Ausgrabung eines christlichen Klosters der Kirche des Ostens
Bei Urgut wurde sodann 1916 ein kleines, bronzenes Weihrauchgefäß aus dem 8./9. Jahrhundert gefunden, das mit neutestamentlichen Szenen verziert ist und sich heute im Eremitage Museum in St. Petersburg befindet. (Nr. CA 12 758)5 Ende des 19. Jahrhunderts wurden bei Urgut auch zwei mit einem Kreuz versehene, nestorianische Grabsteine gefunden; sie befinden sich im Museum von Askhabad, Turkmenistan.6 Ebenfalls aus Urgut stammt ein tragbares Kreuz aus örtlichem Schieferstein. Weitere Kleinfunde aus diesem Teil Sogdiens vom 7. bis 9. Jh. verweisen auf eine damalige christliche Gemeinde. Zu ihnen gehören bei Taschkent, Samarkand und Penjikent entdeckte Münzen aus dem 6./8. Jh., die auf der Rückseite ein maltesisches Kreuz aufweisen; diese sind vielsagend, da einzig Stadtbehörden oder Herrscher Münzen prägen konnten. Ebenfalls aus Penjikent stammen ein mit Psalmen aus der Peshitta-Bibel in der syrischen Estrangela-Schrift beschriebener Keramikscherbe vom frühen 8. Jh. und ein bronzenes Kreuz. Aus Samarkand ein weiteres Kreuz sowie eine mit Kreuzen und einem Heiligen verzierte Reiseflasche. 7
Eine literarische Quelle vermittelt eine weitere Auskunft: Der muslimische Geograph und Historiker Abu-´l-Qasim Muhammed Ibn Hawqal aus dem 10. Jahrhundert beschreibt in seinem Reisebericht Darstellung der Erde ein bei Samarkand gelegenes christliches Kloster, das er um 970 besuchte. „Al-Sawadar ist ein Berg südlich Samarkands. Beim Berg Sawadar sieht man ein Kloster, wo Christen zusammenkommen und wo sie ihre Zellen haben. Ich traf dort viele Christen aus dem Irak, die sich wegen der guten und einsamen Lage und des gesunden Klimas hierher zurückziehen. Der Ort thront über Sogdien, er heißt Wazkard.“ 8
Der russische Archäologe Alexei Savchenko glaubt, daß „Wzkrd, das in einer anderen Handschrift „Wrkwd“ genannt wird, mit Urgut identisch ist. Seine 1997 bis 1999 durchgeführten Ausgrabungen brachten einen architektonischen Komplex mit einigen Räumen zutage, die möglicherweise zu einem Kloster gehören könnten. Die Radiokarbon-Messungen von Baumaterialien deuten auf eine Gründung im 9. Jahrhundert.9 Leider haben schon 1995 Straßenbauarbeiten die westlichen und östlichen Ränder der Anlage zerstört. Finanzielle Engpässe verunmöglichten nach 1999 die Fortführung der vielversprechenden Ausgrabung.
3 Einzig aufgrund der Inschriften läßt sich nicht entscheiden, ob sie von ostsyrischen Nestorianern oder von westsyrischen Jakobiten stammen. Ähnliches betrifft die auszugrabenden Ruinen, die zu einem nestorianischen oder einem jakobitischen Kloster gehören könnten. Die viel stärkere Ausbreitung der Nestorianer in Sogdien als diejenige der Jakobiten läßt allerdings ein ostsyrisches Kloster als die wahrscheinlichere Hypothese erscheinen.
4 Tardieu Michel: Un site chrétien dans la Sogdiane des Sâmânides. In: Le Monde de la Bible,
5 Savchenko Alexei: Urgut Revisited. In: ARAM, Journal of the Society for Syro-Mesopotamian Studies, vol. 8: 1&2. Oxford-Harvard 1996. S. 334f. The Monastery of Urgut investigated by The East Sogdian Archaeological Expedition. ESAREX, 1999. S. 1. www.apple.kiev.ua/esarex
6 Klein Wassilios: Das nestorianische Christentum an den Handelswegen durch Kyrgyzstan bis zum 14. Jh. S. 226f. Brepols, Turnhout 2000.
