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The Bactria– Margiana
Archaeological Complex (or BMAC, also known as the Oxus civilisation) is the modern archaeological designation for a Bronze Age
Bronze Age
civilisation of Central Asia, dated to c. 2300–1700 BC, located in present-day northern Afghanistan, eastern Turkmenistan, southern Uzbekistan
and western Tajikistan, centred on the upper Amu Darya (Oxus River). Its sites were discovered and named by the Soviet archaeologist Viktor Sarianidi (1976). Bactria
was the Greek name for the area of Bactra (modern Balkh), in what is now northern Afghanistan, and Margiana
was the Greek name for the Persian satrapy of Margiana, the capital of which was Merv, in modern-day southeastern Turkmenistan. Sarianidi's excavations from the late 1970s onward revealed numerous monumental structures in many sites, fortified by impressive walls and gates. Reports on the BMAC were mostly confined to Soviet journals,[1] until the last years of the Soviet Union, so the findings were largely unknown to the West until Sarianidi's work began to be translated in the 1990s.[citation needed]


1 Origins 2 Material culture 3 Interactions with other cultures 4 Language 5 Relationship with Indo-Iranians 6 Sites 7 See also 8 References 9 Sources 10 Further reading 11 External links

Origins[edit] There is archaeological evidence of settlement in the well-watered northern foothills of the Kopet Dag
Kopet Dag
during the Neolithic
period. This region is dotted with the multi-period hallmarks characteristic of the ancient Near East, similar to those southwest of the Kopet Dag
Kopet Dag
in the Gorgan
Plain in Iran.[2] At Jeitun
(or Djeitun), mud brick houses were first occupied c. 6000 BC. The inhabitants were farmers who kept herds of goats and sheep and grew wheat and barley, with origins in southwest Asia.[3] Jeitun
has given its name to the whole Neolithic period in the northern foothills of the Kopet Dag. At the late Neolithic
site of Chagylly Depe, farmers increasingly grew the kinds of crops that are typically associated with irrigation in an arid environment, such as hexaploid bread wheat, which became predominant during the Chalcolithic

Seated Female Figure, chlorite and limestone, Bactria, 2500–1500 BC LACMA

During the Copper Age, the population of this region grew. Archaeologist Vadim Mikhaĭlovich Masson, who led the South Turkmenistan
Complex Archaeological Expedition from 1946, sees signs that people migrated to the region from central Iran at this time, bringing metallurgy and other innovations, but thinks that the newcomers soon blended with the Jeitun
farmers.[5] (Vadim was the son of archaeologist Mikhail Masson, who already started work in this same area previously.) By contrast a re-excavation of Monjukli Depe in 2010 found a distinct break in settlement history between the late neolithic and early chalcolithic eras there.[6][7]

location on the modern Middle East
Middle East
map as well as location of other Eneolithic
cultures ( Harappa
and Mohenjo-daro).

Major chalcolithic settlements sprang up at Kara-Depe and Namazga-Depe. In addition, there were smaller settlements at Anau, Dashlyji, and Yassy-depe. Settlements similar to the early level at Anau
also appeared further east– in the ancient delta of the river Tedzen, the site of the Geoksiur Oasis. About 3500 BC, the cultural unity of the area split into two pottery styles: colourful in the west (Anau, Kara-Depe and Namazga-Depe) and more austere in the east at Altyn-Depe
and the Geoksiur Oasis settlements. This may reflect the formation of two tribal groups. It seems that around 3000 BC, people from Geoksiur migrated into the Murghab delta (where small, scattered settlements appeared) and reached further east into the Zerafshan Valley in Transoxiana. In both areas pottery typical of Geoksiur was in use. In Transoxiana
they settled at Sarazm
near Pendjikent. To the south the foundation layers of Shahr-i Shōkhta on the bank of the Helmand river in south-eastern Iran contained pottery of the Altyn-Depe
and Geoksiur type. Thus the farmers of Iran, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan
were connected by a scattering of farming settlements.[5] In the Early Bronze Age
Bronze Age
the culture of the Kopet Dag
Kopet Dag
oases and Altyn-Depe
developed a proto-urban society. This corresponds to level IV at Namazga-Depe. Altyn-Depe
was a major centre even then. Pottery was wheel-turned. Grapes were grown. The height of this urban development was reached in the Middle Bronze Age
Bronze Age
c. 2300 BC, corresponding to level V at Namazga-Depe.[5] It is this Bronze Age culture which has been given the BMAC name. Material culture[edit]

