History, archeology, numismatics. What can they tell about the Kani-Gut mine?
Brief rationale for the expedition
In order to start archaeological research in the vicinity of the Kani-Gut cave, scientists put forward a number of hypotheses. One of them seemed to us very interesting, which must be checked during the archaeological expedition.
Based on the materials known to science, we can trace the history of the development of the mine, the development of various ores and the reasons why it was abandoned at the time of the start of scientific research. To do this, it is necessary to analyze which states the mine was a part of. How did the rise or fall of these formations affect the functioning of ancient workings. What minerals were mined and how they were used. Was the abandonment of the mine by the beginning of the New Age due to its depletion as a result of intensive exploitation, or was it influenced by others, including geopolitical reasons. These are questions, the answer to which will allow us to get closer to solving some of the riddles of Kani-Gut.
First of all, based on known sources, it is necessary to determine the possible start time for development. M.E. Masson in his book “The Mine of Doom” points to the discovery of a vessel of the Kushan period near Kan-i-Gut in 1952. In 1965, archaeologists G.Y. Dresvyanskaya and E.B. Pruger, participants in the work on the revision of ancient mine workings, found traces of unbaked ore piles and fragments of ceramics of the II-III centuries, which also corresponds to the era of the Kushan Empire.
Thus, the oldest artifacts of Kani-Gut indicate the fact that the beginning of metal mining in the ancient mine began at the beginning of the 1st millennium AD. However, it is not possible to establish exactly what volumes were mined and what metals were mined. The very fact of the presence of Kushan artifacts near the cave as the oldest ones found by archaeologists is not the final verdict on the dating of the beginning of the development of the mine. It is impossible to establish exactly which states the mine was under the influence of in antiquity. Was it Ancient Ferghana – Davan or the Greco-Bactrian kingdom. Bactria became the center of the formation of the empire, which included the territories of modern Afghanistan, Pakistan and North India. The Central Asian states of Sogdiana, Khorezm, and Fergana entered the sphere of influence of the Kushans and experienced a strong influence of their culture, primarily the Hindu-Buddhist element.
In the I-III centuries AD. there is a flowering of economy and culture in the possessions of the Kushans. In many ways, this heyday is associated with the beginning of the functioning of the Great Silk Road, along which economic ties with China developed.
In the state of the Kushans, the import of gold and silver is known not only from China, but also from Rome, which were used for minting coins and making jewelry, which indicates a certain shortage of precious metals in the empire. To eliminate this deficit could own production. This can explain the appearance of the first miners near the Kani-Gut cave in the 1st-3rd centuries AD.
The decline of the Kushan state and the subsequent conquest of its territory by the Hephthalites (Chionites) in the 5th century BC. slightly reduced the level of economic development and culture. Ephthalite rulers mint their own coins in the Persian manner. Separate possessions of the Ephthalite state, among which Bactria, Sogdiana, Chach, Ferghana are mentioned – the regions adjacent to or in close proximity to the silver mines of Kani-Guta, issue their own coins. There was no single coin type.
Silver is used not only for minting coins, but also for the production of jewelry and even in the funeral rites of the Hephthalites. In any case, the Ephthalites and some of their possessions make extensive use of silver, the production of which is probably growing in Kani-Gut. But what technologies were used to extract silver from the cave? This question has yet to be answered by archaeologists.
In 567, the Hephtalite state was defeated by the Turkic Khagan Istemi, who entered into an alliance with the Iranian Shah Khosrov Anushirvan. Central Asia ended up in the possession of the Turkic Khagans. Their invasion could stimulate the development of iron ore in new lands for them. It is possible that Turkic technologies for working with metals were introduced in the era of the Turkic Khaganates and into mining at the Kani-Gut mine.
The defeat by China of the Eastern Turkic Khaganate in 630 and the Western Turkic Khaganate in 659 drew these territories into the orbit of Chinese influence for almost half a century.
Ferghana and Sogd, after the defeat of Sasanian Iran by the Arabs, became part of the Arab Caliphate. The defeat of the Chinese army by the Arabs in the Battle of Atlakh in 751 contributed to the final involvement of Central Asia in the orbit of Arab and Islamic influence. The amount of money in circulation is also growing. Coins of the caliphate and imitating them are distributed in Maverannahr and beyond.
