HomeTURKEY TRAVELLERSArchaeology of the First Turks by Prof Dr Şevket Dönmez

Archaeology of the First Turks by Prof Dr Şevket Dönmez

Abstract: Archaeology of the Early Turks: An Archaeological Perspective on the Homeland Problem of the Turks, Prof Dr Şevket Dönmez


  1. Writing systems
  2. Troubled Homeland Admissions
  3. Archaeoclimatology
  4. Turkish Protohistory/Prehistory: The First Turks
  5. Archaeopolitics
  6. Homeland
  7. Ancient DNA Studies
  8. Steppe nomads Sakalar (East)
  9. Steppe nomads Scythians (Western)
  10. Western Turkologists


Writing systems

It appeared in Mesopotamia around 3200 BC, and in Egypt around 3100 BC, that is, in the late 4th millennium BC. The Turks, on the other hand, entered writing approximately 3700-3800 years after the Sumerians and Egyptians. The main problem with the history of the Turks, who are at least as ancient as the Mesopotamian and Egyptian societies, is that they could not explain themselves with their own resources for thousands of years. In other words, Turkish communities began to express themselves thousands of years after the Sumerians, Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Persians, Romans and Chinese. In this process, we can find all kinds of information about Turkish societies in Chinese, Persian, Greek and Roman sources.

When the information provided by external naming (exony) about Turkish groups consisting of various tribes and therefore having many names came together, a great terminological complexity was experienced in Turcology . The geographical harmony of hundreds of ethnic group names mentioned in Chinese, Persian, Greek and Roman written sources with the lands where Turks lived has been achieved, on the other hand, the debates on exactly which tribe, community or state they refer to have not ended until today.

In this context, it is revealed that the Turks passed through the historical periods in the first quarter of the 8th century AD with the script known as the Göktürk or Orkhon alphabet (Ergin 1976: 340-373), the long unwritten process of approximately 3700 years before this date should be accepted as the Protohistory of Turkish history.

Prof. Dr. Şevket Dönmez, Istanbul University, Faculty of Letters, Department of Archeology, Department of Protohistory and Near Eastern Archeology, Beyazıt 34453 Istanbul, Turkey. [email protected]

Troubled Homeland Admissions

Turks are privileged others in world history . With its nomadic origins, herding, hunting, nomadic lifestyles and especially warrior characters, it is a society that is feared but respected as well. This situation manifests itself in Gog and Magog (Ezekiel 38, 2-3, 14-16, 18; 39, 1-6, 11-12) and Gog and Magog (Genesis 10, 2; John’s Revelation 20, 7-8; al-Kahf Surah 94. Verses; Anbiya Surah 96-97. Verses) inaccessible, imperceptible and incomprehensible holy book societies, such as the association with Turks1 .

It has been suggested by numerous researchers and writers that the first Turks emerged with a nomadic lifestyle in the Altai, especially in Eastern Altai or Southern Siberia and even in Western Mongolia (see Map 1), and that they were people of shepherd culture3. This view, which was constructed especially by historians and Turcologists of Western origin , but which cannot be supported by any archaeological evidence and findings , has taken an important place in our scientific memory until today, as it carries the insistence that determines the first homeland of the Turks . To this situation, a Turkist thought, centered on Russia and rooted outside, has been added.

The fact that Western Turkologists such as W. Radloff, A. Vámbéry, R. Grousset and VV Barthold4 pioneered studies on Turkish history, culture, anthropology and language, formed the basis of the debates that have carried over to the present day. It is remarkable in many respects that these important scientists pointed to the geographies of Southern Siberia, Altai and Mongolia, and especially the Eastern Altai (see Map 1), as the first lands where the Turks appeared and appeared in history. The aim hidden here is most likely to place the Turkish homeland in regions as far away as possible from Neasia , which represents the civilized world , and to give the Turks Mongoloid belonging. Zeki Velidî Togan was the first to notice and criticize this situation5.

