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Dating the Irrigation System of the Samarkand Oasis: A Geoarchaeological Study

Luca Claude Malatesta, Sébastien Castelltort, Simone Mantellini, Vincenzo Picotti, Irka Hajdas, Guy Simpson, Amriddin Ergashevich Berdimuradov, Maurizio Tosi, Sean Douglas Willett

Abstract


The oasis of Samarkand in the Middle Zeravshan Valley (modern Uzbekistan) was a major political and economic center in ancient western Central Asia. The chronology of its irrigation system was, until now, only constrained by the quality and quantity of archaeological findings and several different hypotheses have been proposed for it. We use a new approach combining archaeological surveying, radiocarbon dating, sedimentary analysis, and the numerical modeling of a flood event to offer new evidence for, and quantitative dating of, the development of irrigation system on the southern flank of the Middle Zeravshan Valley. We analyzed 13 bones and charcoals from 3 archaeological sites and obtained new 14C ages from Afrasiab (ancient Samarkand), a dwelling damaged by flooding in the 2nd century AD (site code: SAM-174) and the fortress of Kafir Kala. We established the origin of sedimentary deposits at the sites to infer the presence of the 2 most important canals of the southern flank: the Dargom and the Yanghiaryk. Finally, we show with a numerical model of overland flow that a natural flood was unlikely to have produced the damage observed at SAM-174. The combined results of the study indicate that the canals south of Samarkand existed, and were mainly developed, in the 2nd century AD and were not connected to the main feeding canal of Afrasiab at that time.

DOI: 10.2458/azu_js_rc.v54i1.15839


Keywords


surface processes; archaeology; sedimentology; irrigation; Samarkand; oasis; flood modeling

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