Among the countless finds of the Marginal archaeological expedition, which for almost forty years was headed by our great contemporary, professor of the University of Athens and honorary member of the Academy of Sciences of Turkmenistan Viktor Ivanovich Sarianidi, there are two absolutely unique objects found 12 years ago in Gonur depe.
These exhibits of the State Museum of Turkmenistan are still waiting for due assessment of art critics and other specialists, remaining in the shadow of other, much larger and multiple finds and discoveries of the expedition of Sarianidi. And meanwhile, in their meaning, they may well claim to be included in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s smallest sculptures of the Ancient East.
These are the amazing works of jewelers who lived in the old delta of the Murgab River over four thousand years ago. The golden gazelle and the stone lion would not have been so unique if not for their microscopic size.
Jeyran made of gold, only a centimeter in size, stands with its head up. He has skilfully drawn horns. One can see even the muscles on the legs, a tiny tail, eyes and ears.
Even more admiration is caused by the 7-millimeter (!) figure of a lion made of turquoise. The lion pressed to the ground, preparing to jump, his tail with a brush pressed to his body, his ears alerted, his mouth carnally bared, and his claws dug into the ground.
Perhaps, due to their smallness, these stunning artifacts actually remain so invisible for the public and, alas, for the historians of the art of the Ancient East, although Viktor Ivanovich published promptly and, among other materials, invariably demonstrated their images during his lectures in Europe and America.
The fact of finding such small items against the backdrop of the grandiose excavations of Gonur-depe is striking, because in order not to overlook them, it was necessary to carefully screen every handful of earth and sand! Even more striking is the fact of the creation of such microplastics in the Bronze Age, in the middle of the second millennium BC!
Even today, in the era of nanotechnology, not every jeweler armed with tens, if not hundreds of special tools, including a drill, will undertake to make something like that.
How did they manage to do it more than four thousand years ago, when there were no magnifying glasses yet?
The oldest lens in the world, known to science, appeared only a few centuries after Gonur. This is the so-called Nimrud’s lens, found during excavations in the Middle East. It gives a threefold increase and is stored in the British Museum. It is possible that much earlier lenses were already used in Margiana, but they have not been found yet.
And that’s what is typical. Gold gazelle and a stone lion cub were found in one of the “royal” mausoleums of Gonur. Almost all the rich funeral cells, excavated by the Margian expedition, were plundered back in antiquity. This is clearly indicated by the traces of predatory passways, as well as a complete mess in the crypts.
“The robbers who entered the tomb millennia ago seemed to have been in a hurry,” said Victor Sarianidi, “because we managed to find some beautiful examples of ancient jewelry art.”
So, on a floor of one premise laid the square and a round cover of cases, which, probably, once contained treasures. The covers are lined with a mosaic of white stone squares that form geometrically correct patterns. In order not to paint the stone inserts, the sections of the background between the white crosses and the squares were filled with black and red paint. As a result, the ornament turned out to be polychrome and very much appealing to the patterns of Turkmen carpets.
Next to the cases were a bronze cosmetic spatula and a pin with a miniature pommel in the form of a lying calf. Both the spatula and the pin are covered with a thin layer of silver.
A large pin with an iron rod was found at the same site. The pin-shaped pin forms a rosette of lapis lazuli and turquoise petals, with an attached large crescent and eight-pointed star made of gold.
Among these petals lay the microscopic figures of gazelles and lions. Such miniature images of the Bronze Age have not yet been encountered in any of the centers of the ancient Eastern world.
“Apparently,” concluded Viktor Ivanovich, “the robbers grabbed only large items and did not pay any attention to the small things.”
No less attention, according to the scientist, should be drawn to the core of the pin. This is the first sample of iron found in the studied layers of Gonur-depe. Chemical analysis showed that this is meteorite iron, that is, an alloy of iron and nickel. In that distant era, people only began to master the smelting of iron and a few more centuries would pass before the iron age replaced the bronze one.
The technology of manufacturing of microplastics in the Bronze Age still does not find a scientific explanation and it will take years of work of archaeologists to find the jeweler’s tools.
This is the core of the special science – archaeological trasology. Unlike forensics trasology, this is the method of cognition of human activity in the past through the study of its tracks: ancient tools of stone, bones, and also traces of the use of these tools – traces of processing.