Sarmish-say, Uzbekistan – 4,000 petroglyphs in dramatic gorge setting 2


To say there are many petroglyph sites in Central Asia is a stupendous understatement. There are 150 known rock art sites in Uzbekistan alone; and there are hundreds of sites in neighbouring Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. Random isolated petroglyphs can be found scattered across every one of these countries. Sarmish-say (Sarmish Gorge) is the largest known rock art site in Uzbekistan. It contains over 4,000 petroglyphs.

Sarmish-say, Uzbekistan

Sarmish Gorge, Uzbekistan. Photo credit: Benjamin White

Sarmish-say

The oldest petroglyphs at Sarmish-say date from the Stone Age and Bronze Age (6th Millennium BCE – 2nd Millennium BCE).

These carvings typically depict auruchs, which are a type of ancient wild cattle thought to have become extinct locally – through over-hunting – in the 2nd Millennium BCE.

Sarmish-say, Uzbekistan

Photo credit: Benjamin White

There are also images of lions, leopards, cheetahs, tigers – all of which are now locally extinct – along with argali (wild mountain sheep), saiga antelope, Asian wild ass, and wild boar.

Sarmish-say, Uzbekistan

Photo credit: Benjamin White

More recent imagery, dating from the Early Iron Age, include pictures of hunters with bows and arrows, riders on horseback, and weaponry including swords and daggers.

One petroglyph from the Early Middle Ages depicts several priests worshipping at a Zoroastrian fire temple.

Sarmish-say, Uzbekistan

Photo credit: Benjamin White

The petroglyphs are scattered along a 2.5 kilometre section of gorge.

Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of flint quarries, shrines, burial pits, silicon pits, simple dwellings and fortified structures in the lands surrounding the gorge. Sarmish-say is on the tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage status.

Sarmish-say, Uzbekistan

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit


Practical information:

Sarmish-say is 45 kilometres northeast of Navoi city, in the Kuratau Mountains, a spur of the Nurata Mountains. There are no public transport options to reach the site. Visitors will need to source their own transportation.

To access the petroglyphs you must first drive through the Sarmish Children’s Health Camp (a summer camp). Speak nicely to the guards at the gate, and they should let you drive through – as long as the camp isn’t in use. If the guards don’t let you through, then you face a trek of several kilometres to reach the site.

If you’re interested in the petroglyphs of Central Asia, you can read all about them in the ICOMOS Rock Art in Central Asia Thematic Study.

Sarmish-say, Uzbekistan

Photo credit: Benjamin White


More on petroglyphs:

Gobustan, Azerbaijan – stone age petroglyphs that inspired Thor Heyerdahl

Langar, Tajikistan – petroglyphs and Pamiri spirit shrines


More on Uzbekistan:

Gur-e-Amir, Samarkand – Tomb of Timur

Khiva – silk road city, desert oasis, hub for slave traders

Kalyan Minaret, Bukhara, Uzbekistan – the magnificent Tower of Death 

Samarkand – turquoise-tiled capital of the Timurid Empire

The Ulugh Beg Observatory, Samarkand


Posts on Qaraqalpaqstan:

Chilpik – Zoroastrian Tower of the Dead

Kurgashin-kala – desert fortress of Khorezm

Nukus – Cultural wasteland? I think not.

Toprak Kala & Qyzyl Kala

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

2 thoughts on “Sarmish-say, Uzbekistan – 4,000 petroglyphs in dramatic gorge setting