National Geographic : 1990 Mar
Local people gather as a team member excavates Grave Two. The burial sites had been dug down through rubble and ancient temple walls that were unrelated to the graves themselves. Though local farmers knew the mound as the "golden hill," they had forgotten why. One grave offered a clue: Field mice had looted it, and their nearby burrows were filled with thin gold plate lets. Perhaps the mice had hauled some gold to the surface, where farmers found it. Hence the name. (Continuedfrom page 50) a village in Greece. Sheberghan was on the frontier of the struggling Afghan nation and mired in poverty. Cotton fields pressed against the mud-brick houses, and merchants sat stoically among their stacks of melons and eggplants at the central bazaar. When night fell, everything was still. Neighbors talked to neighbors in the darkness be tween houses, and packs of hungry dogs circled in the streets. It was much as Bactria must have been during the Dark Period. Only in the morning, when the trucks started up, did the 20th century return. On and off for nine years we dug into the mounds near She berghan. At first we focused on an obvious site called Yemshi Tepe, the ruins of a monumental city dating from the first cen tury A.D. Inside its walls we found a citadel, perhaps the palace of the local ruler who controlled a cluster of smaller villages that now appeared as small swells of sunbaked earth. But surely an earlier people had farmed this plain. Day after dusty day I drove from mound to mound, searching for some sign of Bronze Age life, my speciality. In the brittle grass on one such mound my eyes fell on a type of painted potsherd I recog nized from a prior dig in Central Asia. It pushed the date of hab itation in this area back a thousand years, to the beginning of the second millennium B.C. A fantastic find! While others were excavating nearby Yemshi Tepe, my team set out to see what lay beneath this simple hillock. Amid its top layer we found a village from the third century B.C., as we had expected. But from the layer beneath emerged the outline of a massive edifice. Inside, within a double line of columns, stood a mud-brick altar coated with ashes. Surely this was a temple for the worship of fire, built 3,200 years ago.