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Fathoming secrets of the ages

Being one of the most ancient centers of human civilization, Uzbekistan confidently wins a reputation of a "Mecca for tourism". Over the last few years more and more enthusiasts of archeological tours show interest in visiting Uzbekistan, willing to learn about rare findings discovered during excavation of ancient sites, to take part in archeological expeditions, and to fathom secrets of the ages.

The discoveries of archaeologists and historians of Uzbekistan, which was one of the major centres on the Great Silk Road, make it possible to rank the ancient culture of Movarounnahr (the land between two great Central Asian rivers – the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya) with brilliant civilizations of India, China, Iran, and Egypt. The unique archeological monuments of Uzbekistan, its historical documents arouse keen interest of scientists from Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Poland, Russia, USA, France, Japan, and even far away Australia.

Cooperation between the world leading archaeological schools makes it possible to reconstruct the original history of the civilization on our ancient land. The work of joint expeditions resulted in a number of really sensational findings. Material evidences of these discoveries were often displayed at international exhibitions; they enriched the expositions of many museums.

The treasury of ancient civilizations

Termez archaeological museum

The best way to start your acquaintance with archeological sites of Uzbekistan is to visit Termez archaeological museum. The unique expositions of the Museum represent findings discovered during excavation works on the territory of ancient Termez and a number of archeological sites located in the utmost southern parts of Uzbekistan. These lands were once part of Bactria, Greco-Bactrian and Kushan kingdoms, which contributed much to the world cultural heritage.

On display at the museum exposition are samples of wall paintings, fragments of architectural decoration, amazing ceramics, rare coins, jewelry, manuscripts, ancient tools and household utensils. Among the unique findings there are Buddhist sculptures, including image of Buddha. These findings are not accidental, as at the beginning of Common Era Termez was an important centre of Buddhist religion. From numerous Buddhist monasteries, found by modern archeologists on the territory of Uzbekistan, Buddhism spread through the whole territory of Central Asia, and further to the East: to China and Japan. No wonder, that Japanese scientists take a keen interest in archeological researches in the southern areas of Uzbekistan.

In 1989, the first group of Japanese scientists headed by Professor Kyudzo Kato arrived here. Together with Uzbek colleagues they started to carry out archeological excavations on Dalverzintepa site, famous for some sensational findings of the previous years. Among them there was a buried treasure consisting of a hundred gold items with a total weight of 36 kilos. But neither weight, nor cost of the gold, nor even the artistic expression of the artifacts could be compared with the utmost value of all those coins, rings, bracelets and necklaces for numerous sciences studying mankind's material and artistic culture. According to its scientific value the treasure, which today is known under the name of 'Dalverzintepa treasure', is not inferior to the famous 'Amudarya treasure' – the real pride of the British Museum. The Dalverzintepa treasure was found on the site of a rich townsman's house. However, it was hidden in a modest room, marked on the excavation plan as Room No 13. The family jewelry was concealed in a ceramic pot which was then hidden under clay lumps.

Termez archaeological museum

Alexandria on the Oxus

Today, one of the archeological expeditions headed by the world famous scientist, academician of National Academy of Sciences, Edward Rtveladze, carries out excavation of the unique archeological site: Kampyrtepa fortress-city, located at a distance of 20 kilometers from Termez. This is the spot where in the ancient times there existed Amu Darya river crossing on the route linking Bactria with India, and where in the 4th century BCE Alexander the Great crossed the great Asian river after taking over a part of Central Asia. From here he headed for India, using the route which later became known as "the road of Alexander". According to some researchers, Alexander the Great founded the city on the Amu Darya crossing spot and the city got the name Alexandria on the Oxus (the antique name for the Amu Darya river). The material evidence of this was found on Kampyrtepa site: a massive fortification system, erected in the Hellenistic traditional style, and cultural layers containing coins and ceramics of that epoch. All this was found under the structures of the citadel dating back to Kushan period.