Bird-Headed Man with Snakes, bronze. Northern Afghanistan, 2000-1500 BC Los Angeles County Museum of Art

The inhabitants of the BMAC were sedentary people who practised irrigation farming of wheat and barley. With their impressive material culture including monumental architecture, bronze tools, ceramics, and jewellery of semiprecious stones, the complex exhibits many of the hallmarks of civilisation. The complex can be compared to proto-urban settlements in the Helmand basin at Mundigak
in western Afghanistan and Shahr-e Sukhteh
Shahr-e Sukhteh
in eastern Iran, or at Harappa
and Mohenjo-daro
in the Indus Valley.[8] Sarianidi regards Gonur as the "capital" of the complex in Margiana throughout the Bronze Age. The palace of north Gonur measures 150 metres by 140 metres, the temple at Togolok 140 metres by 100 metres, the fort at Kelleli 3 125 metres by 125 metres, and the house of a local ruler at Adji Kui 25 metres by 25 metres. Each of these formidable structures has been extensively excavated. While they all have impressive fortification walls, gates, and buttresses, it is not always clear why one structure is identified as a temple and another as a palace.[9] Mallory points out that the BMAC fortified settlements such as Gonur and Togolok resemble the qila, the type of fort known in this region in the historical period. They may be circular or rectangular and have up to three encircling walls. Within the forts are residential quarters, workshops and temples.[10] The people of the BMAC culture were very proficient at working in a variety of metals including bronze, copper, silver, and gold. This is attested through the many metal artefacts found throughout the sites. Extensive irrigation systems have been discovered at the Geoksiur Oasis.[5] Models of two-wheeled carts from c. 3000 BC found at Altyn-Depe
are the earliest complete evidence of wheeled transport in Central Asia, though model wheels have come from contexts possibly somewhat earlier. Judging by the type of harness, carts were initially pulled by oxen, or a bull. However camels were domesticated within the BMAC. A model of a cart drawn by a camel of c. 2200 BC was found at Altyn-Depe.[11] The discovery of a single tiny stone seal (known as the " Anau
seal") with geometric markings from the BMAC site at Anau
in Turkmenistan
in 2000 led some to claim that the Bactria- Margiana
complex had also developed writing, and thus may indeed be considered a literate civilisation. It bears five markings strikingly similar to Chinese "small seal" characters, but such characters date from the Qin reforms of roughly 220 BC, while the Anau
seal is dated by context to 2300 BC. It is therefore an unexplained anomaly. The only match to the Anau seal is a small jet seal of almost identical shape from Niyä (near modern Minfeng) along the southern Silk Road in Xinjiang, assumed to be from the Western Han dynasty.[12] Interactions with other cultures[edit] BMAC materials have been found in the Indus Valley Civilisation, on the Iranian Plateau, and in the Persian Gulf.[9] Finds within BMAC sites provide further evidence of trade and cultural contacts. They include an Elamite-type cylinder seal and a Harappan seal stamped with an elephant and Indus script found at Gonur-depe.[13] The relationship between Altyn-Depe
and the Indus Valley seems to have been particularly strong. Among the finds there were two Harappan seals and ivory objects. The Harappan settlement of Shortugai
in Northern Afghanistan
on the banks of the Amu Darya
Amu Darya
probably served as a trading station.[5] There is evidence of sustained contact between the BMAC and the Eurasian steppes to the north, intensifying c. 2000 BC. In the delta of the Amu Darya
Amu Darya
where it reaches the Aral Sea, its waters were channelled for irrigation agriculture by people whose remains resemble those of the nomads of the Andronovo culture. This is interpreted as nomads settling down to agriculture, after contact with the BMAC, known as the Tazabagyab culture.[14] About 1800 BC, the walled BMAC centres decreased sharply in size. Each oasis developed its own types of pottery and other objects. Also pottery of the Andronovo-Tazabagyab culture to the north appeared widely in the Bactrian and Margian countryside. Many BMAC strongholds continued to be occupied and Andronovo-Tazabagyab coarse incised pottery occurs within them (along with the previous BMAC pottery) as well as in pastoral camps outside the mudbrick walls. In the highlands above the Bactrian oases in Tajikistan, kurgan cemeteries of the Vaksh and Bishkent type appeared with pottery that mixed elements of the late BMAC and Andronovo-Tazabagyab traditions.[15] Language[edit] As argued by Michael Witzel[16][17] and Alexander Lubotsky,[18] there is a proposed substratum in Proto-Indo-Iranian
which can be plausibly identified with the original language of the BMAC. Moreover, Lubotsky points out a larger number of words apparently borrowed from the same language, which are only attested in Indo-Aryan and therefore evidence of a substratum in Vedic Sanskrit. Some BMAC words have now also been found in Tocharian.[19] Michael Witzel points out that the borrowed vocabulary includes words from agriculture, village and town life, flora and fauna, ritual and religion, so providing evidence for the acculturation of Indo-Iranian speakers into the world of urban civilisation.[17] Relationship with Indo-Iranians[edit] See also: Indo-Aryan migration
Indo-Aryan migration
theory The Bactria- Margiana
complex has attracted attention as a candidate for those looking for the material counterparts to the Indo-Iranians (Aryans), a major linguistic branch that split off from the Proto-Indo-Europeans. Sarianidi himself advocates identifying the complex as Indo-Iranian, describing it as the result of a migration from southwestern Iran. Bactria– Margiana
material has been found at Susa, Shahdad, and Tepe Yahya
Tepe Yahya
in Iran, but Lamberg-Karlovsky does not see this as evidence that the complex originated in southeastern Iran. "The limited materials of this complex are intrusive in each of the sites on the Iranian Plateau
Iranian Plateau
as they are in sites of the Arabian peninsula."[9] A significant section of the archaeologists are more inclined to see the culture as begun by farmers in the Near Eastern Neolithic tradition, but infiltrated by Indo-Iranian speakers from the Andronovo culture in its late phase, creating a hybrid. In this perspective, Proto-Indo-Aryan
developed within the composite culture before moving south into the Indian subcontinent.[15] As James P. Mallory phrased it:

