South Kazakhstan Petroglyphs
Russian sources of the late 18th – early 19th centuries report the name of this historical and geographical region of Central Asia as Zhidysu / Zhetysu (Kazakh for ‘seven rivers’). It originally belonged to the south-eastern Near Balkhash region bounded by the northern slope of the Dzhungarian Alatau. Since the second half of the 19th century, the name ”Semirechye“ has become common with the establishment of the Semirechensk area within administrative boundaries, including all the territory south of Lake Balkhash to the Near Issyk-Kul region, the upper reaches of the Chu River, the delta and middle reaches of the Ili River Valley. According to modern geographical interpretation, the area of Semirechye covers the area between Lakes Balkhash, Sasykol and Alakol in the north, Northern Tien Shan Ranges in the south, Dzhungarian Alatau in the east and the Chu-Ili mountains in the west. It administratively coincides with the Almaty region of Kazakhstan. The largest river of Semirechye -Ili- divides the whole region into the right bank and left bank, into Eastern and Western Semirechye.
Sand and salt deserts are common in the northern and north-western plains of Semirechye, and meadow-riparian landscapes are common along rivers. In the Dzhungarian Alatau, foothills and ridges of the Northern Tien Shan (Trans-Ili Alatau, Ketmen, etc.), at an altitude of 2,000m above sea level, leafy forests are present and transform into pine forests and alpine meadows at a higher altitude.
The Dzhungarian Alatau, over 400km long in the latitudinal direction, consists of two ranges that are distinctly parallel to each other: the northern, or main, and the southern range. The Dzhungarian Alatau system includes several sub-parallel high mountain ranges, accompanied by low and short ranges and their spurs. The absolute heights of the main mountains exceed 4,500m above sea level. A distinctive feature of the Dzhungarian Alatau is a series of sharp benched slopes, divided into low mountains (700 - 1600m), medium lands (1600 - 3100m) and highlands (3100 - 4662m). Metamorphic shales of the middle and lower Paleozoic play an important role in the structure of the main ridges and front ridges. Paleozoic sandstones and limestones are less common. The foothills consist of sequences of Paleogene, Neogene and Quaternary sediments. The snow line in the Dzhungarian Alatau is located at altitudes of 3,200-3,800. Glaciers and snow, but mainly ground water, feed numerous rivers, which flow from the northern slopes to Lakes Balkhash, Sasykkol and Alakol, and from the southern slopes to the Ili River.
The Chu-Ili Mountains stretch for some 200km from the Zailiy Alatau in a north-westerly direction and are a continuation and completion of the Northern Tien Shan, with whom they share a history of geological development. They form a system of ranges separated by intermontane troughs. The elevation amplitude of the Chu-Ili Mountains is much less than in the Zaili Alatau (about 5,000m), the highest mountains being Anyrakay (1,180 m), Kulzhabasy (1,178m) and Khantau (1,024m). Typical of them are surviving fragments of ancient surface peneplanes, surrounded by steeply sloping low mountains turning into hills on the periphery composed of intrusive and volcanicsedimentary rocks. The axial part of the Chu-Ili mountains forms a watershed of the Chu and Ili rivers.
The geologic-geomorphologic and landscape-climatic conditions of Semirechie determine specific features of the topography, number and substrate of rock art sites in the eastern and western part of the region. Thus, there are no petroglyphs on morainic boulders in the Chu-Ili Mountains, while they are common in Dzhungarian Alatau and the mountains of Northern Tien Shan. In general, the location of the Semirechie petroglyphs in mountainous and steppe landscapes is on open vertical and/or horizontal rock surfaces in erosion and river valleys traditionally cultivated by settled pastoralists and farmers and nomads of all historic periods.
The Dzhungarian Alatau and its multiple spurs are home to numerous locations of petroglyphs concentrated mainly in the low- and mid-hills. The Chu-Ili Mountains have a larger concentration of sites, especially in the central and southern part of the Kazakh Uplands. There are very few known large locations of petroglyphs in Northern Tien Shan, but numerous sites in the mountain valleys of the Zailiyskiy Alatau, Kungey Alatau and Ketmen Range. The total number of the recorded rock art sites in Semirechie now exceeds 50, but the figure increases year after year as archeological research continues and the search coverage widens.
In Semirechie rock paintings have not yet been discovered. The predominant technique is pecking, rarely engraving or other techniques. The most common type of substrate, used at different periods to create petroglyphs, were the surfaces of sandstone and siltstones, covered with “desert patina“; fewer drawings were pecked on the patinated surfaces of intrusive rocks.
In Semirechie, there is a concentration of several major locations of petroglyphs, the study of which has lasted for decades and served as the basis for the development of modern schemes of periodization of Kazakhstan rock art. The oldest petroglyphs are dated to different stages of the Bronze Age (2nd millennium BC) and identification of more ancient groups of images has not yet been possible. Pictorial traditions of the Early Iron Age (1st millennium BC – 5th century AD) and the Middle Ages (6th-7th centuries) are well represented. No carvings are dated to the Post-Mongolian period (13th-16th centuries). Petroglyphs of Late Middle Ages and modernity (17th-20th centuries) have been poorly studied; they are often associated with epigraphy and tribal signs (tamgas) of nomads of Western Mongolian and Turkic origin. Petroglyphs and inscriptions relating to the current stage of development of traditional rock art are notable everywhere.
The most expressive, abundant and widely spread Semirechie rock art is that of the Bronze Age, in almost all areas. It is generally characterized by a relatively homogeneous repertoire of images (anthropomorphic, zoomorphic and signs), similar style, iconography and technique of execution. There may, however, be chronological, territorial, and, probably, cultural differences in Eastern and Western Semirechie.
A representative series of petroglyphs dating to the first half of the 2nd century BC is notable in the Kulzhabasy Complex (south of the Chu-Ili Mountains). They are characterized by the dominance of isolated contour images of large size (up to 1-1.5 m) of wild oxen and panels where four-wheeled carts are associated with bulls or camels. They are chronologically followed by Tamgaly type petroglyphs, most vividly represented at the eponymous site, with more variety of zoomorphic and anthropomorphic images, with solar characters (“sun-headed”) and other chimerical composite figures, as well as horse-drawn chariots. This unique series of petroglyphs is dated to the 14th -13th centuries BC. In addition, Late Bronze Age petroglyphs, distinguished by a simple interpretation of small size figures, with a predominance of pastoral, battle and hunting motifs, with an almost complete absence of the syncretic images present in the art of the early stages, are notable in the Chu-Ili mountains and the western part of the Trans-Ili Alatau.
Several groups of petroglyphs of different ages dating back to the Late Bronze Age in Eastern Semirechie are also notable; earlier images such as those in the Chu-Ili mountains are absent. The largest known and studied petroglyph location in Kazakhstan’s Dzhungarian Alatau-Eshkiolmes-is characterized by a great variety of styles and a rich repertoire of engravings from the Bronze Age, with at least three stylistic groups of drawings, dating back to the 13th-9th centuries BC and analogous to the Late Bronze petroglyphs in Western Semirechie.
Early Iron Age rock art traditions in Semirechie, also predominant in Eshkiolmes, are the Pre-Saki and Early Saki petroglyphs (8th - 6th centuries BC). They are characterized by the prominent role of the wild fauna represented -felines, wolves, boar, deer, mountain goats, as well as birds of prey. The abundant art of the Pazyryk culture is characterized by the leading role of human images-mounted and dismounted soldiers armed with bows, battle axes, daggers or swords, and a birthing woman occupying an almost central position in this art. The iconography includes hunting scenes and animals torn to pieces, with body or head 180° reversed. These petroglyphs are dated to the 5th – 3rd centuries BC.
In Western Semirechie, another pictorial tradition includes images of mirrors with a handle (often life-size), dated by means of their similarity to real objects. It is typical of the nomad culture of western Kazakhstan, the Near Urals and the Dzhetyasar culture of the lower reaches of the Syrdarya (6th - 4th/3rd centuries BC). In addition, large numbers of less expressive engravings, not yet attributed to a particular culture, date to the Early Iron Age. In particular, in Eastern Semirechie, it has so far been impossible to confidently distinguish petroglyphs from the end of the 1st millennium BC to the beginning of our era, whereas in the Chu-Ili Mountains (Kulzhabasy, Tamgaly) representative series of petroglyphs are similar to the objects in the Hunnu and Syanbi
Petroglyphs of the ancient Turkic period (6th - 8th centuries) and the Advanced Middle Ages (9th-12th centuries) belong to a uniform pictorial tradition, different in style, with images of dated armor and equipment, epigraphy and tribal signs (tamgas). Their repertoire is dominated by mounted warriors (often with banners), hunting scenes and other motifs which may retain features of the animal art of the preceding period. The most vivid examples of medieval rock art in the east of Semirechie are at Eshkiolmes and Bayanzhurek, and on the left bank of the river Ili-in Tamgaly, Kulzhabasy, Akkaynar, Akterek, Oh-dzhaylyau, among others.
