Khiva is a district population center. According to N. Muravieva, «As many as 3,000 houses were there and as many as 10,000 people lived» there at the beginning of the nineteenth century. According to Q.I. Danilevski, «In the middle of the last century, the population of Khiva did not exceed 4000 men and women.» At the beginning of this century about 20,000 people lived in the town and nowadays, according to the last statistic data, in 2009 its population has reached 52,000.
The geographical location of Khiva makes it a very pleasant place to live. The town is located in the southwestern part of the Khorezm oasis and is very close to the Kara-Kum desert. Fertile land in the suburbs and the town itself receives water from the ancient Palvan-Qazavat canal, which flows through the entire southern part of the district. The climate is continental; winter is temperately cold and is not snowy, summer is hot and dry. There are a number of lakes that receive water that escapes in the lower reaches of the irrigation systems near the town. Flora and fauna, protected and rationally consumed by the local population, are very rich in the Khiva district as well as in the whole region.
The population of modern Khiva is ethnically homogenous; people who call themselves Uzbeks constitute 95.5% of the total population. Russians, Tatars, Koreans, Kazakhs, Ukrainians and other nationalities are represented in small numbers. In earlier times, the population of the Khiva khanate was more varied. According to the data of Turkestanskiy Sbornik, five or six nationalities were represented there: the Uzbeks; the Sarts; the Dugma; the Persians; the nomadic and semi-nomadic Turkmen - the Karakalpaks - and the Kazakhs.
Typically, after the formation of the Khiva khanate, the population of Khorezm, as well as people of Khiva, all called themselves Khorezmians. Only European people, especially by Russian people, in general, used the name Khiva. It was not by chance that, in 1920, after the overthrow of the Khan of Khiva, the newly empowered people restored the ancient name to the Khorezmian Republic, while preserving Khiva as its capital.
Ties with surrounding tribes and peoples, the constant flow of migration through the Khorezm oasis, and the numerous stranger-conquerors who constantly intruded through the centuries, influenced the ethnic structure and culture of Khorezmians, the people of Khiva. But the indigenous population of Khorezm, including Khiva, staunchly preserved original features of the culture and mode of life. Even the language did not become extinct and Chagatai Turki was preserved to a considerable as has been proven by the latest research. V.V. Bartold, characterizing the ethnic structure of Khorezm in the Temurid epoch of the fifteenth century, wrote that «Khan of Khiva and historian Abdulgazi use the term 'Uzbeks' to refer to strangers, and call the local people Sarts - especially the town dwelling citizens of Urgench and some other more significant towns, and especially Khiva and Khazarasp.»
According to research data gathered by anthropologists and ethnologists at Tashkent State University in Khiva, the population of Ichan-kala is European by race, with an insignificant mixture of Mongolian traits. The rural population differs from town dwellers in anthropological aspects. Probably, the ethnic-genetic and racial-genetic ties of the agricultural and trading population with surrounding semi-nomadic and nomadic Turkmen tribes, who had considerable European features, had significant influence.
Anthropologists have concluded that the people of Khiva are very close to the Ferghana (Choost) Uzbeks in their racial characteristics. Anthropological data gathered in the Tazabagiab (in Khorezm) and Choost (in Ferghana) excavations indicate this. A.V. Oshanin, who did research on the twentieth-century population of Khiva, described Khorezmians (the population of Khiva) as being close to Aryans and the Indian-European language group.
It is possible that there were already agricultural and town settlements in the Khiva district in the middle of the first millennium B.C. Archaeological excavations have revealed a number of cultural layers, corresponding to different chronological periods. Archaeologists have also managed to find traces of town dwellings, pieces of ceramic dishes, and other findings which definitely establish the time of a settlement in the lowest layer of Ichan-kala dating back to the fifth century B.C. — that is to say approximately 2500 years ago. Traces of human agricultural activity have also been found around the first settlement at Khiva. Similar scenes have been found near castles at Khazarasp, Bazarkala, and Khumbuztepa that are close to this place.
