Qoy Qırılg'an qala
LocationQoy Qırılg'an qala is in a remote desert location, just over 24km north northeast of To'rtku'l and 20km east southeast from Bostan. It lies within the tuman of To'rtku'l.
Aerial photograph of the remains of Qoy Qırılg'an qala. Image courtesy of Google Earth.
ExcavationsThe first archaeological viewing took place in 1938 when Sergey Tolstov, Yakh'ya Gulyamov, A. I. Terenozhkin and other members of the early Khorezm Archaeological Expedition were encamped at nearby Teshik qala. In the distance they could see the silhouette of an unusual feudal fortress "sunk in the sea of sand" and they examined it through binoculars. Eventually Tolstov set off to visit the site with his local guide, Sansyzbai Uryumov, some camels and a photographer. The way was blocked by a number of huge barchans and they had to weave their way up and down the dunes and through the hollows in between. They finally reached the summit of a barchan that provided a view across a landscape of takyrs covered with shards of crimson pottery, with the ruins of a fantastically shaped fort beyond.
Aerial photograph of Qoy Qırılg'an qala lost in a field of barchans prior to its excavation.
Aerial photograph of Qoy Qırılg'an qala at the height of the excavations.
Qoy Qırılg'an qalaQoy Qırılg'an qala is a name that has been given to the site by local people over recent centuries. It is generally translated as "Fort of the Dead Sheep". However the exact meaning of Qırılg'an is not dead but fragile or breakable.
Aerial photograph of Qoy Qırılg'an qala. Image courtesy of Google Earth.
Plan of Qoy Qırılg'an qala.
Excavation work has shown that Qoy Qırılg'an qala was a monumental two-storey cylindrical building, 42 metres in diameter, and standing 8 metres above the surrounding plain. There was a single row of arrow slits on the upper floor and a row of windows on the lower floor. The building was defended by a circular outer double wall, 88 metres in diameter, reinforced with eight equally spaced bastions.
At first the building had been defended by a single outer wall and a surrounding ditch. At some time later the loopholes in this wall were sealed and a second outer wall was added, creating a shooting gallery within the space between.
There was a single entrance located on the eastern side on the outer wall. Visitors first gained access to a rectangular courtyard and then passed through a labyrinth gate defended by a pair of D-shaped towers. Once through the gate they passed up a covered ramp inside the gatehouse leading up to the entrance of the central circular building.
The ground floor of the main building contained eight chambers with arched ceilings, arranged into three interconnected groups. There were two chambers aligned along a central axis, roughly oriented in an east-west direction, each accessed by pairs of descending stairways from opposite sides of the building. There were then an additional six chambers oriented at right angles to the axial chambers in an approximately north-south direction, three in the northern segment and three in the southern. Each central axial chamber was connected by narrow corridors to three of the perpendicular chambers.
All of these chambers, apart from the central chamber on the northern side, were illuminated by downward sloping window shafts penetrating the six metre thick wall.
To complicate matters further, the central chamber on the western side had been divided at some later stage into two parts by a wall. A deep pit had been dug in the floor of the smallest segment. Furthermore while the eastern stairs led up to the second storey archers' gallery which encircled the building, the western stairs leading off from the western chamber had also been blocked by a brick wall.
The upper floor had to be accessed by ladders from the second storey archers' gallery.
Even today, the true purpose of the site still remains something of a mystery. Excavations showed that the building had been destroyed by fire and had later been ransacked. It seems to have originally been built in the 4th century BC shortly after Khorezm gained its independence from Persia. This period, originally named after the Kangyuy culture of the middle Syr Darya and now called the Early Antique Period, saw a huge blossoming of Khorezmian culture. Yet surprisingly the building was used for only one or at most two centuries before being abandoned in the early 2nd century BC. It was then briefly occupied by squatters.
It is possible that the lower floor might have originally functioned as some type of astronomical observatory, possibly monitoring the times for the rising and setting of certain stars and perhaps the cycles of the sun and the moon, given their highly venerated position in Zoroastrianism. We do know that the Khorezmians were familiar with eclipses, had an accurate calendar and knew the exact time of the seasons – vital for the management of their agricultural economy.
In the middle of the 2nd century BC the site was reoccupied and experienced a revival up until the 4th century AD. The space between the central circular building and the surrounding wall became increasingly filled with an irregular radial arrangement of storerooms and domestic buildings and a defensive proteichisma was built just two metres outside of the external wall. The site seems to have become the centre of a local cult that was associated with the consumption of wine. Numerous finds revealed that wine making and drinking had now become a popular pastime. Apart from numerous storage jars and drinking vessels, archaeologists found paintings of a bearded man holding a bunch of grapes and a wine jug and a woman pouring an amphora into a goblet. The surrounding agricultural region seems to have been a rich wine growing area and from various finds of grape pips we even known the varieties of vines that were being grown. An aerial survey in the early 1950s identified the remains of many grid-shaped irrigation systems in the vicinity of Qoy Qırılg'an qala, slowly being invaded by desert barchans.
One final mystery concerns the segmentation of the western central chamber. It has been suggested that the observatory may have been subsequently used as a royal mausoleum or burial site, since part of the chamber had been isolated by thick walls. A very deep pit, possibly designed to foil grave robbers, protected the approach to the dividing wall from the eastern side. It was so effective that it nearly consumed the archaeological excavators who first discovered it. There are some similarities between the design of the chambers at Qoy Qırılg'an qala and those found at Tagisken and Chirik Rabat. However the bricked-up chamber contained no remains of any burial.
Six seasons of work at Qoy Qırılg'an qala revealed a huge amount about the material culture of Khorezm during the Early Antique Period. Finds included a rich collection of ceramics, statuettes, fragments of polychrome painting, iron tools and arrow heads, ossuaries (see below), and inscriptions written in the Khorezmian dialect of the Aramaic language.
The site of Qoy Qırılg'an qala revealed several different types of ossuary, from a simple box-shaped container with a pyramid shaped top, to a woman seated on a rectangular box, and finally one fashioned into the shape of a bearded man sitting in a cross-legged position.
|Google Earth Coordinates|
|Place||Latitude North||Longitude East|
|Qoy Qırılg'an qala||41º 45.317||61º 7.020|
|Adamli qala||41º 44.450||61º 7.338|
This page was first published on 3 September 2008. It was last updated on 30 January 2012.
© David and Sue Richardson 2005 - 2015. Unless stated otherwise, all of the material on this website is the copyright of David and Sue Richardson.