An Overview on Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Sites in Central Asia
Until the 1930s there were no identified Palaeolithic or Mesolithic sites in Central Asia. However, we know that by the Late Neolithic, around the beginning of the third millennium BCE, the region began to be settled. This is confirmed by such sites as Anau, which has close cultural associations with the Middle East.
After the 1930s, Russian archaeologists started to document their findings. In the Termez region of Uzbekistan, excavations began under the guidance of AM. E. Masson, Leader of the Termez Archaeological Expedition. At Old Termez they found flint artefacts and port shards consisting of Anau I. They then found another Stone Age site near Aira-tama, a small town east of Old Termez.
It was in the Baisun-Tau region that archaeologists discovered “large number of caves test-pits revealed evidence of occupation only during historic times, but at six localities the existence of prehistoric cultural levels has been reported. These are as fol-lows: Zarangat-Gut, Dukan-Khan, Temir-Ul’de, Kurgan-Dar’ia, Amir-Temir and Teshik-Tash.3 The latter site, which was finally selected, was completely excavated during the 1938 and 1939 seasons. A small-scale dig was also undertaken at Amir-Temir, a cave in the Baisun region not far from Teshik-Tash”.
The Mousterian cave site, excavated in 1938- 1939, is the first Palaeolithic site to be scientifically excavated in Central Asia and one of the most important. Situated around 90 miles from Samarkand, it is situated in a very narrow canyon-like gorge. It was inhabited for five continuous occasions, the culture layers being “separated from each other by sterile layers of clay, sand, and coarse silt laid down during intervals when the cave was flooded with water”.
The Cultural Layer I (B) has the richest occupation layer with a reported Neanderthal child’s burial (aged eight or nine) with a ring of Siberian Mountain Goat horns. In each of the Cultural Layers, archaeologists found goats horns. They show that the “artefacts of Mousterian hunters indicate temporary periods of habitation separated by times when Teshik-Tash was vacated and depositionary processes were active”.
Archaeologists have also discovered a few flint implements, including several end-scrapers and one or two small retouched blades in western Turkmenistan, indicating that this region was moderately densely occupied during Late Mesolithic and Early Neolithic periods.
The Central Asian region has been largely ignored by archaeologists studying the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods; instead it is the Middle East that draws scholars. However, scholars are just learning that this part of Central Asia holds a wealth of knowledge on the cultures that lived in this region so long ago.
Movius Jnr., Hallam L. (1953) Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Sites in Soviet Central Asia, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, American Philosophical Society.