Sarmishsay – Stone Age art

Sarmishsay – Stone Age art

Sarmishsay is an unique art gallery with 5000 rock carvings of Stone Ages telling about our remote ancestors ’life and customs lived in the basin of the Zarafshan River. It is a main concentration of rock paintings in Uzbekistan. The application for the status of UNESCO World Heritage Sites been made in 2008, however, the status is not confirmed yet. Still only 13 of such petroglyph (rock painting) collections around the world are given this honor.

The Uzbek rock gallery is located in the Sarmishsay Gorge on the edge of Kizilkum desert, 30-40 km from Navoi city. This rare collection of petroglyphs is studied by scientists from Uzbekistan, France, Norway, Poland and Kazakhstan.

The petroglyph collection on black rocks of Sarmishsay is the largest and most studied one in Central Asia. The paintings are mainly carved in the middle part of the gorge located at the beginning of a narrow stone canyon. The unique art gallery stretches 2-2.5 km. They are made on plain vertical and sometimes horizontal rock outcroppings with reddish pellicle covered like sunburn. The petrglyphs are incised 0.5-3 mm with stone or metal tools. Combinations of various techniques: cutout, scratching, rubbing are met there.

“The collection of petroglyph in Sarmishsay covers the period between 5000 BC and Middle Ages.” tells Muhitdin Hudjanazarov, member of Archeology Institute of Academy of Sciences of Uzbekistan, who devoted years to this collection and published four scientific works: “Most of these petroglyphs date from the end of Stone Age to Bronze Age that are still little studied periods of human civilization.

The petroglyphs – true little masterpieces – carved on every convenient “stone mirror.” Some of them contain a number of rock pictures. The visitors of the “gallery” can see the whole history of ancient history of the Zaravshan Valley. There the first ingenious tries: figures, carved with stone tools. They look just like our children’s – the same circles, lines. These pictures are simple, look more like symbolic representation of objects. Further on we notice that ancient artists develop their skills and depict neat silhouettes of animals; humans got signs of gender, social position, activity. Pictures become more realistic: artists try to depict silhouettes – shading, spots within a figure, hatching. The petroglyphs are gradually filled with motion, artists’ ideas, and even episodes of life: collective chasing for bovine animals, their domestication, camel caravans, predators’ attack on ibexes, scenes with dances… The pictures lead us through handicraft development – making bows, axes, swards, through arise of wealth and spiritual values, ideology.

The Sarmishsay gallery gives quite a comprehensive picture of local fauna thousands of years ago. Here we can meet pictures of ancient bulls, deers, leopards, wolves, cheetahs, tigers… Today most of them have disappeared from this area.

The ancestors in this region were very courageous. The rock paintings testify to it. In one of it, not in Sarmishsay, but in southern Ferghana Valley there is an episode of shepherd with a stick in hands fighting against a tiger. The archaeologists date this picture to 1000 BC. The scientists believe, at those times it was usual for herdsman to defend their cattle with such primitive “armor” as staves, sticks.

There are over 150 places with rock carvings discovered in Uzbekistan. In Ferghana Valley in Rishtan, famous for its blue ceramics, in Suratysay area there is a collection of petroglyphs with accurate pictures of oxen. The specialists date them to 4000-3500 BC. The rock carvings, found in Khodjakent, in Chirchik river valley 70 km from Tashkent are dated to the same period. Over 90 petroglyphs found there depict scenes with goats, ibexes, argali, horses, dogs and several pictures of human. But the pictures of females with bright sexual characters and round shapes are of greater interest for archaeologists. The pictures of women in rocks are very rare for the late Stone Ages. The similar pictures were found among Gobustan petroglyphs, Azerbaijan. These pictures can be also compared with anthropomorphous statuettes of late Stone Ages from South Turkmenistan, Middle East and Transcaucasia.

First publication – Anatoly Yershov
Last actualization – 05.03.2020

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