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Fig 1.  Asia (Map of Asia showing its Political Divisions and also the various Routes of Travel between London and India, China and Japan), S. A. Mitchell, New General Atlas, 1860. 13.4 x 10.6". (FC) Attractive map of the continent including the Russian Empire, south to India and east to the Philippine and Japanese Islands. Decorative floral borders.
Note: Turkmenistan is centre-left, Turkestan and the Taklimakan Desert are centre of this Map.

Silk ArtBazaar
Fig's 2 & 3.  Silk Art and the Bazaar in Ashkabad, Turkmenistan

In an attempt to give a broad review of the complexities of the area of Eurasia, the country of Turkmenistan and the Taklimakan Desert have are discussed, hereunder.

Turkmenistan (or Turkmenia) is a country in Central Asia, bounded on the west by the Caspian Sea, on the north by Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, on the east by Uzbekistan, and on the south by Afghanistan and Iran. Its capital is Ashkhabad. Until 1991, Turkmenistan was a republic of the USSR.

Land, People & Economy
More than 80% of Turkmenistan consists of the Kara Kum desert. Along the border with Iran is the Kopet Dagh, a mountain range that rises to 2,941 m (9,649 ft). The climate is arid and has mean temperatures ranging from 0 degrees C (32 degrees F) in January to 32 degrees C (90 degrees F) in July.

The population is concentrated in oases along the Amu Darya river in the east, along the foot of the Kopet Dagh, and along the Murgab and Tedzhen rivers. The Turkmen people, who form about 72% of the population, are Sunnite Muslim in religion and speak a Turkic language. The largest minorities are Russians and Uzbeks (about 9% each). Major cities, in addition to Ashkhabad, include Chardzhou (1991 est. pop., 166,400); Tashauz (117,000); Mary, or Merv (94,900); Nebit-Dag (89,100); and Krasnovodsk (59,500).

The leading economic activities are petroleum and natural gas extraction, sheep raising, and cotton farming. Agriculture is facilitated by the Kara Kum Canal, which irrigates the desert with water drawn from the Amu Darya. Since Turkmenistan became independent, American and European businesses have been negotiating agreements to develop its natural gas reserves, and a rail line has been started to connect Ashkhabad with the Persian Gulf via Iran.

History & Government
The nomadic Turkmen tribes were the last of the Central Asians to be subdued by Russia. Not until 1884-85 was Russian rule established in the area, and then only after a fierce struggle, typified by the bitterly fought Russian siege of the Goktepe fortress in 1881.  The Turkmens achieved political unity for the first time with the establishment of the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic in 1924.  Urbanization and industry were introduced beginning in the 1930s, and an emerging national intelligensia was by and large supportive of Soviet rule.  The perestroika reforms of the 1980s made little headway in Turkmenistan.  Former Communist party chief Saparmurad Niyazov, who was elected president in 1992, has shown some willingness to move toward a market-oriented economy and has sought foreign allies because of his uneasy relationship with neighboring Uzbekistan, but democratization is not on his agenda.

Asia - Boundaries & Topography

{tah'-klah mah-kahn'}

Chinese (WADE-GILES) T'A-K'O-LA-MA-KAN SHA-MO, or (Pinyin) TAKLIMAKAN SHAMO, great desert of Central Asia, and one of the world's largest sandy wastes.  The Taklimakan is a mostly uninhabited desert in Xinjiang (Sinkiang) province, northwestern China, bordered on the north, south, and west by the Tian Shan (Tien Shan), Kunlun, and Pamir ranges. It occupies an area of 272,000 square km or (105,000 square miles) in the central Tarim Basin in China.

The desert is crossed by the Tarim River, which disappears in the Lop Nor region to the east. The surface consists of shifting sand dunes with some exposed sandstone and clay. The Taklimakan is Asia's driest desert. Temperatures range from 38 degrees C (100 degrees F) in summer to - 9 degrees C (15 degrees F) in winter. The sparse vegetation consists of tamarisk and grass. Indigenous animals include gazelles, wild boars, wolves, and foxes.

The Taklimakan Mummies
They are one of the great mysteries of modern China: ancient mummies found buried throughout the Taklimakan Shamo Desert, located in Tukestan, South-West China in the 1970s and 1980s.



Fig's 4 & 5. Taklimakan Mummies - Cherchen Man and Child

The bodies amazingly well-preserved, but more incredibly, many were clearly Caucasians Europeans who apparently lived in the heart of central Asia as far back as 4,000 years ago. No one is quite sure why they were there or why their culture disappeared.

Researchers think that they simply may have followed herds from the steppes of Eastern Europe and settled in the oases scattered throughout the huge desert. What they do know is that the mummies, essentially freeze-dried in the arid desert air, are a remarkable find that raises new questions about long-lost connections between East and West.

The Takla Makan Desert reaches elevations of 3,900 to 4,900 feet (1,200 to 1,500 m) in the west and south and 2,600 to 3,300 feet (800 to 1000 m) in the east and north. It is flanked by high mountain ranges including the Tien Shan to the north, the Kunlun Mountains to the south, and the Pamirs to the west; there is a gradual transition to the marshy Lop Nor basin in the east.



Fig's 6 & 7.  Taklimakan Mummies - Woman & Man.

The surface of the Takla Makan is composed of friable alluvial deposits several hundred feet thick, with a wind-blown sand cover as much as 1,000 feet (300 m) thick.  As a result of the desert's complex wind conditions, there is a variety of wind-formed topographic features, among them pyramidal dunes reaching 650 to 1,000 feet in height.  Two small mountain chains composed of sandstones and clays, the arc-shaped Mazar Mountains and the Chiao-lo (Chöl) Mountains, rise in the western Takla Makan.

The rivers draining the Kunlun Mountains penetrate from 60 to 120 miles (100 to 200 km) into the desert, gradually drying up in its sands.  The climate is moderately warm and markedly continental in the Takla Makan.  Precipitation is very low, ranging from 1.5 inches (38 mm) annually in the west to 0.4 inch (10 mm) in the east. Vegetation and animal life are very sparse, except in the few river valleys and the peripheral regions of the desert, and there is no fixed human population. The exploitation of vast petroleum reserves has been undertaken in both the northern and southern regions of the desert.

Fig 8. The 'Camp of Death' in the Taklamakan (1894) after Sven Hedin (artist unknown).

Related Articles:
* The Lost Cities of the Silk Road

Fig 9. The ruins of the ancient Buddhist city of Jiaohe stand a few kilometers outside Turfan, in Xinjiang Province.  October, 1993.

Exploring the Northern Silk Road

The Silk Road Photo Gallery

* Eurasian Origins Foundation

* Brief History of the Uyghurs

Fig 9.  Uighur Girl of the Khotan oasis, on horseback.  This girl wears a homespun silk dress typical of the Uighur nationality.  She lives in a village near Khotan, adjacent to the 2000-year-old ruins of Maligawat, an ancient Silk Road caravansarie and Buddhist city-state.  September, 1993.

* Caucasian Mummies found in China

* 300 Mummy Links

* Niya, a Pompeii on the Silk Road

* 2000 Year old Mummies

* Takla Makan Mummies

* EurasiaNet

* Turkistan

* The History Mystery

* The Cherchen Mummies

* The Mystery of the Mummies

* The Desert Mummies

* The Silk Road Foundation

* The Lost City of Ubar

* A Silk Road Timeline

Fig 10.  An Uighur Family under their arbor.

- Dedicated to Emilia A. Grosser -

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