Medieval Town Sheds Light on Astana’s History

Nov 22. MFA. Astana

Medieval Town Sheds Light on Astana’s HistoryIn his book The Heart of Eurasia President Nazarbayev wrote that the present capital Astana did not appear out of nowhere, but was located on territories that had been inhabited since ancient times. The presence of a medieval settlement Bozok confirms this claim.

Bozok was discovered by Kazakhstan’s prominent archaeologist Kemal Akishev and his expedition in 1998. Excavation work on the site began the following year.

“The first information on the medieval settlements on the territories of the Nura and Ishim rivers appeared in the travel notes of a Russian topographer Ivan Shangin in 1816. These notes were then published in the Russian Imperial journal Sibirskiy Vestnik (Siberian Herald) in 1820. In the 1950s and 1970s, Soviet scientists attempted pioneering excavation works in the area. Yet it was only in 1998, after independent Kazakhstan decided to transfer its capital to Astana, that the towns of Bytygai and Bozok were discovered and the excavation began,” Akishev’s widow, Maral Khabdullina, Director of the Akishev Archaeology Research Institute told The Astana Times.

The ruins of the ancient town of Bozok were found on the eastern shore of Lake Buzukty, five kilometres from the modern city of Astana. Today, the territory of this site is included in the capital city area.

“Bozok presents a very unusual type of a medieval sedentary settlement. It consists of three parts – the centre and two parts in the north and south, each surrounded by a moat and a rampart. The northern part consisted of residential and industrial buildings, while the southern part included a cemetery,” Khabdullina said.

The archaeologist divided the history of Bozok into three stages. After studying the layout of the first shelters, she said Akishev estimated the date for their construction in the 7th to the 8th centuries AD. In the first stage, Bozok was a fortress-town and a military headquarters of the ancient Turkic tribes located along the Steppe segment of the Silk Road.

The second stage of development occurred during the Kipchak Khanate on the Kazakh steppes in the 9th through the 11th centuries. The new residents cleared old trenches, filled internal fields with clay, and built houses out of mud bricks and wood. They also built the system of canals, which proves their engagement in irrigated agriculture.

The third stage in the life of the town began in the era of the Golden Horde in the 13th and 14th centuries and continued to modern times. At that point, Bozok acquired the status of a cultural centre. It is possible that one of the first Muslim missionaries was buried here and his tomb then became a shrine. Archaeologists found remains of at least five mausoleums made of adobe and brick.

“When ancient Turkic tribes first came to Eurasia they selected wetland sites for their settlements. Such areas provided natural defence as invaders were unable to perform extensive manoeuvres there. Other examples of ’wetland towns’ like this are settlements around the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan and the Terek River in Dagestan that were built by the Oguz and Hazara tribes,” Khabdullina said.

Bozok’s location in the marshland near the Ishim River then offered its residents two benefits. The area was safe from enemy attacks and it was suitable for agriculture. “The west of Bozok is secured by Lake Buzukty, while its east is a marshland. The southern side of the city was surrounded by trenches,” Khabdullina said.

The medieval khanates used to have three administrative divisions, according to historic data. The central part was called “ordu,” the eastern – “buzuk,” and the western side was referred to as “uchuk.” The term “buzuk” was preserved in the name of Lake Buzukty, and since the Bozok settlement was discovered on its shore, the archaeologists gave it that name.

“It is important to note that ‘bozok’ is a Turkic-Oguz term. Thus, it is a name of eastern administrative division of Turkic-speaking states. The Turkic-Oguz term ‘bozok’ meant an arrow or white arrow. At the same time, the word ‘boz’ in Turkic languages means wide field or favoured land,” Khabdullina said.

The territories of the Nura and Ishim rivers have attracted settlements since ancient times. That continuity of history is confirmed today. The town of Bozok served as a link between the East and the West on the Steppe Silk Road and similarly Astana today is turning into a bridge between the civilizations of the East and West.