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Central Asian civilisation uncovered

BBC World Service, Monday 14 May 2001, 15:44 GMT 16:44 UK

Archeologists working in the deserts of Turkmenistan say they have discovered evidence of an ancient literate civilisation which existed in Central Asia more than 4,000 years ago.

An American archaeologist from the University of Pennsylvania, Fredrik Hiebert, has uncovered an inscription on a stamp seal which is unlike any other number or writing system of the time.

He says the writing resembles Chinese characters which were thought to have developed several centuries later.

Traces of the lost civilisation have emerged in recent decades, after archeologists of the former Soviet Union excavated sites in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to reveal large buildings and monumental arches.

Experts say the discovery would suggest the ancient people of Central Asia were not as isolated as previously thought, but probably had continent-wide connections. Archeologists have named the civilisation Bactria Margiana Archaeology Complex -- or BMAC -- after the ancient Greek names for the two regions it covers.