7 Paykova Aza Vladimirovna: The Syrian Ostracon from Panjikant. In: Le Muséon, Éditions Peeters, Leuven 92/1-2, 1979. S. 159-169. Savchenko Alexei: Urgut Revisited. In: ARAM, S. 339.
8 Ibn Hawqal: La Configuration de la Terre. Ca. 988. Introduction et traduction par J.H. Kramerd, G. Wiet. Maisonneuve & Larose, 2 Bde. Paris 2001. S. 477f.
9 Savchenko Alexei: The Monastery of Urgut investigated. S. 5.
10 Albaum, L.I.: Xristianskij xram v starom Termeze. In: Iz istorii drevnix kultovsrednej Azii. Xristianstvo. Glavnaja Redakciha Enciklopedii, Taskent 1994. S. 34-41.
Kurzbericht der Grabungskampagne 2004
Es wurden mehrere Nutzungsperioden identifiziert: Die früheste stand in Zusammenhang mit dem ursprünglichen Gebäudezweck, die späteren sind vermutlich Wiederbesetzungen nachdem die ursprünglichen Strukturen Schaden erlitten hatten und aufgegeben oder zerstört waren. Diese Phase einer „Hausbesetzung“ wird durch eine kleine, temporäre Feuerstelle innerhalb des gepflasterten Bodens dokumentiert. Als Baumaterial dienten vor Ort gebrannte Ziegel unterschiedlicher Größe (30 x 15 x 5 cm, 23 x 23 x 5 cm, 30 x 30 x 5 cm und 27 x 8 x 5 cm), Keramikkacheln von 30 x 20 x 2.5 cm für den Boden sowie Lehmziegel. Unter dem Schutt, der von einer Wand gefallen war, fanden sich Fragmente von dekorativem Verputz und Spuren smaragdgrünen, karminroten, ocker, weißen und kobaltfarbenen Stucks.
Der Grabungsbericht für 2005 ist zurzeit nur in der englischen Fassung verfügbar.
Excavations in Urgut: August–October 2005
This year the research team continued excavations of the site of Sulayman-tepa, believed to have been the seat of the Christian monastery of Warkūda (present-day Urgut) in IX–XIII AD.1 The site with precise geographical coordinates: 39º22'46'' N, 67º14'28'' E, elevation 1134 m is situated at the southernmost edge of the habitable territory of the town of Urgut, Samarkand province, Republic of Uzbekistan.
The goal set for this season was to extend the excavations in the three available directions (north, east
and south) in order to uncover the perimeter walls and to excavate the previously pin-pointed room behind
the main northern wall.
1The background to the excavations is described in my papers: “Urgut Revisited”, ARAM Periodical (The Journal of the Society for Syro-Mesopotamian Studies, Oxford–Harvard) № 8 (1996); “По следам арабских географов” (In the Footsteps of Arabic Geographers), Археологические исследования в Украине (Archaeological Researches in Ukraine) № 7 (2003–2004), Kiev 2005; “По поводу христианского селения Ургут” (On the Christian Settlement of Urgut), Записки Восточного отделения Российского географического общества (Transactions of the Oriental Department of the Russian Archaeological Society) № 2 (XXVII), St. Petersburg 2006.
The tree shown here was 1050 years old at the time of the dating (1990s), as attested by the plate in the top left corner of the photo. Before 1920 there was a Muslim grammar school (maktab) inside the trunk.
After the loess sediments were removed, we were pleased to observe that the main eastern wall survived the destruction of 1996, being intact. This fact allows to analyse the space syntax of the complex in its entirety, greatly increasing the value of the results and the plausibility of the reconstruction. The main eastern wall was made of mud brick, a narrow stripe of outside premises paved with fired brick situated behind it. At least two building horizons are present. Some boulder stones that still remain in the vertical plane of the hill at various heights, as well as memories of the old inhabitants2 suggest that initially this slope had been converted into a sequence of terraces gradually lowering towards the east.
2 Of the informants I should pick out as the most knowledgeable and co-operative Warr. Off. Ret. Khursan-
Murad Ghaffarov, the present Guardian of Sulayman-tepa, and Timurlang Khalikov, 80-year-old healer, storyteller and keeper of the local lore.
