Bactrian camel (Camelus bactrianus) in Gonur-Depe and the issues of the species distribution in the Ancient East
Sataev R.M., Dubova N.A., Sataeva L.V.
Vestnik arheologii, antropologii i etnografii, 2022, ¹ 1 (56)
Animal husbandry, along with agriculture, was the main branch of the producing economy of the ancient population in Southern Turkmenistan. To date, sufficient data have been gathered to consider the exterior of large and small cattle, the time of their appearance in the region, and the nature of their exploitation. Still, very little information is available on a number of species, including Bactrian camel (Camelus bactrianus). This is due to the fact that camel bones are extremely rare in complexes which are older than the Late Bronze Age. However, the remains of this species are widely represented in the Bronze Age site of Gonur-depe. Gonur-Depe is a supposed administrative and cult center of Ancient Margiana, located in the South-Eastern Karakum Desert 85 km north from the city of Bayramali (Mary wilayah of Turkmenistan), which functioned during 2500–1500 BC. The site includes two main objects: the North Gonur — administrative and religious center, and the South Gonur (“Temenos” — a small temple complex). The zooarchaeological material discussed in the article has been derived from the archaeological excavations of the North Gonur. Animal remains split into two large groups by their localization: bones from waste deposits, and those associated with local objects (buildings, burials, altars, etc.). Isolated camel bones or their fragments are found in all excavation areas of the North Gonur. Only 67 camel bones were extracted from the waste deposits, which constitutes just over 3 % of all domestic faunal remains found in the site. In addition, 18 isolated camel bones were unearthed from the filling of the grave pits. Given the small number of camel remains in household waste, we can suggest that, apparently, camels were rarely slaughtered for meat. Yet, a total of 16 camel skeletons of different preservation and completeness were recovered from nine burial structures. In burials 3200, 3225, 3240, 3900, and 3915, remains of carts with wooden wheels with bronze rims — tires — were found along with the camel skeletons. Despite the relatively large number of camel skeletons, it was possible to obtain only few measurements due to the poor preservation of the bones. Measurements of two skeletons from burial 3900 suggest that stature of the animals at withers was at least 165 cm. Apart from skeletal remains at Gonur-Depe, numerous images of double-humped camels are known, accomplished in different shapes and from various materials, which also help to elaborate the appearance of the animals. Camels, kept by the ancient population of Gonur, have passed a long way of breeding, and at present there are no data indicating the autochthonous domestication of this species. In general, zooarchaeological and archaeological materials demonstrate that camel played an important role in life of the ancient population of Gonur-Depe, which stretched beyond its simple utilitarian use.
Keywords: Turkmenistan, Bronze Age, Bactrian-Margiana Archaeological Culture, ancient animal husbandry, ritual objects.
Funding. The present project was funded by the Russian Foundation for Basic Research (Project No. 18-09-40082 “Antiquities”).
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
Article is published: 21.03.2022
Sataev R.M., Institute of Ethnology
and Anthropology RAS, Moscow, Leninsky prosp.,
32A, Moscow, 119334, Russian Federation, E-mail:
Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology RAS,
Moscow, Leninsky prosp., 32A, Moscow, 119334, Russian Federation,
Sataeva L.V., Bashkir State Agrarian University, 50-letiya Oktyabrya st., 34, Ufa, 450001, Russian Federation, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5108-0889