The views of Westerners, who are the founders of Turcology , about Turks have been discussed for many years by important Turcologists such as Fuad Köprülü, Zeki Velidî Togan, Emel Esin, İbrahim Kafesoğlu, Abdülkadir Inan, Osman Turan and Bahaeddin Ögel6 , but a certain consensus could not be reached , especially on the first homeland and race. On the other hand, Zeki Velidi Togan approached with suspicion that the Altai geography and its immediate surroundings were the first homeland of the Turks, and expressed his opinion that the north of the Aral Sea and the North Caspian shores could be decisive for the earliest dates of the Turks7. Osman Turan, on the other hand , drew attention to the wide regions spread between the Altai-Ural Mountains on the subject of homeland .

The most interesting point in the debates on homeland acceptances that we have considered so far is that the Central Asian archaeological findings were used not by archaeologists but by researchers from other disciplines. These researchers, who do not know the ordinary archaeological methods, could not use them in the context of archaeological findings, and on top of that, they could not make the necessary evaluations in terms of stylecritical.

In this context, 3 Klaproth 1824-28; Hammer 1832; Schott 1836; Castren 1856; Vambery 1885; Koppers 1941. 4 Barthold 1945. 5 Togan 1981: 9. 6 For discussions on the subject, see. Avcıoğlu 1978: 297-301. 7 Togan 1981: 149-150. 8 Turan 1979: 70. We have to say that the problematic acceptance of the homeland based on the first Turks is not compatible with archaeological identities and historical facts.

Although history, anthropology, linguistics and historical geography were among the great debates observed in the long process of Turcology , which started from the second half of the 19th century and reached the present day, archeology has never been adequate. For this reason, questions such as why the Mountainous Altai Region, Siberia and Western Mongolia were offered as the first homeland of the Turks , why this issue is still insisted on and why another region is not considered, are due to the fact that the science of archeology is ignored or not used consciously. remains unanswered.

The intellectual pursuit of Turcology was directly reflected in the world of education, and since the beginning of the 1930s, Central Asian Turkish history began to be given a wider place in history teaching in Turkey. At the first congress of the Turkish Historical Society held in 1932, Yusuf Akçura and Afet Inan defended the Altays as the homeland of Anatolian Turks in the papers they presented. History textbooks in Turkey began to be written in line with this view in the same period9.

Result: Homeland

Turks are a steppe society and are the main element of the culture that was born and developed in the steppes. The steppe culture was founded on the equestrian nomadism system from the earliest times, with horse breeding and shepherding at its center. The Uvarazmi (Iron Age) – Chrosmaia (Ancient Age) geography, which will be called Khorasan and Transoxiana in Islamic periods, in the north and east of the Caspian Sea since the Early Iron Age, is the homeland of the Turks living in Near East today .

The earliest archaeological finds, whose belonging to Turkish communities can be determined with certainty, come from West Central Asia, where the Oxus and Jakartes rivers form the western part of the Caspian Sea. The archaeological images of the sakā tigrahaudā and sakā haomavargā clusters in Persian sources show great similarities with the historical Turkish type.

The historical ties of the Oghuzs, whose existence has been proven in the region since the 6th century AD, especially with the Sakas, point to a holistic geography of Turkish societies from the 10th century BC to the present, the Saka – Huns – Gokturks – Oghuz / Turkmen lineage. Looking at all these, it seems possible to draw the borders of the first Turkish homeland . Archaeological findings are gradually increasing at the point that Khorasan and Transoxiana, which the Persians called Tura – Turan due to the existence of Proto-Turk and Turkish clusters from the earliest dates, were the homeland of Turkish societies in the historical process.