The rock art of the Oirat tribes that lived in Semirechie in the 17th and the first half of the 18th centuries, remains poorly studied. It is mostly represented by cultic Tibetan and Oirat epigraphy (Kegen Arasan, Taygak), sometimes accompanied by pictures of Lamaist-pantheon characters (Tamgalytas, Akkaynar), tamgas, and less frequently by pictures of animals and humans (Kulzhabasy).
The most recent petroglyphs were made by nomadic Kazakhs in the 19th - early 20th century. Their repertoire is limited to hunting motifs, horse races or cattle grazing, with inscriptions in Arabic script, graffiti and images of lineage –tamgas- close to wintering grounds. They rarely form significant concentrations, but in general are widespread and fairly abundant. The content and form of 20th century rock art differs, with Cyrillic graffiti and Soviet-era ideological symbols: portraits of V.-I. Lenin, the five-pointed star, emblems of arms of the Soviet Army and others. The traditional motifs of hunting, stunts on horseback and others persist.
The study of the Semirechie archaeological sites began in the second half of the 19th century, but especially active and systematic research started in the 1950’s and continues today. The leaststudied are Stone Age sites, known mostly from collections of Mesolithic and Neolithic artifacts in the Chu-Ili Mountains (Khantau, Kulzhabasy, Tamgaly, Anyrakay), the foothills of the Tien Shan and in the Dzhungarian Alatau. In the foothills of the Zailiyskiy Alatau, the Mesolithic stratigraphy of Maybulak was studied. Sites of the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age have not yet been identified, but in the Chu-Ili and Dzhungarian Alatau mountains is isolated evidence of stone, bronze and ceramic pottery dating back to the time that preceded the development of the Andronovo culturalhistorical community. Bronze Age settlements and burials were studied throughout Semirechie, including where petroglyphs are located. The most famous sites-mainly in Eastern Semirechie belong to “mixed” types (Semirechie, Kulsay), reflecting a significant impact in the 14th-13th centuries BC, in Western Semirechie, of the Atasus (Alakul) variant of the Bronze Age culture of Central Kazakhstan and cultures of Southern Siberia in the 13th - 10th centuries BC. The culture of 1st millennium BC nomads is mainly known from numerous burial mounds, excavated in the past but far from entirely published. Early Iron Age dwelling sites and settlements are recorded everywhere, but only a few sites in the foothills of the Zailiy Alatau, Chu-Ili mountains and Dzhungarian Alatau have been excavated. The piedmont area of the Northern Tien Shan is famous because of the treasures found there, which include bronze pots, altars, and other items. The Medieval period is characterized by the coexistence of an urban agricultural culture, represented by a large number of towns and rural settlements, and the nomadic culture, much represented by funerary sites and memorials with stone sculptures. Modern sites of nomadic encampments from the 18th to the early 20th centuries were found everywhere but not systematically studied. In general, the present state of knowledge of archeological sites in Semirechie, although still insufficient to address some questions of ancient history, allows rock art to be considered in the context of the overall development of the region’s cultures. An integrated approach has been used since the 1980’s to explore many rock art sites in Semirechie (Tamgaly, Kulzhabasy, Eshkiolmes) along with study of other archaeological objects in their cultural landscape.
Although some indigenous pastoralists in Semirechie still practice rock drawings and inscriptions, their activity has no religious or cultural value. At the same time, some of the rock art sites within their area are included within the sacred space recognized by tradition as holy places (Tamgaly, Kegen Arasan). However, even then, the main objects of worship are other cultural or natural sites, i.e. burial places, cultic buildings, trees, springs, rather than ancient petroglyphs. With few exceptions, the awareness of local people of their value remains minimal, thus giving rise to a negligent attitude towards them, deliberate destruction or retouching of the engravings, the creation of palimpsests, etc.
The Most Important Sites in Semirechie
Tamgaly Gorge is situated 17 km north-west of Almaty City, 4km north of Karabastau Village, in the south-eastern part of the Chu-Ili Mountains. The geographical area belongs to the arid desert zone with an extreme continental climate. The few rivers often dry up in the summer, the main ones being the Tamgaly and the Oysu, right tributaries of the Ashysu River. Rare plant species in the Chu-Ili mountains are listed in the Red Data Book of Kazakhstan. Wild animals include wolves, foxes, rabbits, turtles, snakes, and many birds, including steppe eagle, falcon, saker falcons.
Neotectonic movements played a major role in shaping the picturesque landscape of Tamgaly. Mountain borders and a broad plain to the north are along a seismic fault which lifted the surface and formed a high ledge, while water-and wind-erosion formed a network of river valleys and upland relief. A striking feature of Tamgaly Valley is a small canyon at the mouth of the gorge. Rocky slopes almost converge there on the contours of the valley. Wide and smooth rock surfaces are covered with dense “desert patina” and served as a perfect background for numerous petroglyphs.
There are more than 100 different sites-settlements, burial grounds, altars, and concentrations of petroglyphs within a territory of about 900 hectares, dated from the middle of the 14th - 13th centuries BC until the turn of the 19th - 20th centuries AD. The settlements are located exclusively in the mountainous part of the gorge. They occupy a small area (300-1,200m2) in different geomorphic conditions. Many are multi-layered sites containing cultural relics of several historical eras. Excavations were carried out on the settlements called Tamgaly I and V. The stratigraphy of Tamgaly I includes cultural layers of four historical periods: Late Bronze Age (12th - 10th centuries BC), Early Iron Age (two stages: 6th/5th to 4th centuries BC; 2nd century BC to 1st century AD), as well as the late Middle Ages (16th - 17th centuries) and modernity (19th - 20th centuries). For the different layers of the settlement we have more than a dozen 14C and ESR dates. Building stones with petroglyphs were found in the cultural layers; the most representative series of images was dated to the turn of the 5th - 4th centuries BC.
Ancient burial sites are located in the mountainous and plain parts of Tamgaly Gorge. Bronze Age burials at Tamgaly I, II and Karakuduk II were excavated in the piedmont plain. The mountainous area contains Tamgaly IV-VII burials. Sites typologically belong to the Atasus and Semirechie versions of the Andronovo cultural-historical community and date from the 14th/13th to the 10th centuries BC.
Kurgan burial mounds, everywhere in the gorge, present several types from the features of mounds and burial structures. The largest burial grounds (two or three dozen burials) are located on the piedmont plain. The burial sites investigated by Maksimova A.-G. in 1957 are dated to the 3rd century BC – 2nd century AD. A mound with stone-revetments is especially notable. A mound with a burial from the 5th - 4th centuries BC was researched at Tamgaly VI. Three ritual ring fences with a “deer” stone inside one of them were identified in Karakuduk II dating to the 5th - 4th centuries BC. Medieval burials in Tamgaly are absent. Ancient quarries were found near Bronze Age burial sites at Tamgaly I, II and VI.
The core of the complex is Tamgaly Canyon, with about 3,000 petroglyphs, tentatively marked as groups I-IV; the total number of rock carvings including the peripheral locations is about 5,000 pictures.
Typology and Dating
Tamgaly Bronze Age petroglyphs are unique in Central Asian rock art. The oldest series of rock images identified as the Tamgaly-type of petroglyphs has the most aesthetic and cultural value. They are distinguished by their large-size (from 25-30cm to 0.7-1.0m), vivid naturalistic style and their rich repertoire (anthropomorphic solar deities, “masks", club-carriers, an archer in a wolf mask, chariots, hoof prints, spectacle-shaped signs as well as images of bulls, Asiatic wild asses, horses, camels, wild boar, wolves, deer, etc.).
A masterpiece of prehistoric rock art is a vertical panel (group IV, site 118) with images of 6-7 solar characters, ten dancing male warriors with weapons, birthing women, erotic scenes and “worshippers”. On the panel, there is a kind of hierarchy with three groups of characters: the highest level is occupied by solar deities; below them are a series of similar figures of dancers and birthing women and a “worshipper” at the bottom. Solitary images of different “sun-headed” types also exist in Tamgaly groups II, III, IV and V, but only in the former place are all the solar characters united in a single panel which allows us to consider it as an image of the pantheon. In Tamgaly, out of a total of 30 “sun-headed” images recorded, 26 still remain.
Tamgaly-type petroglyphs are distributed unevenly throughout the area of the gorge, mainly on the rocks in groups I-V, IVa, with more than 1,000 isolated images, also found in several peripheral locations of the Tamgaly complex, dated to the second half of the 14th – 13th centuries BC. Their area is limited from the central part of the Chu-Ili Mountains to the Chu Valley and the northern Issyk-Kul region.
