Novosibirsk State University Archaeologists Suggest that Animals Showed Ancient Man Migration Path that was Silk Road Forerunner

A team at the Novosibirsk State University New Archeology Center and the Institute of Archeology and Ethnography SB RAS, together with colleagues fr om the American University of Central Asia, Kyrgyz National University and the University of Toronto discovered a unique cave in the Alai Valley that is the first multi-layered monument in the region. Cultural remains fr om the Stone Age to the modern era are in the cave.

This summer, archaeologists conducted research at Kyrgyz archeological sites: the Selungur Cave and the Obishir monuments. South-east of these sites is the Alai Valley. If you travel to the East of the Alai Valley, you will come to Kashgar - a huge trading hub in the territory of modern China and a key center on the Great Silk Road. Part of the trade route leading from Kashgar to the West, passed directly through the Alai valley and the territory wh ere the Selungur and Obishir sites are currently being studied. Recent archaeological studies have shown that the Silk Road routes were formed as a result of seasonal movements of nomadic peoples inhabiting the region during the Bronze and Early Iron Ages. However, there is not enough information on the root causes of its formation to be able to recreate the course of its development through history.


According to William Taylor, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute (Jena, Germany) who started working with Novosibirsk archaeologists in 2017, «Work in this part of the world is interesting because we are in the heart of the Great Silk Road. For centuries, people used it to transport goods and drive cattle across the continent. The Silk Road represents the first wave of globalization. This is an ancient process and it is very important, especially for archeologists».

Archaeologists report that their work on the Selungur and Obishir sites is gradually bearing fruit as they put pieces of the puzzle together layer after layer. The Alai Valley had not been studied in detail until now. Prior to the current research, the only Stone Age monument on the regions archaeological map was discovered by Soviet archeologists in 1975.

In the summer of 2017, Svetlana Schneider, research associate at the Institute of Archeology and Ethnography SB RAS and Executive Director of the New Archeology Center, decided to try her luck and led a group on a reconnaissance mission. The scientists discovered 15 archaeological sites during their three days in the Valley. Among them are Stone Age camps and workshops, settlements and burial grounds from the Bronze and Iron Ages, petroglyphs and, most importantly, caves. As the first multi-layered monument in the Region with cultural remains from the Stone Age to the modern era, it is unique.


Taylor offered his thoughts as a member of the field research team:

It was very unexpected to find this kind of cave in the Alai Valley. I'm very interested in what we will discover in the course of our research of the cave because we do not know anything about how and when the development of this region took place. Most of all I'm interested in the question of domestication of animals. Most likely, the development of the Central Asian territory during the era of the late Stone Age and domestication are related. We began by comparing materials from the Fergana Valley monuments (2,000 m above sea level) and the monuments from the Pamirs (4,000 m above sea level), dating back to the period 11,000-8,000 B.C. It turned out that there is an obvious similarity between them: the data looks like it is from twin sisters. The Alai Valley is located directly between these two regions wh ere, according to our hypothesis, the migration path for ancient man passed. We can assume that these ancient people traveled along this precursor to the Silk Road with animals, went up into the mountains for the summer and descended back down in the winter. Moreover, I think it was the animals migrating in search of food that showed this route to the people. Of course, this is only a hypothesis, but the data we obtained allows us to hope that next year we will find evidence to support the hypothesis. We will continue to investigate the Alai Valley cave. We hope to answer key questions about the history of the inhabitants of Central Asia.