Mysteries of Ancient Margiana: the Parisian from Gonur

There is a unique sample of art of the ancient times among the collection items of Ancient Merv in the Museum of Visual Arts.This is a small, not bigger than a palm, detail of stone mosaic discovered among hundreds of other fragment of mosaic panels once decorating royal mausoleums of Gonur-depe.

It has a picture of expressive female profile made with skills by few black hachures on thoroughly carved contour of head and neck on a piece of stone.Whose image is this that remained by miracle until our days having stayed in Turkmen soil for more than 4000 years?

Was it unknown goddess or priestess of local temple?May be it was a princess who lived in Margush state?It is not by chance that it was found in so-called royal tomb where plenty of other precious articles that served as funeral implements were found.

Gonur-depe is the largest of all Margiana settlements of the Bronze Age discovered in the northern part of old delta of Murgab River.Currently, this is a territory of Karakum etrap, Mary Velayat.

There was a large city where people used to live from the end of III until the middle of II BC.Excavated under the leadership of famous archaeologist, Honoured Member of the Academy of Sciences of Turkmenistan Victor Sarianidi, it become known to the world owing to its monumental architecture, which anticipated fortresses, palaces and temples of future ages, as well as to numerous sensational findings, which became precious exhibits of three Turkmen museums.

Mosaic compositions found in Gonur underground tombs during the excavation in 2004 present special value.These mosaics used to decorate the interiors and chests with treasuries which local nobles sacrificed to their deceased.

Just like other pagans, they believed in life after death and thought it to be important to give the most valuable of what they had to the souls of the departed.

This is not only household items of gold and silver, which were absolutely useless and had only ritual character.While visiting our museum with lectures, Professor Sarianidi highlighted that the decoration of the walls and furniture of royal mausoleums with such fine mosaic panels, which even palaces and temples did not have, indicates the great importance that ancient people paid to post-mortem life of the soul.

The scientific world has already appreciated the uniqueness of the mosaics from Gonur.There are many of scientific articles on this and yet plenty to be written as the art of Turkmenistan of the Bronze Age is just started to be really studied.

The historian say that there is nothing alike in any of the monuments of those times in the whole Ancient East.Several plot and ornamental panels remained among discovered and afterwards carefully restored fragments in our Museum.

The mosaics were made in mixed technique the stone inlays were supplemented with colour paintings.The images were made using several organic paints like coal (black colour), ultramarine extracted from lazurite (bright blue), cinnabar or raddle (bright red).

The most important details like heads of people and animals, torsos and limbs, feathers and paws of birds, repeating elements of the ornaments were made of stone.

Woman profile is an only finding of this kind.All other details of mosaics from Gonur picture the images of predators and herbivorous animals, birds, fishes and dragons.

The first association the image brings in mind is a well-known to historians fresco from the Cnossus Palace on Crete Island in Mediterranean Sea dated approximately XV BC.

The fresco portrayed a ritual feats, which members were sitting opposite each other with bowls in their hands.It is only the fragment of the head of girl and large ritual knot on the back of her dress remained, however, her wasp waist, heavy make-up on her face, large eyes, her coiffure, which probably took few hours to make, transparent lace on her shoulders a seductive creature, whose elegance and grace were not destroyed by the centuries spent in the soil.

It was discovered by British archaeologist Arthur Evans in the beginning of the last century. “She is true Parisian!” one of his personnel exclaimed one he saw the fresco with young Minoan lady.

She indeed reminded elegant French women of the beginning of the XX century to the archaeologists and the name “Parisian” was given to her ever since.

Now, we have our own “Parisian” in Turkmenistan.Obvious similarity of both images makes you think of some cultural contacts, which were there in the Bronze Age among such distant civilizations as Minoan and Margian.

Taking into consideration the fact that Gonur is elder than Cnossus then it is obvious that the influence came from the East.It is definitely not the only fact of the kind; even in the ancient times people used to travel in distant countries and hence, the items from the Indus and Euphrates banks were found in Gonur and some items form Margiana could have appeared thousands kilometres away.

According to Doctor of Historical Studies, Anthropologist Nadejda Anatoliyevna Dubova, who used to work for many years with Sarianidi at Gonur's excavations, portray of woman that was found there reflects the ethnic type of people living there in the II-III BC.

Anyway, the similarity with the faces of so-called composed stone statuettes and silver crowns of dress pins, which were also discovered in Margiana, are obvious.

The museum has other rare samples of ancient Margiana art.These are the items of small plastic, toreutics (relief finishing of art metal items), glyptics (stone carving) and sphragistics (making of seals and amulets).

All of these confirm the opinion on the importance of that complex and interesting art phenomenon that was called Bactrian Margian Archaeological Complex in the science.On the threshold of 2017 Asian Games, the Museum of Visual Arts opens renewed exposition where the visitors would be able to see the masterpieces came to us from the centuries including the Parisian from Gonur.

The only thing left to say is that reconstruction and conservation of gathered mosaic compositions including our Parisian is made with support of National Department of Turkmenistan for Protection, Study and Restoration of historical and cultural monuments, which invited the specialists of the State Scientific and Research Institute of Restoration of the Ministry of Culture of Russian Federation Natalya Kovalyova and Galina Veresotskaya for this work.

They have given several master classes in the Museum where experienced Turkmen restorers Mekan Annanurov and Annamurad Orazov as well as students of the Institute of Culture and Art Academy of Turkmenistan took part.

It will be they, who in the future will have to bring other wonderful messages from the far past that are still hidden in the layers of the ancient settlements of Margiana and other historical monuments to the world.

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