Jean-Marc DEOM

Laboratory of Geoarchaeology, Institute of Geology, Min of Education ant Sciences KZ






1 - Location and geography

The valley of Bazar-Dara is situated in the very central part of South-Eastern Pamir, in a mountain system (generically called Northern Alichur) located between the Alichur Pamir and the Sarez Pamir [i.e. between the Alichur and Murghab rivers]. It is 30 km long, going from periglacial circuses at 4600 m to the Murghab river at 3400 m. On the basis of geo-morphological features it can be divided into 3 parts: upper, middle, and lower. The upper, middle and lower parts of the Bazar-Dara valley are 3 segments going respectively in the S-N, SW-NE and S-N directions. They have different profiles, having been exposed to different kinds of erosion and deposition: the upper part is quite wide with a U-shaped profile having been formed by glacial erosion; the middle and lower parts are very narrow with V-shaped profile as a consequence of fluvial erosion. 

Tertiary intrusive rocks (granite) are exposed on the right side of the upper and middle parts of the Bazar-Dara valley. In the upper part (where the Ak-Jilga mining village is located) they constitute the right slopes down to 4200 m; in the middle part (where the Bazar-Dara town is located) they are exposed 2-4 km up the mountain slopes at the height of 4500 m. They are composed of granodiorite breed with crystal structure and interlocking mineral formations containing in relative abundance wolfram, tin and other metals.

These mineral processes characterize a band 1 km wide and more of 20 km long that crosses the granite massive of the right slopes of the middle and upper valley, making of the region a valuable source of poli-metal ores.



2 - Archaeological complex

The archaeological complex of the Bazar-Dara valley consists of 6 sites located along the course of the AkJilga-BazarDara river.

From downstream to upstream, they consist of 2 small medieval (X-XI AD) mining villages (LowerBazarDara 1 in lower part of the valley and LowerBazarDara 2 in the middle part of the valley); the large BazarDara medieval town in the middle part, attributed to the same period; the AkJilga petroglyphs at the junction between the upper and middle part of the valley, mainly executed during the Bronze age; the AkJilga mining village, 1.5 km up from the petroglyphs site, with remains of the Medieval and Ethnographic periods (X-XVIII AD); the AlJilga EarlyIron complex at the very upper end of the valley, in a landscape of tundra-like cryophytic meadows, of which kurgans, housing and few petroglyphs are attributed to the period (V BC-II AD)



3 - Bazar-Dara medieval town

It is the most impressive monument of the valley, if not for its antiquity, surely for its dimension most unusual at that altitude. It is located in the middle part of the valley, on a large third terrace of the right bank, at the height of 3980 m. The geomorphology of the area consists of a valley with fluvial profile; the left bank is very steep and covered by scree slopes; the right bank is characterized by a series of large terraces. Its landscape is a high-mountain sagebrush desert with a narrow corridor of tugai vegetation along the stream.

Archaeological monuments of several kinds are found in the area: town, cemetery, mines and a few petroglyphs. The site has been studied by extensive excavations (Bubnova 1962-64, 1972-75) and attributed to the Middle Medieval period (X-XI AD).

The town was mainly built for the organization of the extraction and the transport-trade of the mineral resources of the valley (copper, tin, silver). The ore was extracted and worked in a cluster of mining and smelting villages located in the surroundings like Lower Bazar-Dara 1 and 2, Ak-Jilga mining village and eventually other still undiscovered mining metallurgic sites.

The site of BazarDara town covers an area of 700x250 m (17.5 ha). From the geomorphological point of view the area consists of a hill and 3 terraces.

-     a south-western rocky hill

-     a main terrace (were most of the buildings are located) developing SW-NE (like the valley) and descending from 60 m above the river bed on the SW to the level of the alluvial plain on the NE. It covers an area of 510 x 220 m and is divided by a small canyon into 2 parts: the western one 210 m long is occupied by a caravanserai and living quarters, the eastern one 300 m long is occupied by a cemetery.

