Tashkent archaeological monuments

Tashkent Archaeological Monuments: Remains of Ancient Settlements

The great age of the city is designated by artifacts found on the sites of excavations. Traces of ancient settlements can border with urban new buildings and be just a clay pile for uninitiated. But it takes only to dig deeply (literally) and you may “hear voices” of millennium-old history. Tashkent has preserved some sites of ancient settlements: Aktepa, Ming Urik and Shashtepa.

Aktepa Yunus-Abad (“ak-tepe” in Turkiс means “white hill”). Today it is the largest place of excavations. First excavations of this area were in 1948. Archaeologists led by the Doctor of Historical science V.A. Shishkin found Chach coins and foundations of ancient buildings. Aktepa is the highest point of Yunus-Abad district in Tashkent. By turn, Yunus-Abad is the highest region of the city. So if you climb the hill of Aktepa, you will see Tashkent in full view. But there are few men who know that this hill is the remains of the fortress, built in the 5th century AD. It has protected Tashkent against invasions from the north up to the 8th century.

According to archaeological researches there was also the most ancient Zoroastrian temple in the past. Many researchers believe that the Zoroastrianism was born here, and first written notes about Tashkent (in the past it was called Chach) were found in Avesta, the holy book of Zoroastrianism. In the 20th century Russian called this place as Basmach-Gora (mountain), but now it has the former name.

Ming Urik is the ancient settlement, located almost in the heart of Tashkent. In ancient times the settlement had the area of 43 hectares, but the city building has destroyed the major part of the area and today we have only the small hill of 16 meter height. First excavations were conducted in the 19th century but due to the lack of proper technologies and archaeological equipment, many facts were lost.

Earlier archaeologists have already discovered the palace of Tashkent kings, decorated with fresco. In 2008 archaeologists again researched this area and found remains of the old building, which was a fire temple. Age of the temple enabled to state that Tashkent was 2200 years old.

Until recent time, there were Ming Urik hills on one of the parts of Movarounnakhr street connecting the Amir Temur Square. Hills got its name from the large apricot garden, which was laid out there.

Ming-Urik is located in the bend of Salar channel. It has united plan structure. Its area was about 35 hectares. Origin of feudal relations, location on the efficient international caravan road and stabilization of Turkic Khanate caused to the growth of the fortress into the town. In the 5th century AD Chachanap was conquered by Ephtalites. They created the great power on the territory of Central Asia. In the 6th century AD it was collapsed by Sasanides from the south and by new powerful union of tribes the Turkic Khanate from the north. Struggle of the State of Ephtalites against the Turkic Khanate caused to remove of the capital to the north to the town on the site of Ming Urik approximately in the first half of 7th century AD.

Ancient settlement of Ming Urik, Tashkent

Ancient settlement of Ming Urik, Tashkent

Ancient settlement of Ming Urik, Tashkent

Written sources do not have enough information about structure and character of towns of Chach and its capital in 6-8th centuries. Mostly, these facts are supplemented with archeology. In early Middle Ages the junction of 4 towns and up to 20 palaces and settlements were formed in Tashkent oasis, i.e. on the territory of modern Tashkent. The capital Madinat-ash-Shash took the central place among them. This name was mentioned in Arab sources about the town, which ruins were discovered on the settlement of Ming Urik. The name Chach is transformed into Shash because of the lack of the letter “ch” in the Arab alphabet.

In 7-8th centuries the rapid town-building took place all over the region, which enabled to call the region of Chach as “the country of thousand towns” and the town of the territory of Ming Urik reached the maximum growth. It included the fortress-citadel and the town Shakhristan. The citadel was enclosed with wall of dense pahsa and raw brick and had rectangular towers of stepped form. Close to the citadel on the ruins of ancient temple of sun worship there was the official palace of rulers, that is the sign of capital status of the town. Erected on the top of the hill it dominated over the town.

Ancient settlement of Ming Urik, Tashkent

Ancient settlement of Ming Urik, Tashkent

Ancient settlement of Ming Urik, Tashkent

The palace consisted of a number of premises, including the ceremonial hall and wide corridors, living rooms and stores. Also archeologist discovered here the cult complex with the sanctuary of fire. Fire and later reconstructions almost entirely destroyed its interior. Only slight traces indicate that walls were decorated with multicolored paintings, which reflected lives of nobles and kings, epic stories and religious ceremonies, like those that archaeologists discovered in the settlement of Afrosiab near Samarkand. Investigation of this prestigious building on the territory of Ming Urik and other territories of Tashkent is the evidence that the oasis entered the area of Sogdian culture, which is considered in the science as the highest standard of cultural achievements of Central Asia in the pre-Arabic epoch.

The palace complex was erected on the remnants of walls and floors of the premise of previous time. As well as other palaces of Mavarounnahr, Ming Urik was located in close proximity to the citadel. Erected on the hill palace as well as the citadel was the dominant of urban formation.

