Dig deeper: unique finds of archaeologists at the excavations of ancient Turkestan

27.07.2021 09:10 10

A whole production complex for processing ore and iron was discovered by KazRIC scientists during archaeological surveys conducted within the framework of the project "Restoration of historical objects of the Kultobe settlement". The unique complex allows you to track the entire cycle of work of ore-smelting and blacksmithing workshops that operated in the ancient city for several centuries, EC reports.

Recall: the project, which has been engaged in by scientists of the Kazakh Research Institute of Culture for the third year, is being implemented with the financial support of the Eurasian Group (ERG). The open-air archaeological park being created in the ancient city promises to become one of the iconic tourist sites of the Turkestan oasis.

To trace all the historical periods of the life of the city, which was the oldest cultural, religious and commercial center of the Great Silk Road, is the main goal of archaeological research conducted at the Kultobe settlement and adjacent territories. Working on the implementation of the project, historians have identified as the main components of the future archaeological park a number of anchor objects that can arouse interest not only among Kazakh, but also among foreign tourists. Among them was a unique production complex for the processing of iron.

— The industrial complex was discovered in the western part of the medieval city, about 550 meters from the mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi. Apparently, in this part of ancient Turkestan in the Middle Ages there were production and craft workshops of various types — said Anatoly Shayakhmetov, a researcher at KazRIC.

On an area of 1.5 thousand hectares, archaeologists found two dozen rooms and production sites that differ in size, where iron was not only produced by melting it from ore, but also made from the resulting metal necessary household and agricultural items for citizens.

— The sites were located both in open areas and under special canopies. There are several furnaces on them, in which iron was obtained from ore. There are also sites for the preparation and storage of ore, fuel and a water tank. We also found rooms for storing tools and warehouses with finished products — Anatoly Shayakhmetov added.

Of particular interest to archaeologists are the medieval ore-melting furnaces discovered on the territory of the industrial complex. The fact that they were used specifically for smelting ore is confirmed by the large amount of iron ore slag found near the furnaces. The antiquities seekers found five furnaces measuring 1.5 by 1.5 meters. Built by ancient craftsmen mainly of adobe bricks, they survived to a height of no more than half a meter, but archaeologists consider this preservation very good.

— Almost all of the furnaces we found, in addition to themselves, have survived the furnace parts and chimneys. That is why, having all the components, we are talking about a good archaeological preservation of these furnaces, even though they are all in a dilapidated state. Once they were cylindrical structures equipped with a blow-down and a chimney. There may have been furs for forced air supply, — the scientist explains.

The technological process of making iron meant several stages. The brown and red ironstone extracted in the Karatau mines was brought to the production site. On the spot, it was cleaned of garbage and clay, then crushed and sorted. Ore, flux and fuel — usually charcoal — were poured into special furnaces, and for several hours, or even a day at a temperature of 1,300 degrees, firing was carried out.

— As a result, the ore was fused into porous iron, the so-called kritsa. Its further processing led to the production of iron, from which various blanks were made at the first stage. In the future, blacksmiths, whose workshops were also part of the complex, produced various household and agricultural items. In particular, we found ketmen, hammers, hoes, hoes, knives at the excavation site, — Anatoly Shayakhmetov added.

Among the finds were also cannonballs and fragments of weapons. Their presence is explained by the fighting that took place on these lands in the XIX century.

— Based on the findings, it can be concluded that the existence of the production complex we discovered was due not only to the needs of citizens in household items and tools, but also to political processes. Iron was constantly needed for military purposes. Not only ketmen, hoes, hammers and axes could be produced here, but also cannonballs, and possibly cold weapons, — the archaeologist explains.

The industrial complex discovered by archaeologists dates back to the XVIII-XIX centuries, but at the same time it has a topological continuity. Historians are sure that the found cultural layers originate in earlier periods of the Kazakh Khanate, and maybe in the Middle Ages.

— With a high degree of probability, it can be argued that in earlier centuries — in the XVII and even in the XVI centuries — there was about the same complex for processing iron at this place. The only difference is that it could have been smaller. But the technology of producing iron, most likely, has not changed for several centuries — the historian added.

The complex ceased to exist at the end of the XIX century. This happened due to natural reasons — the local production, which has not changed for centuries, could not withstand competition with factory-made products imported from the Russian Empire, which the Turkestan Region became part of in 1864. The products imported from the metropolis were more massive, and most importantly-more affordable in price. The Turkestan masters were unable to compete with it.

— At that time, there were entire factories in the Russian Empire for the production of various metal products for household purposes, as well as weapons and agricultural equipment. And despite the fact that the same axes, hammers or pitchforks were carried for several thousand kilometers, the price for them was lower than that of local craftsmen, whose production required a lot of labor and did not have mass production. Therefore, by the end of the XIX century, the need for such productions disappeared, — explained a KazRIC researcher.

Since then, the production complex has been abandoned. Some of the buildings, which were built using burnt bricks, could be dismantled by the citizens themselves, the rest, including furnaces for smelting ore, collapsed under the influence of precipitation and time. Soon people left this part of the city, and over time it turned into a wasteland overgrown with weeds and covered with garbage. And only after more than a century, historians had the opportunity to see firsthand the entire infrastructure of the unique industrial complex, which was an important component of medieval and late medieval Turkestan.

— This is a truly unique archaeological site, the likes of which have not been found on the territory of Kazakhstan before. We have a complex dating back to the late Middle Ages, with a good preservation of numerous architectural structures, which can be used to track almost the entire cycle of metal production and products made from it. Of course, it will be interesting not only for historians, but also for tourists who, having visited the archaeological open-air park "Kultobe Settlement", will be able to get an idea of how the ore-smelting and blacksmithing workshops functioned — Anatoly Shayakhmetov summarizes.

Now a team of restorers is actively working on the site of the production complex, which is faced with the tasks of conservation and partial scientific restoration of the archaeological object.