Tajik gold

The items in the special collection of precious metals and coins are tightly linked to the centuries-long history of Tajikistan. Various clothes’ adornments, household utensils, and coins serve as the testimony to the cultural and historical development of people of Tajikistan. The names of ancient masters have been lost, but their vision of beauty is reflected in today’s world.

As soon as a branch of the Soviet Academy of Sciences opened in the city of Dushanbe, the collection of precious items and coins was transferred to the department of archeology and numismatics of the A. Donish’s Institute of History, Archeology and Ethnography. An independent Academy of Sciences of Tajikistan was formed later.
This collection includes finds from the excavations on the territory of Tajikistan, as well as items found during construction or other work... The collection contains artifacts from the V BC to XVII-XVIII centuries.

Traditionally, collections were restocked annually up until 1990 (the beginning of the Civil War). This collection presents the ancient history of jewelry-making and goldsmithing of Tajikistan in the course of nearly two millenniums. 

The Commonwealth of Independent States has numerous collections of precious metals, most of which held in special storerooms of Moscow, St. Petersburg, Tashkent, Erevan, Kiev and Dushanbe. The funds of the A. Donish’s Institute of History, Archeology and Ethnography of the Tajikistan Academy of Sciences permitted to gather an impressive collection of gold artifacts of the medieval time period, as well as XVII and XVIII centuries.
The gold jewelry found in this collection serves as a testament to the high level of arts and crafts, as well as to the cultural, political and economic development of the medieval society.

This is an attempt on the part of the Institute of History, Archeology and Ethnography to present the jewelry collection to the wide circle of scientists and devotees of the art of jewelry. For the first time the gold artifacts kept in the Institute’s archives are grouped chronologically, by their use and geographical criteria, supported by identifying data, as well as a time stamp.

We discussed here how the art of jewelry in Tajikistan has been transferred from the ancient masters to the modern times. The masters whose work was discovered in Tajikistan were familiar with such techniques as casting, molding, stamping, and drawing. They employed such sophisticated methods as soldering, granulation and coil, producing open-worked, filled and stamped articles.  For example, the stamping technique was used when making adorning disks.

The art of ancient jewelers is evident from the various methods of connecting details and trimmings in their work: studs, soldering, and threading. Wrought sheets of gold guaranteed sturdiness and durability, which in turn allowed making delicate, light, miniature artworks that required a lot of professional skill.

Jewelry was often made out of high quality metals. One of the most interesting examples of using such materials are the artifacts of Oxus treasure, dating IV century BC, as well as the finds of Saksanohur, I-II centuries, Shakristan – XIII century, and others.

For decorating purposes, the ancient masters used precious and semi-precious stones, employing polishing and chiseling techniques. Turquoise, garnet, ruby, carnelian, and pearls complemented the masters’ artistic designs.
One of the most popular methods was casting. Hard casting, wax models, two-sided, open and sectional molds were used. Sometimes fabrics were embroidered with gold thread – examples have been found in Tahti-Sangin (II century BC) and Bishkent burial grounds (I-II centuries).

The art of jewelry making is a crucial part of studies of history, culture and art of Tajikistan.

Beginning in the ancient times, gold has been excavated, treated and processed into articles of jewelry. The artistic and stylistic features of some of them speak of the highly developed cultural and commercial connections of the Tajik people, as well as of their ideas of fashion, style and taste.

The history of the Tajik people in the mid-millennium BC has been characterized as “the time of forming and establishing of an early class-based society in Central Asia, the time of development, of first government unions, the time of ethnic and linguistic formation;” undeniably, initial contacts with other ethnic groups of higher civilization level influenced the process.

It is known that Central Asia was part of the Achaemenid Empire in IV century BC. In the 30s of IV century BC, Macedonian king Alexander the Great played an instrumental part in the fall of the Achaemenid Empire.  In the second part of the III century BC, the Central Asian portion of the empire (Bactria) seceded as the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, which included southern parts of contemporary Tajikistan. The peoples of Central Asia had extensive contacts with the Greek culture.

Archeological discoveries in the southern part of Tajikistan demonstrate not only the creators’ familiarity with the Hellenistic culture and art, but also their understanding of Hellenistic traditions. This grasp of traditions and philosophy is reflected in several unique monuments of that time, for instance, the Temple of Oxus at Takhti-Sangin (end of II century BC – 1 century AD).

The art and culture of 1 century BC to II century AD was influenced by the Kushan tribe, which existed on the large territory that included contemporary Tajikistan. This powerful empire stretched out to the Gissar mountain ridge and included the Indus valley. The artistic objects of that time period demonstrate syncretism of Hellenistic heritage, local traditions and Hindu art. After the decline of the Kushan Empire, the southern regions of what is now contemporary Tajikistan were soon subjugated by the Persian Sassanid Empire. During the early medieval era, what is now contemporary Tajikistan contained a number of independent societies: the south of the country was part of North Tokharistan, the eastern part of the Zeravshan valley was part of Sogd, including separate regions, and the western part was ruled by Ustrushan, which was tightly linked to Sogd; finally, part of the land belonged to Fergana and Ilak. All this political diversity was reflected in art, particularly in the art of jewelry making.

It has been noted by researchers that the first signs of cultural unification began in the IX-X centuries. Sogd led the initiative of transferring cultural values from one people to another thanks to the dynamic commercial connections of the Sogdian people.

Urban development during the early medieval era was followed by development of arts and crafts. Late medieval era encompasses an entire millennium – ten centuries. The arrival of the new religion, Islam, to the territory of Tajikistan nearly extinguished the new local culture in the VIII century, but in the last decades up until the IX century the new ideas have been accepted. Studying artifacts of that time, we witness the beginning of a new conscience, new culture, which had its roots in the past achievements, albeit veiled and hidden. The basis for this spectacular process was the empire of Samanids, and later Karakhanids. Still, even that time was short. In the beginning of the XIII century, the invasion of Genghis Khan slowed down the cultural development of the peoples of Central Asia, including Tajik. This period is characterized by syncretism of the existing Islamic traditions with the nomadic culture; the evidence is seen in the art of ornament, both in its free-standing form, and used as decoration technique in jewelry making.

This short excursion into the cultural history of the Tajik people shows how complex and multilayered was its development, and how difficult were conditions in which artisans and craftsmen produced their unique creations. The deep roots and extensive branches of the tree of Tajikistan’s art are far-reaching. In this paper, we intend to look at one of the branches, the art of jewelry making, which brought fame to the Tajik people and continues to glorify them even in today’s world.

An all-encompassing look at the available gold artifacts allows analyzing the developmental level of the art of jewelry making, an unforgettable part in history of art and culture of Tajikistan. This research became possible thanks to the archeological excavations on the territory of Tajikistan, led on the regular basis starting from 1946.

Such accidental finds as the famous Oxus treasure became available for presentation and research only after being included in museum collections. In Tajikistan, first museums opened in early 1950s.

The Sogd-Tajik expedition led by A. Yakubosky is known as the beginning of Tajikistan’s archeological traditions. At this time, several expeditions are dedicated to detailed research of nearly all of the country’s regions, including Dushanbe, the capital itself.

  • 16-9-2008

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