Prof. Dr. Şevket Dönmez, Istanbul University, Faculty of Letters, Department of Archeology, Department of Protohistory and Near Eastern Archeology, Beyazıt 34453 Istanbul, Turkey. [email protected]


Archaeoclimatology is a discipline that offers very important clues for the determination of the Turkish homeland . Archaeoclimatological findings indicate that Southern Siberia, the Altai Highlands and Eastern Mongolia were adjacent to glaciers in the 1st Millennium BC and had a very harsh climate .He has proven that he has generations. Siberia is a very large region starting from the Ural Mountains and stretching east over the Yenisei River. This region, which has vast lands, is divided into two parts as East and West Siberia. West Siberia extends up to the Yenisei and Ob rivers and consists of flat areas. Siberia has short summers and very long winters. Since the region is open to the Arctic Ocean, the cold of the north quickly shifts towards the south without encountering any obstacles. After the stunted grasses and plants, thorn-leaved trees begin to the south. The climatologicalfeatures show that Siberia is a geography suitable for the life of small communities that make a living only by hunting. These evaluations reveal that the views on the Siberian origin of the Proto-Turk clusters, which spread over a huge area extending from the shores of the Caspian Sea to Fergana and inland China during the Iron Age, should be reviewed. It points out that Siberia, which has a sparse population due to climatic difficulties even today, did not have a climate and ecosystem that would have created an important civilization 3000 years ago.

There is a need for new evaluations that the societies living in the region in pre-Iron Age Siberia may be related to the Proto-Mongols. It does not coincide with scientific facts to argue that the Turkish communities, spread over a huge geography stretching from Western Mongolia in the east to the Danube Basin in the west, from Siberia in the north to Egypt in the south, originated in a region that had no economic attraction, had no high civilizational infrastructure , and was far from the civilized world. .

When the cultural and religious development stages are evaluated, it is observed that none of the things inherited by the Turks today were found in Southern Siberia and the Mountainous Altai Region and Mongolia 3000 years ago, and there are no archaeological finds that can be associated with the Turks before the Iron Age. The Saka kurgans of the Late Iron Age and the Hun finds in the following periods, Göktürk written documents and finds should not be related to the derivation, but should be the result of the expansion and expansion policies of the Turks. 9 See. History I. Prehistoric Times and Ancient Times. Istanbul. 1931. 6 Sevket Donmez

Prof. Dr. Şevket Dönmez, Istanbul University, Faculty of Letters, Department of Archeology, Department of Protohistory and Near Eastern Archeology, Beyazıt 34453 Istanbul, Turkey. [email protected]


In the early 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Western researchers began intensive archaeological research in the Caspian Sea Basin to determine the Indo-European homeland . Among these, a chronology constructed by the Belgian archeology delegation was sufficient to show that the archaeological activities of the Westerners were being developed under the leadership of archaeopolitical ideas . According to the researches of the Belgians, the Scythian Period between 800 BC and 200 BC, the Hun Period between 200 BC and 500 AD, and the Turkic Period between 500-900 AD10.

As it can be understood from the new chronological order in question, it is desired to emphasize that even the Huns are not of Turkish origin, which is a scientific fact that they are one of the oldest Turkish communities, let alone the Scythians.

In the light of our current knowledge, the first society in history that we can connect with the Turks is the Scythians in general. On the other hand, who the Scythians are, in which regions they live and what kind of social structure they have should be defined correctly. The Scythians are the first nomadic people of the steppe to be recorded in historical records, and the traces made through Protohistory show that they entered the historical scene at the beginning of the 1st Millennium BC. The name Scythian is likely to be a much broader term than the name of an ethnic group or political formation.

Archaeological findings attributed to the Scythians show that the human clusters that made up this society were not culturally homogeneous. While the ancient Anatolian historian Herodotos referred to the Scythians as Scythos (Historiai, I, 104-105), the Persians called this society Saka/Sakas11. The Scythians/Sakas, who lived in West-Central Asia (Western Turkestan) and its immediate surroundings from the 9th century BC to the 2nd century BC, first appear in the Neo-Assyrian records as Iškuza12 or Ašguzai13 in the written documents of Neasia.

