The archaeological site of Dzhankent, in addition to its geographical position and the wealth of finds from there, occupies a special place for several other reasons, too. It was the first site in Central Asia to be excavated (1740-1741) and photographed (1858), and it has recently become one of the national symbols of independent Kazakhstan (since 1991). Over the period of more than 270 years during which it has been studied, Dzhankent has been approached by generations of explorers, excavators and researchers from different theoretical positions and with different aims which have corresponded more or less to political or geopolitical programmes. The aim of this contribution is, on the one hand, to show how the various actors who worked at this site related to one another and to the various types of power (local, Tsarist, Soviet), and on the other hand, to analyze the changes in the theoretical approaches of these actors. At the same time, it is important to trace the transformation of Dzhankent, in its pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial contexts, into a memorial supposedly linked to imperial or national identities which, in turn, had been forged around a constructed past.
Despite its apparent size and length of its existence, the Dzhety-asar culture of Kazakhstan remains one of the great unknowns of Central Asian archaeology, comprising, as it did, several dozen now-ruined settlements with an almost thousand-year long occupational history. First settled around the 1st century BC and gradually abandoned in the second half of the 1st millennium AD, the Dzhety-asar towns and manors were located to the east of the Aral Sea within the Syr Darya delta, and may have functioned as a core element in Central Asia’s medieval trade networks. Despite past research efforts by the Khorezmian Archaeological Ethnographic Expedition (KhAEE), the cultural and political history of the Dzhety-asar people remains largely unclear, with as yet no consensus on the political structure or their ethnic, linguistic and religious make-up. The present paper does not presume to answer these questions at this stage, as it is the result of two fieldwork seasons documenting and surveying Dzhety-asar settlements. It is, instead, intended to lay out the preliminary findings, presenting a revised typology of sites, and suggest initial hypotheses regarding the structure and possible evolution of the culture.