Our work on the Bronze Age stratum at both Ulug Depe and Dzharkutan helps document the relationships between the dead and the living, between residential and funerary zones.

During the Middle and Late Bronze Age, the majority of the dead were gathered in large necropolises situated around the edges of the cities (Bustan, Dzharkutan, Gonur Depe). But other burials were uncovered inside the settlements, in zones that were abandoned at the time or in spaces reserved for this purpose (Sapallitepa, Dzharkutan, Dashly, Altyn Depe, Namazga Depe).

A number of standards were followed in all these graves, whether in necropolises or settlements, throughout the different periods of the Bronze Age. Among them, for example, is the position of the dead in a lateral decubitus position on the right or left side, with folded limbs. While collective burial sites were more numerous during the Early Bronze Age, conversely individual graves in pits and, more rarely, burials in jars are the main types during the Middle and Late Bronze Age.

Among exceptional graves, very rich tombs are to be underlined. At Gonur Depe, in the “Royal Necropolis,” hypogea decorated with paintings or mural mosaics constitute true houses for the dead with multiple inhumations including the main deceased and a number of “accompanying persons” associated with luxury artifacts, and often with carts yoked to draft animals (Sarianidi and Dubova 2011; see also Chapters io and 11). Animal graves (goats, sheep, camels, bulls, equines, or dogs) are also a particular feature of this civilization (see Chapter 12). These are not always sacrificed animals placed near human graves but are instead often specific burials of animals, perhaps with a substitutional function, accompanied by offerings that include prestigious objects (Luneau 2014).

A characteristic that has long been recognized involves women’s graves that appear to be richer in both the quantity and quality of the artifacts placed in them as offerings (Askarov 1977; Alekshin 1986; Sarianidi 2001). This seems to indicate a specific social structure related to gender, with some objects - perhaps attributes linked to the roles or the powers of each gender - exclusively associated with women, and others with men (Luneau 2008, 2015).

Towards the end of the Bronze Age, a diversification of the funeral practices is noticeable, with evidence of manipulations on the bone remains linked with the reopening of the graves. At that time too, the first evidence of cremation appears (Avanesova 1995, 1996, 2013; Bendezu-Sarmiento 2004), revealing, according to some researchers, the influence of the northern steppe region of Central Asia in this southern zone.


At Ulug Depe, the Bronze Age is characterized by a great homogeneity in the positions of primary inhumations, which are mostly individual (Figure 13.2), with subjects placed on their sides, with their limbs bent (especially the lower limbs) and their heads turned towards the north or northwest. These individual graves are found inside shallow pits, often filled in with soil containing chalk fragments and ashes.

The dislocation of certain skeletal elements (labile joints) of the hand, foot (phalanges), or thorax (cervical vertebrae) confirms the presence of a space that was left

Ulug Depe. Primary individual burials, sectors 1 and 17, graves 64, 91. © MAFTUR

Figure 13.2 Ulug Depe. Primary individual burials, sectors 1 and 17, graves 64, 91. © MAFTUR.

Ulug Depe. Two graves showing individuals with very tightly restrained positions of the upper and lower limbs, sector 1, graves 61, 66. © MAFTUR

Figure 13.3 Ulug Depe. Two graves showing individuals with very tightly restrained positions of the upper and lower limbs, sector 1, graves 61, 66. © MAFTUR.

Ulug Depe. Perinatal and infant subjects, sector 1, graves 68, 69, 74. © MAFTUR

Figure 13.4 Ulug Depe. Perinatal and infant subjects, sector 1, graves 68, 69, 74. © MAFTUR.

temporarily empty during the decomposition process. This space was created due to the presence of a lightweight vegetal container that enveloped the deceased at the time of inhumation, traces of which have been discovered around bodies on several occasions. These “containers” often consisted of mats, but also sometimes of felt, placed at the bottom of the pit, making a mortuary shroud.

The extremely tight bend of the lower limbs of some subjects (Figure 13.3) suggests that, in addition to being wrapped in an organic material, they may also have been held in this position by ties that left no traces. Sometimes, this position can be explained by the small size of the pit, but it has nonetheless been shown that some pits were large enough to allow some parts of the body to shift around within an empty space, notably during the phases of putrefaction, dislocation, and decomposition.

Perinatal and infant subjects (Figure 13.4) seem to have been given the same treatment as adults (i.e., were enveloped in a vegetal “shroud” or placed inside a basket) (Bendezu-Sarmiento 2011). Their position is analogous with that of the adults, but their body orientation is more varied, and the burial pits of smaller dimensions.

Dzharkutan. Individual primary graves 1051 and 1045. © MAFOuz-P

Figure 13.5 Dzharkutan. Individual primary graves 1051 and 1045. © MAFOuz-P.

The perimortem subjects are never accompanied by grave goods. More rarely, older children might be provided with offerings. Moreover, the topographical situation of children’s graves, usually placed in the center of a room, against a wall, or under the doorstep of a house (see Figure 13.4), leads us to believe that the houses were occupied at the time of these inhumations. In contrast, adult burials generally took place in more or less abandoned areas, with burial pits dug into or under entire wall segments of previous habitations.

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