The northern aisle starts with the main entrance in the western wall excavated in 1999 and continues
eastwards, elevating by three steps before reaching the culmination point. The fine investigation
revealed there a cross-shaped room recognisable as chancel, with the altar adjoining the eastern wall
and constructed of fired brick. The seat of the priest who, in the tradition the Church of the East, was
serving the liturgy facing the altar, is marked by ceramic tiles inserted into the flooring edgewise.
The floor of this room is made of ceramic tiles plastered with a fine gypsum which is still intact
over most of the church interior. Small fragments of stucco were found on the walls, adding colour
carmine to the range already established: white, emerald-green, ochre and ultramarine. These traces of
colouring are so slight that it is impossible to determine whether they are the remains of a single
overall colouring or some more complex decoration.
In the east the wall ends with a curving suggesting an apse; however,
its clear delineation or just any fine investigation of this corner was complicated by the ubiquitous
roots of the plane-tree which have greatly deformed all surrounding substance.
The floor of the aisle is paved with fine quality ceramic tiles with traces of plaster finish in several
places. In the east the floor elevates to form several footsteps leading outside the main eastern wall. At
least one footstep was made using the common dandona technique, when the bricks are laid edgewise
in order to increase wear resistance. It is on these footsteps that the iron cross was found during the
last year’s field campaign.
This space with an earthen floor, external to the main building, is linked to the northern aisle by two
doorways in the main northern wall and one more narrow passage connecting it to the chancel. In the
eastern end there is another rectangular stand made of fired brick. The room was not excavated at full
length due to the lack of time; this is the direction in which the excavations will continue in the next season.
As there is a good reference collection of stratified ceramics for the area, there are no difficulties for
the interpretation of our finds. The study of the pottery and glasswork from the excavated site suggests
an early Samanide date for the founding and an early Mongol date for the end of the main occupational
period (followed by the another with a squatter re-occupation after damage to the original
In this season a vague semantic link has been tentatively established between the monastery and the
inscriptions on the rock above it. While doing theodolite survey, we observed that the walls of the
building, despite being very neatly erected, deviate from the magnetic axis by 15º. This is explained by
the simple fact that, in the absence of a compass, the builders’ only reference points were those of
sunrise and sunset. The rocks of the two mountain ranges – Qutirbuloq to the east and Gulbogh to the
west – prevent the viewer from seeing the sun at horizon level (which would have more or less coincided
with the geographical East of West). This fact means that the reference point shifts a number of
degrees, as it takes the sun some time to move from the horizon to the point where it becomes visible
above the hills.
Der Grabungsbericht für 2006 ist zurzeit nur in der englischen Fassung verfügbar.
The earliest firm evidence for the monastery was so far provided by the date in an inscription on the rock of Qizil-qiya, “August of the year 1206 [of Alexander]” = August 895 2. However, it would be natural to expect that the monastery was founded before the Arab conquests (around AD 712 for the district of Samarkand), since the Islamic restrictions on new church building are well-known.3 Still there were some exceptions from the general rule, e.g. legal church construction in Muslim Spain 4 or the foundation of the Monophysite Church of Mary Magdalene at Jerusalem, endowed by a notable of Alexandria in 820 5.
The main problem presented by the ground plan is that of the prototypes. The cross-shaped chancel terminating the nave finds its parallels in the following known examples:
6) see the detailed discussion in: A. Naymark, Sogdiana, Its Christians and Byzantium: A Study of Artistic and Cultural Connections in Late Antiquity and Early Middle Ages , unpublished PhD thesis, Univ. of Indiana 2001.
In the light of the above-listed parallels I would cautiously highlight the fact that Mt Allahyarhan , “the mount of the zealots”, at the foothills of which the monastery was situated, shares its semantic core with Tur ‘Abdin , “the mount of the servants [of God]”.
In this season, a number of previously unknown Syriac inscriptions were found, sought after since our first surveys of Urgut in 1995.
An account was published in a regional youth newspaper,.9 to become the starting point of our longlasting investigations which yielded their result only now.
Inside the caves was noticed the presence of Shilajit (Mumiyo), blackish-brown exudation used in popular medicine,10 and plants of the genus Eremurus.11 Both substances have healing properties, which suggests a link with strong medicinal traditions at Syrian monasteries which often comprised a hospital.