From its earliest beginnings, the history of Khiva is closely connected with the history of the whole of Khorezm, rich in important political, social-economic and cultural events. Khorezm or Khvarazm (Land of the Sun) with its unique sites of ancient settlements is among the most ancient historical-cultural regions of Central Asia. Mot only written sources, but also numismatic and epigraphic monuments from the fifth — fourth centuries B.C. and the first - fourth centuries A.D. stands as proof. The name Khorezm in different transcriptions is met not only in the Holy Writ of the Zoroastrians, but also in Bekhistun inscriptions, in work of Qerodot, Gekatei Miletshi. Thus when the twenty-three provinces subjected to Darey (521-485 B.C.) were enumerated, the region of the Khorezmians, including its castle Khiva, is mentioned in a Bekhistun inscription, and Gekatei Miletshi speaks of the «Khorezmians» and their town «of Khorasmia», located to the east of Parphia (modern Khorasan). Qerodot includes the Khorezmians» in the same satrap group with the Parphians and Sogdians.
In due course, this ancient oasis turned into a wonderful, fine natural museum under the open sky, where majestic ruins of numerous castles and fortresses, ancient settlements, and traces of grandiose irrigation systems rise above sandy barchans. More than sixty years ago an archaeological ethnographic expedition headed by academician S.P. Tolstov began its study of ancient Khorezm. In particular, about seventy archaeological monuments, dating from the fourth century B.C. to between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries A.D., were explored. But there is data about only thirty-two of them in written sources and excavations were carried out on only twenty of them. These monuments were generally located in the suburbs of the Khorezm oasis and at the same time the towns of the central districts of the Amu Darya received little attention. Many ancient towns are hidden under beddings and some towns such as Khazarasp and Khiva, which preserved ancient fortification walls, still continue to live. Nevertheless, in Khiva, as was mentioned before, cultural layers, dating from the middle of the first millennium B.C. were opened. On these grounds, it is possible to say, that the town is more than 2500 years old.
Most ancient towns were located on big caravan routes, going from Khorasan, Djurdjan, and Maverannakhr, through central oases of the country along the left and right banks of the Amu Darya. Some settlements, including those in Khiva, appeared in the suburbs, in the area of contacts between the agricultural population of the oasis and the nomadic steppe.
Outlying settlements and towns, such as those at Khiva and Khazarasp, played a big role in providing contacts for the agricultural and cattle-breeding population, contributing to the urbanization of the country. At this period of time, well worked-out planning, fortification, and construction methods, typical for all of Khorezm and indicating state role in town planning, are distinctly observed.
Open settlements with dwellings of the es-tate-khauli type are the distinctive feature of many of the fortresses of Khorezm throughout its history. A central canal that often lent its name to the town served many towns. Khazarasp was named for a canal; Shakhabad (Shavat) may have also got its name from a canal (or perhaps from title “Shakh's town”)- Khiva took water from a canal named Palvaniab in honor of the philosopher and poet Pakhlavan Makhmud. Thanks to wide scale archaeological and ethnographic research work in the Aral area, the reaches of the Amu Darya, and the region of the Sir-Darya, it has become possible to identify the most ancient origins of the culture and religion of the Khorezmians and the people of Khiva. As these research works have shown, the sources of the culture of the Khorezmians had their roots in the era of primitive communal systems. Kalta-minar culture dates from four or three thousand B.C., which is to say from the epoch of late Stone Age. Settlements of hunters and fishermen of late Stone Age, which were found along the vast territory (the ancient deltas of the Amu Darya, the Uzboy, the low reaches of the Sir-Darya, and Inner Kizil-Kum), were inhabited by tribes of a common Kalta-minar ethno-cultural community. Djanbas-kala-4 is a significant monument of Kalta-minar culture. Here a cone-shaped dwelling with the area of about three hundred square meters, where a tribe community of 100-120 people lived, was excavated. They made their tools of stones and bones. Their food was mainly fish, the meat of wild boars and deer, and waterfowl. Food was cooked in pots made of clay without a potter's wheel, covered with a rich stamped ornament.
Kalta-minar findings also reveal some of the cultural relations of this most ancient population of Khorezm with tribes living in Kazakhstan, Siberia, India and Iran. Among the decorations in the burial places of the Minusinsk krai of the third millennium B.C., articles made of the Amu Darya shells have been found; and, in the ancient Kalta-minar settlements, one finds beads made of shells from the Indian Ocean. The same picture is observed in the period of Tazabagiab culture (middle of the second millennium B.C.), whose ancient settlements have been found on barchans and takirs. Flint tools resembling Kalta-minar ones, pieces of copper tools, and crocks of flat-bottomed dishes with a stamped ornament, which are like dishes of Bronze Age Siberia and Kazakhstan, were found there. It was during this period that civilization in the southern part of the Amu Darya delta. Along its system of its tributaries, Tazabagiab tribes settled, whose culture had been formed under the influence of traditions of the newly arrived population from the southern Urals.
