Travels to Kazakhstan

Visiting Research Fellow Heinrich Härke travelled to Kazakhstan to explore possibilities for further research.

The walls of DzhankentHaving worked on a fortress site in southern Siberia in 2008, Heinrich turned his interest in 2009 to places further south, but stayed east of the Caspian Sea. Colleagues at Korkyt Ata University in Kyzylorda (western Kazakhstan) had expressed an interest in an international collaborative project based on the site of Dzhankent. This is a planned town of the ninth to tenth centuries AD just east of the Aral Sea, in the old delta region of the Syr-Darya river. Today, following environmental change and a shift of the river bed, its walls rise starkly from the flat arid steppe, still standing up to 10 metres (30 feet) high and enclosing an area of some 15 hectares (40 acres), including a citadel in one corner. This may not be a pleasant green land, but Dzhankent is a fascinating site to study Kazakh state formation and the transition from nomadism to sedentism.

Local interest in our trial trench at DzhankentPrevious excavations here have focused entirely on the enclosed town area. Opportunities for new research are to be found primarily in the areas outside the walls, searching for outlying suburbia and cemeteries which are unknown so far. In October, Heinrich joined a small team of Kazakh and Russian colleagues who did a trial trench at the junction of town and citadel walls, and undertook a survey for possible barrows in the vicinity. The data for the survey had been prepared from satellite images by a Kazakh research student. The survey identified about half a dozen likely barrows, but could not yet answer the question as to the location of the town's main cemeteries.

The team then travelled to Kyzylorda to conduct negotiations with the authorities of Korkyt Ata University about the format and practical details of the new project. Key aspects will be a complete geomagnetic survey of the interior of the site and the areas just outside the walls, and the excavation of some of the barrows located during the survey to establish if they are contemporary with the town. Our Kazakh colleagues would also like to see some British students included in the team, as well as specialists on pottery fabric analysis and animal bones. Everything will now depend on funding which needs to be found in Kazakhstan, Russia and Britain.

24 October 2009

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