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Far East Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Kel'teminar Culture (Neolithic Foragers / Chalcolithic) (Central Asia)
c.6000 - 3000 BC

In archaeological terms the period in Central Asia and Siberia which followed the end of the Mal'ta-Buret' and Afontova Gora cultures seems to have been largely unremarkable. It was the European side of the Urals mountain range which seems to have progressed in more detail, during the Hamburg, Ahrensburg, and Swiderian cultures, although the Yangelka produced a rise in more localised activity.

While East Asia was already experiencing its own Mesolithic and Neolithic in the form of China's Peiligang culture and Korea's Jeulmun pottery period, the next prominent archaeological culture to be noted on the Asian side of the Urals is located much father to the south than previously. This takes the form of the Kel'teminar (or, less accurately, Kelteminar), which emerged at the same time as South-East Asia's Toalean culture.

Unfortunately this culture is rather vaguely dated in many cases. Lamberg-Karlovsky provides dates of 5500-3500 BC, but others take it up to 6000 BC and down to 3000 BC. Largely a Neolithic culture, it also saw in the start of the Chalcolithic (Eneolithic, or Copper Age) between the fourth to third millennia BC. It was categorised in 1939 by an expedition into what had been to the ancients the eastern Caspian Sea region of Chorasmia (but by then was Uzbekistan). Led by S P Tolstov, the culture was named after the abandoned Kel'teminar Canal, near to which the first finds were made.

Russian scientific opinion links it to the Pit-Comb Ware culture, maintaining that its population was of Finno-Ugric origin (see Yablonsky). The latter at least is virtually impossible to prove as the region was later dominated by Indo-Iranian peoples, while the people of the Kel'teminar are held to have melted into the north during a local environmental change around 2000 BC.

This would appear to be the same environmental change which resulted in a mega-drought in China's Longshan culture, the collapse of Sumer and the Akkadian empire, the 'First Intermediate' in Egypt, the termination of the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC) and the large-scale ingress there of Indo-Iranians.

The culture was widespread, primarily in the ancient Akcha Darya delta of the River Amu Darya (the ancient River Oxus) and its adjacent territories, and reaching the central eastern shore of the Caspian Sea. Today these territories are incorporated into the nation states of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

The remains of extremely large, oval, community-sized frame houses were discovered at camp sites. Microlithic-type flint articles were found, as well as pottery with round and pointed bottoms and with incised and stamped decoration and ornaments (notably beads) which had been crafted from shells.

The population was engaged in fishing and foraging, while at a later stage it became heavily involved in raising stock. This was almost certainly due to its ties with the highly-developed agricultural cultures of the south which themselves were being fed by the developments of the Ubaid culture of Mesopotamia. The culture in its turn provided influence to the Neolithic farmer cultures of the Urals and the region of the lower Ob which empties into the Siberian Kara Sea.

While it seems to have had no direct regional successor, the subsequent Zamin-Babis tribes seemingly evolved it as they moved eastwards to form what is sometimes referred to as the Suyargan culture (a division of the BMAC).

Following a gap of around a millennium and-a-half, the Kel'teminar was succeeded by the Tazabagyab culture which was itself a southern expression of the now-dominant Andronovo horizon. In Kazakhstan, to the immediate north of the Kel'teminar, small cultural pockets which were formed by the Botai-Tersek had already appeared.

Kel'teminar tools

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Po drevnim del'tam Oksa i Iaksarta, S P Tolstov (Moscow, 1962), Neoliticheskie pamiatniki Khorezma, A V Vinogradov (Moscow, 1968), from The Great Soviet Encyclopaedia, Third Edition (1970-1979), and from External Links: The Bronze Age khanates of Central Asia, C C Lamberg-Karlovsky (Antiquity, Vol 68, Issue 259, Cambridge University Press, 2015), and Kelteminar Craniology: Intra-Group Analysis, L T Yablonsky (Soviet Ethnography No 2, USSR Academy of Sciences, 1985), and The 'Copper Age' - A History of the Concept, Mark Pearce (Journal of World Prehistory, Vol 32, pp 229-250, 2019, and available online via Springer Link).)

c.6000 BC

This is the earliest approximate date for the emergence of the Kel'teminar culture, while 5500 BC is certainly a concrete, accepted date. Possibly it has been influenced by the fading Yangelka to the north, but this is far from certain.

Focused primarily in the ancient Akcha Darya delta of the River Amu Darya (the ancient River Oxus) and its adjacent territories, it reaches the central eastern shore of the Caspian Sea (later Chorasmia, today's Uzbekistan).

Kel'teminar figurines
The sedentary fishermen of the semi-desert and desert areas of the Karakum and Kyzyl Kum deserts and the deltas of the Amu Darya and Zeravshan rivers in ancient Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan formed the region's first Neolithic expression: the Kel'teminar culture

c.3000 BC

The Kel-teminar fades by about 3500-3000 BC. There appears no direct Central Asian successor, but the Zamin-Babis tribes perhaps carry elements of it into the east to form the Suyargan culture and perhaps even influence the former Hissar culture site of Tepe Hissar.

In Kazakhstan, to the immediate north, the Botai-Tersek has already faded, while the Tazabagyab culture arises in Kel'teminar territory around fifteen hundred years later.

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