The population of Tazabagiab settlements was cattle-breeders and carried on irrigated farming. Based on the findings regarding their material culture, the Tazabagiab people can be related to the cultures of Steppe Bronze of Europe and Asia. The characteristic of irrigated farming shows the influence of southern farming civilizations.
Thus, the geographical conditions of the low reaches of the Amu Darya with its fertile delta plain and accompanying open pastures were an important factor in the formation of an ethnically complex population which contained northern and Southern components. For example, the burial ground at Kokcha shows signs of Andronov, East Mediterranean and Indo-drav-id racial types. It was also in this period that the early system of religious conceptions characteristic of the Khorezmians was originating. Work at the ancient settlements of Amirabad (late Bronze culture) has shown that at the end of the second and beginning of the first millennium B.C. a gradual separation of semi-nomadic cattle-breeders from farming cattle-breeders took place south of the Aral, marking formation of economic culture of settled farmers and cattle-breeders on the territory of the Khorezm oasis.
The artifacts of the Kalta-minar and Tazabagiabs, especially in monuments of the late Stone Age, contain important data on the religious conceptions of the early farming tribes. Burial complexes, defined as sanctuaries, as well as evidence of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic pictures are informative. Carefully made terra-cotta figures, generally of women, which were found on the vast territory, were undoubtedly connected with some conception of magic. The most significant of these figures are the “Venuses of the Late Stone Age” - small sculptured figures of women that were evidently connected with the ancient cult of fertility and which appeared at the period of original maternity formation. The figures of animals that have been found prove the appearance of totemistic elements, which were subjected to the main cult of female deity patroness of fertility.
In this period one finds not only religious conceptions that were based on the idea of the unity of humanity and nature, but also, among the same people, a transition to worshipping, at first, animals, and later, natural elements, their spirits, and tribal-origin god-patrons.
Ethnographic research carried over the last fifty years in Khorezm, particularly among the Khiva Uzbeks, has identified clear traces of a cult of the spirits of ancestors, totemistic conceptions, and also remnants of cults of saints and god-patrons, especially among the female segment of the population and among hand-craftsmen. Totems, spirits, saints, and patrons find their reflection in the domestic ceremonies and rituals of everyday life, as well as in rich mythology and epic folklore created by the peoples of Khiva.
Ethnographers have done much interesting work on the folklore and mythology of Khorezm. They have gathered numerous legends and identified more than one hundred and thirty sanctuaries (mazars) of pilgrimage, which played a large role in the cultural life of the local population of Khiva. Unique material has been gathered from the remains of domestic and burial sites on subjects including demonology and shamanism, magic, ceremonial rites, the role of the cult of fertility, the cult of saints, and conceptions of nature and animals, as well as on Zoroastrianism. Detailed studies of the written legends and traditions about Khiva saints has made it possible to understand the socio-ideological reasons behind the canonization of a whole number of ecclesiastical and temporal personages - poets, philosophers, prominent rulers and their associates, and other political figures.
The materials of the Yakkaparsan-2 settlement and the mausoleums of Tagisken demonstrate the existence of property inequality and social differentiation in ancient Khorezmian society. In the opinion of a number of scientists, the first so-called «Big Khorezm» state union probably appeared in the eighth or seventh century B.C. Many archaeological sites illuminate the period of transition from a primitive communal system to complex class relations in Khorezm. Thanks to S.P. Tolstov's research, scholars have been able to see glimpses of the ancient world — from the end of the fourth millennium B.C. to the fifteenth century A.D.
A key site is the ancient settlement of Kiuzeli-gir (sixth and fifth centuries B.C.), located in the area of Sarikamish. This is the earliest town with a clear structure and system of fortification. During excavations of the dwellings of Kiuzeligir, a dish, a piece of a stone altar on four legs, a fragment of bronze with a small cone on the end, a golden goaf-head with horns, and other artifacts from the burial places of the Saks of the seventh through the fifth centuries B.C., were found. The materials found in burial mounds vividly show the inter-relationship between the cultures of the oasis and the steppe. It is remarkable that in the suburbs of ancient Khorezm, a variety of buriai rituals existed side by side, with the Zoroastrian, ossuary type, burials becoming increasingly prevalent.