Late Bronze Age (12th - 10th centuries BC) petroglyphs are outnumbered by the drawings of previous periods and differ significantly from them in technique, style, repertoire, localization within the Tamgaly complex. Their repertoire looks poorer, with images of horses, bulls and wild animals being prominent; complex, syncretic images become rare. Images from the transitional period from the Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age (beginning of the 1st millennium BC) form a particular small group. Almost no human figures are present, giving way to stylized images of deer, wild goat, and predators - wolves, wild boar, panthers. Their artistic style and compositional arrangement, due to the choice of vertical stelae-shaped planes, connect these petroglyphs with the pictorial tradition of Western Mongolia and Altai “deer” stones.
Images of the Early Iron Age form the largest group of Tamgaly petroglyphs. They are mainly concentrated in groups IV and V and at the periphery of the complex-everywhere around the settlements, burial mounds and on hill tops. A remarkable series includes images of wild animals in the Saki animal style-a specific artistic style of Central Asian Animalism of the 6th-4th centuries BC. Their appearance is connected to the massive retouching of Bronze Age drawings in groups III-V, where Saki petroglyphs are often clumsily carved onto ancient images. In addition, a huge amount of non-realistic engravings exist on the Tamgaly rocks.
Petroglyphs dating to the Middle Ages are everywhere, although their total number is relatively small. On canyon rocks, they prevail in groups IV and V, but the best examples are presented in several peripheral locations along the main roads and mountain trails of a gorge.
Medieval engravings with a special repertoire and artistic originality were made by Central Asian nomads (6th - 12th centuries). The main character of the panels is a mounted horseman-standardbearer, archer, or a heavily armed warrior. New pictorial motifs include a duel between mounted and dismounted warriors, hunting scenes, migrations. With few exceptions, the drawings were pecked superficially and many images incised with a sharp metal tool. Massive re-carving of ancient drawings becomes popular, with the addition of new elements changing the original content of images. A striking example is the image of a bull from the Bronze Age (III group, Site 23) transformed into the figure of a rider.
A large image of an elephant with a rider near the settlement of Tamgaly I, and the figure of a seated anthropomorphic character (deity?) in group V, resembling the early medieval frescoes of Sogdiana, are rare in Central Asian rock art. A special category of engravings includes ancient Turkic tamgas-signs of tribal affiliation and tribal property. There is also a short runic inscription dated to the 9th - 10th centuries.
An Oirat inscription on the rocks of group IV depicting a six-syllable mantra “om ma ni pad me hum” is dated to the last decades of the 17th – middle of the 18th centuries. Kazakh folk-images from the 19th - early 20th centuries show the last attempts at rock art. Limited to images of goats, horses and horse riders, they are mostly found near the wintering grounds of settlements; lineage tamgas are often depicted along with figures of people and animals.
The special cultural significance of the Tamgaly complex is due to a number of specific features. Many pictorial traditions typical of Kazakhstan and Central Asian rock art are concentrated there. The petroglyphs and other Tamgaly sites illustrate the evolution of the subjects and forms of rock art over three millennia against the background of the historical development of nomadic cultures in the arid zone of Central Asia.
Research Status and Documentation
Rock drawings and some Tamgaly sites were discovered for the first time in 1957 by Maximova A.-G. (Semirechie’s Party of Southern Kazakhstan Expedition from the Institute of History, Archeology, and Ethnography of AS of the KazSSR). Geologists Medoev A.-G. and Aubekerov B.-Zh., archaeologists Maryashev A.-N., Yermolaeva A.-S. researched the site in the 1970-1980’s. Rogozhinsky A.-E. researched it in 1988-2005. In 1990-1994, the “Kazproektrestavratsiya” Institute initiated a comprehensive archeological geomorphologic research and preservation of petroglyphs, continued in 1998-2005 by KazIRP MMC (Rogozhinsky A.-E., Aubekerov B.-Zh., Ripinskaya E.-N., Charlina L.-F., Horosh E.-H.), in partnership in 2002-2005 with A.-S. Higen (Riksantikvaren, Norway) and support from UNESCO. Since 2001, Tamgaly has been on the State List of Sites of National Importance of Kazakhstan. In 2003, the State Historical-Cultural and Natural Preserve “Tamgaly” was created. In 2004, the petroglyphs of Tamgaly archeological landscape were included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List (Rogozhinsky et al. 2004).
The Kulzhabasy Mountains are located in the Korday District of the Zhambyl Region, 200km west-north-west of Almaty City, 30km from Otar Station, in the south-western part of the Chu-Ili Mountains, where the wide Kopa Valley separates the southern end of the range from the central Anyrakay massif. The northern part of the mountains is a dry plateau. The southern slopes are cut across by erosion valleys, some of which are 2-3km long. The range is divided by a depression into eastern and western halves that is higher and has many springs as well as rock outcroppings with patinated surfaces which have been used for carving petroglyphs.
Research Status and Documentation
First information on rock art in the Kulzhabasy Mountains was reported in 1961 by regional ethnographer-zoologist, Markovskiy P.-I., who surveyed several gorges in the western part of the mountains. The main location of petroglyphs was discovered in 2002 by Sala R. and in 2003-2004 examined by expeditions of the Institute of Archeology of NAS of the RK (Maryashev A.-N.) and Research and Design Institute of Sites of Material Culture (Rogozhinskiy A.-E.). In 2005-2009, Rogozhinskiy (Kazakh Scientific Research Institute on Problems of the Cultural Heritage of Nomads (KazSRI-Nomads)) continued documenting and researching the petroglyphs. This research helped identify their main locations and over 100 sites of other types concentrated in more than 10 gorges within the Kulzhabasy Range. An archeological map was made, with indexed panoramas of the main concentrations of drawings. Archeological excavations were carried out on three burial sites dated to the Bronze Age and on two dwelling sites. Typology and dating of petroglyphs in Kulzhaasy was for the first time suggested by Sala R. and further developed by Rogozhinskiy (Rogozhinskiy et al. 2004).
The archeological landscape of Kulzhabasy covers a narrow strip of foothills and short mountain valleys (approximately 2x30km). Several dozens of dwelling sites from different periods were identified in the mountain valleys of Kulzhabasy. Galleries of petroglyphs appeared in the vicinity of dwelling sites on the rocky slopes of gorges, the most important of which are concentrated in four central valleys. In the piedmont plain, small groups of graves or entire necropoli with burials are attributed to the Bronze Age; they are in stone boxes and cists, with a chain of kurgans of early nomads, dated to the Middle Ages, with ritual fences and statues inside, as well as Kazakh familial-tribal burial vaults and mausoleums dated to the 18th - 19th centuries. Sites of the latest period are represented by the remnants of multiple wintering grounds, small cleared and fenced areas of plow-land and a relatively small number of petroglyphs and triballineage tamgas. Beginning in the 1930’s, the nomad population in Kulzhabasy sharply dropped.
Excavated material attributed to the Bronze Age burials at Kylzhabasy III, V and VI can be compared to that found at other sites in the Chu-Ili Mountains (Tamgaly, Oy-Dzhaylau, Kozha-Bala) and Semirechie, dated to no earlier than the 14th - 13th centuries BC.
Typology and Dating
Petroglyphs represent the most valuable and informative part of the Kulzhabasy sites. Several series chronologically precede the Late Bronze Age engravings strikingly represented at Tamgaly and other sites in Semirechie. The earliest ones are concentrated in three central gorges and include dozens of contour drawings of oxen with long curved horns. Animal figures are pecked superficially and are often overlaid by later engravings similar to those of the Tamgaly-type (14th - 13th centuries BC) and probably date to the first half of the 2nd millennium BC or earlier. This is especially important, since the genesis of Tamgaly-type petroglyphs suggests a synthesis of the pictorial traditions of the Andronovo tribes in Southern Saryarka (Central Kazakhstan) and certain indigenous groups in Western Semirechie, whose origin is still unclear.
The Kulzhabasy Bronze Age petroglyphs have a specific repertoire, iconography and pictorial style. Their repertoire is dominated by depictions of bulls, whose body frame is often adorned with parallel lines or grids; there also are four-wheeled carts on solid wheels, harnessed to bulls and people steering camels. Humans are depicted naturalistically in a unique manner (body facing forward and legs shown in profile), which characterizes the Bronze Age petroglyphs in the Karatau Mountains (Southern Kazakhstan), Bukantau and Zaravshan Valley (Uzbekistan). Rare depictions are analogous to the most ancient Tamgaly petroglyphs: archers wearing animal (wolf) masks, “sun-headed” personages and others. This allows identification of the settlement area of Bronze Age tribes within the Chu-Ili Mountains whose environment influenced a pictorial tradition of Tamgaly-type petroglyphs in the second half of the 2nd millennium BC. Probably, earlier engravings in Kulzhabasy demonstrate an initial stage of this cultural process which culminated with Tamgaly.
