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Title: The Krakalpak-Australian Excavations in Ancient Chorasmia: the Northern Frontier of the 'Civilised' Ancient World
Author(s): HELMS, S.W. , YAGODIN, N. , BETTS, V.G. , KHOZHANIYAZOV, G. , NEGUS, M.
Journal: Ancient Near Eastern Studies
Volume: 39 Date: 2002
From about the 7th/6th centuries BC ancient Chorasmia was located south of the Aral Sea, in the delta of the Classical Oxus River (mod. Amu-dar’ya). To the north lay the Inner Asian steppe (now Kazakhstan), to the west the cliffs of the inhospitable Ustiurt Plateau (further west, the Caspian Sea), to the east the delta of the Classical Jaxartes (mod. S’ir-dar’ya), and to the south two deserts, the Kara-kum and Kz’il-kum which separated Chorasmia from Margiana and Sogdiana. Its geographical isolation form the “civilised” ancient Indo-Iranian world resulted in virtually independent cultural development for much of its early history and, later on, after the devastation caused by the Mongols and particularly Timur, remarkable preservation of pre-Islamic monuments the like of which cannot be found anywhere else in Central Asia. Long before archaeological explorations began, Chorasmia was known from Persian and Greek texts as a province (satrapy) of the Achaemenid Persian empire; it also stands as the possible area of the “Aryan Expanse” of the Avesta, as the best land created by Ahura Mazda and therefore of signal importance regarding the early stages of the Zoroastrian faith. By the time of Alexander the Great Chorasmia was independent and had a king. This is the last textual mention of Chorasmia until the early medieval period, although it may have had relations with the Kushan empire at least from the 2nd century AD onward. Exploration began in the 1930s under the leadership of S. P. Tolstov who founded the Chorasmian Archaeological Expedition whose work continued up to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Since 1995 the University of Sydney Central Asian Programme (USCAP) and the Karakalpak Branch of the Uzbek Academy of Sciences have conducted excavations in eastern Chorasmia, at two key sites: Kazakl’i-yatkan (Akcha-khani-kalesi), a heavily fortified site (Rus. gorodishche) which may have been one of the sacral centres of ancient Chorasmia; and at Tash-k’irman-tepe, one of the earliest, undisputed (Zoroastrian) fire temples yet discovered. Both sites may date back to the early 4th century BC and some standing remains may be even more ancient. Both sites were abandoned during the Kushan period after about the 2nd century AD.