Archaeologists explore the "Silk Road" from the Stone Age

A team fr om the NSU New Archeology Center together with the Institute of Archeology and Ethnography SB RAS, are exploring Eshme-Too, a mountain range in south-west Kyrgyzstan. This area has revealed dozens of archaeological sites.


According to scientists, the ridge is located on the edge of the Ferghana Valley. It is located on the Great Silk Road, the road linking East Asia to the Mediterranean that is assumed to have first been used in the Stone Age, more than 8 thousand years ago. This territory was studied actively in the 1960-70s by Uzbek archaeologists under the guidance of Academician Utkur Islamov, but a thorough analysis of the material was not conducted. Therefore, today, scientists do not have accurate information about the region that is in the middle of territories through which the ancient people apparently settled all the neighboring lands.

Islamov made huge excavations in the area and, because of the large volume of data obtained, was only able to conduct a preliminary analysis. At the Obishir-5 monument, where Novosibirsk archaeologists are now working, 7,500 artifacts were found by the Islamov team on the 150 square meters.  Selecting the most promising area for excavation in 2015-2017 led to finding more than 5,000 artifacts in an area that was only 4 square meters. Svetlana Schneider from the New Archeology Center discussed the work.

Having access both to modern digital equipment and to the expertise of our colleagues from the University of Toronto (Canada) and the Max Planck Institute (Germany), we came to the facility and began to work more efficiently. We use the latest archaeological research methods. With the help of specialized equipment, the location of each find was measured and that made it possible to conduct a spatial analysis of the location of the finds and reconstruct the occurrence of archaeological horizons, structures, and so on. Also, during the excavations we create a three-dimensional visualization of the monuments we are researching. In fact, when an archaeologist digs up a monument, he destroys it, and the database we collected allows us to return and analyze the occurrence of archaeological finds in layers and verify our hypotheses. The upper layers of the Obishir-5 monument belong to the late Iron Age and the Middle Ages. These periods are the key to the history of mankind, because at that time there was a great migration of people.

Svetlana Schneider
Svetlana Schneider
The New Archeology Center

During this period in the territory of the Ferghana Valley there was a Davan state. In historical sources there is evidence that China repeatedly engaged in armed conflicts against Davani. One of the reasons for the war were Fergan horses. Referred to as “celestial horses”, they were beautiful, strong and sturdy. They were highly valued far beyond the Fergana Valley, and the problem of providing horses was extremely relevant for China. "To date, archaeological evidence of this war has not been found, and our studies may be the first evidence of the Sino-Danish conflict," Schneider explained.

In the underlying deposits, archaeologists discovered a cultural layer of the Early Holocene period (8-11 thousand years ago). It was at this time in human history that in many territories there was a transition from appropriating the economy to becoming the producer, that is, from hunting and gathering to cattle breeding and farming. At the present stage of research, the Novosibirsk team is working on the problem of early domestication of animals. Archaeologists will get the first evidence of domestication in this part of Asia from the Altai to the territory of modern India and from the Caspian Sea to China. Schneider continued to describe the work and its significance:

 “We are attracting specialists from related disciplines including archeozoologists, geo-archaeologists, specialists in the field of terasology and experimental archeology, and specialists in the study of malacofauna. The joint work will make it possible to understand how the economic development of this region took place, and to reconstruct the paleoecology. For the first time below the layer of the Early Holocene period, a cultural horizon was discovered for this territory. On the basis of geological data archaeologists refer to this period as the “Last Glacial Maximum” (~ 26-19 thousand BP). These layers were not distinguished by previous researchers. A large collection of stone artifacts was found that are analogues to those that can be traced to the monuments of the Upper Paleolithic era that are located in the northern Tien Shan. We are currently waiting for the laboratory analysis of the data that will allow us to accurately talk about the time when people inhabited this territory. This is the only monument in Central Asia wh ere such stratigraphy can be traced. It turns out there will be work to do here for many years. We believe that further study of the monolithic monuments will allow us to reconstruct the life of man for a sufficiently long period of time.”