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Joint Turkmen-Italian Archaeological Mission in the Murghab Alluvial Fan (Turkmenistan) Report from May 24th to June 21st 2009 B. Cerasetti

The Ministry of Culture and TV Broadcasting of Turkmenistan and the Italian Institute for Africa and the Orient (IsIAO) conducted, under the direction of Prof. Mukhammed A. Mamedov and Dr. Barbara Cerasetti, the first campaign of the joint project in the Murghab alluvial fan from May 24th to June 21st 2009, according to the agreement signed in October, 22nd 2008. The research members, apart from the responsible directors, have been Dr. Ejegul A. Muradova of the Ministry of Culture and TV Broadcasting of Turkmenistan, Dr. Lynne Marie Murone-Dunn (Rouse) of Washington University in St. Louis (USA), Dr. Giorgia Benedetta Codini of IsIAO and Enrica Gori and Mattia Cantoni, students of the University of Bologna. The main aim of the 2009 field season has been to increase our understanding of the different schemes of population distribution in the north-eastern part of the Murghab alluvial fan. To achieve this aim, a systematic, full-coverage survey method has been applied to obtain a complete and detailed observation of an “area of interest� (AOI).

Overview of the three Areas of Interest (AOI), GRID 1 (Northern grid) and GRID 2 (Southern grid) of the Auchin area and GRID 3 of the Togolok area on the base of 2001 Aster image. The green lines represent the transect made by S. Cleuziou in 1994.


The AOI was determined by a review of the 2001 Aster image of the alluvial fan, which was also used during the previous campaigns of the current project. Furthermore, the methods employed during this season compliment those of previous campaigns; site perimeters (sometimes with internal structures, craft activity areas, kilns etc. also identified) were recorded with a GPS unit, and detailed descriptions of the sites were always recorded in field notes. The survey was based on a grid consisting of 20 x 20 m. squares, occasionally sub-divided in squares of 5 x 5 m. when concentrations of pottery fragments indicated more complex archaeological deposits.

Survey was conducted by a team of ten people spaced along a line of 40 m. (two 20 x 20 m. squares), flanked at each end by a team member equipped with a GPS to contain the line, and one team member with a compass following several paces behind to help guide and keep the spacing between the surveyors. When pottery was encountered, a complete count of the sherds within that 20 x 20 m. square was made, along with any other anthropogenic material. The pottery counts were made on the basis of different size classes: “mini” for fragments less than 1 cm in diameter, “small” for sherds less than 2-3 cm. in their largest dimension, “medium” for sherds less than 7-8 2

cm., and “large� for anything of greater dimensions. When possible, team members also recorded the total weight and the weight for each size class.

The count of all the material has been entered in different tables made by using Access software.


Despite the fact that the resolution of the 2001 Aster image is not high, it is sufficient to clearly highlight the main characteristics of the arid landscape of the Murghab alluvial fan. By focusing on large takyr, generally characterized by palaeochannels, we returned outstanding results in terms of archaeological presence. Since the aim of this season's fieldwork is to understand different typologies of occupation, the quantitative results of our fieldwork will help systematically distinguish between different types of territorial exploitation, for example, agricultural fields, craft areas, open pastures and seasonal campsites. Our data will thus allow the first systematic comparison between different settlement typologies, as well as contribute to our comprehension of the relationship between sedentary farmers and nomad herders. The quantitative evaluation of the presence of nomad herders on the border of the agricultural occupation is fundamental to a better understanding the off-site area characterizing the landscape among the large Late Bronze Age (LBA) or Incised Coarse Ware (ICW) settlements.

Grids in the area of the LBA site of Auchin 1

Overview of the two Areas of Interest (AOI), GRID 1 (Northern grid) and GRID 2 (Southern grid) of the Auchin area on the base of 2001 Aster image.


GRID 1 (1000 x 540 m.) covers an area to the north-west of the LBA site of Auchin 1. The area is characterized by the presence of palaeochannels, but for the majority is covered by sand. The pottery distribution in the area is approximately homogeneous throughout the grid, despite the presence of a modern canal, 25-30 m. in width, crossing the grid from south-west to north-east.

GRID 1 provided an interesting view of an exclusively pastoral landscape, consisting of seasonal campsites without stratified archaeological deposits and light agriculture.


Distribution Maps of Total Sherds Count without and with sites locations, GRID 1.


Fragmentation Rate of the Surface Pottery, GRID 1.

The main distribution of these seasonal campsites is along a 20 m.-wide palaeochannel, and most probably agricultural exploitation of the territory was facilitated by diverting water from the main palaeochannel. These settlements are approximately 100 square meters in size and do not contain structures. The agricultural fields are characterized by the presence of very small pottery fragments, less than 1 cm.


The second grid, GRID 2, covers an area located to the south-east of GRID 1 that is dominated by a sedentary LBA site (Site No. 1518) surrounded by ICW campsites.


Distribution Map of Total Sherds Count (20x20m and 5x5m squares), Site 1557 - GRID2.

The site is located in a large takyr with palaeochannels, clearly visible on the 2001 Aster image. GRID 2 covers an area of 1000 x 800 m., though our survey was limited to an area of 200 x 600 m. because of the presence of modern agricultural fields, which occupy the entire takyr and whose construction have unfortunately destroyed Site No. 1518. Despite our limited survey area, we were able to identify a large ICW archaeological compound (5350 square meters) located approximately 300 m. to the north-east of the former location of Site No. 1518.


Fragmentation Rate of the Surface Pottery (20 x 20m and 5 x 5m squares), Site 1557 GRID 2.

This new site, Site No. 1557, is made up of different areas, including a built-up area and agricultural fields, and provides an important “window” for understanding the relationship between sedentary farmers and semi-nomadic herders. Here we find a more complex society – evident by the internal subdivision of the area and the type of territory exploitation – than is suggested by the small seasonal campsites to the north (Sites No. 1514, 1515, 1516) that border the territory exploited by sedentary farmers.


Location of nomad ICW Sites No. 1514, 1515, 1516 around the sedentary LBA Site No. 1518.

Unfortunately, the modern agricultural works have prevented us from being able to “read� the wider territory, and we were forced to abandon further survey in GRID 2. The third grid is located over the Togolok oasis, to better understand the exploitation of the territory by different groups, and generate the first data suitable for an empirical comparison with pastoralist campsites located to the north-east.


Overview of the GRID 3 of the Togolok area on the base of 2001 Aster image with the distribution of the first data (yellow points) on the north-western part of the grid.

This field campaign is also interested in the revision of the pottery coming from the previous survey (1990-2005), supervised by Dr. E.A. Muradova, for the next publication in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture and TV Broadcasting of Turkmenistan, the Russian Academy of Sciences of Moscow, University College London (UCL), and IsIAO. Dr. E.A. Muradova and Dr. G.B. Codini photographed the ivory collection located in the National Museum of Mary for the next publication, mainly those items from the Middle Bronze Age of Gonur-tepe, with the consent of Prof. Viktor I. Sarianidi.



Turkmenistan Report May 2009