Teshik-Tash

by Nathan Hamm on 8/13/2004 · 2 comments

This is filed under history, but keep in mind, it’s waaaaaaaaaaaaay back.

I’m currently reading The Journey of Man, a book that shows the historic spread of humans out of Africa and across the globe through genetic markers in the Y chromosome (hence the “Man” in the title, mtDNA isn’t as accurate for tracking movement for reasons discussed in the book).

The mountains north of Navoi in Central Uzbekistan are full of springs–little oases in an otherwise very arid region (here’s the “wet season” there). I spent a day in a small canyon where one of these springs created a small creek that quickly died out. I had alreadly known that humans had lived in this area for a very very long time, and I could see the attraction (there is a heiroglyphic site in the area, but I can’t remember the name).

Anyhow, there’s a passing reference to Teshik Tash in The Journey of Man. It’s not a homo sapiens site, but is considered to be a site showing evidence that neanderthals engaged in burial rituals.

The Teshik-Tash finds reveal Mousterian tools with Neandertal skeletal remains. The remains were of a child, nine or ten years of age, with the skull crushed into over a hundred pieces. Reconstruction of the skull indicates the following morphological details: a weak development of the chin; a strong upper brow; a flat forehead bone (typical of Neandertal in classic form); great height to the skull; and a modern structure to the face. Debetz claims the child is Classic Neandertal, similar to European finds, while Weidenreich claims the child has many progressive features more similar to Progressive Neandertal of the Near East, particularly from Skhul and Qafzeh in Israel. Scholars currently agree with Weidenreich.

Originally the remains of the child were considered to be that of a male. Now, based on reconstruction of adult dimensions and stature by M.M. Gerasimov, the remains, measuring 142 cm, are now considered female. Grave goods consisting of wild goat horn as well as scrapers surrounded the skeletal remains. Some scholars believe the burial goods are accidental whereas Okladnikov believes the burial goods are intentional. Scholars today tend to agree with Okladnikov. Teshik-Tash is often cited as one of the early examples of Progressive Neandertal in a burial with Mousterian tools and other grave goods.

Here are pictures of the skull.

The site is described in greater detail here:

The body was found along the western wall of the cave with it’s feet pointed towards the entrance. The most puzzling and provocative element of the find are the six pairs of Siberian ibex horns that had been placed face down in a circle around the skull. Additionally, a small fire had been briefly lit beside the body. Burial among Neandertals is a widely and hotly debated topic. Yet the Teshik-Tash skeleton would seem to indicate that at least some of the Neandertals ritually buried their dead.

The remains of two more individuals (PDF) were found in 2003 at another site.

One of the things that excites me quite a bit about Central Asia is that it is now much more open to the rest of the world than it ever has been. There is truly incredible archaic, ancient, and more recent history that is only now becoming accessible to the wider world. I can’t wait to be able to go back one day to see things like Kampyr-Tepe.


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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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{ 2 comments }

Mark Hamm August 13, 2004 at 4:49 pm

Good point about opening of USSR and advances in archeology and the like. I watched one program on genetic markers and human migration that put a Kazak population as the survival group from the population that peopled much of the world today. THey felt that modern humans migrated out of Africa, to the middle east, to central asia and other points, but that the central asian group was the one that spread to Europe, Siberia and the Americas. This type of study couldn’t have taken place 15 years ago.

WHile in Brno, CR 9 years ago we listened to the presentation about the life and research of Josef Mendelson (sp?). THe interesting part was that the presenter said his presentation had changed since the fall of communism. Before the history and science had to reflect a pro-communist bent. SO there has been both an increase in access and more freedom in interpretation.

Nathan August 13, 2004 at 5:26 pm

That show is the book I’m reading now!

I’ll give it to you when I’m done.

I just got through the part discussing that the genetic evidence entirely disproves the most “recent” (in terms of how far back you’d go) multiple origins theory. mtDNA in European Neanderthals is totally unlike anything seen in human populations.

It’s interesting too that the “coastal migration” (the one from Africa to Australia) shows up all the way to Mongolia, but is concentrated along the coasts. As you get farther north on Asian coasts, the marker gradually disappears. This is true even within the Han Chinese. North and south are genetically different. In India, there’s mtDNA from the coastal migration, but almost no Y chromosome markers–consistent with a situation where wives were taken from that population and men were unable to breed.

I do have say anecdotally about archaeology in Uzbekistan that it’s not politics-free. A historian who worked with Peace Corps told some of us that his work is hindered by the government. His research is showing lots of Zoroastrian roots for Uzbek behaviors and traditions and the government wants to present a totally Islamic face in its history.

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