On November 22, the capital of Turkmenistan hosts the online science forum “Historical and cultural monuments of Turkmenistan: the experience of study, conservation and restoration”. A leading researcher at the Institute of History and Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of Turkmenistan, our regular contributor Juma Orazklychev told the readers of CentralAsia.news about a famous French archaeologist Dr. Olivier Lecomte, who led a number of research projects in the zones of sacred layers preserved for centuries by the ancient Turkmen land.
He remained devoted to Turkmen history
History is reluctant and far from revealing its secrets to everyone, but Professor Olivier Lecomte, who led the Turkmen-French archaeological expedition for a quarter of a century, was able to find a common language with the ancient settlements.
Before getting to know Turkmenistan, Olivier Lecomte worked on the sites of ancient settlements in Iran, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates and Kazakhstan. But after setting foot in 1994 on the Turkmen land that carefully kept evidence of the rich history of the ancestors of the Turkmen people in its bowels as if specially for him, the French archaeologist remained a faithful researcher of the ancient history of Turkmenistan until the end of his days.
Cradle of culture in Central Asia
Geokchik-depe, belonging to a civilization known among archaeologists as archaic Dehistan was the first. There, the expedition discovered an architectural complex 14 metres high covered with centuries-old sands. It was dated the middle of the 2nd millennium BC. Further research showed that there were large settlements in Dehistan with an irrigation system that was the most advanced in Central Asia.
The discoveries made by Olivier Lecomte’s expedition laid the groundwork for the inscription of Dehistan as a candidate for the UNESCO World Heritage List. Therefore, there are reasons to hope that soon Dehistan will join Merv, Nisa and Kunya-Urgench on the global list. Thanks to the French archaeologist, a quartet of historical gems will present Turkmenistan in the World Heritage List.
For Olivier Lecomte Dehistan became a springboard for further research in Turkmenistan. Soon his attention was riveted to the settlement of Ulug-depe, located in Kaakhka region to the east of the capital of Turkmenistan. Together with Altyn-depe, explored by the French-born Soviet archaeologist Vadim Masson, Ulug-depe is one of the centres of ancient civilization dating back to the middle of the 5th millennium BC.
About Altyn-depe that became a milestone in the world history of mankind, Vadim Masson said, “When there was Altyn, there was neither Moscow with Tehran, nor Paris with Rome. But Altyn was!”
Ulug-depe is considered to be even older than Altyn. The ancient settlement became generous with rich archaeological finds for the French explorer. Their discovery resulted in a series of publications in the world scientific press, including “Turkmenistan – the cradle of culture in Central Asia” published in Paris in 2006.
Archaeologist’s work is recognized
The expedition was truly international, because Olivier Lecomte brought together specialists from Great Britain, Italy, Russia, Iran, Peru and other countries. The ambitious tasks were set to the scientists – to study several metres of cultural layers dating back to the Bronze Age.
Their work was recognised: in 2012, the jury of the French Royal Academy of Inscriptions and Literature awarded the Ulug-depe archaeological expedition the Grand Prix of the Simone and Cino Del Duca Foundation. This award was a recognition by the French Academy of the great achievements of the expedition and personally Olivier Lecomte in the study of the history of Turkmenistan, on the territory of which one of the earliest centres of civilization was located.
Today, the public and scientific circles of Turkmenistan warmly remember their French colleague, who did so much to reveal the secrets of antiquity.
It seems that now Professor Olivier Lecomte is watching attentively and kindly the work of scientists from eternity and admonishes them to continue studying Turkmen history that has not yet revealed all of its secrets.