Claudia Chang worked on her first dig in the American Southwest on Black Mesa in 1972. Since 1994 she has excavated at the Iron Age site of Tuzusai with her Kazakhstani colleagues at the A.H. Margulan Institute of Archaeology. The site was excavated in the early 1990s by F.P. Grigoriev. From 1994-1996 and again from 2008 through 2012 it has been excavated. Perry A. Tourtellotte worked on his first site in 1967 in central New York. He does all the transit work, photography, and co-directs the site excavations at Tuzusai.

The next generation of Archaeologists

The Republic of Kazakhstan has students who like archaeology and who participate in practicums as part of their first or second course studies as History majors in university.  But as we know archaeology is not a profession that brings wealth or even fame.  Therefore it is very important for all of us to train the next generation.  We have worked in the Talgar region for twenty years now, hiring local high school kids to work on our digs.  Now the oldest students in our village have children!  While none have become professional archaeologists, many have enjoyed their work with us and have now a good appreciation for their cultural and historical heritage.

Here’s a photo of the in situ pot fragments we found today!

Tuzusai 20 years later; The life of an Iron Age archaeological site in Kazakhstan

Today is the day of Archaeology and also for Perry A. Tourtellotte and Claudia Chang (two American archaeologists) a memorable day. We have worked at the Iron Age site of Tuzusai from 1994-1996 and then from 2008 to 2014. Today we are excavating in the 2013-14 excavation block with 3 local workers, two high school students Ksenya and Tolik and Vitaly. We have been digging out the fill of a Pit house 9. The kids excavated a third of a large jug in the fill of this feature.

The upper features of this site consist of amorphous mud brick architecture, the lower features probably associated with the Saka period (ca. 400 BC to 200 BC) document early settlements of the eastern variants of the Scythians.  The later above ground architecture represents the Wusun period (ca. 100 BC to AD).  What is so important about Tuzusai, located about 25 km from the largest city in the Republic of Kazakhstan, Almaty—is the discovery of both cultivation of wheats, barley, and millets and the herding of sheep, goats, cattle and horses.  The architectural components is really important also since it does not conform to Herodotus’ notions of nomads living on wagons. 

Our Day in Dirt

Get up at 5 am.  Eat breakfast

Perry T. meets Oleg to get the UAZ 94 in garage at 6:15

We meet the crew at 6:30 am:

Lyuba the recorder of levels and units for finds’ bag.

Vlad the expert archaeological worker, who returns to his full-time job at the heating plant

Oleg, the driver and field worker

Kostya, who has worked with us since he was 11.

Pasha, local high school student.

Today’s plan:

1.  Clean the mud brick platform and the living surface outside the house.  It rained last night—trowel scraping

2.  Check out Context 61 and probable Pit house, underlying mud brick melt from last year’s excavation.

3.  Clean up tandir (bread oven)

4.  Map the upper mud brick contexts

5.  Take elevations both across the 8 m x 8 m excavation block, north and south.


CELEBRATE the DAY of ARCHAEOLOGY—leave site at 12 noon.


Wash finds at 4 pm.


Is work ever done?


A Day in the Life of Tuzusai

Tuzusai is an Iron Age site in southeastern Kazakhstan that dates from 400 BC to AD 100.   Our 2012 field season began in early June.  Now one month into our excavations with local workers, we have discovered a house platform and its associated living surface.  In the two weeks a series of smashed storage vessels, jars and cooking vessels have been uncovered on the mud brick platform.  This is the first intact mud brick dwelling on the upper levels found, since large portions of the site have been destroyed by ploughing and re-surfacing, some which took place during the 1960s with the construction of the Big Almatinsky Canal.  Twelve burial kurgans (Iron Age burial mounds) were destroyed.