Sarazm, which means “where the land begins”, is an archaeological site bearing testimony to the development of human settlements in Central Asia, from the 4th millennium BCE to the end of the 3rd millennium BCE. The ruins demonstrate the early development of proto-urbanization in this region. This centre of settlement, one of the oldest in Central Asia, is situated between a mountainous region suitable for cattle rearing by nomadic pastoralists, and a large valley conducive to the development of agriculture and irrigation by the first settled populations in the region. Sarazm also demonstrates the existence of commercial and cultural exchanges and trade relations with peoples over an extensive geographical area, extending from the steppes of Central Asia and Turkmenistan, to the Iranian plateau, the Indus valley and as far as the Indian Ocean.
Sarazm Excavation XI - Remains protected
Outstanding Universal Value
The proto-urban site of Sarazm is an archaeological site which bears witness to the development of settlements in Central Asia from the 4th millennium BCE to the late 3rd millennium BCE. The Proto-urban Site of Sarazm illustrates the early rise of proto-urbanization in this region, reflected in the sophistication of the dwellings, infrastructures, and archaeological findings. It came into being as the result of the complementarity initially between pastoralism and early agrarianism, and subsequently between the exploitation of mineral resources in the Bronze Age and the development of handicrafts. Sarazm demonstrates the existence of inter-regional trade and cultural interchanges over long distances across Central Asia. This was a long-lasting and prosperous proto-urban metropolis, at the north-eastern extremity of a vast area stretching from Mesopotamia to the Indus and the Iranian plateau.
Criterion (ii): The Proto-urban Site of Sarazm bears testimony, from the 4th millennium BCE, to trade and cultural interchanges between the pastoral nomads of the mountains of Central Asia and the agrarian peoples of Transoxiane. Later, particularly in the Bronze Age, the Proto-urban Site of Sarazm complemented and extended its activities with metallurgy and handicrafts, demonstrating the existence of a network of a diversity of interchanges on a very large scale. The Proto-urban Site of Sarazm had connections with the steppes of Central Asia, and in addition with the Turkmenian, proto-Elamite, Mesopotamian, and Indus worlds.
Criterion (iii): The Proto-urban Site of Sarazm constitutes a remarkable human settlement, exceptional in its geographical situation, in Central Asia, in the 4th and 3rd millennia BCE, to which its proto-urban and architectural remains and its archaeological findings bear witness. The town played a regional role over a long period and on a very large scale in the working of metals, particularly tin and copper, and the associated development of handicrafts to produce tools, ceramics, and jewellery. The Proto-urban Site of Sarazm is one of the places that gave birth to and saw the development of the major trans-Eurasian trade routes.
Integrity and authenticity
The integrity of the property is acceptable and under control, as a result of the current conservation works and programmes, but it is still ill-defined because of uncertainty about the precise boundaries of the proto-urban site.
All the original elements are in their initial location, where they were left when the site was abandoned, and the only deterioration of these elements is the result of natural processes.
Protection and management requirements
The Proto-urban Site of Sarazm has the legal status of a “Historical and Archaeological Reserve,” as defined by the resolutions of the Government of the Republic of Tajikistan No 391 of 21 September 2000 and No 198 of 19 April 2001. It is managed by the Penjikent Archaeological Base under the supervision of the Institute of History, Archaeology and Ethnography of the Academy of Sciences. The protection of the property is satisfactory. The system for the management of the property is in place. It has begun to be expanded and to operate satisfactorily. A certain degree of fragility remains, however, as the presence of the management system on the site of the property itself is inadequate. The management authority must make sure that it produces a report on the initiatives carried out and strengthens the human resources of the Sarazm Archaeological Reserve, in terms of both the number of staff and the level of training. International cooperation for scientific research and for the conservation of the property remains crucial, and must proactively participate in the training of local personnel.
The proto-urban settlement of Sarazm dates back to the first half of the 4th millennium BCE. It may have been established on an earlier village of farmers dating back to the Neolithic. In its earliest level, a particularly rich funerary circle testifies to the existence of an important settlement in around 3500 BCE.
In geographical terms, Sarazm is situated at a point of contact between a mountainous area and an extensive plain. In the 4th millennium BCE, contacts developed between nomadic shepherds from the mountains and the agrarian populations of Transoxiana, on the basis of economic complementarity. The mountains that frame the main valley, to the north and south of Sarazm, are rich in a variety of mineral raw materials and metal ores. They can be crossed by high valleys and passes which are accessible in the summer, particularly to the south.
In addition to its own farming produce, it seems that Sarazm established itself, at a particularly early date near the beginning of the 4th millennium BCE, as a centre for inter-regional interchanges over long distances, particularly with the plains of Turkmenistan and the steppes of the north-east. Archaeological evidence, particularly from studies of ceramics, then demonstrates the great variety of contacts established by Sarazm over the course of its history. The remains reflect both pre-Elamite and Baluchistani influences, and tangible and cultural interchanges with the Indus Valley.
During the 3rd millennium BCE, Sarazm was an important centre for tin and bronze, and for copper and lead, in Central Asia. In addition, Sarazm developed production of manufactured goods: ornaments, ceramics, and tools. It also drew its prosperity from the exploitation of other regional resources: semi-precious stones such as turquoise, agate, and lapis lazuli, and also wool and leather. Sarazm was the first centre in Central Asia - probably from the start of the 3rd millennium BCE - to establish commercial relations and a network of cultural interchanges on such a large geographical scale. The town had connections to the west with Turkmenistan extending as far as the Aral Sea, to the north-east with the Eurasian steppe as far as Siberia, to the south-west with the Persian plateau as far as Mesopotamia and perhaps further, and to the south with Bactria, to Baluchistan and the Indus Valley, and as far as the Indian Ocean (sea shells). Findings at Sarazm in particular confirm the permanency of interchanges with the mountains of the Hindu Kush.
During the Bronze Age, Sarazm became a rich protourban settlement. The town had a sophisticated culture which required complex organization, and the capacities to erect dwellings with a wide range of different rooms and decorated monumental buildings. This was a centre where a large number of complementary activities were developed in an economy based on agriculture and cattle-breeding on the one hand, and the processing of local mineral resources and handicrafts on the other.
This led to a situation which is emblematic of the beginnings of urbanization, with socially diversified settlement, professional specialization, and a certain degree of sophistication in architectural construction and technical achievements.
Sarazm seems to have declined between the middle and end of the 3rd millennium BCE. No evidence of occupation has been found for subsequent periods, and it seems likely that nomadic shepherds then once again inhabited the region. The reasons why Sarazm was abandoned by its inhabitants have not yet been identified. Various scholarly hypotheses have been advanced: a population migration, an epidemic, or military attacks on a settlement which was prosperous but which was located in a non-fortified urban ensemble.
Following an accidental discovery by a villager in 1976, excavations on the site began in 1979. Since then excavations have been carried out at thirteen different places, covering a surface area of about 2.5ha (the archaeological urban area is estimated to be around 47ha). The excavated zones have been partially backfilled to preserve them from destruction. However, this solution turned out not to be fully satisfactory, as the structures unearthed were then subject to visible natural deterioration. This is why five of the excavation zones have been covered with metal shelters.
ICOMOS considers that in the new dossier and in the additional documentation of 14 and 26 February 2010, the State Party has satisfactorily taken into consideration Recommendation a) of the Committee decision 31 COM 8B.29.
Source: Advisory Body Evaluation