation of the earliest writings by or about the Bactrians, the general scholarly conclusion is that the Bactrians were proto-Iranian people speaking what is now known as an Indo-European language, probably the old Persian that we could have heard if we were to visit the market places in Bactria of 1,800 B.C.

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Saturday, August 1, 2015

Bactrian Fascination with the Cross Symbol

One of the most common findings of compartmented copper seals in the ruins of Bactria is a circular form with a cruciform pattern at the center of the open work or solid metal seal.  For example, here is a photo of one of the most obvious cruciform interior pattern with open spaces defining the cross shape with beams extending to an ornate frame with a scalloped outside edge.

I would guess - and it is just my guess - that this common symbol had something to do with the Bactrian cultural understanding of the four directions that divided the Earth and their religious veneration of the four earthly elements: Fire, Water, Earth and Air.  What is your guess????  Use the comment section below to respond or inquire.  I answer promptly. 

Here is another example, with more decoration within the solid stamp seal: 

The photo below shows a compartmented cast copper seal with the cross defined by the open spaces which would leave a raised impression that outlined a cross when stamped into wax or clay: 

The next photo offers a more complex cruciform pattern, but it is still evident to the eye of a long time Bactria art buff: 
Cruciform Bactrian Seal with Four "Beams" reaching to the circular frame
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Victor Sarianidi, Myths of Ancient Bactria Margiana on Its Seals and Amulets

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