The Medieval Vessel with Tamga from Zaamin

Issue #3 • 1653

Last year at the excavation of the pottery kiln at the Djartepa in Zaamin were revealed fragments of a slip plate, which was restored almost fully. It just remained to fix its dimension – they are 23.5 cm in diameter and 6.5 cm in height. Before us there is a sample of ordinary vessel dated from the second half of the 12th century. Within traditions of that time, its mirror is parted by rays into eight sectors, four of which are ornamented with sidelong net, and the other four – with tamga-shaped sign in a form of “Neptune’s trident” with extension in the low part. It is interesting that in three points the low part of the sign in a form of crossbar with comma is drawn from right to left, as it’s typical of the Arab script, and in the fourth case, on the contrary – from left to right. Most probably the potter was illiterate, what was usual thing for that time.

As far as we know, in Ustrushana as well as in many other historical regions of the republic, tamga-shaped signs on the slipware dated from XXI century have not been revealed. To decorate the vessel the potter used green, salad-colored and different tinges of brown on a light background of slightly green tint. The craftsman decorated the tamga with elements typical at his time: green stains and spots being signs of protection. The tamga-charm, in its own turn, as if needed in additional protection.

Midpoint of the vessel is marked with a circle impressed in the clay, within and beside which remained traces of sepai’s supports – one of potter’s facilities. Potters applied it to separate one vessel from another in piles before kilning. Trident is rather ancient sign, which, along with other additional elements, was widespread among the Sarmatians. But more often it was drawn with “pitchfork” downward that is turned over against our sign. From there it distributed all over the Great Steppe and reached Mongolia where later these signs transformed into tamga. In the pre-Arab period tridents appeared on the pottery in different regions of Central Asia including Ustrushana.

E.M. Pesherova mentioned, as analogous to the signs of the mountain Tadjiks, a sign being very close to our sample, but with teeth stretching apart. Tridents crown signs on the Turgesh coins, which remind tamgas from Northern Mongolia. More complicated type of tridents, so-called Chach sign, appeared on the coins as well. Around the Aral Sea tamga in a shape of trident with cross-bar in a lower part was revealed on the coins of Khusrau (the early 8th century), the local ruler of Kerder, the independent medieval state located in the eastern part of the Amu Darya’s delta. Later this tradition was terminated. The signs reminding tridents (rather reminding the Cyrillic letter “Ш” in different foreshortenings), can be found among dynastic tamgas, mentioned by Rashid-ad-Din, Makhmud from Kaxgar, Abu-l-Gazi and on medieval grave stones. But they stay far from their prototypes. By their dating and level of complicated pattern the finds at the Djartepa in Zaamin present original link between tamgas of the Early and Late Middle Ages. Let’s remark, till now the word “tamga” hasn’t got any convincing interpretation. It is considered that it takes its origin in Mongolia, from where it penetrated in Turkic languages.

It is absolutely obvious that presence of tamga on our vessel is not occasional and was connected, most probably, with inflow of a new population having nomadic traditions and bringing a revival of “animal style”()what found expression in decoration of the pottery with pictures of animals or their protomas) into urban settlements in the 12th century. It’s necessary to remark, T. K. Khodjaiov considers that Mongolized population of medieval Ustrushana was newly arrived and, “probably, initially occupied Altai, Kazakhstan or Southern Siberia”. Exactly within this Tirkic-Mongolian midst tamgas were widespread, what was proved by archeological and anthropological materials from the settlement of Qultepa, which is identified with the largest urban settlement in Ustrushana, Sabat.

Probably, the potter manufactured our vessel by the order of such customer who wished to have his family tamga, a precise analogous of which has not been known in the science till now.

Author: Alexey Gritsina

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