Deserts of Uzbekistan

The kizilkums are a cradle of “ships of the desert”


     Camels which played important role in the development of the Great Silk Road were tamed in the Kizilkum desert and became domestic in late Stone Age, over eight thousand years ago.


     An Uzbek-Polish expedition came to this conclusion, basing on archeological excavations of an ancient settlement Ayakagetma originated from a lake in the Kizilkums in 130 kilometers far from Bukhara in north-east.


     “Camels were tamed some thousand years earlier than scientists used to believe”, said the expedition’s head Muhitdin Hujanazarov from the Archeology Institute of the Uzbek Academy of Sciences. “In excavating the settlement of Ayakagetma we discovered a great number of stone implements and bones of such domestic animals as cows, camels, horses, sheep, goats, pigs and dogs. More than half of them belonged to both Arabian and Bactrian camels. Most of discoveries belonged to the latter”.


     Camels are one of the most wonderful animals in our planet and they mainly remain mysterious. Revealing only some of camel mysteries allowed scholars to include them in a separate group of fauna. Nevertheless, in ancient times Central Asian cattlemen who made weighty contribution hybridization and breeding of camels recognized indefatigable assistants of man, using no scientific systematization. As a result, mankind got a unique “vehicles” which helped to develop civilization contacts among three continents: Asia, Africa and Europe for many centuries.


     A kind of books scripted by Uzbek ancestors on rocks helped scholars to restore the history of domestication of camels. Certainly, the matter concerns the oldest painting books, petroglyphs. There are many of them in mountainous districts of Central Asia and on stones of remains of ancient hills in the Kizilkums. Basing on these discoveries and materials of excavations of archeologists, specialists concluded that the Kizilkums were more possible area for domestication of camels, primarily, Bactrian ones. Even their scientific name witnesses their Central Asian origination because a vast historical region on mid and upstream of the Amudarya was called Bactria B.C.


     A kind of chronicle from petroglyphs developed for thousands of years allows analyzing the relations between man and camel in different phases of camel breeding and using it.


     The composition of the Nurata Mountains adjoining the Kizilkums in east is rather interesting. Scholars believe that it describes bringing of camels for milking to man’s nomad camp. This petroglyph has six figures: at the top two female camels, a colt, horseman and dog and at the bottom a big camel. The composition is very intelligent. The horseman and dog are on various sides of the camels; they surround them and hunt after them across the valley, river.


     On another petroglyph in these mountains one can see a Bactrian camel having its back legs tangled. It is also a domestic animal because legs of restless female camels are tangled in milking them even today. After domestication of camels, milking them became one of the forms of using them in household because these aborigines of the desert give more milk than local cows.


     The rock painting galleries also depict the way of using camels as pack and saddle animal. Specialists discovered paintings of men riding camels. Firstly, these pack and saddle animals were used pro-season migration from pasture to another one and then they were used for far-distance trips.


     However, paintings on camel breeding in last thousand years were of great value for specialists. It was mainly on growing the size of humps of Bactrian camels. This process was not based on aesthetic reasons. Camel humps contain fat and they were always delicacy for many nomadic peoples of Asia. The humps of camels in deserts of Mongolia and China are not big: they as smaller as three or four times than those of modern domestic camels and ones on the petroglyphs. The big humps did not appear occasionally but as a result of breeding methods of cattle breeders in past like fatty tail of local sheep. The big humps of domestic camels witnessed a wide-scaled and purposeful work of many local camel breeders.


     Methods of using interspecies hybridization by Central Asian peoples showed high level of their cattle breeding. Its results can be found on petroglyphs; it is camels having one big hump that embraces their whole back. Such camels are called “nars” in Central Asia. They are hybrids of Arabian and Bactrian camels. They are bigger, stronger and more tolerant than their parents. Female “nars” are differed with more milk.


     For bringing “nars” to the Nurata Mountains where specialists discovered their “portraits” our ancestors might regularly drove thermophilic Arabian camels which inhabited in the southern part of the Kizilkums. These types of camels which are also called dromedaries have no wild congeners and some scientists think that they originated from Bactrian camels. It might have happened in the south of Uzbekistan though some specialists call Arabia the homeland of dromedaries. But there are no sharp boundaries of distribution of Bactrian camels and dromedaries.


     People thought that the ability of camel not to drink water for a long time was because of water reserves in its stomach. Then scholars proved that this phenomenon was a result of its ability of turning fat in its hump into water. Indeed, specialists have discovered recently that the secret of mechanism of supporting optimal heat for camel’s body is in small losses of water and these losses have no great impact on state of the “ship of the desert”. Even if camel loses one third of its weight, it does not influence appearance camel because of its water capacity. It should be mentioned that the dehydration of human body only 10 percent of its total weight results in disorder of many physiologic functions but people die from twenty-percent dehydration. The temperature of camels can change in a wide diapason: from 34 degrees in summer morning till 40 degrees in midday. Camels launch their perspiration mechanism only in great overheating. The aborigine of the desert also economizes water in emitting products of metabolism: its kidneys can concentrate urea and direct it to its stomach where it synthesizes amino acids from this waste and then include it in protein metabolism. Owing to this process, camel keeps considerable amount of water.


     Camels have no competitors among mammals for endurance. In caravans their usual speed is 10 kilometers per hour. Their main merit is that they can exclusively bring load of three hundred kilograms to far distances in the temperature up to 70 degrees above zero. It made camels main vehicles of the Great Silk Road.


     Researches of the Uzbek-Polish expedition in the Kizilkums are expected to reveal many mysteries of our ancestors’ lives including in domestication of camels. Muhitdin Hujanazarov and his Polish colleague Coral Shimchak showed the initial results of their expedition in a fundamental scientific work on “Late Stone Age Monuments of the Central Kizilkums” issued by the Warsaw University.


     The scientific importance of discoveries caused high interest of scientists. This interest also involved the recognized specialists in Stone Age, French archeologists, who joined the excavations in researches of the Uzbek-Polish expedition in the unique desert.