MARY: Over four millennia ago, the fortress town of Gonur-Tepe might have been a rare advanced civilisation before it was buried for centuries under the dust of the Kara Kum desert in remote western Turkmenistan.
After being uncovered by Soviet archaeologists in the last century, Gonur-Tepe, once home to thousands of people and the centre of a thriving region, is gradually revealing its mysteries with new artifacts being uncovered on every summer dig.
The scale of the huge complex which spans some 30 hectares can only be properly appreciated from the air, from where the former buildings look like a maze in the desert surrounded by vast walls.
Just 50 kilometres from the celebrated ancient city of Merv outside the modern city of Mary, the ruins of Gonur-Tepe are an indication of the archeological riches of Turkmenistan, one of the most isolated countries in the world.
Around 2,000 BC, Gonur-Tepe was the main settlement of the Margush or Margiana region that was home to one of the most sophisticated, but little-known Bronze Age civilisations.
The site — which until the last century was covered by desert and scrub — was uncovered in Soviet times by the celebrated archeologist Viktor Sarianidi who, at the age of 84, is about to spend another summer working on the site.
“I remember so well my joy when I first encountered this archaeological Klondike. A sensation right under your feet,” the Russian professor told the reporter.
Every digging season at Gonur-Tepe yields new discoveries showing the quality of the craftsmanship of the Bronze Age artisans in the town, which at the time would likely have been home to thousands of residents. The town’s craftsmen could mould metal, make silver and gold trinkets, create materials for cult worship and carve bone and stone.
“It’s amazing to what extent the people possessed advanced techniques. The craftsmen learned how to change the form of natural stone at a high temperature and then glazed it so that it was preserved,” said archeologist Nadezhda Dubova.
“This year, Gonur has given us another surprise, a fantastic mosaic,” she said, noting that such an object pre-dated the standard era of mosaic-making in Greek and Roman antiquity.
‘Anticipating Brunelleschi’ — The ruins of Gonur-Tepe are the centrepiece of a network of towns and settlements in the delta region of the river Morghab that flows through Turkmenistan from its source in Afghanistan.