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Vol. 9 (2003)  Issue 1c (May 5)

(©) ISSN 1084-7561

Guest editor :   Jan E.M.  Houben, Leiden University



Note: The Soma-Haoma issue of the EJVS, of which this is the first part,
presents the direct and indirect outcome of a workshop on the Soma-Haoma
problem organized by the Research school CNWS, Leiden University, 3-4 July


(1a)	1. The Soma-Haoma problem: Introductory overview and
observations on the discussion (J.E.M. Houben)

(1b)	2. Report of the Workshop (J.E.M. Houben)

*	3. Report concerning the contents of a ceramic vessel found in
the "white room" of the Gonur Temenos, Merv Oasis,
Turkmenistan (C.C. Bakels)

(1d)	4. Margiana and Soma-Haoma (Victor I. Sarianidi)

(1e)	5. Soma and Ecstasy in the Rgveda (George Thompson)

(1f)	6. Contributors to this issue, Part I


The contents of  ceramic vessels in the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological
Complex, Turkmenistan
C.C. Bakels, Faculty of Archaeology, University of Leiden

Vessels found in the "white room" of the Gonur temenos and in Togolok-21
revealed part of their original contents as holes in a gypsum and clay
deposit on their bottom.  (See Sarianidi 1998, page 34 Fig. 9, for Map of
Bronze Age sites of Bactria-Margiana.)

The holes are the negatives of plant matter which itself has decayed. The
white layer of gypsum and clay has been separated from the ceramic fabric
of the vessels and parts of it have reached my laboratory for an
identification of the plants, which have left their imprints.

Of the plant remains it was said that they had already been described and
published by N.R. Meyer-Melikyan and N.A. Avetov (1998). The photographs in
the publication (Fig. 46) suggest that the objects seen by me concern
indeed the same material as far as the material from the Gonur temenos is

The white substance shows on the section several layers, as has been
described by the authors mentioned above. Some of these are very thin, with
a thickness of more or less 1 mm, others are thicker, but the thickness of
the whole does not exceed 1.5 cm. N.R. Meyer-Melikyan and N.A Avetov
succeeded in separating the layers and could describe different contents
for each of them. I did not succeed in separating layers with significantly
different aspects. It might be that I did not obtain quite the same
material as what was published, or a different part of the deposit in the

Most of the impressions are round to oval. A small minority has clearly
been left by stems. The round impressions have been published as having
been left by hemp seeds (Cannabis sativa) and the stems by Ephedra. The
material sent to me reveals, however, neither of these. The impressions
caused by seeds are not of hemp. They are too small, for instance, do not
have the right shape nor the right type of surface pattern. The long,
grooved stems are not incontestably identifiable as Ephedra. The original
contents consisted in my opinion of broomcorn millet (Panicum miliaceum)
and the stems might also belong to this cereal, although that cannot be
proven. Some of the round impressions still contain a cell layer resembling
a cell layer of broomcorn millet husks. They are preserved because of their
high silica content. My interpretation is that the vessels were filled with
not yet dehusked broomcorn millet.

To obtain a second opinion I showed the material to Sietse Bottema and René
Cappers from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. They had in
their reference collection small-seeded hemp from Iran, but these were
still too large, and again, the overall form and the surface pattern did
not fit. Both colleagues were of the opinion that the impressions were left
by a millet, presumably broomcorn millet.

In addition I had the opportunity to show the material to Mark Nesbitt from
the Centre for Economic Botany, Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, Great
Britain, who is familiar with material from the Merv oasis and to Dorian
Fuller from the Institute of Archaeology, London, Great Britain, who is an
expert on Asian millets. Both colleagues came to the conclusion that
broomcorn millet provides the best fit.

The original publication mentions also pollen, hemp pollen grains in large
quantities, but also pollen from other plants. I did not succeed in
extracting pollen from the white substance. Sietse Bottema tried again with
two different methods but failed as well. Our opinion is that pollen has
not been preserved.

We all wonder now whether we have looked at the same  material as published
by N.R. Meyer-Melikyan and N.A Avetov. The  material we examined contained
broomcorn millet. This cereal is known from the Merv oasis, at least from
the Bronze Age onwards (Nesbitt 1997). The crop plant most probably has its
origin in Central Asia, perhaps even in the Aralo-Caspian basin. It is a
cereal that can be cooked, made into a heavy bread, or used to prepare a
fermented drink. The latter can be done with undehusked grain.


Meyer-Melikyan, N.R. and N.A. Avetov. 1998. Analysis of Floral Remains in
the Ceramic Vessel from the Gonur Temenos. In: Sarianidi 1998, Appendix I
(pp 176-177)

Nesbitt, M. 1997. Plant use in the Merv Oasis. In: G. Herrmann, K.
Kurbansakhatov, S.J. Simpson, The international Merv project, preliminary
report on the fifth season. Iran 35 (pp 29-31)

Sarianidi, Victor. 1998. Margiana and Protozoroastrism. Athens: Kapon

Picture 1:
Two pieces of material found within a vessel in Togolok-21 of the BMAC,
sent by Prof. Sarianidi in July 1999 (photo by Jan Houben).

Picture 2:
Photograph of the material from Gonur temenos under a microscope (photo by
Prof. Bakels).

Picture 3:
Photograph of the material from Togolok-21 under a microscope (photo by
Prof. Bakels).