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Akdepe ancient settlement.

Trip on ancient settlement Akdepe near Ashgabad.

This summer, the national archeological expedition, the first one in the years of independence, organized by archeological and ethnological scientists of the State Institute of Cultural Heritage of Turkmenistan, Central Asia and East at the Turkmen President started in Turkmenistan.
The significance of this expedition is that it was for the first time organized in Akdepe settlement, in the outskirts of Ashgabat. "Akdepe, a big hill (depe), is located at Bikrova settlement, in the south-west of Ashgabat.
The lower layers of this unique memorial date back to the fifth millennium B.C., and the upper ones to the late middle ages. In the past, it was believed that people deserted the main center of  Akdepe as early as in Bronze Age, i.e. in the second millennia BC, and the medieval city emerged to the north and north-west of the hill. However, the excavations have proved that in the X-XI centuries, i.e. thousand years ago, the life still went on here.
There are all grounds to assert that the town in the location of contemporary Ashgabat and its outskirts was founded during the emergence of the Parthian Empire. It was a chain of fortresses (about 20 settlements) connected with the single system of defense and administration.
Akdepe is one of such settlements situated at the Ashgabat stream. This "White hill" attracted our attention by the fact that all cultural layers, from the V millennium BC to the XVII century AD can be found there. In fact, the whole history of Ashgabat can be "read" in Akdepe. 
M.V.Voevodskiy was the first to investigate the settlement in 1928. He collected a lot of materials that are kept in Moscow now. In 1930 - 1931 and 1955 - 1957, archeological excavations led by A.A. Maruschenko were conducted in Akdepe.
The result of excavations was that the upper construction horizon occupying the area of 300 sq m was excavated and the settlement's stratigraphy was revealed. In 1967 - 1980, Akdepe was investigated by hydraulic engineer A.A. 
Lyapin. Scholars I.Masimov, A.Gubaev and V.Pilipko conducted minor excavations here. Unfortunately, except for the work of Russian archeologist L.Kircho which was based on discoveries by A.A.Lyapin, we have no other publications on Akdepe.
In addition, the monument was slightly damaged in the Soviet times: there are holes from non-conserved and unsystematic excavations everywhere with the soil scattered near the excavations.
As a result, the hill was covered with dumps and took up the ugly forms. The settlement itself occupies now a half of its former territory. Almost all members of our department spent this season of excavations in the field.
Prominent archeologist Dr. Tirkesh Hojaniyazov, who is a leading scientist of the department and famous numismatist, senior scientists Nigmatulla Amanliev, Gulamulla Yagshimuradov, Aidogdy Kurbanov and scientist Olga Bakieva participated in the expedition.
All of them work in the department since its establishment (2004). In this period we have conducted three international expeditions: the Turkmen-British expedition (Ancient Merv, fall 2004), the Turkmen-American expedition (Anau, spring-summer 2005), and the Turkmen-Italian expedition (Togolok-depe in the Murgap river delta, fall 2005).
Our excavations on the Southern Hill of Anau sometimes resulted in sensational discoveries. They were stone masonry of the fortress wall of the Bronze Age, seeds of soft wheat and barley, and the remains of a domesticated horse, all of them aged no less than four thousand years. 
Last spring, we investigated outskirts of Akdepe, having identified 38 deserted karizes (ancient underground water supply system) along the South-West-South line (the extreme points located about 3 km from the settlement).
In addition, one well was found 30 m to the north-west from the hill and another one 20 m to the south from the hill. On the large territory to the north-west and west from Akdepe the remains of the cemetery were found.
The graveyard was functioning in XIV - XVII centuries. The funeral ceremonies were held right on the cultural layer of the medieval town that most likely ceased to exist in the XIII century after the Mongol invasion.
By the way, pits of three wells were noticed on the graveyard as well. Karizes of later period (possibly XVIII-XIX centuries) indicate that life in Akdepe settlement went on. People didn't desert this land of plenty, in which the ancient seeds of dwarf and soft wheat were discovered in 1950s. 
At one of the locations, 80 m to the north from the hill, we spaded a 5 meter deep prospect hall reaching to the platform. There was found an excavation in which a wine press room was discovered. 
This premise, however, was overlapped by burials of the later period. The excavation gave samples of well preserved vessels and a spray bowl dated to X century.  Clearing of the old north-western cut of the hill was continued. Samples of grey and painted ceramics of Eneolythic and Bronze period as well as of antique and medieval ages were found in its dumps. Clearing of the eastern wall of the cut revealed the brickwork made of clay bricks.
On the western side of Akdepe hill the hole was spaded on the territory of 5,5 x 14 m where 4 rooms dated back to X - XI centuries, judging by the ceramics, were discovered. Investigation of these cultural layers gave debris of both rough medieval vessels and refined bowls with Asiatic inscriptions.
Debris of glass flasks, iron articles and a bead made of cornelian were also found. We called the upper room as a room of hearths. Four small diameter hearths were opened. Their use is still unknown to us.
A round, clay-coated pit was found between them. A skeleton of the puppy was extracted from it. We have specified that Akdepe was functioning in the medieval ages, whereas previous excavators supported the idea that the life on the hill ended in the Bronze epoch.
It should be noted that despite the long period of research work at the memorial, archeologists differ in views almost on every issue. It is clear: the "White hill" is reluctant to disclose all its secrets, trying the patience of researchers. 
Akdepe is a complex monument. It has many layers. That is why we decided to turn it into our own training site. It gives young specialists the wonderful opportunity to improve their qualification.
In spite of the fact that this is our first field season, there are positive results already. Excavations will be continued next year as well. We hope our work in Akdepe will allow us to open the unknown pages of Ashgabat history.

Authority:  Ovez Gundogdiev, Head of the department of archeology and ethnography of the State Institute of Cultural Heritage of Turkmenistan, Central Asia and East at the Turkmen President, told "Turkmenistan" magazine of the results of the two month expedition.