Kulzhabasy Late Bronze Age petroglyphs demonstrate a diversity of styles reflecting a multicomponent composition of the population in Western Semirechie at the end of the 2nd millennium BC. Particularly remarkable at that time is the depiction of realistic objects on rocks–knives, women’s jewelry and adornments-comparable to Late Bronze Age artifacts. This allows the dating of petroglyphs and identifying of broad cultural relations of the ancient Semirechie population. Thus, depictions of mirrors with jutting handles are analogous to bronze articles from treasure troves in the Chu Valley (Shamshi, Sadovoye, Sukuluk, and Koytin) of the 12th - 9th centuries BC and foundry moulds from ancient farming settlements of the Chust Culture in Fergana. A depiction of a knife, whose prototypes were common in the 13th - 9th centuries BC among forest and steppe dwellers of the Tomsk Near Ob area, indicates more remote relations with Semirechie. Perhaps, the frequent depictions of prestigious metal artifacts on the Kulzhabasy rocks and other sites in the Chu-Ili Mountains reflect an important role of those ancient roads that connected the populations of Semireche and the Near Issykkul area with the large copper deposits in Saryarka.
This “corridor” of steppe communications acquires even more importance in the 1st millennium BC, when, along with the traditional motifs of Saki animalists in Kulzhabasy, emerges the artwork of ancient nomads, whose “traces” are found from the Urals to the lower reaches of Syrdayra to the Altai and Sayan.
The best petroglyphs of this period are concentrated in the eastern part of the Kulzhabasy complex where a remarkable gallery was created on rocks free from petroglyphs of earlier periods. Several vertical and inclined surfaces, so located that many engravings can be seen at one glance from a distance of 10-15m, represent a kind of “triptych”. The foreground scene features a group: two warriors –one with a short sword and a dagger, another with a battle axe and a shield–face left; their profiles show their facial features (chin, nose, high forehead), hairstyle and a tall head-dress with a rounded top. Their body proportions are noticeably distorted and their pose is that of riders without stirrups on invisible horses. A little to the left, on a second surface are several large figures : a horse galloping to the right towards the warriors, a mirror with a long handle with a coin-shaped tip, and an unidentified contour-drawn figure resembling the head of a chimerical griffon. Finally, the centerpiece of the “triptych” is a complex composition that includes several expressive scenes: two horses standing by a sacrificial pole or a schematically-depicted tree; a child delivery scene–a pregnant woman stretching her arms towards a cauldron and a person kneeling in front of her and holding with one hand the leg of the woman in labor and holding a knife to her large abdomen in his other hand; another person, depicted to the left of the woman in labor, is holding her by her shoulders. Other engravings depict shooting archers, people leading camels on a leash and others.
To the right of the panel, on a white quartz rock imbedded in sandstone, there is another pecked depiction of a mirror with a long handle expanding towards the tip. The series of these images is unique and executed with a mastery and realism rare for rock art, thus revealing their creators’ familiarity with the best works of Asian nomadic pictorial art and, possibly, the Middle Eastern civilization of the 1st century BC. The entire collection of realistic objects depicted a cauldron with vertical handles on a conical tray, a battle axe with a bolt, a small rectangular shield and a short sword, dagger, and a head-dress of a unique shape– are more often found beyond Semirechie: in the north-east –in the nomadic cultures of Tuva, Altai, Minusinsk Basin in the period of 6th–4th centuries BC, and in the north-west in the material culture of the Savromats and Sarmats of Zauralye. The rare occurrence of this series of petroglyphs in Kulzhabasy and in the Chu-Ili Mountains testifies to the short presence of these tribes who left such remarkable works of rock art.
Another series of petroglyphs concentrated near an ancient dwelling site stands out: scenes depicting mounted archers hunting goats and deer, humans attired in kaftans and baggy trousers, and others, including three mythical animals resembling “unicorns” known on toreutikh items and in Southern Siberian petroglyphs, related to the Hsienbi culture of the first centuries of our Era.
Medieval petroglyphs in Kulzhabasy are relatively few, but include expressive scenes with confrontations of archers on foot with a mounted standard bearer, a cavalcade of riders with banners, wild sheep hunting and other scenes traditional for the period, with many tribal tamga and runic inscriptions.
Very few Kulzhabasy petroglyphs are modern: Oirat tamgas and depictions of people wearing kaftans resembling traditional Kalmyk garments. The Oirats were present in Western Semirechie at the end of 17th – first half of the 18th centuries. Kazakh petroglyphs, Arabic inscriptions and tamgas often occur on rocks near wintering grounds of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Sholakzhideli Gorge is located in the Shu District of the Zhambyl Region, 5km east of Khantau Station on the western slope of the Khantau Mountains. The Low Khantau and Zhambyl Mountains form the northern end of the Chu-Ili Range. That area is surrounded by almost
impassable deserts (Moyinkum, Begapdala and Taukum), to the west, north, and east. For more than three millennia, it thus had a special significance in the system of interregional communications, cultural, economic, political ties and relations. The routes historically connecting Eastern Europe and Western Siberia, Central Asia, Internal Tien Shan and China met there. Until the middle of the 19th century, trade caravans from Bukhara and Tashkent stopped to rest before continuing their journey through the desert to the shores of the Balkhash and farther on to Irtysh and Tobol. The strategic main road –Big Kalmy Road that connected the nomadic headquarters (urgu) of the rulers of the Dzhungarian Khanate and Tibet with the Volga Kalmyks-led from there to the Volga through the Kazakh Steppe. The Khantau archeological sites testify to the significance of the Semirechie area in Antiquity.
Research Status and Documentation
Research on Khantau archeological sites is incomplete. Some sites with petroglyphs were discovered in the 1970’s and 1980’s by geologists Medoev A.-G., Volobuev V.-I., historians and regional ethnographers Zholdasbaev S. and Baybosynov K. Archeologist Ismagilov R.-B. only excavated burial grounds dating to the Bronze Age in Kozhabala. The most researched type of site is still rock art. In 1994, a French-Kazakh Expedition (Francfort H.-P. & Samashev Z.) surveyed petroglyphs in the Sholakzhideli Gorge. In 2007 and 2009, an expedition from the KazSRI-Nomads carried out archeological exploration in the Khantau Mountains and documented petroglyphs in the Zholakzhideli Gorge. They made a map of the surveyed area, indexed Sholakzhideli Canyon, photographed surfaces with petroglyphs, and made contact copies of some of them.
Khantau is a large mountain massif mainly consisting of granites and eruptive rocks. Several valleys are parallel along the south-western slope. The largest of them – Sunkarsay, Ulkentaldy, Sholakzhideli and Terekty– begin as wide water-drainage funnels and form deep and narrow gorges in their openings that served as an ideal environment for rock art galleries. As a rule, dwelling sites of the Neolithic and later periods including the Middle Ages are located in the upper part of the valleys near the estuaries of small rivers and springs. Frequent discoveries of ornamented pottery made with a potter’s wheel point to the close ties of 9th and 10th centuries AD nomads with the settlements of non-migratory populations and cities in the Chu Valley. Small groups of kurgans of early and medieval nomads were left in the piedmont area, but the largest cemeteries are concentrated in the southern foothills of Mount Sunkar. Groups of funerary fences built with 7/8 boulders stretch in a line along chains of kurgans. Judging from their appearance, these fenced kurgan burial sites resemble Altai sites dated to the Pazyryk Culture of the Scythian Period. Ancient Turkic stone fences and statues were found in hill sites of intermontane areas.
The Kozhabala burial site on the north-eastern slope of Mount Sunkar is the most ancient explored site at Khantau. A total of 150 burials are represented by fenced rectangular or roundish stone structures. Excavated graves yielded cremated remains and a body with ornate pottery and bronze jewelry (bracelets, pendants, bead necklaces). The burial site, dated to the 13th century BC, is attributed to the mixed type of sites of the Andronovo cultural and historical community common in the south of Saryarka and Western Semirechie. As at other Bronze Age burials in the Chu-Ili Mountains (Tamgaly I, Oy-Dzhaylau III), the Kozhabala necropolis records the history of steppe tribes in Central Kazakhstan and all the way to the foothills of Tien Shan in the last third of the 2nd millennium BC.
Typology and Dating
The most ancient petroglyphs in Khantau’s mountainous valleys are dated to the Bronze Age. They also include engravings very typical of the Northern Near Balkhash Area rock art by repertoire and style and Bronze Age petroglyphs common in other parts of Semirechie.
