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From the Editor

It is my pleasure to introduce the second issue of the Silkroad Foundation’s Newsletter which contains a range of articles that should interest general reader and specialist alike. I respond to these essays on both a personal and a professional level. On the one hand, the Silk Road embodies a kind of romantic and romanticizing vision of a past which may come alive when I visit the locations where history unfolded. On the other hand the historian in me keeps whispering that I should beware of reading too much into the past from its remains that have survived to the present.

The Archaeology of Sogdiana

Sogdiana denotes the region including the Zeravshan and Kashkadarya River basins. Clearly, the archaeology of Sogdiana is dated no earlier than the first millennium BCE, when Sogdians emerged on the historical stage. However, for a more complete picture we need to note the monuments of earlier periods.

The most ancient archaeological findings on the territory of Sogdiana date to the Middle Paleolithic period. There are a few Upper Paleolithic settlements (in Samarkand, for example) as well; at the same time, nothing from the Neolithic period has yet been found. Sarasm, situated between Samarkand and Panjikent, is an Eneolithic monument dated to the fourth and third millennia BCE. Abdullo Isakov and his students, as well as Roland Besenval and Bertille Lyonnet, studied this monument which consists of several settlements that occupy hundreds of hectares.

Returning to Varakhsha

Varakhsha is one of the most welcoming and enjoyable sites where I have been fortunate to excavate. Even the wind performing its lonely dance in the roofless empty halls of the palace sounds like a distant chorale. As to the Sogdian lunar god Mah, whose light floods the uninterrupted dreamy plains stretching from the foot of the citadel to the flat horizon, I have not seen him so beautiful in any other part of the world. These personal feelings make me wish to revisit the site, but, by themselves, they do not constitute a legitimate reason for a scholarly return to Varakhsha, a monument which has held an exceptional place in the history of exploration of Sogdiana. Such a scholarly re-examination is necessary for our understanding of the site in order to update it in the context of recently-studied monuments and to make use of materials brought to light by the last decades of research.

Sogdians in China: A Short History and Some New Discoveries

The Sogdians were the inhabitants of fertile valleys surrounded by deserts, the most important of which was the Zeravshan valley, in today’s Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. This Iranian-speaking people had a fifteen-centuries-long historical identity between the sixth century BCE and the tenth century CE when it vanished in the Muslim, Persian-speaking world. Although the Sogdians constructed such famous towns as Samarkand and Bukhara, they are quite unknown. Only specialists on the Silk Road know that they were among the main go-betweens of the exchanges in the steppe, in Central Asia, and in China during the first millennium CE, and especially between the fifth and the eighth centuries CE. During this period, the “inland silk road” and the “Sogdian trading network” are almost synonymous. The contemporary Sogdian, Chinese, Arabic, Byzantine, and Armenian sources describe the Sogdians as the great traders of Inner Asia. They managed to sell their products - musk, slaves, silverware, silk and many other goods - to all the surrounding peoples. A Greek text describes their trading embassies to Byzantium, some caravaneers’ graffiti prove that they were in India, Turkish vocabulary is a testimony to their cultural and economic power in the Turkish steppe...

The Pre-Islamic Civilization of the Sogdians (seventh century BCE to eighth century CE): A Bibliographic Essay (studies since 1986)

In the second half of the 1980s, an unprecedented development in Sogdian studies began. This did not result from the discovery of a mass of new written documents (contrary to what happened with Bactrian studies), nor to a large extension of field archaeology (on the contrary, the great excavations inherited from the Soviet period have since shrunk due to financial difficulties, with a few exceptions such as Samarkand and Paykend). The main reason for the blossoming of Sogdian studies has been, on the one hand, better communication among the specialists involved, and, on the other hand, chance discoveries in China, which have added a new angle to the perception of the historical role of the Sogdians.

Bamiyan: Professor Tarzi’s Survey and Excavation Archaeological Mission, 2003

The Bamiyan Valley is one of the sites most often referred to in studies regarding the history and archaeology of Central Asia. It figures especially in studies of the expansion of Buddhism, thanks to the region’s strategic location between India and China. Bamiyan is best known for its two giant standing Buddha statues, carved into the rock of the great cliff dominating the north side of the peaceful valley. One statue was 55 meters high and the other 38 meters high. The destruction of these two colossal statues by the Taliban in 2001 was headline news in all the international media.

Ever since the signature of the Archaeological Convention between the French Republic and the Afghan kingdom in 1922, French archaeologists have expressed an interest in Bamiyan. In his first report on the archaeological remains of Afghanistan, Alfred Foucher, who had played a major role in drafting the convention, had underlined the importance of conducting archaeological studies in Bamiyan.

‘Knowing the Road That Leads You Home’: Family, Genealogy, and Migration in Post-Socialist Kazakhstan¹

I recall experiencing a somewhat surprised and euphoric feeling when I first saw a shezhyre displayed in one of the Almaty kiosks. The shezhyre, it had seemed to me, was a testimony that was guarded from people by public officials, hidden for decades in closed stacks with limited access in the National Library or other restricted archives among other historical records. Disclosing such documents, it seemed to me, was an act confirming an ideological change, and a movement toward the rediscovery of the historical dignity of the Kazakh people.

Among the Kazakhs of Xinjiang

I have no complaints about sleeping in a yurt here at Tianchi. It is warm and the sleeping quilts are more than adequate. It is large and roomy. I drank a great deal of beer with Sailik and two of his cousins last night. We drank by candlelight, Kazakh style, with each of us drinking in turn from the same bowl, refilling and passing it along. It is the way friends drink, he says. But Sailik is a clever guy. Maybe they had only one bowl. Though I slept well, my thighs are sore from riding a horse into the hills yesterday, balanced on a small, inadequately padded Kazakh saddle of wood. I fear the upcoming ride.

...The yurt was put up in ninety minutes in the family’s traditional spot overlooking a high alpine bowl, probably at about ten thousand feet. The mountains under my feet are rock and mottled green grass, cross-hatched here and there in patches where the grazing of sheep and goats is more noticeable. Only two other encampments are visible from here, far away across the bowl. The river creases the mountainside, and smaller watercourses are revealed by the upward advancing arrows of firs, a dark healthy green. Here and there are constellations of white sheep and goats set against the firmament of green meadows. It is all quite magnificent.


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