Tariq Saeedi, Raviliya Kadyrova, Elvira Kadyrova
It was just nine in the morning but the sun was already trying to push the mercury to high thirties when we reached Amul.
This was the starting point of a journey that we took in several steps, covering some of the diverse roots of the rich history of Turkmenistan – the Heart of the Great Silk Road.
The government of Turkmenistan hosted a group of media people from the Silk Road countries and also the journalists accredited with the foreign office, for a tour to Amul, Merv, Nisa, and Abiverd, from 23 to 27 June 2018. It was an opportunity for total immersion into the culture and history of Turkmenistan and we took full advantage of it.
The trip coincided with the Culture Week in Turkmenistan and simultaneously served as early introduction to the Amul-Hazar 2018, the auto rally that will take place in September this year.
* * *
Anyone who has spent some time in Turkmenistan has quite possibly been to Amul, except that they didn’t know that they were in Amul. That is because the current name of Amul is Turkmenabat, the administrative centre of the Lebap province.
There are numerous layers of history in the 200 hectares that was once Amul. It has changed names several times. The historians call it Amul-Charju, possibly because it was called Charju until the independence of Turkmenistan after the break-up of the Soviet Union.
The most authoritative book on Amul was penned by AA Burhanov. It is titled – ‘Amul-Chardjui on the route of the Great Silk Road.’
Here are some passages from the book of Burhanov:
The emergence of Amul, as well as four other ancient and medieval cities of Central Amu Darya – Kalifa (Kelif), Zemm-Kerkuha (Kerki ), Navidaha (ruins Keshka Zuhra-Tahir in Burda-bast) and Firabra-Bityka (Farap), determined by the location in convenient crossing points of Ceyhun-Amu Darya.
Despite the political and economic changes in Central Asia, four of the five cities mentioned, except Navidaha, still exist.
Sources report that of Amul in Firabr (Bityk) there was a ferry-boat crossing, through which crossed the troops and caravans towards Bukhara.
The origin of the name “Amul” is not established. In historical sources there are other options: Amuyya, Amuye or just Amu and Amul-Djayhun, Amul-Zemm, Amul Coast, Amul desert, to distinguish it from another city of the same name in the Iranian Tabaristan.
Since the end of the 15th century the sources supplanted the name of Amul with Chardjui – “four channel” or Chahardzhub. Reports of medieval Amul-Chardzhui are found in al-Belazuri (IX cent.), Al-Istahri (X c.), Al-Maqdisi (X c.), Ibn Hawqal (X c.), Yakutia (XIII century.) , Mohammad Kazim (XVIII c.), and other authors of the past.
In respect of the historical and archaeological terms, the city in general is poorly studied. References to European authors of XIX – early XX century are descriptive in nature, nevertheless. Materials of Bornsa A., F. Ephraim, A. Bykov, Leonid Dmitriev Caucasus, DI Evarnitskogo, DN Logothete, VV Barthold are of considerable interest.
Start of archaeological research dates back to 1931, when an expedition of the Institute of the Turkmen culture (AA Marushchenko) gathered at the ruins of the fort.
In 1949, the chief of the South squad XVI Turkmen archaeological complex expedition (STACE) AA Roslyakov examined the ruins of the former city. A year later STACE detachment under the leadership of GA Pugachenkova determined the presence of the citadel cultural layers. They studied the suburbs of the ruins of the mausoleum of X-XI centuries. In 1954 STACE squad led by GE Trapeznikov made topographic architectural scheme laid stratigraphic pits.
In the starting 90s stationary excavations were conducted at mid-Amudarya expedition of the Institute of History of Turkmenistan (AA Burhanov). Instrumental settlement plan was drawn up, defining the zone of the future historical and cultural reserves, and laid two of the excavation and discovered new findings on the material culture of the city’s population. Unfortunately, no more excavations were carried out in recent years.
Currently Amul represents a castle (shahristan), the walls of which form an almost right quadrilateral area to 9 m. They rest on the multimeter array, towering above the surrounding terrain on the 21-24 meters.
The coating material mound and upper walls are of the XIX century. The massive ark (citadel) is located north-west corner shakhristan. This is the highest point of the settlement Amul-Chardzhui, which reaches 33 meters of the current level of the surface around the entire fortress.
Ark is an irregular trapezium. Around the perimeter of the old walls of the citadel were 5 towers. Until 1924 Old Chardjui was surrounded by dilapidated mud wall with several towers on the perimeter and three gate openings, the contours of which were recorded by the STACE team.
