The archaeology of the Neolithic and early Aeneolithic periods in the Kopet Dag foothills was the subject of substantial research by Soviet archaeologists. Their understanding of these developments was heavily influenced by the idea that a Neolithic way of life, incorporating agriculture, herding and the beginnings of sedentary village life, was introduced by migrants from Southwest Asia (Masson and Sarianidi 1972: 47-52). Similar explanations that rely on the diffusion of technologies and their products from the Iranian plateau served as the basis for understanding the appearance of copper production and high-fired pottery in early Aeneolithic, or Anau IA, settlements (Kohl 1984: 67). In these scenarios, early village communities along the Kopet Dag foothills were simply the receivers of new technological and social developments from elsewhere.
In contrast, anthropological and sociological research in the last several decades has demonstrated that it is overly simplistic to conceptualize the emergence and implementation of new technologies as the automatic result of contact between cultures or other macro-social entities (Cornell and Fahlander 2007). Encounters among people, objects and materials occur on a continual basis. Everyday encounters among people who know each other can lead to the unpredictable and hence to changes, even if those changes are so small as to be hardly perceptible to those making them (Giddens 1984). Furthermore, new technologies are not unthinkingly adopted; rather, they may be modified in smaller or more substantial ways, taken over by some people in a community but not by others, or they may be completely rejected. Technological changes must be perceived as in some way advantageous in order to be implemented. Equally important is the recognition that as new technologies come into being, others fall out of use and are forgotten. Thus, the history of technological development cannot be seen as a straightforward additive process, nor as a simple success story in which ever better technologies replace outmoded ones.
Our project set as its overarching goal the investigation of microhistories of technological change in the eastern Kopet Dag foothills in Neolithic and Aeneolithic times. By technology we refer to the ways in which knowledge, both discursive or explicit and embodied or practical, is brought to bear through practices and gestures on materials and objects (Ingold 1987: 31). By focusing on small spatial and social scales, for example individual residences or work areas within a settlement, we aim to track the differential implementations of new technologies, such as high-fired pottery, copper working, and thread spinning, as well as their social and economic implications. By studying small-scale changes over time, we also hope to be able to document technologies that were lost over time as different ones were implemented. Finally, we wish to examine the implications of technological changes for socioeconomic differentiation among the inhabitants of the Meana-Chaacha region in Neolithic and Aeneolithic times.
The small site of Monjukli Depe was chosen as a focus for our work for a number of reasons. From earlier excavations carried out by Marushchenko and Berdiev, the site was known to have both Jeitun (Neolithic) and Anau IA (early Aeneolithic) occupations. Furthermore, it was reported to be one of the very few known sites to potentially have a direct continuity from Late Jeitun to Anau IA times. The extensive plan of architecture from the latest Anau IA level at the site, exposed and published by Berdiev (1972), made it possible for us to target specific architectural units and potential outdoor areas for excavation.
Architecture is very well preserved at Monjukli Depe. Although most walls seem to be only a single brick wide, they stand in some places at heights of up to 1.60 m. The use of buttresses was common, and it seems that these reinforcements not only had a functional purpose of strengthening walls, but were also symbolically important. Wall faces commonly have multiple coats of plaster which are occasionally painted white but more often red, and in one case traces of black plaster were preserved. Rooms are quite large (some 4 m in length), but there are also very small spaces, the use of which remains difficult to explain. Within and immediately outside houses there were numerous working installations, including ovens and bins.
One of the unexpected results of our work at Monjukli Depe was the low artifact density. Only with further excavations will it be possible to ascertain whether this is the result of the specific contexts we encountered this year or if it is characteristic of the settlement as a whole. Pottery occurred in particularly low densities. We have so far found no indication for pottery production at the site. Most of the pottery belongs to three basic wares, Coarse Chaff Plain, Fine Chaff Black-on-Red Painted and Black-on-Red Untempered.
The raw materials used to make chipped stone tools at Monjukli Depe are varied; which of them were locally available and which were acquired from more distant sources remains to be investigated in future years. A dark, coarse-grained, schist-like stone as well as a coarse sandstone, neither of which lend themselves very well to chipping, were used mainly for expedient tools. In contrast to the small quantities of pottery and chipped stone, ground stone tools from the site are numerous and varied. A small number of beads was recovered, among them a small, tear-drop shaped bead of lapis lazuli
The first season of work at Monjukli Depe proved very successful in extending the understanding of the Aeneolithic and Neolithic periods in the Meana region. However, many more questions remain to be investigated in future seasons, for example the climatic, ecological, and topographic conditions that allowed village life to emerge and flourish in this area. We do not yet know from which areas artifacts and raw materials came to Monjukli Depe. Our ultimate goal is to better understand the ways in which inhabitants of Monjukli Depe and surroundings in ancient times made a living, how they structured their daily social interactions, and how and why their lives changed over time.
Berdiev, O. (1972) Monzhukli-depe mnogosloinoe poselenie Neolita I rannego Eneolita v iuzhnom Turkmenistane. Karakumski Drevnosti 4: 11-34. Ashkabat: Ylym.
Cornell, Per and Fredrik Fahlander (2007) Encounters – Materialities – Confrontations: An Introduction. In Encounters | Materialities |Confrontations. Archaeologies of Social Space and Interaction, Per Cornell and Fredrik Fahlander (eds.), pp. 1-14. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Press.
Giddens, Anthony (1984) The Constitution of Society: Outline of the Theory of Structuration. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Kohl, Philip (1984) Central Asia: Paleolithic Beginnings to the Iron Age. Éditions Recherche sur les Civilisations 14. Paris: Éditions Recherche sur les Civilisations.
Masson, V.M. & V.I. Sarianidi (1972) Central Asia: Turkmenia Before the Achaemenids. Übersetzung von R. Tringham. Great Britain: Thames & Hudson.
Marcela-Rodica Boroffka, born in 1969, studied at the Faculty of History of the University Bucharest, specializing in prehistoric archaeology. She finished her studies in 1992 with a thesis on the Mycenaean influence on the region of Lower Danube.
From 1992 until 1995 she was engaged at the National Museum of the History of Romania, Bucharest. From 1996 onwards she took part in several rescue excavations in Brandenburg, Germany. Since 1998 she was participant in several research projects of the Eurasia Department of the German Archaeological Institute, in countries of the former Soviet Union, Iran and Pakistan. In 2008 she has been engaged in Group A-II of the Topoi Excellence Cluster, studying kurgans (burial mounds) of the Iron Age (Scythian) in Kazakhstan. She is occupied with the documentation in the field, graphic processing of the data, preparations for publication and the administration of scientific samples.
Alessandro Bezzi is prehistorian archaeologists graduated in the Universities of Padua (Italy) and member of the Arc-Team, a company dedicated to archaeological fieldwork, architectonical documentation and study of the historical and cultural heritage. In 2009 he was Senior Fellow in the group Archaeometry – Archaeoinformatics (A-III), with a focus on “Digitale Aufnahme- und Auswertungsmethoden in der Archäologie”.
Luca Bezzi is prehistorian archaeologists graduated in the Universities of Padua (Italy) and member of the Arc-Team, a company dedicated to archaeological fieldwork, architectonical documentation and study of the historical and cultural heritage. In 2009 he was Senior Fellow in the group Archaeometry – Archaeoinformatics (A-III), with a focus on “Digitale Aufnahme- und Auswertungsmethoden in der Archäologie”.