9) The text is available in my translation from Uzbek in: Alexei Savchenko, ‘Urgut Revisited', ARAM Periodical
Beyond UrgutA survey of the site of Quq-tepa in Gus, west of Urgut, was conducted. In the light of the archaeological evidence the preliminary identification of this settlement is that of a hamlet or a secluded par-ish.12
12) v. Alexei Savchenko, ‘Urgut', Encyclopaedia Iranica (www.iranica.com), forthcoming.
***Fortsetzung des Projekts
Der Grabungsbericht für 2007 ist zurzeit nur in der englischen Fassung verfügbar.
Excavations in Urgut
June – July 2007
Sign board at the archaeological site
In June, 2007 the team continued excavations of Sulayman-tepa, the seat of the monastery of Urgut (Warkudah).
Initially the works concentrated beyond the main northern wall of the northern aisle. That is the sector where an habitational context was found during the previous campaign, in the form of a cooking place provided with several ovens (tandoors) and a cesspit (badrab). That was the long-awaited evidence of household activity of the monastery’s inhabitants.
In the course of the first two weeks the area of ca. 100 m2 was excavated, to reveal no presence of architectural structures or significant artefacts. It became clear that the northern aisle was the last room belonging to the church complex, and the area to the north of it was void of material remains except insignificant.
In the light of this fact the nature of the northern aisle became more clear. On one hand, it has all the features of other two naves: same proportions and the altar-like structure in the eastern end. On the other hand, it lacks the rest of the architectural details – the steps and the narrowing (skakona) separating the chancel from the naos, the paved floor, or the decorations. Moreover, it is contiguous to a kitchen situated where the main nave has narthex – immediately before the entrance to the hall from outside.
Upon consideration we decided to identify it as a refectory which was considered to be a sacred place in some Eastern monasteries, and even in some cases was constructed as a full church with altar, where some services were specifically performed. All food served in the refectory should be blessed, and for that purpose, holy water was kept in the large pot found in one corner.
At this point the works were relocated to the southern sector where we continued to investigate the space beyond the main southern wall and to the west from it.
In the S-W sector, at floor level was found rectangular brickwork, at first glance resembling a funeral decoration. Upon removing, the surface structure gave way to a sealing made of large pieces of shale which once were solid slabs. Further down, at depth. 1,5 m were found remains of a large ceramic vessel dug into the ground. The bottom and the inside walls of the jar were covered with whitewash, with clear traces of claret-coloured depositions on it.
Given the peculiar colour, it is most likely that the depositions were produced by must or wine. Putting Calcium hydroxide into wine is a centuries-old technique used to prevent the product from going sour by neutralising extra acid. The purpose to which the vessel had been put is thus clear: it is a wine jar, and the context in question is a wine cellar.1
Christian wine-making is attested at three other sites in Central Asia:
– winery in the monastery of Aq-Beshim (Suyab) in Qirghizstan;2
– jar with a Sogdian inscription containing a Syriacism (malpna – teacher or doctor) found at the site of Krasnaya Rechka in Qirghizstan;3
– bottom of a tub laid with bricks with carved crosses, found at a winepress in Aq-Tobe (Southern Kazakhstan).4
It should be said at this point that impressions of a stamp on several pottery items from Urgut are identical to those found in Aq-Beshim, Novopokrovka (Qirghizstan), and Krasna-ya Rechka (this last accompanied by the name of “craftsman Pastun”).5
On the top of the roof of the cellar was found a sealed pottery assemblage consisting of unbroken items and items that can be put together from fragments. Such assemblages usually belong to the time of destruction of an archaeological complex and testify to a sud-den and abrupt death of a monument.6
1 Close semantic link between Christianity and wine-making is illustrated by the following passage by the Arab lexicographer al-Firuzabadi (AD XIV): “Mushammas is a name for wine. It is derived from shamms, the name given to the deacon of a Christian church and it means: a wine grown and nursed by a shamms” . – v. D. S. Rice, ‘Deacon or Drink: Some Paintings from Samarra Re-Examined’, Arabica 5 (1958), p. 22.