The most remarkable Khantau petroglyphs include engravings dating to the middle of the 1st millennium BC, most of which are unique or rare, specific to the Chu-Ili Mountains and belonging to the period of early nomads.
The largest location of petroglyphs in Khantau is Sholakzhideli. Most are concentrated on the right slope of a small canyon at the mouth of the valley. The rock massif is formed by alternating rows of erosion terraces that resemble high steps that make the canyon look like an antique theater. All rocks are covered with “desert patina”, but horizontal surfaces, where most petroglyphs are carved, had the best qualities for rock art. Therefore, one can see the images only when ascending the slope or standing at the edge of a ledge. This is a specific feature of Sholakzhideli rock art that distinguishes it from all other known sites in the Khantau and Chu-Ili Mountains.
The canyon contains petroglyphs of the Bronze and Early Iron Ages, while the most ancient images cover only a few wide surfaces; the remaining surfaces were used by artists of the Saki Period. Medieval petroglyphs and recarvings of ancient images are few, so most early engravings are in a good state of preservation. There are about 2,000 petroglyphs in all.
Images of horses, bulls, camels and a chariot are dated to the Bronze Age; a two-wheeled chariot is shown schematically without draft animals. They differ only slightly and were apparently created within one period. They also include several artfully carved images, thematically quite similar. A remarkable scene in the upper tier of the canyon is that of a battle between two stallions on their hind legs.
Petroglyphs of the Saki Period, in a majority in the canyon, are often carved on the same surfaces, while in some cases they overlap Bronze Age images. In general, the layer of petroglyphs is heterogeneous, with earlier and later series of images while some images are superimposed in some compositions. Engravings of the Early Saki Animalistic style are characterized by a unique manner of depicting wild animals –herbivores and predators. However, the overall background of the gallery consists of a different pictorial tradition with some elements of animalistic style, but it loses the plasticity intrinsic to the Early Saki art and shows a noticeable prevalence of ornamental elements. Contour images of animals, whose body frame is filled with various lines, scrolls, and other ornamental figures, are dominant. Laced animals clumsily overlap Bronze Age and Saki engravings, which shows a shift in the artistic traditions of the second half of the 2nd millennium BC. They include a unique image of a deer with tree-like antlers and shapes on its back that resemble wings. In general, this series of petroglyphs is similar to those found far in the north-east, in the art of the Tagarian tribes of the Middle Yenisei and Pazyryk Culture of the Altai as well as that of some other sites in the Chu-Ili Mountains (Anyrakay, Tamgaly) and in the Near Issyk Kul Area (Cholpon-Ata). This said, the Sholakzhideli petroglyphs represent the largest series of drawings of this type in the Chu-Ili Mountains. Petroglyphs also include tamga-like signs of two types also found in other rock art locations in Central Asia (Altai, Tuva, and Mongolia).
Another rare category of engravings includes mirrors, on several sites scattered along the Chu-Ili mountains from Kulzhabasy in the south to Khantau in the north. Out of five mirrors with a straight protruding handle carved on one surface at Sholakzhideli, four are depicted with life-size proportions, shapes and sizes. Their comparison with dated artifacts gives a probable age for the petroglyphs and indicates the historic and cultural contacts of early nomads in Semirechie, all the more as depictions of mirrors do not occur, for example, in the Dzhungarian Alatau. At the same time, solar images of mirrors with protruding handles are known on sites of the Mountainous Altai (Kalbak-Tash). Thus, the engraved mirrors, together with other discoveries and sites in the Chu-Ili Mountains, reflect the special historical significance of this geographical region in the system of ancient communications through Western Semirechie.
Modern petroglyphs–lineage tamgas of Kazakhs of the Great Juz (Senior Horde nomads) of the Dulat tribe-were found in the Sholakzhideli and Zhideli Gorges in the vicinity of several dwelling sites dated to the last third of the 19th century. As in other areas of Semirechie, due to a scarcity of land, these signs certified lineage property rights for the most conveniently-located nomadic wintering grounds.
The Eshkiolmes Mountains are spurs of the main range of the Dzhungarian Alatau 15km south of Taldykorgan City–an administrative capital of the Almaty Region.
The specificity of the natural structure of low range Eshkiolmes (850–1,300m) is its asymmetry: the northern slopes consist of smooth hillsides in a gently rolling country covered with grassland vegetation; the southern slope is steep and represents a chain of deep and narrow rocky gorges. Devonian eruptive and sedimentary formations shape the geological structure of the mountains. It is on these patinated Devonian rocks that numerous petroglyphs are preserved.
Research Status and Documentation
Information about Eshkiolmes Mountains rock engravings was reported by a geologist Skrynnik L., and in 1982, an expedition from the Kazakh Pedagogy Institute led by Maryashev A.-N. carried out the first research on petroglyphs and the excavations of burial sites in the foothills. During the following twenty years, the sites of Eshkiolmes were researched by Maryashev A.-N. (in 1982-1988 in partnership with Rogozhinskiy A.-E.) and Goryachev A.-A.
In 2003-2005, an expedition from KazIRP MMC led by Rogozhinskiy A.-E. explored and recorded the Eshkiolmes sites, mapping the complex, determining boundaries and the protection zone of the site in order to file for state registration, and documentation of the main locations of petroglyphs (Rogozhinskiy et al. 2004). The site is on the State List of Historic and Cultural Sites of Kazakhstan of National Importance and the UNESCO Tentative List, but the protection zone has not yet been approved and no physical protection or management have been provided yet.
“Eshkiolmes”, a name common in the toponymy of Kazakhstan, means “a goat won’t die (from starvation)”. Kazakh cattle breeders usually give this name to a locale rich in year-round pasture.
Out of two groups of Bronze Age sites in the foothills of Eshkiolmes, one is dated from the 13th to the 12th century BC (Talapty I settlement, Talapty burial sites I and II, III, Kuygan II) and the other to the 12th and 10th/9th centuries BC (Talapty settlements I, Kuygan I, II and Kuygan burial sites II and III). Materials from the sites show close ties with the cultures of the Late Bronze Age in Central Kazakhstan and Western Semirechie as well as of the steppe, the forest-steppe Altai and the Minusinsks Basin. Early Iron Age and Middle Ages sites are poorly explored in the foothills of Eshkiolmes. Individual kurgan burials were excavated at different periods at Talapty I, Kuygan I and II.
Typology and Dating
The concentration of Eshkiolmes petroglyphs is one of the largest in Kazakhstan, with a total of 10,000 engravings dated from the Bronze Age to the beginning of the 20th century. Their spatial location follows a certain pattern determined by the functional importance of specific parts of the landscape at different historic periods.
Thus, rocks located in the mountainous area of Eshkiolmes, near encampments of the Early Iron Age, medieval and modern nomads, are usually marked with small series’ of rough drawings of similar subjects. Bronze Age petroglyphs are very few or nonexistent there. A similar collection of petroglyphs, can be seen along mountain trails that connect parts of the landscape that have economic significance for the cattle breeders, include encampments, pastures, watering holes, and others. Finally, key accumulations of petroglyphs are concentrated on slopes and watersheds of mountain valleys with abundant rock ledges with broad, smooth and thickly patinated surfaces that served as perfect backgrounds for the drawings. These rocky places, often almost impassable and distant from settlements, have always attracted creators of rock engravings by their picturesque beauty. During the third millennium, hundreds/thousands of engravings were created there, some most impressive and genuine masterpieces.
Eshkiolmes petroglyphs were pecked or carved, engraved on rock, but most images were made using a combination of techniques. This specificity of the site is mainly due to the properties of the local rock. Fine-grained sandstone with a glassy smooth surface covered with bluish-black patina was an ideal material that permitted the creation of very expressive exquisite images, in antiquity, in the Middle Ages, and in modern times. Mastery of engraving techniques allowed artists to accurately represent details of real items (armor, clothes, horse outfits), whose comparison with actual artifacts permits the accurate dating of the petroglyphs.
Bronze Age engravings (14th/13th – 9th centuries BC) are the most numerous with several outstanding series of images from different periods that differ in style, technique and repertoire. These differences are not only related to evolutionary changes in rock art, but also to cultural innovations and migrations to Semirechie from other areas of Central Asia. The findings from settlements and burial sites investigated in the foothills of Eshkiolmes and the Koksu Valley include specimens of ceramics and metal articles (women’s adornments, an arrowhead) of the Yelovo Culture dated to the Late Bronze Age in Southern Siberia. In their turn, some series of petroglyphs at Eshkiolmes have expressive analogies with rock art sites in the Mountaineous Altai and Western Mongolia.
