Mizdakhan, Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan

Mizdakhan necropolis, ancient cemetery is one of the oldest and most visited pilgrimage sites of Karakalpakstan. The fortress received its name during the Arab conquest, and means “a fortress of disbelievers”, as the inhabitants of the fortress used to be Zoroastrian before the Arab conquest.

How Mizdakhan became a place of pilgrimage for Muslims? Most likely, Gyaur Kala appeared first. The emergence of the settlement dates back to the 4th century BC. At the first view on the fortress, the power of its ten meters thick walls makes a strong impression, its remnants continue to protect the ruins of the two city citadels, one of which, as believed by archeologists, used to be a construction at the palace, and another one- - the Temple of Fire. The other hill, opposite the fortress, was originally a place for there Zoroastrian cemetery where residents of the fortress buried their dead. The first Muslim burials date to around the ninth century. From then on the necropolis grew exponentially. There are also some Christian burials here dating to the seventh century. These probably involve members of the Melkite sect who had settled in Khwarezm. Interestingly they had apparently adopted Zoroastrian burial customs and interred the bones of their dead in ossuaries. (x)



The petroglyphs in the landscape of Tamgaly, Kazakhstan, dating from approximately 1400 BCE to the 20th century.

Offering us unique insight into the rituals and social organization of the pastoral peoples who inhabited this site through time, the archaeological landscape of Tamgaly contains about 5,000 petroglyphs (rock carvings), which are distributed throughout 48 complexes largely associated with burial grounds and settlements.

The central canyon has the densest concentration of petroglyphs, contains ‘alters,’ and has been interpreted to have had ritual significance. The central canyon is devoid of dwellings, and is thought to have been a place for sacrificial offerings.

During the Middle Bronze Age we see Tamgaly-type petroglyphs, which include zoomorphic beings, people, a huge variety of animals, and ‘solar deities (sun-heads).’ During the Late Bronze Age the petroglyphs become smaller in size, and display less variety in what is depicted. Here scenes of pastoral life are popular, reflecting the prominence of nomadic cattle breeding activities during the time. During the Early Iron Age, scenes showing the hunting of wild animals remain present, but we also see camels starting to appear in the art.

If you are interested in reading more about the ‘solar-headed’ petroglyphs I would recommend The Archaeology of Shamanism (2001, Routledge), specifically chapter 5. This publication is edited by Neil Price, professor of archaeology at the University of Aberdeen, who is a specialist on shamanism in archaeology.

The petroglyphs within the archaeological landscape of Tamgaly are listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site -their article on the landscape was of great use to me while writing up this post. Photos courtesy of & taken by Ken and Nyetta.