On Kampyrtepa, Uzbek archaeologists managed, for the first time in the world practice, to open the total layout of a big Kushan settlement on the basis of the upper building level dating to early 2nd century BCE. It became possible due to the fact that unlike other ancient settlements Kampyrtepa was not overlapped with many metres deep stratum of later period, since the inhabitants had to leave the city due to flood threat after the overflow of the Amu Darya river.

This fact enabled the archeologists, for the first time ever, to detect the structure and elements of the settlement and to make a conclusion that the formation of structurally complex cities in Central Asia began long before the Middle Ages. The excavations works proved that Kampyrtepa occupied an area of 20 hectares and consisted of a citadel, urban residential area, trade suburbs, and a port. The town was divided into residential quarters cut with streets 1.5-2.2 meters wide. All along the streets there were dwelling houses, utility structures, warehouses, buildings for public worship, and other constructions. The research of the town's layout showed that town-planning culture of Uzbekistan has its roots in ancient traditions.

Numerous findings, namely items from the Levant, Egypt, Iran, India, and China, testify to extensive foreign cultural and trade relations of the town population. The scientists were especially impressed by a bronze cult vessel, ivory comb with an image of woman and bird, coins, and clay stamp with Parthian inscription. Kampyrtepa has become one of the major tourist attractions in Uzbekistan.

A valuable contribution to the research of antiquity of the southern parts of Uzbekistan has been made by French archeologists, who together with Uzbekistan's archeologists have been carrying out excavation works on the territory of Old Termez. The findings made during these excavation works prove the city's age to be 25 centuries.

Sogdian princess's mirror and ancient chess pieces.

Kampyrtepa fortress city

The most important discoveries of Uzbek-French expeditions were made in Samarkand. In about 35 kilometres from one of the world's most ancient cities, during the excavations works on Koktepa hill, there was found the tomb of a young noble woman, later nicknamed "Sogdian princess" by mass media. The archeologists found 333 gold plaques sewn on her garment.

The scientists believe this find enriched the world cultural heritage with unique artifacts of antiquity. Among the things that lay in the ground for more than twenty centuries is the Chinese mirror from an unknown alloy. This find is a clear evidence of business relations of local people with China already at the dawn of the Great Silk Road.

Numerous discoveries were made during the excavations of the most ancient part of Samarkand – Afrosiab site. Joint Uzbek-French expedition found out that Samarkand, which celebrated its 2500th anniversary in 1970, is at least 250-300 years older.

Archaeological diggings in Samarkand resulted in a number of sensational discoveries. Thus during the excavation of a palace on Afrosiab site there were unearthed wall paintings of the 6th-7th centuries remarkable for artistic expression and brightness of paints. It was here that in 1977 archaeologist Yuri Buryakov found a set of seven ivory miniature chess pieces. At present this is the world's most complete set of ancient chess pieces. Two more chess pieces were found during the excavation works on above mentioned Dalverzintepa site. The researchers defined the exact age of these pieces – the 2nd century CE. The scientists came to the conclusion that chess pieces findings coincide with the routes of the Great Silk Road. From Samarkand chess traveled to Europe via the northern branch of the Great Silk Road, beyond Byzantium.

Afrosiab site

The Kyzyl Kum desert – a mega centre of metallurgy.

Striking results were obtained by joint researches of Uzbek and German scientists, who carried out excavations on a huge territory of the Kyzyl Kum desert. The archaeologists were amazed at the scale of mining works conducted here in the ancient times. There were found ancient pits going 10-12 metres deep down into the ground, iron-and-steel furnaces, metal spittings, heaps of slag. The scientists discovered that copper was mined all along the ancient riverbed of the Syr Darya, whereas tin was mined in the area located at the foot of the Zirabulakski and Ziyaeddin mountains, to the east of the ancient Karnab village. Millstones for ore grinding were brought from the outskirts of another ancient village – Karmana.