-     a northwestern small terrace with few traces of houses and mining activities

-     an upper terrace on the south of the main terrace with only a few petroglyphs.


The distribution of the remains suggests the division of the complex into 8 zones. Going from SW to NE they are the following ones: the 1st zone (a rocky hill with petroglyphs and a kind of panoramic post) constitutes the south-western borders; the 2nd (caravanserai), 3rd (public building and square) and 4th (living quarters) zones occupy the SW side of the main terrace; the 5th (cemetery) and 6th (a few houses and bath) zones occupy the NE side of the main terrace; the 7th zone (few houses and mines) is peripheral and located on the north-eastern border of the complex; the 8th zone (few petroglyphs) is located in an upper terrace hanging on the southern slopes above the caravanserai.

Zones 2-3-4-5-6, located on the main terrace, constitute the centre of the archaeological complex: they have been extensively studied by archaeological excavations and their detailed description is given in several articles by M.A. Bubnova (Bubnova 1979a, 1979b, 1980, 1984, 1985, 1990, 1996, 1997, 2001).

-     Zone 1. It consists of a rocky hill located at the south-western border of the site containing cultural remains on the bottom, medium and top levels of the hill. At the bottom, on the second terrace of the alluvial plain, there is a stone enclosure (?) and on the first rock outcrops a few petroglyphs of the Early Iron Age (goats) and an engraving of the 1974 (a tent with some tools for archaeological excavations). On the second level, a terrace 8 m up, there are 2 stones engraved with Early Iron Age petroglyphs (goats) surrounded by small stone enclosures of ritual character. On the top there is an artificial platform bordered by the remains of a square stone construction.

Zone 2. Zone 2 is separated from Zone 1 by a small valley 100 m wide hosting a seasonal stream and, at the bottom, a permanent spring. It consists of the highest part of the main terrace (60 m above the river bed) occupied by the remains of a walled compound of buildings covering an area of 40x50 m2 (2 ha). The monument has been totally studied through excavation and is classified as a caravanserai. It has sub-rectangular shape with the entrance door opening in the centre of the NE wall and driving to the main central street. A southern side-street brings to 2 large courts for burden animals located along the SE wall. The buildings are aligned on both sides of the main street and are constituted by square and rectangular rooms provided with hearths and sofas and grouped by functional blocks: on immediate right and the left of the entrance some small custom houses; then a block with 3 storerooms of 50 m2 each and, opposite it on the other side of the street, a large hall of 80 m2; at the blind SE end of the street are located 2 blocks of living rooms, each with around 15 rooms of 50 m2.

-     Zone 3. It is an area of ½ hectare just outside the northern corner of the walled compound. It consists mainly of an empty space occupied by the town square plus a large public building and a few petroglyphs engraved on scattered bedrocks. The building (house 1) has been studied by excavations: it covers an area of 200 m2 and has 8 rooms of rectangular shape all provided with hearths and sofas. Near by some engravings with figures of goats and dogs have been recently found (Sala, Deom 2004) on 2 outcrops with patinated roundish surfaces and can be attributed to the same Medieval period of the town.

-      Zone 4. It is an area of 140 x 70 m (1 ha) located between the public square of Zone 3 on the SW and the little canyon crossing the terrace on the NE. It is a living quarter occupied by around 80 houses partly studied by archaeological excavations. The houses face with their entrance a central road that crosses the settlement in the SW-NE direction. Each house averages 80-200 m2, has 5-10 rectangular or square rooms provided with hearths and sofas and can host 2-3 families. A few of them have been excavated (house 2-3-6-4). In House 2, located on the western border of the settlement, one of the rooms has been recognized as a fire-worship temple. Some slag of fluorite and siderite (remnants of smelting processes) have been found in a secondary deposits outside houses 2 and 3; and slag of copper-oxide in a room of house 3 (Bubnova 1980, 1996)

-     Zone 5. It develops NE of the little canyon along the sloping terrace 50 m wide and 220 m long (1 ha) and is occupied by a cemetery with 484 tombs. The tombs consist of pits 1-1.5 m deep covered by tumuli surrounded by low stone walls of square or oval shape. Six tombs have been excavated (Bubnova 1964).

