The State of Margush: the Crossroad of Civilizations

In previous issues, we published the fragments of history of the great Turkmen states and famous cities included to large-scale composition presented at the opening ceremony of V Asian Games.

These are the capital of the great Parthian Empire located in Ahal Velayat, historical province Dehistan in Balkan Velayat, the capital of Kunyaurgench Khanate in Dashoguz Velayat and Amul, one of key cities on the Great Silk Road in Lebap Velayat.

As per the plot of the performance, the merchants’ caravan has set off to a long trip, which would take them from this trade city famous by its richness throughout the whole East through time and space to other places and epochs – to the ancient country of Margush.

5. Gonur-depe, the capital of Margush: the city of kings and gods

Gonur-depe, the capital of ancient Margush, referred to as Margiana in Greek or Roman manuscripts, was not just the largest settlement of the Bronze Age in the Central Asian (end of III – middle of II millennium BC). This is another symbol of deepest roots of Turkmen nation whose distant ancestors have created such high culture that the scientists of the world agreed that the country of Margush, with its centre Gonur-depe, among Ancient Egypt, India, China and Mesopotamia, is one of five centres of the world civilization where trade and cultural international relations were intersected.

The achievements of Margush people in architecture and visual arts, the level of heir crafts, political and religious doctrine put them among the most advanced nations of the Ancient East that have opened the ways of further human progress.

Gonur-depe is an entire archaeological park in the centre of the greatest desert of Karakums and the largest among more than 300 settlements in the ancient delta of Murgab River. The archaeologists discovered that the city sprang in 2300 – 2250 BC and existed for around 600 – 800 years. Only the central part of these monumental constructions of Gonur period occupied around 25 hectares by the time it was abandoned by people (middle of II millennium BC)

During theatre performance at the Olympic stadium of Ashgabat, the episode with Margian has started from the appearance of excavations of giant city of Gonur-depe and after the buildings of the city reconstructed by the architects…

The necropolis of 10 hectares was also discovered during archaeological studies. Funeral items and jewelleries of people buried there strike the imagination with its splendour. These are high artistic items of stone, metal, ivory and clay that was a material for skilful potters and sculptors who used to make finest ceramic vessels of fancy shapes and sculptures of gods of heathen pantheon.

All these numerous items accompanying the residents of Gonur are the exhibits of several museums of Turkmenistan and their houses, royal palace and sanctuaries around it are the objects of the State Historical and Cultural Reserve Ancient Merv. Anthropologist N. A. Dubova, who worked for many years in Margiana excavations and studied more than 600 tombs, has come to the thought of high life level of Gonur-depe population.

After back in 1974 legendary archaeologist Victor Sarianidi together with his Turkmen colleagues discovered Gonur and started the excavations, thousands of people had visited the ruins of completely unknown ancient eastern kingdom. This pilgrimage increases every year as everybody who cares of the history wants to see with their own eyes indeed fantastic city, not long ago buried in Karakums and now, after thousands of years presenting the traces of splendour of its unique culture.

At the end of III millennium BC, the settlements of agricultural tribes, which came during mass migrations of those times, started springing along high-water channels of the old delta of Murgab River. Two thousand years before the Great Migration in ancient Europe, something similar had happened in Asia as well. The residents of old oases in Kopetdag region were also involved in this living flow. Having appreciated the advantages of fertile but not developed land, they have started to build their houses and sanctuaries there.

Others went farther, having inhabited the banks of Amudarya River where the Kingdom of Bahdi of Bactria as ancient Greeks used to call it has sprung together with the country of Margush (Margiana). Telling the truth, all these names are conditional, they are appeared few centuries after the Bronze Age. However, four thousand years ago, when it was in its peak, these were two regions of one state, which name probably is kept by cuneiform manuscripts of Mesopotamia, which mention mysterious country of Marhashi, which locations the Sumerians thought to be in the direction of Murgab and Amudarya rivers.

The archaeologists did not find any differences in the culture of two large oases divided by 400 km of desert and steppes, which is one week travel for the caravans of two-humped Bactrian camels living there at that time. The concept of “Bactrian Margian archaeological complex” proposed by Victor Sarianidi has firmly asserted in the science and the acronym BMAC has almost replaced the concept of “Oks Civilization” adopted in the West, which used later antic name of Amudarya while the role of Murgab River is also very important in the establishment of this civilization.

