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12 April 2013
Ancient mysteries revealed in Turkmenistan desert

Around 2000 BCE, Gonur-Tepe was the main settlement of the Margush or Margiana region, that was home to one of the most sophisticated yet little-known Bronze Age civilisations. The fortress town lay buried for centuries under the Kara Kum desert in remote western Turkmenistan, until uncovered by celebrated Soviet archaeologist Viktor Sarianidi in the last century. Sarianidi, now aged 84, is about to spend another summer working on the site.
     The ruins are the centrepiece of a network of towns and settlements in the delta region of the river Morghab, which flows through Turkmenistan from its source in Afghanistan. Just 50 kilometres from the ancient city of Merv, outside the modern city of Mary, the ruins are an indication of the archaeological riches of Turkmenistan.
     Covering some 30 hectares, from the air the former buildings of the huge complex look like a maze in the desert, surrounded by vast walls. It would likely have been home to thousands of people. The town's artisans did metal casting, made silver and gold trinkets, created materials for cult worship, and carved bone and stone.
     "It's amazing to what extent the people possessed advanced techniques," said archeologist Nadezhda Dubova. "The craftsmen learned how to change the form of natural stone at a high temperature and then glazed it so that it was preserved."
     "This year, Gonur has given us another surprise, a fantastic mosaic," she added, noting that such an object pre-dated the standard era of mosaic-making in Greek and Roman antiquity.
     Turkmenistan remains one of the most isolated countries in the world but still sees a trickle of foreign tourists every year, mostly on organised special-interest tours.

Edited from Agence France-Presse (6 April 2013)

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