The history of architecture in southern Central Asia has been entirely renewed by the discovery, at the end of last century, of ca. 150 settlements of various sizes in the ancient delta of the Murghab River, together with several more or less synchronous sites on both sides of the Amu Darya in northern Afghanistan and southern Uzbekistan. They are dated to the Middle and Late Bronze Age: the Namazga (NMG) V and VI periods.' They all belong to the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Culture (BMAC), and their characteristic architectural features serve as a marker for such an attribution. Some of them demonstrate clear signs of administrative or religious character, and sharply contrast with the surrounding households.

These remains of architecture, especially the monumental one, provide a firm ground for the analysis of the plans and construction methods that highlight their specific Central Asian features, thus providing impetus to search for their origins and to underline their continuity into the Iron Age. These issues have already been investigated by various scholars (Sarianidi 1977a, 1981, 1986, 1990a, 1990b, 1990c, 1991, 1994, 2002a, 2002b; Masimov 1981; Hiebert 1994; P’jankova 1994; Mamedov 1993, 1996, 2002, 2003; Zadneprovsky 1995; Huff 2001, 2005). They each have outlined the influences, described the evolution process of the local construction practices, and given their point of view on this BMAC Bronze Age architecture. M. Mamedov (1994, 2003) has also attempted to determine the scale of its borrowings to the Mesopotamian and Syro-Anatolian architectures, and to determine the extent of its influence into the antique and Middle Ages architecture of Central Asia. Here it must be underlined that the excavations at the main settlements of Altyn Depe or Namazga Depe (at the foothills of the Kopet Dagh) never reached the large scale of those in Margiana, which may explain why no similar monumental buildings have been brought to light there and prevents comparisons with them. The discoveries made at Sarazm in the upper Zeravshan valley, however, show that already during the NMG III and IV periods (ca. 3500-2500 BC) the architecture tended towards geometrical plans and monumental constructions and to the frequent use of pilasters (Razzokov 2016).

All the structures mentioned in this chapter only survive in plans. They fall into the category of archaeological artifacts and this makes proper architectural analysis extremely difficult due to the lack of knowledge of the volumetric-spatial parameters. Nevertheless, even at a superficial glance, one can see preconceptions behind the plan schemes (i.e., a sharp trend towards geometric shapes and a desire to stick to the rules of symmetry).

The exact function of most of the monuments is a matter of debate. In the absence, up to now, of the full data concerning the finds discovered in them and their exact position in each room, any proposal remains hypothetical and we will only touch on that question. However, we will still use the names given by V.I. Sarianidi and the other diggers (i.e., “temple,” “palace”) to differentiate them.

This chapter will present successively the monumental and domestic architecture. The buildings are built mostly with sun-dried mudbricks and had flat-roofs resting on wooden beams, though a few vaulted constructions are possible. Some rooms were entirely plastered with a white mortar, but usually floors and walls were covered with a mud plaster. Details on the building materials and the construction methods are given at the end of the chapter. Funerary architecture is not analyzed here, except for some hints concerning the construction methods, since it is dealt with separately later in the volume (see Chapter to).


In Margiana, the settlements and their pattern of distribution have been thoroughly studied (Gubaev et al. 1998), but this is not the case in Bactria.2 In Afghanistan, only a small area has so far been studied, covering only four micro oases on the left bank of the Amu Darya River, while in Uzbekistan the damages caused by intensive modern agriculture have preserved only a few isolated sites. Therefore, for these last two areas, it is not possible to make a reconstruction of their ancient architecture on the same level as that of Margiana.

The most distinctive character of the BMAC architecture is the presence of a totally new type of structure unknown before; namely, square or rectangular “fortresses” with rectangular or round towers at the corners and along the walls, which remained the dominant architectural type in southern Central Asia until the last century (the so-called qala) (Lamberg-Karlovsky 1994).

For V.M. Masson (1979: 32-33) “the square fortress type is an entirely new phenomenon,” unknown in the settlements of the foothills of the Kopet Dag (Altyn Depe, etc.), and this led him to suppose an influence from the Harappan world. Since he wrote these lines, much more evidence of contacts with the Indus valley has been found, but one may nevertheless question this Harappan origin since, as formulated by G. Pugachenkova (1971: 238), architecture, unlike other historical artifacts, “knows neither export nor import and thus is most tightly connected with its native land, both in a literal and figurative sense.” Another new layout is that of a round fortress, though it has been discovered only in Bactria up to now, at the Dashly 3 “temple.” The importance of this type of round settlement mainly rests on its further development in Central Asia, during the pre-Achaemenid and Achaemenid period (in Margiana at Erk Kala; in Afghanistan at KutlugTepe in the Farukhabad oasis, or At Chapar 1 and 2 in the Dashly oasis; in Uzbekistan at Talashkantepa), and later during the Kushan period. Some have tried to look for the origin of such round settlements in prehistoric architecture, but this is doubtful. Similar shapes, contemporary to the BMAC Dashly

3, are known further to the north in the Urals - for example, at Arkaim (Zdanovich and Zdanovich 2002). In Mesopotamia, after the isolated late 5th millennium (level XIA/B) Gawra Round Building, or the Oval Building of the end of the 4th millennium at Godin Tepe, a number of circular structures are known during the Early Dynastic period in the Hamrin area of Iraq and in the Syrian steppe of the Djezirah (the so-called Kranzhiigel). Later, at the time of the BMAC, they are still present in the more arid inner Syrian steppe at T. al-Rawda, and in Cappadocia at Kiiltepe/Kanesh. There too, the origins of this circular plan remain unknown. Sarianidi pointed out long ago a possible schematic reproduction of the plan of the Dashly 3 “temple” on some of the round bronze compartmented seals in the shape of concentric circles (Sarianidi 1977a: 29). This proposal can also be applied to some of the cross-shaped seals that usually have a central square associated with two “courtyards” and with two- or three-stepped sides on the exterior, an outline reminiscent of the building layouts of the nearby Dashly 3 “palace” (Pugachenkova 1982: 24).

In Margiana, numerous settlements excavated since the early 1980s have provided remains of ancient architecture, fragmentary or complete.’ In Bactria, as mentioned above, much fewer Bronze Age settlements have been excavated and the main center of this area has not yet been discovered.4 A short summary of this BMAC monumental architecture is provided next.

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