A characteristic of the Bronze Age petroglyphs in Eshkiolmes is the notable prevalence of battle motifs and cattle-stealing scenes, which reflects troubled times filled with tribal warfare and fights for the best pastures. Multiple images of battle chariots and warriors armed with spears, bows and quivers filled with arrows, clubs, or missile rocks on a strap are abundant. However, the petroglyphs of the period also include composite creatures and motifs, apparently of mythical content: “sun-headed” anthropomorphs surrounded by animals or driving chariots; archers shooting a “giant” and others. At least two series of Bronze Age petroglyphs are of particular interest. Their creation is related to a massive re-carving of images from a previous period, when older images were crudely remade, with new details that changed the initial appearance and content of entire compositions.
Early Iron Age engravings are notable for their thematic and artistic originality; most are real masterpieces. Unlike petroglyphs made by Bronze Age farmers and pastoralists, the rock art of 1st century BC early nomads is dominated by images of wild fauna represented in a special graphic “animalistic style”. At the same time, horse-riding appears and becomes established in the rock art.
The heroic theme of nomadic rock art is more fully embodied in petroglyphs of the Medieval Period, which include notable images of the Ancient Turkic Period (6th - 8th centuries) and of later periods of the 9th - 12th centuries. Rock art compositions include images of battles with archers on foot and riders, as well as motifs from nomadic life including a collective hunt that played a special role in a militarized nomadic society of the 1st millennium AD. The style of Eshkiolmes medieval engravings is notable for its realism and expression, distinguishing it from other Semirechie sites with rock art of the same period.
Historical and contemporary petroglyphs are relatively minor in numbers. Among them, images and Oirat prayer inscriptions of the 17th - 18th centuries and Kazakh traditional drawings and epigraphy dated to the 19th - beginning of the 20th century are of special interest. Their repertoire includes riders, livestock and wild animals, whilst hunting scenes, sometimes depicting bows and arrows along with firearms; and yurts and lineage signs are rare.
The final stage is that of the Soviet period. Petroglyphs and Cyrillic graffiti of this time occur in small numbers only along nomadic trails, and near wintering grounds in the foothills of Eshkiolmes.
Tamgalytas (Ili Kapshagay) petroglyphs
Tamgalytas is a site of Tibetan-Oirat art and epigraphy of the 17th-18th centuries, located in the Almaty Region, 25km north-west of Kapshagay City, on the right bank of the Ili River. In the middle part of Ili Kapshagay (canyon), at the foot of the erosion rock ledge about 500 m long and 40-45 m high, an accumulation of boulders has 17 surfaces depicting four Buddha images (Shakyamuni, Bhaisajyaguru, Akshobya and Nageshvararaja), bodhisattvas of Avalokiteshvara and about 30 inscriptions executed in Tibetan and Oirat writing.
Research Status and Documentation
Tamgalytas rock art was first examined in 1856 by a Kazakh researcher, Valikhanov Ch.-Ch., and in 1857 by a renowned Russian traveler, geographer Semyonov P.-P. and an artist who accompanied him, Kosharov P.-M. They made a series of ink and watercolor sketches of individual inscriptions along with images from Tamgalytas, which reflect the appearance of the site at the moment of its discovery. In the second half of the 19th century, Tamgalytas was repeatedly visited by different scientists and regional ethnographers. The most valuable information about the site is contained in manuscripts by Larionov K.-A. and specialist articles by Poyarkov F.-V., Pantusov N.-N., as well as the famous Russian Mongolian Studies specialist Pozdneev A.-M. who first translated most of the inscriptions and gave an interpretation of the Buddha images. A detailed exploration of Tamgalytas was carried out by Pantusov N.-N. in 1897 upon the instruction of the Imperial Archeological Commission.
In 2008-2009, an expedition from KazSRI-Nomads (Yerofeeva I.-V., Aurbekov B.-Zh., Rogozhinskiy A.-E.) completed a comprehensive study of Tamgalytas and made a recording of inscriptions and images (Yerofeeva 2010, Rogozhinskiy 2010). Present-day interpretation of
Tibetan and Oirat epigraphy was done by Yakhontova N.-S. (Institute of Oriental Studies, RAS, St.Petersburg) and the iconographic analysis of images done by Yelikhina Yu.-I. (State Hermitage, St.Petersburg).
Since 1981, Tamgalytas, as a site of sacred Tibetan art of the 17th - 18th centuries, has been under the protection of the government. Since 2008, the area of the site has been improved for tourist visits in addition to carrying out conservation activities, but the protection zone of the site has not yet been established.
Typology and Dating
The site contains temporally different images and inscriptions created in four stages.
The first stage includes images of Buddha Shakyamuni, bodhisattvas of Avalokiteshvara, Bhaisajyaguru Buddha and accompanying Tibetan inscriptions on the central panel, an epigraphic figure of Buddha Nageshvararaja as well as various prayer texts including two mantras of Buddha Manjushri, an address to the Fourth Panchen Lama, Lobsang Chokyi Gyaltsen (1570.1662), and four six-syllable mantras "om ma ni pad me hum" carved on different rocks in a circumference.
The second stage includes ten texts of the six-syllable mantra similar in technique, paleography, and content and executed in Oirat "clear script". Simultaneously or a bit earlier, the pictorial series in the sanctuary was supplemented with an image of Buddha Akshobyi, later surrounded by a new cycle of Tibetan epigraphy.
In the third stage, a mantra dedicated to Akshobyi appeared later around his image on different faces of nearby boulders - a series of Tibetan inscriptions - including a triple six-syllable mantra, a mantra of Buddha Shakyamuni and even two mantras of Manjushri at the southern edge of the sacred site.
The fourth stage included the creation of the longest text in Tamgalytas, reproduced in 11 lines in cursive "clear script". In the recent translation of Yakhontova N.-S. it offers gratitude to the Buddha images depicted and to bodhisattva for "overcoming dangers [beginning] from diseases to starvation" and wishes to find "long and endless serenity in this land".
The history of the Tamgalytas complex pertains to the epoch of military and political might and cultural prime of the Dzhungarian Khanate (1635-1757), accompanied by intensive dissemination of Lamaistic Buddhism among the Western Mongolian tribes of Oirats. The creation of the sanctuary is related to the religious and political activities of Galdan Boshugtu Khan (1644.1697): in his day, Lamaism was established among the Oirats. The location for a Buddhist sanctuary was chosen because it is near one of the main river crossings of the Ili River, which played an important role in the network of trans-regional communications in Semirechie at the end of the 17th century. first half of the 18th century as well as in implementing a policy of conquest by the Dzhungarian Khanate in Southern Kazakhstan and Central Asia.
The sanctuary no longer actively worked or was visited by Lamaists from about 1758, after the defeat of the Dzhungarian Khanate by the troops of China under the Tsin Dynasty and the consequent return of Kazakh and Kyrgyz clans to the lands of Semirechie.
A final stage of cultic epigraphy at the Tamgalytas sanctuary pertains to a climactic episode of the last great migration of Volga’s Kalmyk-Torguts led by Ubashi Khan in 1771 from Russia to the lands of the former Dzhungarian Khanate. Thus, the Lamaist sanctuary in Tamgalytas Gorge functioned for about 100 years –from 1676/1677 to 1771.
The complex of rock engravings and inscriptions in Tamgalytas has no analogies in the western part of Central Asia, neither by the composition of personages of the Tibetan pantheon presented, nor by the number of texts–different in content and languages. There are more than 20 known sites of Tibetan Buddhism dated to the 17th – middle of the 18th century in Kazakhstan, with isolated sacred art sites among them. Cultic sites with the similar replicated prayer formula “om ma ni pad me hum” (Taygak, Akkaynar, Kegen Arasan and others) prevail among several dozens of registered locations of Tibetan and Oirat epigraphy. Tamgalytas images and early inscriptions show some similarity with a group of sites of Tibetan Buddhism in Northern Kyrgyzstan (Yssyg-Ata and Tamga). However, Tamgalytas stands out due to its artistic originality, diversity of epigraphic texts and time span of their creation, which unquestionably reflects its special significance at the time of its creation and functioning.
The Akterek Valley is in the Zhambyl District of the Almaty Region, 4km south of Akterek Village, 100km west of Almaty City. Akterek Gorge is located on the northern slope of Zailiyskiy Alatau, the western lower part of the range. Along with other adjacent valleys–Kastek, Rgayty–Akterek Gorge forms an important part of traditional mountain transit routes that connect Semirechie and the Ili Valley with the upper reaches of the Chu River, the Issyk Kul Basin and the area of Central Tien Shan.