2 G. L. Semënov, Raskopki 1996-1998 gg., ‘Suyab. Ak-Beshim’, SPb. 2002, pp. 44-114. V. also: G. L. Semënov, ‘Mona-styrskoye vino Semirechya’, B. B. Piotrovsky Memorial Readings at the Hermitage, SPb. 1999, pp. 70-74.
3 A. N. Bernshtam, ‘Uygurskaya epigrafika Semirechya’, Epigrafika Vostoka 1 (1 947), pp. 34-37.
4 K. M. Baypakov, Srednevekovaya gorodskaya kul’tura Yuzhnogo Kazakhstsna i Semirechya, Alma-Ata 1986, p. 184.
5 V. A. Livshits, ‘Sogdiytsy v Semirechye: lingvisticheskiye I epigraficheskiye svidetel’stva’, Pis’menniye pamiat-niki I problemy istorii kul’tury narodov Vostoka. XV yearly conference at Leningrad Dept., The Institute for Oriental Stu-dies, December 1979, part I (2), Moscow 1981, p. 80.
6 V., e. g. V. I. Raspopova, Zhilishcha Pendzhikenta, Leningrad 1990, p. 17.
Since there is a good collection of stratified ceramics from the area, the complex found can be safely dated to the early XIII century, thus providing the terimus post quem for the mona-stery which probably corresponds to the Mongol taking of Samarkand in 1220.
A number of fine cleanings was undertaken in order to establish and mark on the ground plan the main western wall destroyed by a seasonal mountain torrent between 1999 and 2004, yet before we were able to study the corresponding sector.
Apart from the excavations of the main site, we continued to map other local spots where Christian presence was attested in some way or another. The following sites were surveyed:
– Durmon-tepa in ca. 20 km to the west of Samarkand, where a mediaeval Christian burial was found in 1986, containing a cross of sheet gold. The cross had been sewn onto the dress of the dead, which probably indicated his priestly rank;7
– Arbinjan-tepa in ca. 80 km to the west of Samarkand, on the road Samarkand-Bukhara which once was a major trade route. Ceramic cast for moulding crosses was occasionally found there several years ago;8
– Kosh-tepa 2 in ca. 10 km from Urgut, where a rim of a jar featuring a scratched scene of baptism was found in 1973;9
– the area where a bronze cross was found in 2006 appeared to be flooded by the Chimkur gan water reservoir (ca. 70 km south of Samarkand).
– an area near Chinaz, Tashkent province was surveyed in order to pin-point the site of the other of the two Christian settlements in Mawarannahr described by Arab geographers (described separately, v. Addenda).
7 G. V. Shishkina, ‘Netorianskoye pogrebeniye v Sogde Samarkandskom’, Iz istorii drevnikh kul’tov Sredney Azii. Khristianstvo, Tashkent 1994, pp. 56-63. The item is kept at the Museum of the Peoples of the Orient in Moscow.
8 kept at the Institute of Archaeology in Samarkand.
9 M. M. Iskhakov, Sh. S. Tashkhodzhaev, T. K. Khodzhayov, ‘Raskopki Koshtepa’, Istoriya material'noy kul’tury Uzbekistana 13 (1977), pp. 88-97. Current location unknown.
Permanent stainless steel big board was mounted at Sulayman-tepa explaining the significance of it and warning visitors against misconduct.
Twelve previously unknown archaeological sites dating to the early Middle Ages were dis-covered and mapped in the course of our surveys of the Urgut area.
Director of Research,
The East Sogdian Archaeological Expedition.
Conclusion of the excavation project at Urgut
After careful considerations it has been decided by the project leader Dr. Alexei Savchenko and the Society for the Exploration of EurAsia to conclude the fieldwork at Urgut since the project's objective set in early 2004 has been fully achieved with the discovery and excavation of the Christian church and monastery belonging to the Church of the East mentioned by the 10 th century geographer and historian Ibn Hawqal.The results from this project will be published in scientific and popular media in due course which will be mentioned and possibly also published on the Society's homepage.
Alexei Savchenko, Mark Dickens: Prester John’s Realm: New Light
on Christianity between Merv and Turfan. In: Erica Hunter
(ed.): The Christian Heritage of Iraq, Gorgias Press, 2009 (.pdf).