Shakhristan had the dense building and the territory of about 7,5 hectares. Shakhristan included monumental houses and handicraft workshops. New coin appeared in the 7th century AD and there is the reason to connect it with the place of issue in Chach, in Ming Urik. Also traces of ceramics and metal-working were found on its territory. Ceramic finds were insignificant but quite expressive.

In addition to the pottery, researchers found iron articles, terracotta figurines and toys. The weaving also reached the high development. People of the settlement excavated gold, silver and copper near Tashkent and the Chach possession coined its money.

From the ancient time Chach and Sogd were the largest agricultural regions. These two regions had difficult relations. It was accompanied by open hostile actions, but more often it led to close trade and economic ties. During this period the political situation of Chach was stable enough. Its representatives along with ambassadors and trade visitors of other regions came to the court of Sogdiana ruler. It can be seen on the mural painting of the Palace of the 7-8th centuries in Afrasiab, where the Ambassador of Chach is depicted along with embassies from other regions. Ming Urik is considered to be the inhabitation of the legendary ruler of Turan – Afrasiab.

Shashtepa is the old settlement, located in the southern part of Tashkent. In ancient times it had the fortress, protecting Shashtepa against invasions from the south. Today it has preserved only the citadel, which is about 12 meters of height. Also here you will find remains of the fire temple. The major part of the settlement is occupied by modern buildings.

The small part of old Yangiyul road, from 54th passage to the bridge crossing the Jun channel, is called Chashtepe. It is named after the hill of Shashtepa, located on the left side.

People have already used to Shashtepa. It always was there. But not many of them could ever think that the depths of this hill have preserved marks of many events of long standing. The researchers of Shashtepa Hill stated that it was the remnant of a big settled point with high fortress. Modern buildings reduced its area. It consists of the citadel hill with 16 meters of height and two settlements. First settlement borders with citadel and the remnants of the second one were found on the other bank of the Jun channel. Archeologists managed to compose the description of layers, after studying centuries-years old remnants of cultural human activity.

Ancient settlement of Shashtepa, Tashkent
Ancient settlement of Shashtepa, Tashkent
Ancient settlement of Shashtepa, Tashkent

Cultural accumulations on the hills form the layer of 12 meters. The earliest cultural layer was located on the loess soil and belonged to the settlement of Burgulyuk culture, which has never been found within Tashkent earlier. The name is related with the discovery, made by the famous archeologist Aleksey Ivanovich Terenojnin, on the bank of Burgulyuksay in the Akhangaran valley. He has discovered there a few articles: implements, sickles, weapons – knives, daggers, arrowheads, clay ware.

In the result of further researches on the territory of Shash, the same items were found that led researchers to the discovery of Burgulyuk settlements on the banks of Tashkent sea. Washed-away houses of earth with ware, remnants of corns, animal bones, and house wares assured that these settlements were agricultural.

Such kind of people settled down near the Jun channel. Water surface of the channel was almost on the level of banks, which enabled to drain water for fields. These first farmers on the territory of Tashkent lived in dug-outs with framed walls and light ceiling.

Each dug-out furnished with fireplace and corn storage pits was designed for one family. People used brown ware produced by hands on the fabric mould. Vessels were painted and burned. Burgulyuk people sowed barley and soft wheat, cultivated the land by stone hoes and took in the harvest with bronze sickles. Corn was grinded into flour by stone corn-grates. People of Shashtepe settlement also were engaged in the cattle-breeding and reared cattle and pigs. They used horses, donkeys and camels in the household and farming. Burgulyuk people cast knives, sickles, arrowheads and other bronze articles in stone moulds. In addition to bronze they started to cope with iron, producing implements of it. The weaving was well-developed. People manufactured fine and coarse fabrics of wool and jute fibers. There is no information about cotton fiber production during that period. Burgulyuk people worshipped to natural forces and fertility. This society was at the stage of patriarch community relations.

The chief of Tashkent archeology team Margarita Ivanovna Filanovich says: “The significance of research works of Shashtepa for the science is that in low cultural layers we have found the Burgulyuk culture in late stage of its development. Secondly, due to persistent stratigraphy (“stratigraphy” from Greek: “strotoe”- layer, “grapho” – to write, to describe) we can observe the gradual change of cultures and see how the Burgulyuk culture under the influence of neighboring tribes was superseded by Kaunchin culture. Now there is no need to search the ancestral Kaunchin culture.”

It enabled to define time borders of the settled culture existence. Archeologists date its early stage to 9-7th centuries BC. By this time, hearths of ancient farming cultures have been already found in many parts of Central Asia. Characteristic feature was the manufacture of painted ceramics, i.e. decoration of household vessels with red geometric patterns. They were dated back to the end of second and the beginning of the first millennium BC.

In this monument archeologists have found the circular defensive wall. Built of mud bricks, alternating with a layer of pahsa, it has the width of more than four meters, the height of three meters sixty centimeters and stretches for 60 meters. Archaeologists believe that this wall has existed for a long time and was rebuilt several times. According to scientists it was built under all rules of fortification art and is the evidence that first experiences of town building on the territory of Tashkent can be related to not later than 2200 years ago.