Research Status and Documentation
Archeological research was conducted at various times by the Semirechie Expedition of the AS of KazSSR in the foothill plain near the entrance of Akterek Gorge. In 1956, Ageeva E.-I. excavated two funerary fences and seven kurgans dated to the 3rd - 1st centuries BC (Ageeva 1961: 26-28, 35, 37. Fig. 5); Patzevich G.-I. explored a small fortified settlement from the 10th - 12th centuries AD (АКК. 1960, No. 4032: 289).
Further research was renewed under the leadership of Akishev in the late 1980’s–early 1990’s. Trifonov Yu.-I. discovered and partially excavated burial sites of medieval nomads, but never published his results. Mirzabaev A.-S. researched petroglyphs in Akterek Gorge for the first time (1990: 137-140). In 2007-2009, Rogozhinskiy A.-E. continued exploring and recording the Akterek Valley petroglyphs; a map of the major concentrations of petroglyphs was made and the images photographed. The total number of Akterek petroglyphs exceeds 1,000.
Near the dwelling sites were discovered petroglyphs dated to different periods, dwelling sites (No. 1-5) and an ancient Turkic runic inscription (No. 4). The dwelling sites are dated to the 19th - early 20th centuries, but Early Iron Age and medieval ceramics were found on the surface as well.
Typology and Dating
Rock engravings are found practically everywhere on the left-hand rocky slope of the gorge, where the habitation sites are located. They are carved on the well patinated black or dark-brown surfaces of fine-grained sandstone. The most ancient ones date to the Bronze Age. Some are similar to Late Bronze Age petroglyphs in many other locations at Semirechie. An earlier group of engravings is noted for its repertoire and style, and is somewhat similar to some on sites in the southern part of the Chu-Ili Mountains (Akkaynar, Kulzhabasy) and Eastern Fergana (Saymaly-Tash, Sahaba). Unique compositions include: one with images of three pairs of bulls near a Y-shaped tether and a human in an adoration pose; a solitary human figure with a turned over crescent over the head resembles “moon-headed” personages at Saymaly-Tash.
Early Iron Age petroglyphs, the most numerous, are in the tradition of the Saki animal style. As elsewhere at Semirechie, drawings of ancient and medieval nomads often overlap more ancient images. It is common for the latter to complement compositions of preceding epochs with individual images of humans, animals, and tamga signs. A representative series of medieval and Kazakh tamgas next to dwelling sites was discovered at Akterek. The closest analogues to the Akterek tamgas are in the Chu-Ili Mountains and in the Near Issyk Kul Area.
Geographically, Southern Kazakhstan extends across three administrative regions (Zhambyl, South Kazakhstan and Kyzylorda). Most of the territory is flat and occupied by steppes, semideserts and deserts: in the south-west, on the left bank of the Syrdarya River, by the Kyzyl Kum sands and Shardara steppe; in the east, by the Moyinkum Desert between the valleys of Chu and Talas Rivers; in the north, by the eastern edge of the Dala Desert (Golodnaya Steppe). The middle of the region is occupied by the Karatau Range (2,176m); in the south-east, borders are determined by the western spurs of the Talas Alatau (4,027m), Kyrgyz Alatau (3,820m); and in the south-west, by the Karzhantau (2,824m) and Ugam Ranges (4,238m). The natural and climatic conditions of Southern Kazakhstan are favorable to the development of irrigated agriculture and various forms of cattle-breeding including nomadic. The specificity of that natural environment since antiquity has enabled a long coexistence of settled and nomadic communities. Historically and culturally, this brings together Southern Kazakhstan and Semirechie that both occupy an intermediate position between Central Asia and the steppe-and-forest area of Siberia and the Urals, acting as a contact zone of oases and steppes.
Rock art sites are found in all Southern Kazakhstan mountainous regions. Rock paintings have not been discovered. The most numerous and well-researched petroglyphs are at Karatau; the leastresearched are in the Western Tien Shan highlands, home to the most notable highland complex of petroglyphs: Aksuzhabagly in Talas Alatua. So far, nearly 50 petroglyph sites have been discovered and researched to a different extent in Southern Kazakhstan, but only the Aksuzhabagly petroglyphs receive protection due to their location within a wildlife preserve.
First reports about petroglyphs in the Karatau Mountains date to the early 20th century, but systematic research of the site commenced in the late 1950’s and related to activities of the Southern Kazakhstan Comprehensive Expedition of the Academy of Sciences (Senigova 1962: 87-97). The discovery of most known locations in Southern Kazakhstan in the early 1970’s was due to the research and exploration of the Northern Karatau Party of the Archeological Expedition led by Kadyrbaev M.-K. and Maryashev A.-N. (Kadyrbaev & Maryashev 1977: 8-10). Petroglyphs within the two largest locations (Arpauzen and Koybagar) in 1970-1973 became a test site for the development of the then progressive methods of documentation and research of rock engravings. In the 1980’s, several locations of petroglyphs in the southern part of Karatau were discovered and explored by Samashev Z. (Teris, Zhyngylshek).
Research of Southern Kazakhstan sites intensified at the beginning of this century: a large location of petroglyphs (Sauiskandyk) was discovered in Northern Karatau (Samashev Z. & Shvetz I.-N.); a series of sites in Central Karatau was explored (Maryashev A.-N. & Potapov S.-A.); documentation and research of petroglyphs at Arpauzen and Koybagar, as well as at Tamgalytas in Betpakdala continued (Rogozhinskiy A.-E.), in line with site conservation objectives and preparation for a UNESCO serial nomination.
Many Southern Kazakhstan sites include petroglyph complexes dated to different periods, the most ancient to the Bronze Age. Late Bronze Age (last third of the 2nd millennium BC) engravings are identified from specifics of style, repertoire, and images of items from real life (chariots, armor); this pictorial tradition is also represented on sites at Semirechie, in the Near Issyk Kul Area, the Talas Valley, and Western Tien Shan. Petroglyphs dated to the first half of the 2nd millennium BC are the most diverse, with two key pictorial traditions: petroglyphs related to the Seymin-Turbin artistic tradition of the steppe area in Kazakhstan (Saryarka); petroglyphs whose repertoire and style clearly reflect the influence of the culture and art of pre-historic Central Asia. Analogies exist with Zeravshan Valley sites (Sarmishsay, Soyi-Sobog), Kyzyl Kum (Bukantau) and the southern part of the Chu-Ili Mountains at Semirechie (Kulzhabasy).
Pictorial traditions dated to the Early Iron Age are clearly notable at the Karatau and Talas Range sites in relation to: first, to the tradition of images on “deer stones” in Western Mongolia, Tuva, and Altai; second, to the Early Saki art of nomads in Syrdarya and Pamir. Medieval engravings are also numerous and common wherever petroglyphs are found. Places where natural cliffs or stelae predominantly or exclusively have tamgas and epigraphy (Tamgalytas) constitute a special category in Southern Kazakhstan. Another specificity of Southern Kazakhstan is the abundance of modern petroglyphs (17th - early 20th centuries) and a preserved tradition of creating rock art in the present.
The Most Important Sites in Southern Kazakhstan
Arpauzen archeological complex is located in the Sozak District of the Southern Kazakhstan Region, 30km north-west of the district capital – Sholakkorgan Station, 3km south-west of Abay Village. Geographically, Arpauzen Gorge lies in the foothills of the slope of the Great Range of Near Sydarya Karatau. The Arpauzen Complex is located where the rivers Arpauzen, Taskura and Sarymsakty from the Greater Karatau Range join the Chu River Valley. The highest peaks of the Greater Karatau are there (Bessaz Peak, 2,176m and Kelenshetau Peak, 1,796.5m). Petroglyphs were made on the slopes at the riverside, on reddish-brown and grayish-brown fine-grained sandstones outcrops. They are rarely found on the northern slopes of erosion valleys.
Research Status and Documentation
In 1959, Alpysbaev H.-A. explored a kurgan burial site in the Taskura Valley; this is the first evidence of archeological sites in the Arpauzen Complex (АКК 1960. С.238, № 3428, 3429 (АКК. 1960: 238, No. 3428, 3429). Arpauzen petroglyphs were discovered in 1970 by Maryashev A.-N. and were then researched jointly by Kadyrbaev M.-K.(Kadyraev & Maryashev 1977). They identified 8 groups of petroglyphs, recorded 3,401 images, and developed a first periodization of the images. The most ancient petroglyphs in Arpauzen were dated by them to the Late Bronze Age. Now, it seems possible to date early Arpauzen petroglyphs to the first half of the 2nd millennium BC.
In 2003-2004, archeological research at Arpauzen was resumed by Rogozhinskiy A.-E. (KazIRP MMC), within the UNESCO CARAD project and in line with the instructions from the Ministry of Culture of the RK. In 2004, a description of the Arpauzen Complex was prepared to file the site for state protection, a baseline documentation was created (archeological map, inventory of sites, indexed panoramas), 17 groups of petroglyphs with 930 surfaces with images were identified, and reconnaissance excavations were done in two settlements. The total of petroglyphs registered amounts to more than 5,000.
