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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.