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The impact of the Mongol conquests on earthen cities in Central Asia



The conquest campaigns of the Mongol Empire took place in the first half of the thirteenth century, deposing the Persianate Khwarazmian Empire and seizing its territories from Kazakhstan to the Persian Gulf and the Caucasus.

Historical accounts, such as those by Rashid al-Din (AD 1247–1318) and Ata Malik Juvaini (AD 1226–1283), describe scenes of mass destruction and violence, massacring and enslaving populations.

Based on these descriptions, the destruction has been long been suggested to be the cause of the depopulation of the region’s earthen-built cities. However, a new study by Dr Katie Campbell from King’s College at the University of Cambridge, now suggests that the depopulation rather than the destruction, is the primary reason for urban abandonment, as the remaining populations lacked the manpower and resources to maintain the earthen structures and supporting irrigation systems.

Archaeological evidence in Central Asia has found little supporting evidence of the direct destruction by the Mongols that supports the described historical narrative; however, convincing examples can be found elsewhere in parts of Russia and Eastern Europe.

Instead, previous excavations report a trend of architectural abandonment and desolation, contradicting the Mongol destruction accounts.

According to the study, abandonment events can be tracked from the 12th to the 14th century at the sites of Merv and Otrar following the Mongol conquest, with evidence of renovations, and occasionally, destruction. It is probable that the economic, political, and environmental stresses caused by the Mongol disruptions exacerbated pre-existing issues and hastened urban decline in cities which were already struggling.

According to Dr Campbell, “Both archaeological and ethnographic evidence demonstrate the importance of maintenance to earthen-built cities, and the potential for significant disruption to urban infrastructure, especially architecture and irrigation, which would occur from a decrease in population.”

“The specific properties of earthen architecture, especially the availability and affordability of mud as a building material, led to low-level reuse, and a widespread pattern of the eventual movement of cities after it was no longer possible to maintain them,” added Dr Campbell.

With the extensive economic and population disruptions caused by the conquests, the cities no longer had a sizeable population to undertake their basic maintenance, initiating the deterioration of the urban fabric that was difficult or impossible to reverse. This likely meant that earthen buildings, and sometimes entire cities, were abandoned and rebuilt across the region.

Dr Campbell said: “As the result of the archaeological findings and accompanying historical patterns, I argue that textual sources describing the destruction and desolation of cities by the Mongols should be considered within the context of patterns of construction and maintenance, which had persisted in these earthen cities for centuries.”

“Although it is likely that the Mongols caused some damage to the urban fabric, they did not literally destroy entire cities. Nonetheless, they did cause a crisis of urbanism in Central Asia, predominantly because they disrupted cycles of maintenance by sending the urban population into flight,” added Dr Campbell.

The result was a series of destroyed medieval cities that were likely destroyed by natural erosion rather than by the Mongol attacks.

University of Cambridge

Header Image: Otrar – Image Credit : Mikhail Gurulev – CC BY 4.0

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Archaeologists find five Bronze Age axes in the forests of Kociewie




According to an announcement by the Pomeranian Provincial Conservator of Monuments, archaeologists have discovered five Bronze Age axes in Starogard Forest District, located in Kociewie, Poland.

The initial discovery was made by history enthusiast, Denis Konkol, who notified local authorities from the Pomeranian provincial conservator of monuments. In Poland, it is forbidden to conduct an amateur search for artefacts using a metal detector, either for commercial or for personal use unless licensed by local authorities, requiring all finds to be reported which become the property of the state.

Upon inspection of the discovery site, archaeologists found five axes within a radius of several dozen metres at a depth of 20 to 30 centimetres beneath a layer of turf and humus.

Igor Strzok, Pomeranian provincial conservator of monuments, said: “The extraction of these finds took place under the archaeological supervision of our colleagues from the Provincial Office for the Protection of Monuments. This means that we prevented possible destruction of the site.”

The five axes date from between 1700 and 1300 BC and were likely a ritual deposit of a cult nature, however, the archaeologists haven’t ruled out that the axes could also be a deposit related to trade.

According to the announcement, the objects are tautušiai type axes associated with Baltic cultures from today’s Lithuania or north-eastern Poland. Defined by their considerable size, the axes feature a slim handle with raised edges and a wide blade.

Previous excavations of Bronze Age sites in the region generally find bracelets or breastplates, while the most recent unearthing of a weapon or Bronze Age tool dates back 20 years, highlighting the scarcity of such finds in the region.

The axes are scheduled to be transported to the Archaeological Museum in Gdańsk, where experts will conduct a thorough examination.

Header Image Credit : Stargard Forest District

This content was originally published on – © 2023 – HeritageDaily

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Mosaic depicting lions found at ancient Prusias ad Hypium




Archaeologists have uncovered a mosaic depicting lions during excavations at ancient Prusias ad Hypium, located in modern-day Konuralp, Turkey.

Prusias ad Hypium was a city in ancient Bithynia which was annexed by the Roman Republic in 74 BC. The city flourished as a significant trading hub, maintaining autonomy in its local governance and even issuing its own currency.

The city was rediscovered during the 19th century, with recent excavations being conducted by the archaeology department of Düzce University under the patronage of the Konuralp Museum, and supported by the Municipality of Düzce.

Excavations indicate that the city exhibits characteristics of a Hellenistic polis. Among the surviving remains are remnants of the city walls, a gate within the fortifications, an open-air theatre, an aqueduct, and a Roman bridge.

A recent archaeological study has focused on the theatre, known locally as the “The Forty Stairs”. The theatre was built during the Hellenistic period (300–30 BC) and was expanded in the Roman period.

The study has uncovered the remains of a mosaic depicting a pair of lions, which was found in a room of the portico in the middle of the theatre axis.

The room has a rectangular shape and is adorned with a mosaic covering the entire floor with a geometric floral pattern. At the centre is a mosaic frame depicting the pair of lions either side of a pine tree. Hanging from the tree is a tympanum (a drum or tambourine), and on the left branch is a pan flute.

According to the researchers, the room was dedicated to the cult of Dionysus. During Dionysian processions, it was common to observe Silenus and maenads participating by playing musical instruments such as the tympanum and pan flute.

Header Image Credit : Konuralp Museum

This content was originally published on – © 2023 – HeritageDaily

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