• An archaeologist told about the pottery cluster in ancient turkestan

An archaeologist told about the pottery cluster in ancient turkestan

The potters' quarter, discovered during the excavations of the ancient settlement of Kultobe, is included in the number of anchor objects of the open-air archaeological park being created in Turkestan. The research carried out by KazRIC scientists within the framework of the scientific project "Restoration of historical objects of the Kultobe settlement" allows us to trace the entire cycle of work of the pottery workshops that existed in the ancient city two centuries ago.

The project, which is being implemented by scientists of the Kazakh Research Institute of Culture (KazRIC) for the third year, is realized with the financial support of the Eurasian Resources Group (ERG). An open-air archaeological park being created in the ancient city promises to become one of the iconic tourist sites of the Turkestan region.

The main goal of archaeological research ongoing on the hillfort of Kultobe for the third straight year is to trace all the historical periods of the life of the city, which was the oldest cultural, religious and commercial center of the Great Silk Road. Working on the implementation of the project, historians have identified a number of anchor sites as the main components of the future archaeological park. Among them was the potters ' quarter, discovered by the team of archaeologist Erlan Kazizov on the lands of ancient Shahristan.

— In accordance with the technical task on my site there were three archaeological windows, which were to be connected by a grid of squares, — says Kazizov. — In the southern part of the grid of squares, fragments of buildings were found, which later we called the potters ' quarter. It all started with the detection of single objects. When the grounds of all the buildings were opened on the site, the overall picture was formed. It became clear that this is a single complex, located in a small quarter-mahal. We found two workshops, between which there are production sites: furnaces, places for storing finished products, water tanks, special areas for raw materials from which ceramic products were made: from bricks to the exquisite at that time glazed ceramic dishes. To the west, a small manor house with several living rooms, where the masters themselves lived, was excavated.

In one of the workshops, consisting of three rooms, archaeologists found the remains of floor hearths and even identified the place where the potter's wheel stood. The brickwork on the floor of one of the rooms indicated that this was the place where the ancient craftsmen had kneaded the clay. From the configuration of the base of the kilns, dishes and fragments of ceramics found at the site the archaeologists realized that in this workshop kitchen utensils were made.


According to historians, the potters ' quarter existed on this site from the XVIII to the XIX centuries. This is evidenced by the type of ceramic material similar to that found during the study of Bukhara, Samarkand, Tashkent, Otrar, as well as numismatic finds from the period of the Kokand Khanate and the reign of Alexander II.

— Such ceramics are typical for Central Asia and Kazakhstan during the XIX century, — Kazizov adds. — It is divided into dining and kitchen types. There are bright painted plates, lyagans, and jugs. This is the so-called glazed ceramics, which after firing were covered with a special glaze. In the historical period under consideration, it was green and yellow with a variety of ornaments. Such was the ceremonial dinnerware. In the same workshops, more simple non-glazed ceramics were also produced. It was used for cooking and as a container for storing various bulk products. Not long in the excavation, we found two pits filled with a large number of defective dishes. Perhaps, when loading into the furnace, in this case we are talking about a two-chamber furnace of a rounded shape, found by us at this place, the masters violated the temperature regime. As a result, two batches were rejected — about 30 vessels. Not finding a use for such dishes, the masters buried them in a pit.

Archaeologists also found fragments of a rectangular kiln used for firing bricks. In general, all the furnaces, and eight of them were found in the working quarter, had the same device and differed only in the shape of the furnace chamber, which could be not only rectangular and round, but also domed or elongated.

In addition to the fragments of the furnaces, the antiquities seekers also found a powerful, well-preserved ground chimney with a length of more than 40 meters, with special compartments from which the slag was raked out. The working infrastructure was supplemented by special platforms laid out with river pellets, on which the craftsmen stored clay. The technology of production of ceramic products, mainly dishes, required that the clay before use, as they say, rested. After lying on such platforms for six months, or even a whole year, the raw materials got rid of salt and other unnecessary impurities.

— In addition, on the north-western side, a platform lined with figured masonry out of burnt bricks was found, — the historian continues his story. — It was a place where the clay was kneaded before it was ready for work. In the immediate vicinity of the site was a water tank. Nearby there were two through furnaces with one loading chamber. On the north side, we found two rooms lined with burnt brick. Perhaps one of them was used as a workshop, the other – for the storage of finished products.

According to historians, pottery workshops existed in Shahristan until the end of the XIX century. And when their products were no longer in demand, production had to be stopped.

— In 1864, Turkestan became part of the Russian Empire, — the expert adds. — Since that time, factory ceramics began to appear in large quantities on the territory of the city, and the products of homegrown potters were simply uncompetitive. Ceramics imported from the metropolis were more popular, and most importantly, more affordable. Local craftsmen, whose production technology has not changed for centuries, could not compete with factory products and were forced to shut down production.

Historians believe that after the closure of the production workshops and furnaces could be dismantled by the owners themselves. And soon people left the old city altogether, moving to a new part of Turkestan, where the infrastructure was more developed, and living conditions were more comfortable. Gradually, this part of the city began to fall into disrepair, and by the time the archaeologists arrived here, Kultobe was a hill completely overgrown with weeds and covered with garbage.

— The capacities of these workshops at the time when their products were in demand were sufficient to meet the needs of the entire settlement of Turkestan, — Kazizov suggests. — After all, there were also imported ceramics, in particular Rishtan ceramics, imported from the Rishtan settlement in Uzbekistan. In addition, there were many dishes of Russian production. Like other Russian goods, it fell into Central Asia and Kazakhstan even before the entry of these territories into the Russian Empire. Judging by the designs of the stoves and the samples of ceramic dishes found, the workshops could have existed in these places for no more than 200 years. It was probably a family craft that was passed down from generation to generation by several families who lived in the same mahal. People lived and worked here as long as economic conditions allowed and their products were in demand. At this time, they were the main suppliers of ceramics in Turkestan itself and in the rural district. It is possible that the bricks from these workshops could be used in the repair work of the mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi. After all, even at the time of the appearance of the workshops, the mausoleum was already more than two centuries old, and it could need restoration.

The good preservation of the architectural structures of the potters’ quarter, the area of the excavated premises and the found furnaces allow scientists to speak about the uniqueness of this object.

— Its main value is that here you can track the entire production cycle of ceramic tableware — from the preparation of raw materials to finished products, — Kazizov explains. — And tourists who come to the settlement will be able to get an idea of how the ancient pottery cluster functioned. I think it is very interesting, especially since it is still the only such archaeological monument in Kazakhstan. Previously, archaeologists were able to find only the remains of small pottery workshops. They were found in the settlements of Otrar, Sauran, Kuryk-tobe, Saraishyk and Zhaiyk. And only here, on Kultobe, we found a whole production complex. The artifacts found at the site suggest that at one time the local potters managed to achieve high skill in the technique of firing dishes and creating beautiful ceramic products that can now adorn the collection of any museum.

In the near future, a team of restorers will start working on the conservation and partial scientific restoration of the archaeological site.

Publication Date: 03.06.2021

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