FRAL - Programme franco-allemand en SHS

Archaeological Researches on Metal and Pottery Assemblages from the Oxus Basin to the Indus Valley during Protohistory. – ROXIANA

Archaeological research on the metallic and pottery assemblages from Oxus Basin and Indus Valley in Protohistory

ROXIANA: the first attempt for analyzing ancient potteries and metal at such a scale in protohistoric Middle Asia.<br />ROXIANA was designed for a better understanding of the development of ancient technologies in Middle Asia, in a time of early urbanization North and South of Hindu Kush (5th-1st millennia BCE).<br />Pottery and metal belong to the «pyrotechnologies« (technologies of fire),a part of craftmanships that were a crucial development on the way of emergence of urban societies in the Old World.<br />

Evolutions of techniques and societies North and South of the Hindu Kush range during Protohistory 5th-1rst mill.)

The results of the various analyses conducted in the ROXIANA project, correlated in order to understand the evolution of craft traditions as systems, to better define the cultural and material interactions between the considered areas at various scales. <br />Pottery studies implied new analytical strategies for determining the elementary composition of the ceramic pastes and paintings, the approach of the reconstructon of the manufacturing and decoration techniques, and dealing with the provenance studies. <br />Metal analyses provided insights into copper technology and alloying (tin, arsenic), a major development of the proto-urban and urban societies in Central Asia and Indo-Iranian borderlands.<br />Combining skills in history, archaeology and physico-chemistry, with the contribution of scholars and young researchers for the study of a huge amount of artefacts, the project generated a synergy between German (metal studies) and French (pottery studies) team.<br />

Pottery studies:
For fabrics or pastes analyses were considered: 2 macro-regions (North and South of Hindu Kuch), 7 regions, 508 samples for pXRF, 268 samples for icp, 180 samples for petrography, and 51 samples for lead isotopes.
Collected samples of pottery, and reworked chrono-typologies were first analysed with portable XRF, a test in the use of this method. pXRF results were then treated and compared with other approaches: inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) ; isotope lead geochemistry ; mineralogical characterization of pastes by petrographic observations.
Painted decorations of potteries analyses (C2RMF): Particle Induced X-Ray Emission (PIXE); X-Ray diffraction (XRD); Raman spectrometry; Scanning Electron Microscopy.
Metal studies: 1 macro-region (North of Hindu Kush), 4 regions, 24 sites, 4 time-periods (Chalcolithic-Antiquity), 887 samples pXRF, 262 samples RFA, 111 samples NAA, 68 samples lead isotopes, 4 samples XRD (kiln walls & crucibles), 17 samples microscopy, 16 samples REM/EDX and a large database of ore deposits available at the CEZA GmbH.
Samples were analysed by pXRF (portable XRF), RFA (X-Ray fluorescence, NAA (neutron activation analysis) and lead isotope analysis. Fewer samples were studied by XRD (X-ray Diffraction), microscopy and SEM/EDX (Scanning Electron Microscopy). The results allow the compositional and isotopic grouping of samples. Technological processes (arsenic, tin and lead alloying of copper) and the search for proveniences and exchanges, as well as ore locations (raw material and trade) can be studied.

Pottery: Determination of local/imported/imitated potteries in sites North and South of Hindu Kush, and trace possible ways of exchanges were obtained; characterization of potteries manufactures and of the evolution of pottery techniques from chalcolithic variety and quality to Bronze Age standardization
Metal: Establishment of pXRF for basic information for large sample quantities in preparation of focussed laboratory selection, as well as determination of overall non-quantitative alloy compositions. Detailed chemical & isotopic analysis allows technological groupings and identification of raw material supply networks.
ROXIANA allowed the team to successfully test the originally proposed analytical procedures on great quantity of materials, for pottery and metals, including the new methods.
The results obtained give a number of new information, and their interpretations opens new fields for better understanding the economies and societies of the area (map) from Chalcolithic (5th millennium) to Iron Age (first millennium) : technological variations, changes throughout times, better characterization of networks of exchange and transports (raw materials, general economy, social impact), between various areas of Balochistan-Indus and Central Asia? And moreover their comparison with the Near and Middle East, highlights the specific developments of these regions in which the Indo-Iranian borderlands and Central Asia appear to have had different historical trajectories. We could demonstrate the original contributions and innovative trends of them in comparison with Mesopotamia/Levant in the key periods of proto-urban and urban societies.

Clear perspectives appeare for new projects (some are already under review) expanding the pioneer work performed during ROXIANA.
Possible extensions can be envisioned such as the application of this approach to larger areas of Central Asia (especially to include Iran, and possibly the Steppe zone and western China). For metal, the lack of copper ores studies (in contrast to tin) with detailed and modern analyses became more evident, and further programmes could include it in the future.
Perspectives: application of similar analyses and newer methods (e.g. portable Raman) on further materials (e.g. stone, bone [ivory], faïence, glass, textiles, wall-paintings etc.), and extending the historical frame (Neolithic?, Antiquity, Silk Road, Islamic and Medieval periods).
Another perspective is the possibility to study more in depth the emerging notion of coexisting archaeological cultures on the same site in the same period, and its consequences for the study of intercultural exchanges and transfers.
Scientific Impact: The discussions in scientific journals take some time, but will surely follow after the usual time-lag. Immediate impact is the highly improved international cooperation, both between France and Germany, the directly involved Asian partners (Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan), but also working groups elsewhere (e.g. Spain, Italy, USA).

