Karon is a Zoroastrian city in Darvoz district of Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Region, or GBAO, located 6 km from Qalai-Khumb, the administrative center of Darvoz district and 1 km from the village of Ruzvay.  It was discovered in 2012, which was a great event in world archaeology.  In the ancient city of Karon, which was supposedly formed 4,000 years ago, Tajik archaeologists have discovered an observatory.

An article by Henry Wismayer, a freelance writer based in London, notes that this15-hectare site is the most important archaeological site in Tajikistan.  It is a keystone of national efforts to resurrect a distinctly Tajik identity from the country’s fragmented history—and a potential magnet for travelers who are already drawn to the legendary road that snakes along the Panj Valley, the Pamir Highway.

Its rediscovery has reportedly drawn comparisons with Machu Picchu in terms of historical importance, if not outright spectacle.  Archaeologists have dubbed it Qala-i Kuhna, or Castle Karon, the fortress “located at a height.”

It was 2012 when Yusufsho Yakubov, chief archaeologist at the National Academy of Sciences of Tajikistan, was summoned to Darvoz district to investigate an incongruous mound of rubble above the small village of Ruzvay, in the western outriders of the Pamir Mountains.  For centuries a crossroads of trade and empire, Tajikistan is littered with long-abandoned citadels and caravanserai built during the heyday of the Silk Road.

But Yakubov, a veteran scientist, now 87, immediately thought that they had stumbled upon something extraordinary.  He noted that for years the site had endured only as a rumor. 

As Yakubov’s team went to work on the mound, they began to unearth an intact building, its mud-brick walls topped with a dome. Closer inspection led Yakubov to conclude that it was a “fire temple,” which once would have sheltered an eternal flame, a relic of the Zoroastrian religion that spread out of Persia, modern-day Iran, with the rise of the Achaemenid Empire in the sixth century B.C.

Other discoveries soon followed.  Archaic mausoleums dotted the surrounding hills. The excavation of a suspected water temple and observatory, alongside the remnants of a substantial defensive wall, augmented Yakubov’s supposition that Karon may have been a place of special ceremonial prestige. Evidence of winemaking and gold processing pointed to a once thriving economy. Coins found in the vicinity of the fire temple date back to the second century A.D

For all its historical significance, however, Karon’s timeline remains subject to conjecture.  “From the size of the site it might have been a medium-sized town,” says Pavel Lurje, head of Central Asian Studies at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, who worked alongside Yakubov for three seasons.  “Such settlements are extremely rare in the highlands of Central Asia where even today the life is essentially rural. Karon is a true enigma.”

By the Middle Ages, Lurje believes, the settlement at Karon had fallen into decline. Sparse literary sources suggest that the last of its population relocated to the Panj Valley in the early 17th century, perhaps prompted by the drying out of local mountain springs.