The oldest archaeological site in Central Asia, Sarazm, in northern Tajikistan, was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2010. Sarazm is located ten kilometers from the Tajik city of Penjikent and five kilometers east of the Uzbek city of Samarkand.
A local resident discovered the remains of this archaeological site with a small hand ax in 1974. The excavations were later taken over by the archaeologist Abdualahjan Ishaqov, who led the excavations until 1997, at which point they were taken over by archaeologist Abdul Ra’uf, who has continued them under his leadership to the present day. These two archaeologists have worked in conjunction with archaeologists and researchers from Tajikistan, Russia, France and the United States unearthing relics and artifacts from Sarazm.
The land area of Sarazm is approximately 130 hectares and archaeologists believe the site is 5.5 thousand years old. In addition, they have also identified four distinct time periods of habitation for the site, which stretch from 3500 BC to 2000 BC.
In the areas around Sarazm archaeologists have discovered pottery fragments, bone shards and remains of both administrative and residential buildings. According to Abdul Ra’uf these discoveries demonstrate that the residents of Sarazm traded commercially with peoples from the areas of present-day Afghanistan and Iran as well as with peoples from northern India. He says that the primary religion for the residents of Sarazm was Mithraism but that they gradually migrated toward a practice of Zoroastrianism. Proof of these claims can be found in the discovery of an ancient fire temple at this site.
Relics and artifacts discovered at Sarazm are preserved in both a local museum in Penjikent and the Tajikistan National Museum in Dushanbe. In recent years the government of Tajikistan has erected protective roofs over the archaeological sites of Sarazm. Archaeologists are hopeful that the international community will provide additional funding to continue to support both the cultural and historical legacy of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.