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Its blend of desert, steppe, oasis, and river valley places Uzbekistan at the heart of the complex interaction of nomadic culture and oasis settlement that patterns the history of Central Asia. Over 100,000 years ago, primitive man was engraving caves in the region with scenes from his hunting lifestyle, but the haze of pre-history only begins to clear in the second millennium BC, when Bronze Age metallurgy developed the bronze bit, enabling horse riding. Mounted tribes sponsored contacts between the farming south and the livestock-breeding north. An Aryan Indo-European race from the north led the first known migration into the territory of present-day Uzbekistan. From 800 BC, their successors, the Scythians (to the Greeks) or Saka (to the Persians), swept all before them into a loose nomadic dynasty from the Fergana Valley to the Khorezm oasis. These tent-dwellers matured during the Iron Age into skilled craftsmen, but their chief legacy was horseback archery. On top of such military advantage, they set standards of terror for barbaric waves through the centuries.

The first Aachemenid Employer of Persia, Cyrus Great, sought to end their raids and, despite his death in 530 BC fighting the Messagetae near the Aral Sea, his conquests proved lasting. Persian kings divided Turan (outer Iran) south of the Syr Darya into three satrapies Khorezm, Sagdiana (the Zerafshan and Fergana Valleys) and Batria (southern Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan). Achaemenid’s influence speeded the process of urbanization already underway and installed the state religion, Zoroastrianism, the worship of an all-powerful god through fire offerings. Its origin may have been local for both Khorezm and Bactria claim the site of the revelation of mysterious prophet Zoroaster, 'one who possesses golden camels'. In the scared book Avesta, the script declares, "The second among the best localities and countries, I, Ahura Mazda, created Gava, the abode of the Sogdians".