Due to the hard work of Margush people, fertile lands started to give generous harvest of wheat and barley. Food abundance made the conditions for the development of architecture, visual art and different crafts and led to unbelievable rise of spiritual life of the society. New religious doctrines, which traces can be observed in excavated temples of Margiana, in countless plots on stone, silver and bronze seals and amulets that reached our days, have appeared…

By the way, young warriors with shields bearing round seals discovered by the archaeologists in Margush appeared during theatre performance demonstrated at the Olympic stadium during the opening ceremony of Ashgabat 2017 Games…

In the beginning, the residents of Margush have started developing the northern edge of the delta where not only the settlements consisting of adobe constructions but also small strongholds – the residences of local aristocracy and temples, have been built. In the lat centuries of III millennium BC, self-sustained irrigation oasis, at present known as Kellely, appearedin the northern part of the delta. At the same time, the main city of Margush State has been under construction. The location of the capital in the key part of the river is not occasional: this is exactly the place where it is more convenient to distribute and control water supply to the settlement north of Gonur…

Full flowing Murgab River at that time was its main source. In the performance at the opening ceremony of V Asian Games, numerous girls with jars appear appears at the Olympic stadium and fill water from the river that gave life to the great city…

The importance, Gonur residents, attached to the construction of the city was not limited by favourable location but was also traced in its general planning. They have built huge fortress in the centre with strong defensive walls fortified by rectangular towers. Inside the fortress, the have built the palace complicated in its planning designated for the ruler and his family. Ancient architects have chosen natural hill for this purpose and the main citadel became rising above surrounding plain occupying strategic position.

All four facades of the fortress had attached monumental constructions namely Fire Temple, Sacrifice Temple, Water Temple and Royal Sanctuary. It was the first time when the archaeologists discovered that the ruler had not only one palace but four located in such close proximity. That is why the scientists named these facilities as Palace and Temple complex and Victor Sarianidi said that the ruler could visit all four palaces without leaving the building via underground communications.

All four palaces have also been protected by defensive wall. The remains of architectural complex related with joint meal ceremonies, the tradition that reached our days as “sadaka” and “huday yolly”, were discovered on the northern side.

Large water reservoir with royal necropolis on the southern side of the palace was also excavated. All this complicated palace and temple complex was surrounded by long brick wall. It was too thin to be defensive, much probably, it was used to separate 10 hectares of “special district” from ordinary residents neighbourhood.

It is obvious that entire giant palace and temple complex was planned before and represented real royal city designated for local elite. Same like in Mesopotamia palaces, it is possible to recognize where private rooms, reception halls and service premises were located. Different religious rituals related to the beliefs of Margush residents were also carried out there.

As is known small monarchies of Ancient East were ruled by the priest king who acted as a head of administration power and as a chief priest. Much probably, the same situation was here. But it is hard to believe that such complicated architectural ensemble with such variety of planning methods ever existed in this part of ancient eastern world.

Let’s take for example the knowledge of the basics of astronomy and geometry by Gonur’s architects as in some cases, the axial direction of exterior walls according to the cardinal points is so accurate as if they had a compass and right angles of the constructions impress with its accuracy of configuration. There are two mysterious objects on the territory of the complex. These are so called sand rooms, which were filled with desert sand and served as platforms for the highest points of entire ensemble. Their use as grounds for astronomic observations, which played an important role in life of ancient farmers, is presented as most obvious.

The Gonur palace, which was built earlier than palaces of Babylon and Assyria, was equipped with the system of ceramic pipes served as water and sewage lines. The excavations of this city have been continued for forty years and large work for protection and preservation of ancient architectural complex for future generations have been carried out at the same time. This objective became the part of the state programme for further study and conservation of unique ensemble that still has plenty of secrets.

The great city of ancient time Gonur did not die.

It was not ravaged by the enemies or turned to ashes from fire. It was not destroyed by natural disasters.

The city was abandoned by people, they left it like it was.

Once full-flowing Murgab fed this lands with life but its stream was not stable as the river did not fall into the sea or lake. Hence, it slowly migrated to the west due to the Earth rotation.

This is indicated by the studies of Turkmen – Italian archaeological expedition that studied old delta of Murgab including with aerospace methods.

For some time, Margush residents managed to live making channels from the main stream but when it became impossible, they took all necessary and left the city.

It remained like it was in those times and that is why Gonur is unique for archaeological science. The scientists find houses, household items left by the residents, jugs with wheat, salt…

Nobody believed that prosperous cities could exist I lifeless Karakum desert. However, famous International scientific conference “Ancient Margian – new centre of world civilizaition” that was opened in 2006 by current President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, became true sensation. The scientists with world names recognized Margush as one of the centres of the world civilization and made a conclusion that it is necessary to review outdate information on the history of mankind.

Gonur-depe became recognized tourist place. Many people go to Turkmenistan knowing that there is an ancient city among its numerous places of interest that scientists call the fifth centre of the world civilization. They must see the scale of construction of Turkmen ancestors who in those distant times were skilful architects, fine jewellers, ceramic potters and sculptors.

Today, when Turkmenistan is known in the world community as stable, peace-loving and economically strong state, its richest historical and cultural heritage become the brand that country present to the world. In XXI century, Gonur is coming out of the oblivion and becoming one of the brightest symbols of unbreakable tie of times, succession of the generations and general values of universal cultural heritage.

Newspaper "Golden Age"