Altyn-depe: the centre of developed craft production and temple complex

Turkmenistan is by right recognized as a treasury of the world archaeological science. Numerous monuments witnessed historical development starting from the stone age to late medieval times have remained on its territory.

Our country is called the outdoor museum. Archaeological and architectural monuments are located in all velayats. The monument of neolith and Bronze Age (V – beginning of II millennium BC) Altyn-depe located 4 km north of Mayne settlement of Kaahka etrap is one of them. It was the place where number of settlements of ancient farmers including such big ones Yilgunly-depe and Altyn-depe, which togather with Namazga-depe made single cultural community, have sprang. The area of Altyn-depe is 26 hectares; the settlement raises 17 – 22 meters above the landscape. Shapeless clay hills, which make single system of architectural symbols together, are located on huge territory.

The settlement was surrounded by the walls made of clay bricks with the gates reinforced with strong pylon towers. According to the scientists, around 11 -12 thousand peple used to live in Altyn-depe. First, it was studied by the specialists in 1929 during Haveran expedition ked by A. A. Semyonov. In XX, archaeologists B. A. Kuftin (1952), A. A. Marushenko, A. F. Ganyalin, D. D. Durdiyev, E. Atagarrriyev, O. K. Berdiyev (1959 – 1962), I. N. Khlopin, V. M. Masson, V. I. Sarianidi (1965 – 1983), I. S. Masimov, G. Gutliyev (1969), L. B. Kircho (1977 – 2001), V. A. Zavyalov, K. Kurbansahatov, O. Lollekova, B. Udemuradov was working in Altyn-depe.

For almost thirty years, the excavations in Altyn-depe and other early farmers settlement of Turkmenistan were carried out by South Turkmenistan Archaeological Expedition of the Academy of Sciences of Turkmenistan and Karakum expedition of Leningrad department of the Archaeology Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR under the leadership of V. M. Masson. Based on rich archaeological materials in Sothern Turkmensitan, the scientists discovered developed farming culture that followed Jeytun and Namazga-depe. They noted almost linear increasing development from archaic farmers (Jeytun and Anau culture) to complex community (Altyn-depe and Namazga culture).

The city with developed communication network (entry system to the settlement, transport and pedestrian streets and passages), construction differentiated in different parts of the city and monumental cult centre existed there during the middle of the Bronze Age. The settlement was well fortified – it was surrounded by strong 6 meters width walls built of raw bricks. The northern part of Altyn-depe was occupied by the craftsmen houses and workshops. Living blocks were located in the western part of the settlement. The highest hill in the eastern part is distinguished in the relief of the settlement, where the archaeologists opened 30-meters depth of cultural layers. It was probably exactly the place of the most ancient core of the settlement.

Dimensional and planning structure of excavated constructions is quite complex and indicates the intent to the monumentality of shapes and for direct geometrical correctness of the plan. The settlement was surrounded by fortified line made of thickened walls of the houses located at the edge of the complex and connected with bypass wall with rectangular or semi-circle towers. Inside, the settlement consisted of the craftsmen block with narrow (1-1.5 m) passages between tight multi-apartment houses of regular community members, the block of rich citizens, with better planning and wider (1.7 – 2.1 m) passages as well as the noble block with accurate planning and wide streets (up to 2.5 m), good finishing of the houses and the 43 – 180 sq.m. square.

In architectural plan, Altyn-depe was heavily built up with 3- and 4-room enfilade houses with several utility premises and separate yards grouped in blocks. Ramified pedestrian network comprised of short streets paved by broken ceramics also existed in proto city.

Altyn-depe farming complex was the main branch of life support. Irrigational farming appeared in Southern Turkmenistan during late neolith. Grain storage and number of grain processing tools of late neolith indicate big volumes of grain. Livestock farming and hunting were the sources of meat and material for number of productions. According to osteological information, small animals predominantly the sheep prevailed in the flocks during late neolith – early Bronze Age.

Altyn-depe was the crafts centre. Economic base of the proto city was made of developed specialized crafts (pottery, metallurgy, metal and stone processing) together with land and livestock farming. At that time, South Turkmenistan and, particularly Altyn-depe, was the periphery of the system of ancient civilizations. The technology of production of artificial minerals like burnt soapstone and quartz cristobalite (the latter is formed at high temperature treatment of silica composed sediments) appeared in Altyn-depe in the middle of early Bronze.

Our ancestors from Altyn-depe made a lot of discoveries. The residents of proto city used wheel transport already in that age. Clay and terracotta models of wheels and cat were discovered at the excavations. According to numerous clay models of carts, mostly four wheeled, the camels were used as the main draft power. Sculptural images of the camel head were found number of times during the excavations of this monument. Clay statues of dog, terracotta horse indicate at ancient routes of Turkmen alabay and horse. The statuettes of dogs picture quite heavy built animal with shortened massive muzzle, small ears and short pointed up tail. The breed of the dog discovered by the scientists was matching its sculptural image in the Bronze Age. Thus, clay statuettes of the dog from ALtyn-depe are direct evidence of the osteology data about the existence of large heavy built dogs in the Bronze Age. These facts allows assuming that most probably it was shepherd dogs, Turkmen alabays that were used for protection of the flocks from the predators.

Altyn-depe was a temple complex. It was monumental cult complex with four-tier tower (12 m), funeral complex and the altar that used to be the centre Altyn-depe. Numerous art items (painted ceramics, small terracotta sculptures, stone, bronze and silver stamps, beads and other) were found during archaeological excavations. 864 beads including nine gold, 101 lapis lazuli, 639 turquoise and other were found in the sanctuary. Like many temples of Mesopotamia, the Altyn-depe temple was dedicated to the god of Moon. It is indicated by golden bull with the moon on its forehead made of turquoise (7.5 cm height) and wolf head (1.5 cm height). As is known, the bull, which turns the land into the source of abundance, was the ongon of the forefather of turkmens Oguzkhan.

The architecture of the temple resembles similar constructions of Babylon and Sumer. At first, it relates to the method of the walls decoration with measured placement of counterforts. 27 X 10 meters platform was the foundation of the tower with the credence on its top. The scientists assume that there was a temple and cult centre. The priest controlled the field works monitoring the movement of celestial bodies and finding out the time for irrigation.

Altyn-depe was not local civilization. It has close ethnic, cultural and trade connections with developed civilizations of those times. While the first line of cultural relations goes to Mesopotamia, the second to the Indus Valley, to the cities and settlements of Harapps civilization. Harraps ivory articles were found among the items placed to rich grooves and in the treasuries encased in walls. All these facts visually indicate that Altyn-depe civilization was developing in close contact with the main cultural centres of ancient East being some kind of the bridge between Mesopotamia and the cities of Indus Valley. Trade caravans went from Altyn-depe to the south to prosperous cities of Elam and Babylon and to the north and east to the places inhabited by the nomads. The archaeologists find the items of Altyn-depe craftsmen in rather distant places from the centre of their production – in Fergana Valley. Such contacts supported comprehensive development of the crafts and culture.

By the end of developed Bronze Age (middle of II millennium BC), the entire part of Altyn-depe was abandoned and life was continued only in its western part.

Why the life in ALtyn-depe was stopped? Was it because of external factors? Much probably, the residents left their homes on their own as quite irreversible occurrences leading to the fall and abandonment of this urban centre could have happened for 2500 years of increased soil exploitation by ancient farmers. Its population together with other tribes of Kopetdag Belt developed Kellely oasis and other part went farther to the east spreading along the middle stream of Amudarya River.