Urartians are Scythians 10 Burgeois/Burgeois/Cammaert/Decleir/Langohr/Mikkelsen/Huele 1999: 309-311. 11 The Sculptures and Inscription of Darius the Great on the Rock of Behistûn in Persia. London, 1907. 12 Salvini/Salvini 2003: 228. 13 Luckenbill 1968: 517-533. He called it iš-gi-gu-lu14. It is not a correct approach to evaluate the Scythians, who live a nomadic life in a vast geography stretching from Eastern Europe to East Turkestan, and have an economy based on the spoils of war and livestock, by considering them on the basis of a single ethnos.

Herodotos stated that these people did not speak a single language, and it was understood by seven translators with them (Historiai, IV, 24). The information given by Herodotus about the number of languages ​​spoken in the Scythian geography is both very valuable and vital for understanding the archaeoethnicity of the Scythian clusters. Today’s Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Gagauzia, Hungary, Ukraine, Crimea, Belarus, Russian Federation, Bashkortostan, Chuvashia, Karachay-Balkaria, Yakutia, Tatarstan, Altai, Tuva, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Iran, Mongolia and East Turkestan The ideas that the Scythian clusters, who lived in a huge geography formed by the .

In this context, it can be thought that the Scythians, who are understood not to consist of a single race or ethnos, were included in a confederation system consisting of seven different ethnic groups speaking at least seven languages. Hungarians, Bulgarians, Russians, Ukrainians, Gagauzes, Ossetians, Dagestanis, Karachay-Balkarian Turks, Turks of Turkey and Near East, Azerbaijani Turks, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Turkmens, Persians, Tajiks and Uyghurs live in the wide geography where the Scythians lived. These nations, living in the same geography today, have made efforts to establish historical bonds with the Scythians. They carry out archeology, anthropology and history researches related to this subject and projects for their ancient citizens, Scythians. In this respect, it is observed that the concept of Scythian has a strong archaeopolitical counterpart today.

Among the ancient written sources, we know the Scythians in the most detailed way from the statements of Herodotus. The (Eastern) Scythian clusters, which the Persians called Saka, can be traced from the written sources and archaeological findings in Iran. The steppe nomads described by Herodotus are (Western) Scythians, and these are clusters close to the ancient Greek world, which have cultural and commercial connections with the colonial cities on the northern shores of the Black Sea. Herodotus reports that the (Western) Scythians who lived in the steppes north of the Black Sea consisted of three large clusters; Nomadic Scythians (Historiai, IV, 19), Farmer Scythians (Historiai, IV, 18), and Royal (Magnificent) Scythians (Historiai, IV, 20). Kurgans in this region are located between the lower Dnieper river region and the Kerch Strait on both sides, namely between the Black Sea and the Sea of ​​Azov, It is concentrated along the Kuban River and in the Crimea. In these tombs, valuable findings that the (Western) Scythians produced in local workshops under the influence of ancient Greek art were found.

It is observed that the Scythian warriors depicted on the aforementioned finds are quite different from the (Eastern) Scythians with their large appearance, long hair, thick beard and mustache, European face type and clothes (Fig. 1-5). In this context, we can say that the majority of Scythians living in the steppes in the west and north of the Black Sea, unlike the Sakas, are not Turanian but Indo-European in appearance15. This physical feature can be considered to be the general characteristic of the Scythian clusters west of the Volga and especially in the north of the Black Sea. The Asian features of the (Eastern) Scythians/Sakas are Turanian and compatible with the historical Turkish type (Fig. 6-13)16. These different face types are archaeological findings pointing to separate genetic origins. 14 Melikishvili 127, 133. 15 Piotrovsky 1976: 6-8; Raevsky 1976: 15-16; Het Goud der Skythen. Brussel (1991): 97, 99, 113-116, 123; Simpson/Pankova 2017: 188, 197, 204-206, 269, 292-294. 16 Simpson/Pankova 2017: 57, 106, 148. 8 Şevket Dönmez

