Listen to part of a lecture in an archaeology class.
It's every archaeologist's dream to find a lost civilization, to make some huge discovery, to find artifacts no one else has laid a hand on in millennia.
You might think that this never happens any more, given all the research and archaeology that's been done... but in the late twentieth century, archaeologists discovered the remains of a sophisticated people whose settlement might have been the hub of a civilization few people even thought existed.
They found this site at the edge of a desert in Turkmenistan in central Asia where a series of mounds rise up from the plains.
Now, you might remember-because we've talked about this-archaeologists know that mounds such as these are the kinds of geological features that indicate the presence of ancient settlements. Jim?
Um, mounds can be different things, right? Some are burial places...
Exactly. And some are the remains of cities.
The inhabitants would build houses and temples, y'know, what have you, and over time those buildings would fall down or be torn down and then be built over.
Over time, generations of building and rebuilding in the same area would result in a large hill the size of a city.
Careful excavation and documentation of layers in a mound can reveal a wealth of information about the everyday life of a people in a settlement over many periods of occupation.
Now, this particular site is called Gonur-depe.
What was found at Gonur-depe was amazing.
The ruins of a huge palace complex. The foundations of shops and houses, the remains of thick walls and towers that fortified the city.
There was even an elaborate canal system! And a lot of very intricate jewelry.
All these findings seem to indicate that they are the remains of an ancient civilization that was every bit as advanced as other, more famous civilizations of the time, like those in Egypt or, or China. And the site dates back to 3000 B.C.E.!
Did they trade with those other civilizations?
Because... if they did, wouldn't there've been some evidence of that, you know, in artifacts found in the ruins of other civilizations?
That's a good question.
I mentioned jewelry... well, jewelry had been found in Mesopotamia and at archaeological sites in modern-day Pakistan... but archaeologists didn't know where it came from.
Only after the site at Gonur-depe was excavated were archaeologists able to identify it as coming from Gonur-depe.
I wonder why nobody had found this site before?
Well, before the discovery of this site, it was commonly believed that Central Asia had always been occupied by mostly nomadic people, so there would be no record of major settlements.
A couple of small finds had been made in the area, but really, no one had looked very hard.
Now, one mystery regarding this site is that archaeological records show it was inhabited for only a few centuries.
What happened to the people who lived there?
Well, the site was close to the Murgab River, which they would have depended on for their water.
And the Murgab River, which runs toward the west, is the kind of river that shifts its course over time.
So one theory is that the river's course shifted toward the south, and they simply followed it and built new towns to the south. Another theory is that they were involved in wars with neighboring settlements. But we might never know the truth.
One thing we do know is that, in the decades since Gonur-depe was discovered, the site has deteriorated significantly.
I mean, it's been disturbed for the first time in millennia, and being exposed to the sun and wind has taken its toll on the ancient city.
So now, the question is, do we partially restore and rebuild the site before-the entire thing disintegrates?
It will take a lot of funding to restore it, and, uh, I'm not sure it will be made available. Which would be a pity.
Even a partly altered site can provide valuable information, which would be lost otherwise.