It is difficult to determine the size of the territory occupied once by the buildings in the urban Amul-Chardzhui, including its suburbs. Judging from the remains of ancient cemeteries, individual mounds and patches of land among the cotton fields and industrial areas, where there are clusters of ceramics, ancient slag, burnt bricks, the city area exceeded 150-175 hectares.
The results of the historical-topographic and stratigraphic studies have allowed to identify the main stages of the life settlement Amuly-Chardzhui. The oldest period can be called I-IV BC.
Then the city had an area of 50 hectares, its core is the shahristan the citadel. In addition, around it there were numerous buildings and estates. By this time, lower portions of the walls of shakhristan were several meters in thickness and composed of pakhsa height which measures 1,1-1,2 meters.
The building material generally used was raw square brick dimensions 38 x 38 x 9 and 40 x 40 x 10 cm, occasionally occurring the burnt bricks – 41 x 41 x 8 and 45 x 45 x 8 cm.
Pottery of the ancient Amul can be divided into 2 complex – I-II and III-IV centuries BC ceramics characterized by the presence of cups, pitchers, boilers and other forms.
Pottery has a thorough finish and grace of forms and subtlety. Vessel walls are red in the fracture, sometimes – grayish color, the surface is covered with red or brown. Amul ceramics review period has analogies in materials Kobadian-IV layer in ancient Termez Airtam and Merv.
To this period belong several terracotta figurines from Amul and Khalif depicting nobleman warrior in a high hat, sword in hand. For ceramics Amuly III-IV BC is characterized by thick shard, having a break in the red.
The complex contains the receptacles for supply and storage of food and water. Similarities are found with the Kushan and post-Kushan finds in Airtam, Termez, Navidah, Khoja Idate-Kala Bityke etc.
From the post-Kushan period are also several terracotta figurines found in Amul and its surroundings. The presence of the Vasudeva coins (III c BC) in the same layer confirms the period.
Archaeological work has shown that in the IX-X centuries Amul consisted of shakhristan with Ark inside and the outside of the city. Within the walls of the latter were three gates: the northern, eastern and southern.
In the outer part of the Amul was rabid (suburbs). Found here numerous ceramic vessels have a wide pattern. On the inner and the outer surface of engobe were applied on a light pattern in the form of geometric shapes and fragments of vegetation, covered with coating.
There is a direct analogy between the ceramics of Amul and Bukhara oasis. The findings of this period were made of glass, stone and metal. The numismatic finds show the high economic level, and fair trade development in the region.
In 1992, on the site Gebekly Depe, near Amul, a treasure of silver coins was found. Most of them belong to Chekanu Bukhara during the reign of Nasr II Nuh (913 – 943 years).
Two years earlier, in Navidah were discovered bronze coin – Fels coinage of Bukhara, 343 (965) Nasr bin Ahmad. Samanid coins were found in Karabekaul oasis.
On Amul period XI-XII AD the written sources do not have the details. About this time, the life of the city can be judged on the basis of archeological-topographical study and findings.
The city at the time occupied a vast territory: in addition to ark shakhristan, there were the suburbs. The total area is about 175 hectares.
In the XII – early XIII century Amul was a part of Khorezm, but culturally still gravitated to the Bukhara oasis, which is confirmed by archaeological materials.
Among the findings ceramic and stone crockery, terracotta figurines, toys whistles, vessels and horses, glass products, metal core sling.
Of interest is a bronze medallion with an inscription in Arabic and copper coins.
After the Mongol invasion of the city was temporarily in a derelict state. In the XIV century, according to the archaeological materials, in a restored Amul life went on in shakhristan and outer city.
In the next century Amul as the Amu-Darya and many settlements, it is part of the Timurid state and enjoys military-strategic and economic importance.
Excavations 1990-1992 indicate a high material culture. There was found pottery from the blue gorgeous glaze, the remnants of glazed tiles of the same color of brick construction, stone and limestone, as well as a variety of metal, glass and stone.
In XV-XVI centuries Amul became known as Chardjui.
* * *
The experts from the Turkmenabat museum told us that the government had launched a fresh expedition which will complete its first phase by 2021. Some new artifacts have been found already. As we walked around the citadel, some work was going on at three areas close to each other.
* * *
During the visits to Amul, Merv and Abiverd we took nearly 1900 pictures. Some of them will be presented in the later parts of this series.
To be continued . . .