The issue of whether (Western) Scythians (Fig. 1-5) and (Eastern) Scythians (Fig. 6-13) living in neighboring geographies that complement each other and have similar lifestyles, but reflected in the art of painting with different facial appearances, have the same ethnos. It is an issue that has been discussed and not agreed upon. The (Western) Scythians, whose life, culture and funeral rites Herodotos told, were geographically separate from the Sakas, in the light of archaeological findings. It is observed that the (Western) Scythians, who are close to the ancient Western world and described in their works, lived in the vast steppes stretching from Eastern Europe and the Volga Basin. Sakalar, which can be traced in Persian written documents and archaeological findings, is in the east of the Caspian Sea, in the Oxus (Amu Derya, Ceyhun) and Jakartes (Sir Derya, Seyhun) basins,

prof. Dr. Şevket Dönmez, Istanbul University, Faculty of Letters, Department of Archeology, Department of Protohistory and Near Eastern Archeology, Beyazıt 34453 Istanbul, Turkey. [email protected]

Turkish Protohistory/Prehistory: Who Were the First Turks?

The concept of “Turkish Protohistory/Prehistory” is an archaeological approach that is brought to the fore in this article for the first time in ancient sciences, which constitutes a new key to the solution of the homeland problem and researches Turkish societies, and should not be confused with the term “Proto-Turk/Pre-Turk”. In this context, the use of written sources and archaeological findings belonging to Greek, Roman, Persian and Chinese cultures that surrounded the ancient Turkish geography with new approaches seems to enable not only the homeland problem of the Turks, but also many issues to be started to be discussed in a healthy way in public and scientific platforms.

These discussions will also enable the identification of cultural and archaeological values ​​in the historical geography of the Turks, but whose relations with the Turks are viewed with suspicion. It is seen that the archaeological findings and written sources belonging to the Persians have not been sufficiently taken into account by those who are interested in pre-Islamic Turkish archeology, culture and history. When the Persian findings about the Turks are examined, it is observed that the archeological, religious and cultural evidences show that the Turks, who started their historical period in the early 8th century AD, had a long-term “Protohistory/Prehistory” traced from the Near East and going back to the 10th century BC.

Prof. Dr. Şevket Dönmez, Istanbul University, Faculty of Letters, Department of Archeology, Department of Protohistory and Near Eastern Archeology, Beyazıt 34453 Istanbul, Turkey. [email protected]


Ancient DNA studies

In order to reverse this situation, the ancient DNA studies were accelerated by the Westerners. While it is known that there is no pure gene left in the world, it is observed that the studies in question are carried out to complicate the historical facts through genetics. It is clear that trying to explain everything in terms of genes is being made a way of distorting the facts and making cultural racism . In this context, as the oldest geography with the historical and cultural connections of today’s Turkish communities, I think that the vast lands east of the Caspian Sea , which the Iranians call Saka Land in the Ancient Ages, Turan in the Middle Ages, then Turkistan, and Transoxiana by the Arabs, are the first known homeland of the Turks .

In this context, it is an archaeological reality that nomads belonging to the Turanian race, who did not belong to the Indo-European family, lived in the vast lands to the east of the Caspian Sea, which is adjacent to the Iranian geography during the Iron Age. We can say that West-Central Asia, known as Uvarazmi in the Persian period, Chorasmia in the Ancient Period, Tura, Turan, Khorasan in the Late Antique, Early Middle Ages, and Transoxiana in the Early Islamic Period, is the geography where the first historical identification of Turks can be made. It is seen that this process, which dates back to 1000 BC, was a period in which the most concrete findings regarding the Prehistory of the Turks and their homeland were followed.

Prof. Dr. Şevket Dönmez, Istanbul University, Faculty of Letters, Department of Archeology, Department of Protohistory and Near Eastern Archeology, Beyazıt 34453 Istanbul, Turkey. [email protected]



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