Dalverzin-tepe: the land of Treasure

Dalverzin-tepe: the land of Treasure
In 1972, in the course of excavations on the site of an ancient settlement of Dalverzin-tepe archaeologists found a buried treasure of gold objects weighing about 36 kg and dating to the 1st century A.D.

From the depth of centuries

The Dalverzin-tepe settlement site is situated in Shurcha District, Surkhandarya Province, in the fertile Surkhandarya Valley. Its foundation dates back to the 3rd century B.C., while its golden age fell on the Kushan epoch (1st-4th cc. A.D.) and its decline – on the 4th-6th cc.

During its heyday, the town was surrounded by a defence wall about 2.5 km long and 10 m thick and a wide moat. There were shooting galleries and dungeons in its walls and towers, and on the top of the walls there were passages and bays for shots, slingers and stone-flinging machines (during the excavations, heaps of stones were found near the walls as well as scatterings of pebbles on their external slopes).

From the archaeological viewpoint, Dalverzin-tepe is an almost  “sterile” antique town, whose excavations permit to study town-planning peculiarities , fortifications, architecture, arts and artefacts of Northern Baktria, especially during the time of the Great Kushan Empire.
In the opinion of G.Pugachenkova, a comparison of historical and archaeological data permits to believe that it was the original Kushan capital situated north of the Amudarya River and known as Khodjo from ancient Chinese from ancient Chinese chronicles.

Systematic studies of Dalverzin-tepe began in 1967. The site of the ancient settlement with an area of about 47 hectares unearthed by archaeologists was a temple of a Bactrian goddess where sculptures of deities and unique samples of murals depicting and infants were found. In the centre of the settlement there was a Buddhist temple of the 2nd-3rd cc. A.D. in the outskirts of the settlement, archaeologists found the ruins of another Buddhist sanctuary built, judging by the coins found there, even earlier – about 1st century A.D. Both ritual ensembles used to be decorated with clay and gypsum sculptures. Archaeologists found over thirty splendid sculptures of various sizes, from half a metre to 3 or 4 metres high. Among them, there were numerous statues of Buddha, bodhisattvas and other Buddhist characters, and sculptural representations of the ruler, his heir, a noblewoman and noblemen.

A selection of objects forming the archaeological collection from Dalverzin-tepe was exhibited in Japan, Switzerland, Germany, France, the USA, Malaysia and the Republic of Korea.

The central part of the settlement was occupied by residential quarters of well-to-do townsfolk who lived in houses with spacious verandas, staterooms and outbuildings. In many houses the number of rooms exceeded two or even three dozen. It was in one of such houses that the famous Dalverzin-tepe treasure was found. Excavations have also revealed numerous ivory and polished-stone articles, copper coins, beads from gems, and fine ceramics dating back to the Greco-Bactrian epoch.

In the southern part of the settlement there was a large residential neighbourhood of ceramists (with more than a dozen kilns) who provided town and suburb residents with ceramic table- and kitchenware of various sizes and shapes.
The importance of the finding of archaeological excavations in Dalverzin-tepe can only be appreciated if one knows the history of that region.

The lost empire

At first , there were some accidental archaeological finds of copper and gold coins featuring ferocious bearded kings and deities, whose diversity perplexed scholars- the Iranian god  of the Sun Mitra, the Central Asian goddess of fertility Ardohsho, an Indian god Shiva, the Middle-Eastern mother-goddess Nana, a Greek god Helios and goddess Selena, an Egyptian god Serapes and, finally Buddha… When and in what country could such an odd pantheon have existed?
Equally strange were the legends on coins: Greek and Indian, but mostly made in an unknown language using Greek characters.

Scholars first came by such coins in 1820s. Their Greek and Indian legends repeated the titles and names of some mysterious kings- Kadfiz, Kanishka… Sometimes, along with the title of “the kind of kings” the name of a country – Kushan – was mentioned.
Only one name that of Kanishka, was familiar to scholars. Buddhist texts of India, Tibet and China related about that ancient ruler. Abu Raikhon al-Beruni, an outstanding Central Asian encyclopaedist, knew that name. But no one has ever mentioned that the famous ancient king was the ruler of Kushan. And what kind of a country was it?

Gradually, the great ancient empire began to rise from non-existence. It turned out that ancient texts retained quite a lot of scattered information about it. Chinese analysts, travelers and itinerant monks used to write about the powerful Kushan kingdom.  Roman geographers and historians also knew about it. The name of the country, or rather its Persian version – Kushanshahr – is mentioned in the legends pertaining to the Sassanid kings of Iran, while Armenian and Syrian authors related about the wars of the Sassanids with the Kushans.

However, the great state has left neither any epics nor tales, only some scattered brief texts and legends on coins. Yet, in the middle of the middle of the 20th century French archaeologists, who unearthed a large Kushan temple in Surh-Kotal (North Afghanistan) found a text carved on a stone dating back to the rule of King Kanishka. The text consisted of clear-cut capital Greek characters, and it was not so simple to decipher it. The text lacked any punctuation marks and even spaces between words. One of the best experts on ancient Central Asian languages Vladimir Livshits succeeded in deciphering it mmost accurately.
The text permitted to identify that it was the language of Bactria, which formed the close to the Sogdian and Khorezmian languages.

During the rule of Kanishka, Kushan turned into one of the strongest states of the antiquity. Along with the Roman Empire, Parthia and China it formed the G-4 of the ancient world, which spread its influence from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. Later, historians will call that period (1st – 4th cc. A.D.) a period of empires. It was during that period of time that the Silk Road, the longest ever caravan route leading from China across the Kushan kingdom and Parthia to Roman Syria, came to exist.

One of the significant achievements of the Kushan epoch was a high level of culture, which incorporated the achievements of the local ancient Oriental civilization, the best traditions of Hellenism, the refined Indian art and a peculiar style introduced by nomadic Asian tribes.
The findings of excavations in Dalverzin-tepe, which was once the capital city of the powerful Kushan Empire, permit to understand how the Kushan culture absorbed and processed various traditions.

The scientific value of the Dalverzin treasure is as great as that of the famous Amudarya treasure kept in the British Museum. For the first time in the Middle East, a treasure of precious Kushan objects was discovered and placed historically thanks to the fact that it was found in an archaeological layer.