August 11, 2014
Anthropological fieldwork in Naryn city: AUCA freshmen make an important prehistoric discovery during their first hands-on archeological experience.
The past has importance for us all. I think everyone has asked at some point: where does mankind come from and how long has it existed? Nowadays there are two main means by which we seek answers for these questions. Some people look for answers in religion, while others try to learn about the past through archeological science. Archeologists are often referred to as ‘detectives of the past’, because their accurate research and educated guesses can help to find the answers to our existential questions.
The Department of Anthropology at AUCA embodies the ideal that students should focus not only on learning theory but also on putting that theory into practice, participating in anthropological fieldwork and archeological excavations, and becoming firsthand witnesses of the past. Thanks to the support of AUCA President Dr. Andrew Wachtel and the Department of Anthropology, students at the University of Central Asia have been given the chance to make a contribution to our understanding of the history of Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia.
From the 10th to 24th of June, freshmen Anthropology students had an unforgettable experience during their first archeological fieldwork in the city of Naryn. Every day in the field was spent working on the Aijyrgal-2 dig site. Located on the left bank of the Naryn river in the city’s western Ak-Kyia district, it is composed of alluvial and eolian ruins that extend from east to west over an area approximately 280m in length and 79m wide.
We had three sections with three or four students working on each, so there was plenty of space for everyone. Thanks are due to professor Aida Abdykanova, who encouraged our groups to act with some degree of autonomy and in doing so allowed us to become more responsible and independent. She not only taught us the stages of archeological work, but also motivated us to always strive for perfection even though we were without constant oversight.
Every evening after field works were through for the day, our groups shared experiences and discussed the work done on our sections. The fieldwork stories were most impressive, to be sure, because each of us dreamed about making an important find. It should come as no surprise, then, that our first shouts and tears of joy came when coal showed up on the 50-60 cm deep ‘cultural layer’ level of the dig. Such a find made us the happiest people in the world! Of course at the bottom of our souls we still wanted to find human remains, but at that moment these finds caused a storm of positive emotions because organic remains are also important for our research. ‘
Little did we know that more and greater finds were to come. On June 19, our dream came true: we found the skeleton of a prehistoric human in the “area 2” section. This, our first great and important find during fieldwork, also has historic significance: rocks with ochre stains were found near the human remains. Though the Department is awaiting the results of radiocarbon testing to make a concrete statement as to what time period the remains belonged to, the current assertion is that perhaps he lived in the Mesolithic period. We were able to define that the remains are those of a male Caucasian of 30 years of age. The dig also revealed a number of metals, which were possibly used as knives.
We didn’t just study and work, of course. We also had a lot of time to learn about Naryn and the people who live there. In the beginning the locals looked at us with amazement, perhaps because the Ak-Kyia area is so small and everyone there knows each other so well. They were very openhearted and hospitable by the end though; even if we never did get quite accustomed to how few people live in the area. Naryn is far different from Bishkek, where you might see crowds on the streets at all hours. On the drive up to Naryn we all thought we would be living in the mountains somewhere in tents with no water or electricity, but of course Naryn is not this either. It turned out that we lived in quite a comfortable home with a welcoming host family. They were even kind enough to let us watch live broadcasts of the World Cup on their TV! We had some free time as well to visit many of the historic places around Naryn: Alamyshyk and the beautiful Kara-Suu waterfall, with large caves inside the mountains; the Koshoi-Korgon fortress ruins; and of course the ancient Tash-Rabat Caravanserai. On weekends we all cooked plov and fried boorsok. It was all a lot of fun and an adventure which will stay in our memories for life.
During summer fieldwork each of us was able to develop new qualities and talents in ourselves. We didn’t just grow our practical skills in archeology; we have also grown stronger and more united as a family of archeologists and detectives of the past.