The importance of this discovery is difficult to overestimate. Suffice it to say that upsurge of mining and smelting production in the Kyzyl-Kum desert falls on the period when there arose the first civilizations in Movarounnahr, the first state formations of Uzbek people ancestors – Sogd and Khorezm, mentioned in Zoroastrians' sacred book "Avesta". In fact, native metallurgy was an important economic basis of these states. According to geographers of the past centuries, tin utensils were delivered to the world markets where they were in great demand.


Previously mentioned Karmana village, located on the ancient road from Samarkand to Bukhara, is also famous for its architectural monuments. Several years ago, the excavation of the famous architectural masterpiece of the 11th-12th century – Rabat-i-Malik ("King's fortress) – was completed. This construction, which is extant only in its impressive portal, for a long time was considered to be a caravanserai. Excavations carried out by Nina Nemtsova, a Tashkent well-known specialist in the field of ancient architecture, revealed that alongside with living premises there was a mosque with mikhrab (prayer niche) and walls decorated with ganch carving, a comfortable bath and a sardoba – a covered 12-metre-deep well. This source of pure and cool water was topped with a dome which is 13 metres in diameter. These findings enabled the archeologists to make a conclusion that Rabat-i-Malik was a steppe residence of the governors from the Karakhanid dynasty, and after a destructive invasion of Genghis Khan to Central Asia it was transformed into an ordinary caravanserai.

Today Rabat-i-Malik, located on a brisk road, has every prospect of becoming an important tourist attraction on the Great Silk Road.

Paikend – a super town buried in the sands

No less promising is the perspective of Paikend – an urban settlement located in 60 kilometres from Bukhara. The excavation works have been carried out here for more than 20 years by Uzbekistan archeologists and their Russian colleagues from State Hermitage (St. Petersburg).

Paikend, just like the ancient settlement of Karmana, is located on the border of the Kyzyl Kum desert. But once prospering city suffered a dismal fate: 800 years ago it was buried under moving sands and practically vanished off the face of the earth. Before the tragedy, this city on the Great Silk Road was so famous that if in Baghdad someone asked a person from Bukhara "Where are you from?", without fail the answer was: "I am from Paikend". The male population of the city was involved mostly in the international trade. The major goods were local and Chinese silk. To obtain the Chinese silk Paikend tradesmen arranged caravans to the Great Chinese wall. From Paikend, caravans made for Afghanistan, India, the Caucasus, the Ural, and the Volga river area. The caravans carried fast horses, Lucerne seeds, young plants of fruit trees, glass, pottery. Paikend tradesmen went as far as Japan, Vietnam and Ceylon, whereas at Paikend bazaars one could meet Arab, Indian, Chinese, Afghani, Persian, and European merchants. The town was famous for the products of its own craftsmen: glass-blowers, potters, armourers… People of Paikend achieved a high level in use of home comforts. Their dwellings had wash-stands, bathrooms, toilets… Moreover, Paikend was well-known as the first Central Asian city- republic governed by rich tradesmen.


Paikend was protected by massive fortifications and watch towers placed at a distance of 60 meters from each other. The most interesting thing is that the city was guarded by female garrison. This was not surprising, since the majority of male population was frequently away on business. Local women were always known as being very independent. In an early stage of the city's development (the 4th-1st century BCE) they even used to choose their husbands themselves, and often more than one. From childhood, girls were trained in horseback riding and archery. This was scientifically proved during the excavation works, when archeologists found some small elegant bone rings. These were not adornments. The clue was simple: such a ring was put by a woman on the middle finger and was used for drawing the bow string.

In the 8th century Paikend was the first town to confront Arab conquerors who invaded Movarounnahr. After a two-month siege the city was taken by stratagem, and its inhabitants were enslaved. According to historical sources, the conquerors got innumerable riches – gold and silver vessels, two pearls the size of a pigeon egg, golden statues of Buddha (which were later melted down in gold bars), a magnificent armoury. The latter was distributed among soldiers. Having come back to the city which by that time had been turned to ashes, men ransomed their women and children and restored the city. It was made, as historians say, within a very short time. However, it was not enemy's invasion but a drought that dealt the city an unrecoverable blow. The drought was caused by the drastic decrease of water level in the lower reaches of the Zerafshan river. The townspeople did their best to return water and dug channels, but finally they could not resist nature and therefore had to move to other lands.