It has become increasingly clear that if one wishes to argue for Indo-Iranian migrations from the steppe lands south into the historical seats of the Iranians and Indo-Aryans that these steppe cultures were transformed as they passed through a membrane of Central Asian urbanism. The fact that typical steppe wares are found on BMAC sites and that intrusive BMAC material is subsequently found further to the south in Iran, Afghanistan, Nepal, India and Pakistan, may suggest then the subsequent movement of Indo-Iranian-speakers after they had adopted the culture of the BMAC.[20]

Sites[edit] In Afghanistan:

Dashli, Jowzjan province Khush Tepe (Fullol)

In Turkmenistan:

Altyndepe Gonur Tepe Jeitun Namazga-Tepe Togolok 21

In Uzbekistan:

Ayaz Kala Djarkutan Koi Krylgan Kala Sappalitepa Toprak Kala

See also[edit]

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Bactria- Margiana
Archaeological Complex.

Andronovo culture Yaz culture


^ e.g. Sarianidi, V. I. 1976. "Issledovanija pamjatnikov Dashlyiskogo Oazisa," in Drevnii Baktria, vol. 1. Moscow: Akademia Nauk. ^ Kohl 2007, pp. 189–190. ^ D.R. Harris, C. Gosden and M.P. Charles, Jeitun : Recent excavations at an early Neolithic
site in Southern Turkmenistan, Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, 1996, vol. 62, pp. 423–442. ^ Naomi F. Miller, Agricultural development in western Central Asia
Central Asia
in the Chalcolithic
and Bronze Ages, Vegetation History and Archaeobotany (1999) 8:13–19 ^ a b c d e V.M. Masson, The Bronze Age
Bronze Age
in Khorasan and Transoxiana, chapter 10 in A.H. Dani and Vadim Mikhaĭlovich Masson (eds.), History of civilizations of Central Asia, volume 1: The dawn of civilization: earliest times to 700 BCE (1992). ^ Reinhard Bernbeck et al., A-II Spatial Effects of Technological Innovations and Changing Ways of Life, in Friederike Fless, Gerd Graßhoff, Michael Meyer (eds.), Reports of the Research Groups at the Topoi Plenary Session 2010, eTopoi: Journal for Ancient Studies, Special
Volume 1 (2011) ^ Monjukli Depe artefacts (in German) ^ Kohl 2007, pp. 186–187. ^ a b c C.C. Lamberg-Karlovsky, "Archaeology and Language: The Indo-Iranians", Current Anthropology, vol. 43, no. 1 (Feb. 2002). ^ Mallory & Adams 1997, p. 72. ^ LB Kirtcho, The earliest wheeled transport in Southwestern Central Asia: new finds from Alteyn-Depe, Archaeology Ethnology and Anthropology of Eurasia, vol. 37, no. 1 (2009), pp. 25–33. ^ John Colarusso, Remarks on the Anau
and Niyä Seals, Sino-Platonic Papers, no. 124 (August 2002), pp. 35–47. ^ Kohl 2007, pp. 196–199. ^ Kohl 2007, Chapter 5. ^ a b David Anthony, The Horse, the Wheel and Language
The Horse, the Wheel and Language