ROXIANA produced and/or has been mentioned mainly in 10 publications by participants and 20 communications (lectures, seminars, posters) either in internal ROXIANA gatherings (Nanterre, Berlin, Mannheim) or for larger scientific audiences. About 40 publications and communications produced by participants can also be mentioned as relevant for the archaeological relevant questions of the area. A general publication in 2 or 3 volumes is planned for 2017.
Selected publications:
Boroffka, N., Luneau, E., Teufer, M., (eds), International Conference: Farmers, Traders and Herders. The Bronze Age in Central Asia and Khorasan (3rd -2nd Millennium BCE), 30th Nov – 1st Dec 2015, Berlin, DAI – Eurasien Abteilung
Didier, A. & Bouquillon, A., (in press) “Characteristics and evolution of the painting techniques on 4th-2nd millennium BCE ceramics from Kachi-Bolan and Kech-Makran regions (Balochistan, Pakistan)”. XXII° Intern Conf of the European Assoc for South Asian Arch and Art, Stockholm (Sweden), June 30th – July 4th 2014.
Kraus, S., (in print) “Metallurgical Investigations in Gonur Depe, Turkmenistan”, ????? ??????????? ?????????? 6, 2016.
Luneau, E., 2014, La fin de la civilisation de l'Oxus. Transformations et recompositions des sociétés de l'Âge du Bronze final en Asie centrale méridionale ( 1800-1500/1400 avant n. è.), Mém.MAFAC. XVI, Paris.
Mutin, B. et Razzokov, A., 2014, (in press), « Cultural Contacts across the Hindu Kush in the Early Bronze Age. Additional Insights from Sarazm – Soundings 11-11A (Tajikistan)”, Archäologische Mitteilungen aus Iran und Turan 46.
Mutin, B., Razzokov, A., Besenval, R. and Francfort, H.-P., (in press). “Resuming Joint Tajik-French Fieldwork at Sarazm, Tajikistan. Preliminary Activity Report on the 2011-2012 Field Seasons”, In: Lefèvre V., Didier A., and Mutin B. (eds.), South Asian Archaeology and Arts 2012. Proceedings of the Twenty-First Conf of the European Assoc of South-Asian Archaeologists (Paris, 2-6 July 2012), Turnhout: Brepols.

The project will undertake, for the first time, a general large scale study of a selected part of the archaeological material (metal and pottery) of Central Asia and Indus-Baluchistan, i.e. the Oxus and Indus basins, from Chalcolithic to the Iron Age (5th to 1st mill. BCE). The interrelations were observed since a long time in Mehrgarh, Sarazm, Shortughaï, Sibri, Pirak … in the context of proto-urban and urban developments, but only on some isolated remarkable pieces of precious metal, stones or exceptional potsherds. Now on the basis of existing typologies and chronologies elaborated in France and Germany, after excavations carried out since decades in the mentioned regions by the specialized teams (of DAI and CNRS-MAEE), the group wishes to elucidate the transformations and the transfers of material , technologies and forms locally, regionally and at large scale. For this it is proposed to proceed by a purposely oriented large selection (several hundred) of metal and pottery samples from 25 sites, in existing collections, in Europe or in Asia, to which the team has access, and to analyze them. Metal analyses: instrumental neutron activation analysis and thermal ionization mass spectrometry (for lead isotopes), where sample sizes permit also metallography. The results would allow: 1) the definition of metal groups, with indications on raw material sources, 2) the recognition of trade networks for metal and 3) the definition of technological groups and interrelations in technology transfer. Pottery analyses: XRF, ICP, petrography. The analyses’ results would allow: 1) local relative results (i.e. the heterogeneous vs. homogenous; exogenous vs. endogenous) and 2) regional and macro-regional comparative results (a region vs. another region). They will concern the followings: 1) Metal: the chemical and isotopic composition, raw material provenance and alloying technology. 2) Pottery: the fabrics, the surface treatment, the paintings. A definition of metallurgical and/or ceramic provinces or regions (shapes, techniques) is expected as well as a better understanding of the technological changes and transfers throughout time, and finally a delineation of the successive stages of the interrelations networks of the “Middle Asian Interaction Sphere”. The interpretations of the advances of technologies and exchanges and their historical significance, internally in this area, and externally (compared with Iran and Mesopotamia) will be discussed and disseminated jointly

Project coordinator


The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


Deutsches Archäologisches Institut Deutsches Archäologisches Institut

Help of the ANR 379,952 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: January 2012 - 36 Months

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