-     Zone 6. At the north-eastern end of the sloping terrace is located a group of few rooms and, in proximity of the bottom valley, a well preserved vaulted public bath with an under-floor heating system. The bath has been studied by archaeological excavations.

-     Zone 7. On the following terrace, near the ridge of the cliff, have been recently found (Sala, Deom 2004) the stone remains of 15 rooms and, 100-150 m up the slopes, 2 quarry mines (surface trench) and one shaft mine (tunnel) 4 m deep. The monuments have not been studied.

-     Zone 8. On the upper terrace south of the caravanserai of Zone 2, a few petroglyphs have been recently found (Sala, Deom 2004) on flat patinated roundish rock surfaces, that can be attributed to the Middle Medieval period: pecked figures of goats in linear style and a bird, scratched figures of a leopard and geometric signs (stars, squares). Further up along a small path, at the height of 4400 m, some ancient mines have been discovered (Bubnova 1979a).



4 - Cultural Significance (Bazar-Dara town)

Of the 6 sites constituting the archaeological complex of the Bazar-Dara valley, 4 (LowerBazarDara 1 and 2, BazarDara town and Ak-Jilga mining village) are definitely related to the mining and smelting activities that exploited the rich ore deposits of the region. The present attribution of these monuments to the Medieval period is mainly based on the fact that Early Iron Age villages have been neither discovered nor searched for. But the recent discovery of Early Iron surface ceramics in Ak-Jilga petro village and Ak-Jilga mining village makes us suspect an earlier date for the start of the mining works in the valley. Moreover, it is quite probable that the scratched technique of the petroglyphs of the site of Ak-Jilga petro is a characteristic of Bronze and Early Iron Age mining tribes; and, referring to the newly discovered site of Ak-Jilga Early-Iron Age complex, that future researchers will find witness of early mining activities even in this part of the valley.

These considerations support the view that the monumental heritage of the Bazar-Dara valley as a whole represents an extraordinary testimony of the genesis and evolution, during more than 3000 years, of the mining and smelting activities of Bronze, Early Iron and medieval cultures, inserted in an astonishing high-mountain scenario. We call it Bazar-Dara valley paleo-mining complex.

The Bazar-Dara valley can be classified as a natural-cultural property of outstanding universal value (UNESCO-WHC code: 23-iii, 44a-i,ii,iii,iv).

Referring to the “BazarDara town” itself, its cultural significance consists of it being the main monument of the mining and metallurgic activities of the valley. Even if it was active during a short period of time (X-XI AD) and understandable only in the context of the remains of the precedent and successive mining and smelting activities which happened in the valley, its size (17.5 ha) and complexity (caravanserai, living houses, bath, public square, cemetery, petroglyphs) make it the most impressive settlement. It is by itself a monument of outstanding universal value following the UNESCO criteria (23-ii, 24a-ii,iv,v).

The surrounding cultural landscape, for its evident functionality and intelligibility, can be classified as a cultural relict (i.e. deprived of contemporary human use) organically evolved landscape (39-ii).



5 - State of Conservation: Authenticity, Integrity

The very dry climate of the region, the low levels of erosion and the use of stones as building material are responsible for the excellent state of conservation of the monuments of the valley and of the Bazar-Dara town in particular, even those exposed by archaeological works.

No human use of the area happened after the abandonment of the Bazar-Dara town and also the landscape comprising and surrounding the monument is preserved in its original state. Therefore the monument is absolutely original and authentic in all its aspects (24b-i) together with its surrounding cultural landscape.





01-BazarDara valley / sites map

02-BazarDara valley / sat image

03-BD / middle valley landscape

04-BD mining town (X-XI AD) / plan

05-BD mining town (X-XI AD) / caravanserai plan and drawing

06-BD mining town (X-XI AD) / caravanserai photo