(2007), pp.452–56. ^ Witzel, Michael (1999). "Aryan and non-Aryan Names in Vedic India. Data for the linguistic situation, c. 1900-500 B.C." (PDF). In Bronkhorst, J. Aryans and Non-Non-Aryans, Evidence, Interpretation and Ideology. Cambridge, Massachusetts. pp. 337–404  ^ a b Witzel, Michael (2003). "Linguistic Evidence for Cultural Exchange in Prehistoric Western Central Asia". Sino-Platonic Papers (129).  ^ Lubotsky, Alexander (2001). "The Indo-Iranian substratum" (PDF). In Carpelan, Christian. Early Contacts between Uralic and Indo-European: Linguistic and Archaeological considerations. Papers presented at an international symposium held at the Tvärminne Research Station of the University of Helsinki 8–10 January 1999. Helsinki, Finland: Finno-Ugrian Society. pp. 301–317  ^ G. Pinault 2003. ^ Mallory & Adams 1997, p. 73.


Francfort, H.P. (1991), "Note on some Bronze Age
Bronze Age
Petroglyphs of Upper Indus and Central Asia", Pakistan Archaeology, 26: 125–135  Francfort, H.P. (1994), "The central Asian Dimension of the Symbolic System in Bactria
and Margia", Antiquity, 28 (259), pp. 406–418  Kohl, Philip L. (2007). The Making of Bronze Age
Bronze Age
Eurasia. Cambridge Universy Press. ISBN 1139461990.  Mallory, J. P.; Adams, D. Q. (1997). "BMAC". Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture. London: Fitzroy Dearborn. ISBN 1-884964-98-2.  Parpola, Asko (2015). The Roots of Hinduism: The Early Aryans and the Indus Civilization. Oxford University Press Incorporated. ISBN 0190226927. 

Further reading[edit]

Edwin Bryant (2001). The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture: The Indo-Aryan Migration Debate. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-516947-6.  CNRS, L'archéologie de la Bactriane ancienne, actes du colloque franco-soviétique n° 20. Paris: Editions du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1985, ISBN 2-222-03514-7 Fussman, G.; et al. (2005). Aryas, Aryens et Iraniens en Asie Centrale. Paris: de Boccard. ISBN 2-86803-072-6.  Lubotsky, A. (2001). "Indo-Iranian substratum" (PDF). In Carpelan, Christian. Early Contacts between Uralic and Indo-European. Helsinki: Suomalais-Ugrilainen Seura. ISBN 952-5150-59-3. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-04-11.  Sarianidi, V. I. (1994). "Preface". In Hiebert, F. T. Origins of the Bronze Age
Bronze Age
Oasis Civilization of Central Asia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-87365-545-1.  Sarianidi, V. I. (1995). "Soviet Excavations in Bactria: The Bronze Age". In Ligabue, G.; Salvatori, S. Bactria: An ancient oasis civilization from the sands of Afghanistan. Venice: Erizzo. ISBN 88-7077-025-7.  Forizs, L. (2016, 2003) Apāṁ Napāt, Dīrghatamas and Construction of the Brick Altar. Analysis of RV 1.143 in the homepage of Laszlo Forizs

External links[edit]

Black Sands – A documentary about the Gonur Tepe
Gonur Tepe
archaeological site Sarianidi archaeological expedition at Gonur Tepe
Gonur Tepe
archaeological site

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