The increased role of Kani-Gut in the extraction of precious metals is evidenced by the fact that Chach and its silver mines are allocated in the tax system of the Caliphate as a special taxable unit.
Before the Arab conquest, Turkestan was a highly developed civilization. Large cities, such as Samarkand, were supplied with water through lead pipes from mountain springs. Watermelons, which Turkestan was famous for, were delivered to the Caliph’s table in Baghdad in lead boxes lined with ice.
In these testimonies, we also see the massive use of lead, the extraction of which, apparently, increases during this period in Kani-Gut.
The culture of Central Asia reached its peak in the Middle Ages during the Samanid state in 875-999 and the Karakhanid state in 940-1212.
The rapid growth of cities and trade of old megacities and new cities, intensive trade along the Great Silk Road required an increase in the money supply in circulation. Mints in this era are available in many large cities of Maverannahr and Semirechie – Navaket (Ak-Beshim settlement), Uzgen, Chach, Osh, Bukhara and Samarkand.
Here coins were minted, jewelry was made, which dispersed all over the world in exchange for goods. The metal was supplied from a mine where pure silver was mined. Khazret called this mine Kuh-i-Sim. According to many scientists, Kuh-i-Sim is the Kan-i-Gut mine, where the mining of silver, lead and iron continued for several centuries. Thus, Kani-Gut is a visible evidence of large-scale mining of metals throughout the whole millennium.
In connection with the growth of cities of crafts and trade, including international trade, the issue of banknotes increased sharply. The amount of money in circulation sharply exceeded the possibilities of silver mining, including at the Kani-Gut mine. Another reason may be the depletion of ore-bearing veins at the mine itself, which had been mined for more than a thousand years by the 10th-11th centuries. The third, most likely reason for the decline in the share of silver in money circulation is the impossibility of medieval technologies to achieve a qualitative increase in silver mining. The workings became more and more extended and deep. The geological situation threatened, and probably was accompanied by numerous collapses and floods. Poisonous gases caused dizziness. It is possible that the reason for the ailments of the ancient miners was the strong ionization of the air in the cave.
In 1914, on the initiative of V.I. Vernadsky in Kani-Gut, a Radium Expedition was organized under the leadership of Professor A.A. Chernov. In the samples taken, radioactivity was absent or was weak. The strong ionization of the air in the cave remains a mystery. In the periods following the Mongol conquest, silver production at the mine declined. In the Timurid and Sheibanid periods, silver coins were issued in a small series. The main array of coins made of copper.
The change in the geopolitical situation also influenced the decline in the level of silver production in the mines of Central Asia. For one and a half thousand years, trade along the Great Silk Road has been the main artery of world trade. It contributed to the prosperity of cities and states, stimulated mining on an industrial scale.
What was the main reason for the decline of both general economic life and mining in Central Asia? The discovery by Europeans of sea routes to the New World, India and China led to the fading of trade along the Great Silk Road and the decline of cities and states of the regions lying on this route. The decline in commodity turnover also affected the condition of the silver mines. But, this did not mean complete desolation.
In 1976 and 1984 academician V.M. Flat. The square-shaped Fergana coins he discovered indicate that mining could continue in the 18th-19th centuries. In the era of the Kokand Khanate. Kudoyar Khan sent people to the mine in search of treasure, as a rule, to no avail. M.E. Masson refers to information that local Kyrgyz in the first half of the 19th century mined lead in the Kani-Guta region for their hunting needs.
Geological expeditions of 1920, 1924, 1942, and especially the expedition of 1948-1951, revealed a rich content of lead and silver. In 1952, the extraction of lead-silver ores began. Strong flooding of workings and difficult geological conditions did not allow to continue mining. Attempts to pump out water with powerful pumps did not bring the desired results. In 1956 the mine was closed. This was the last attempt to revive the legendary Kani Gut and resume production on an industrial scale.
The development of the deposit by modern methods using the latest mining equipment ended for the same reasons as in the Middle Ages. Kani-Gut continues to keep its secrets and treasures. The cave is waiting for future explorers.