Today, buried under quick sands, the city is being excavated. Archaeologists managed to find the base of a 9th-century minaret which is 11 meters in diameter. This is a metre more than the size of the basis of the famous Bukhara minaret Kalyan (early 12th century) – the highest minaret in Central Asia. Judging by the basis the minaret in Paikend was much higher. Time did not spare the minaret. And the main reason of its destruction was the material it was made of – adobe bricks. Interesting enough, but the builders of Kalyan took into account this sad experience and used baked bricks instead of adobe ones.

Among archaeological findings is the very first pharmacy in Central Asia. It was discovered in the center of Paikend. During the excavation works, alongside with glass jars for phlebotomy and a cup with wax residue, the archeologists found two documents in Arabic. One of them contained the date it had been written: June 30, year of 790. Archaeologists also unearthed perfect samples of glass items and glazed pots. On one of them there was a decorative inscription in Arabic ligature which said: "Eat and drink as you please". All these artifacts took a worthy place in the museum of "History of Paikend".

The ancient city is preparing for a new phase of its life as a large center of international tourism. It is planned to construct a hotel stylistically resembling a medieval caravanserai, and to organize a youth camp. With the assistance of UNESCO, Paikend will be turned into historical-landscape museum-reserve.

Fire temple in the desert

In the lower reaches of the Amu Darya river, the lovers of antiquity have a chance to visit one more city, for centuries buried in sands of the Kyzyl Kum, – Akshahankala ancient settlement. The ancient site is located in 140 kilometres from Nukus, the capital of Karakalpakstan, and in about 20 kilometers from Beruni town. Since 1995, the scientists of the Karakalpak department of Uzbekistan's Academy of Sciences and Sydney University have jointly carried out the archeological excavations of Akshahankala site.

For centuries, starting from the 4th century BCE, Akshahankala was the capital of one of the most ancient Central Asian states – Khorezm State. The desert sands have preserved rare archaeological monument for the succeeding generations. The area of the city exceeds 40 hectares; the length of outer wall surrounding the city is more than three kilometers. In the center of the settlement, the archaeologists found necropolis with tombs of the governors of ancient Khorezm and a temple structure. The first installations to be unearthed in fortification wall were angular and flank towers, as high as three-storey building. Inside of the ancient city, there were excavated densely built residential quarters. Rich material for scientific research can be expected from the excavation of remains of ancient irrigation system buried under the thick sand in the oasis encircling the city.

At a distance of 8 kilometres from the ancient capital, joint Karakalpak-Australian expedition carries out the archeological works on one of ancient Zoroastrian sanctuaries of Khorezm – Temple of Fire. On the central platform, made of adobe bricks, there is an obscure domed structure, where in the ancient times the priests constantly kept up the sacred fire. Surrounding cult structure is an impressive complex of unroofed premises. Inside each of them there is an altar for sacrifice. During religious holidays, flame in the altars was lit from main sacred fire.

The archeological findings discovered during excavations have a special value, for they give the "material" basis for reconstruction of rites and traditions of Zoroastrianism, one of the world's most ancient religions.

Invaluable to science are materials which were discovered by archeologists in the Ferghana valley and Tashkent oasis. Here too, the travelers have an opportunity to familiarize themselves with interesting artifacts. The scientists from various countries already take a great interest in these finds. Thus English researches turned their attention to the medieval Ferghana steel items. According to its properties this steel is not inferior to high-quality modern alloys. There exists a hypothesis that Damascus steel originates from the land which today makes the territory of modern Uzbekistan. From here the caravans delivered the cold steel to the markets of Damascus. The place the steel was marketed was erroneously taken for the place of its production.

Many other unique findings await the antiquity lovers during their trip to Uzbekistan.