Murgab River, Turkmenistan
Coordinates: 38 18 N 61 12 E
Length: 530 miles (853 km)
For historians, written records are an often employed and tremendously useful way of understanding the past. As technical methods for analysis improve however, scientists are increasingly able to make sense of ancient societies by documenting changes to the physical landscape.
Such is the case in Southeastern Turkmenistan, where archaeologists now believe a civilization once flourished around the Kara Kum desert’s only reliable water source: the Murgab River. Paleobotanical evidence of wheat and the ruins of large, walled towns suggest that population growth and prolonged drought likely drove people living in the Kopet Dag Mountains along the country’s southern border to a river delta that once supported a wider variety of wildlife as well as the potential for agriculture.
Ben Keene is the editor of Oxford Atlas of the World. Check out some of his previous places of the week.