Domestic donkey (Equus asinus asinus) at Gonur Depe and its distribution in the Ancient East 

Sataev R.M., Dubova N.A., Sataeva L.V.




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The domestic donkey (Equus asinus asinus) is a hardy, versatile working animal. This species still plays an important role in the traditional economy of the peoples of Central Asia and adjacent regions. At the same time, very little is known about the ways in which this domestic species appeared in the region and the nature of its use in the early historical epochs. The morphological features of ancient donkeys are also poorly studied. It is assumed that donkeys appear in the Middle East in the 4th millennium BC. Zooarchaeological data shows that the ancient population of Turkmenistan did not breed the donkey until the Late Bronze Age. Equid bones found at Chalcolithic, Early and Middle Bronze Age sites belong to the onager (Equus hemionus). Donkey bones first appeared in the materials from the excavations of the sites of the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Culture (BMAC). One of the most famous site of BMAC is Gonur Depe, the administrative and ceremonial center of ancient Margiana. It is located in the ancient delta of the Murghab River. Gonur Depe dates from 2500 till 1500 BC. The protourban center includes two main sites North and South Gonur. During the excavation at Gonur, 142 individual bones and 9 complete skeletons of the domestic donkey were found. Perhaps the isolated donkey bones fell into the trash layers during the destruction of the ritual objects. No traces of purposeful slaughter of these animals and consumption of their meat were found. The donkey skeletons were found inside the human burials or in associated structures, although there are independent burials of these animals as well. So, for example, at the area 8, the donkey, surrounded by ceramic vessels was placed in a tomb made of adobe bricks. In the burials 3200 and 3900, the skeletons of donkeys were found alongside the skeletons of double-humped camels and remains of four-wheeled wagons. In total, 4 burials with carts were found at Gonur, where the skeletons of camels are always present, whereas only in two of them the skeletons of donkeys. It is possible that the bulls and camels were main draft animals of the Gonur people, while the donkeys mainly played the role of a pack and riding animals. The height at the withers of the Gonur donkeys, reconstructed on the basis of measurements of the complete skeletons, was 115120 cms. These were animals of average size for their species.

Keyword: Bactria-Margiana archaeological culture, Turkmenistan, Bronze Age, equids, burials with animals.


Funding. The present project was funded by the Russian Foundation for Basic Research (Project No. 18-09-40082 Antiquities).


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Accepted: 30.05.2021

Article is published: 15.09.2022


Sataev R.M., The Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology RAS, Leninsky Prospet, 32A, Moscow, 119334, Russian Federation, E-mail:,

Dubova N.A., The Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology RAS, Leninsky Prospet, 32A, Moscow, 119334, Russian Federation, E-mail:,

Sataeva L.V., Bashkir State Agrarian University, Ufa, Republic of Bashkortostan, 50-letiya Oktyabrya st., 34, Ufa, 450001, Russian Federation, E-mail:,