In 2002, the Arpauzen petroglyphs were put on the Tentative World Heritage List of UNESCO. Archeological Context. Arpauzen consists of one complex of archeological sites concentrated in a relatively small area of 37.5km2, dated from the Bronze Age to the early 20th century. A total of 130 archeological sites including 20 settlements and over 80 burial grounds with 17 main concentrations were found.
Concentrations of, as well as solitary, Neolithic artifacts were discovered in the piedmont area near springs. The most ancient researched sites include the Bronze Age settlements of Arpauzen IV and VI. The ceramics are heterogeneous and include fragments of dishware made with a potter’s wheel, of Tautarin type and similar to materials from the Tazabayan settlements in the lower reaches of the Zarafshan River (Gudzhayli) dated to the middle of the 2nd millennium BC. There are also Kurgan burial sites from the Early Iron Age, medieval ritual fences with statues, remnants of wintering grounds and fortified villages with traces of irrigation channels and cemeteries of the 17th – 18th centuries. Key concentrations of petroglyphs at Arpauzen are located on slopes between two adjacent erosion valleys. In the vicinity of the villages, there is a concentration of petroglyphs with frequent overlapping.
Typology and Dating
A vast majority of petroglyphs are pecked. Engraved images are sporadic. Possibly, the earliest drawings include a small composition with images of bulls incised and differing in style and technique from Bronze Age petroglyphs. All periods are dominated by images of Bactrian camels, also found at other Karatau sites.
Three series of engravings stand out at Arpauzen. Cases of mutual superimposition of these petroglyphs are very rare, so their chrono-cultural attributions are based on comparisons of style and iconography with other sites. The earliest petroglyphs, the most obvious, are concentrated on rocks in groups 8, 9 and 10 near the settlements of Arpauzen IV, VI; small series are found in groups 3 and 5. Their varied repertoire includes images of horse, deer, wild ram, goat, dog, longlegged birds (cranes) and humans (bird and Asiatic wild ass hunters, warriors with axes, bows and sticks); there are also four-wheeled carts pulled by horses or camels, mirrors, “labyrinths” and signs. Images of both animals and humans are exquisitely rendered, indicating the volume of three-dimensional models on a two-dimensional surface. About 100 of these engravings are in groups 5, 7, 9-11; some of them are unquestionable masterpieces.
Real-life objects depicted (mirrors, “batons”) have prototypes among cultural artifacts found at Sapalli (Uzbekistan), dated to the first half of the 2nd millennium BC. Animal images are also close to toreutic items and figure-casting of pre-historic Bactria and Margiana (Gonur-tepe, Zardcha-Khalifa). These Arpauzen petroglyphs are similar in repertoire, style, and iconography to Bronze Age petroglyphs at Sarmyshsay (Uzbekistan), also characterized by the interaction of steppe tribes and farmers of Central Asia (Avanesova 2002: 17).
To another Bronze Age type belong petroglyphs concentrated in groups 12 and 13 around the Arpauzen IV settlement and sometimes found in groups 11, 14, 16. They are chronologically close to those of type I, but significantly differ from them in repertoire, style and iconography. They include humans and animals (camels, horses and bulls), carved in a style close to that of petroglyphs at Baykonur (Novozheniv 2002, Table 26, 1а, Tables 31, 14. 4-5) and Terekty-Aulie in the western part of Sary-Arka (Samashev et al. 2000: 7, fig. 1,7). They reflect the process of Andronovo Culture tribes moving from Central Kazakhstan southwards to oases of Central Asia in the middle of the 2nd millennium BC.
A series of images at Arpauzen are similar in repertoire and style to Semirechie petroglyphs dated to the Late Bronze Age. They occur in early palimpsests at Arpauzen and overlie petroglyphs of the two earlier types. Their repertoire also includes images of horse-drawn chariots, coupled humans in an adoration pose, and a bull figure among the animals.
There are few petroglyphs of the Early Iron Age at Arpauzen, but several compositions with large (up to 1m) images of deer, wild boar, and bear in the Saki animal style are remarkable due to their high quality of execution. Some of them reproduce in detail animal images known from items of Saki applied art in the Near Aral Area and Pamir from the 7th - 6th centuries BC.
The medieval period at Arpauzen is represented by images of camels and riders that often supplement ancient compositions. The repertoire lacks battle scenes and only a very few images represent riding standard-bearers, typical for rock art of the ancient Turkic epoch in other territories. Along with images of Bactrian camels, one-humped camels begin to be depicted during this period.
A specific feature of Arpauzen petroglyphs is the abundance of Kazakh images dated to the 18th - 20th centuries. The prevailing themes are riders prowess, hunting, pastures or cattle stealing; the weapons only include firearms, with matchlock guns on bipods. Kazakh petroglyphs and inscriptions of the 19th - 20th centuries, carved in Arabic, Latin, and Cyrillic occur everywhere in the main locations, predominating near the main trails and roads.
Koybagar Gorge is located 30km north of Arpauzen, 5km west of Kozmoldak Village. The petroglyph site is at the mouth of a deep gorge, on the left side of the Karakuyis River valley and its wide delta in the foothill uplands. The erosion of the ancient surface resulted in a chain of small hills, on the slopes of which are scatterings of boulders with petroglyphs covered with “desert patina”.
Research Status and Documentation
As at Arpauzen, the site was, for the first time, explored in 1970-1971 by the Karaut Party of the Southern Kazakhstan Archeological Expedition led by Kadyrbaev M-.K. and Maryashev A.-N. Those pioneers identified three main concentrations of petroglyphs near the mouth of Karakuiz Gorge – Koybagar I-III. The petroglyphs are pecked on individual boulders located on the slopes of three hills with flat tops (Kadyrbaev & Maryashev 1977). In 2003-2004, the Koybagar petroglyphs were explored by Rogozhinskiy A.-E. as part of the UNESCO CARAD Project. The geographic coordinates of the main petroglyph sites were recorded, and photos and copies of more than 130 boulders with images were made.
A small concentration of petroglyphs exists on the southern and southwestern slopes of the hills. Multiple kurgan burial sites of ancient and medieval nomads are well preserved on the flat tops of the hills and along the mouth of the gorge. In small ravines along the
Karakuyis River bed, shielded from the winds, are tens of dwelling sites dating to the 18th - early 20th centuries, and, possibly, other later settlements.
Typology and Dating
Petroglyphs dated to the Bronze Age and the early 20th century stand out. The most ancient are distinguished by their wide variety, with a bull and “spectacle-shaped” signs (two circles connected with a line). Late Bronze Age ones include many scenes with battle chariots and combat motifs. A chariot driven by two horses is rare in rock art. Bronze Age petroglyphs predominate over Early Iron Age and Medieval ones. The last burst of intensive pictorial activity in Koybagar dates to Late Middle Ages and modernity or the 17th – early 20th century.
Sauiskandyksai is on the north-eastern slopes of Karatau in the Shielin District of the Kyzylorda Region, 60km east of Shieli, 15km north of Aksumbe Village. Research Status and Documentation. Rock art images at Sauiskandyk were discovered in 2004 by an expedition from a Turkish-Kazakh University (Turkestan City) led by Yeleunova M. They were researched and recorded under the leadership of Samashev Z. (Institute of Archeology of SAS of the RK), in partnership with Shvetz I.-N. In 2008-2009, Rogozhinskiy A.-E. studied both petroglyphs and epigraphy. Sauiskandyk is the northernmost location of petroglyphs in Karatau.
Typology and Dating
The Sauiskandyk Valley is about 3km long; two Bronze and Middle Ages dwelling sites were identified in the upper reaches of the valley. The main concentrations of petroglyphs are located on the right bank of the valley and along the riverbeds on shale and sandstone outcrops, with a total of more than 3000 images.
Bronze Age petroglyphs show artistic expressivity and a diverse repertoire. Two series of drawings stand out. The first one includes images of animals (bulls, horses, and predators) and humans (warriors with clubs, women, erotic scenes, composite creatures) that significantly differ stylistically from other known Karatau Bronze Age petroglyphs. Images from this group prevail in the middle and lower parts of the valley. The second group includes engravings concentrated in the upper part of the valley near dwelling sites. Images of horses with a pronounced mane are dominant; there are many scenes with camels, humans and signs in the shape of a right-angled cross. Stylistically, these petroglyphs are comparable to the second Arpauzen type and to many others in Central Kazakhstan and date to the middle of the 2nd millennium BC. Late Bronze Age petroglyphs are small in number, with bulls, horses, and chariots.
Early Iron Age drawings, with expressive scenes with naturalistic animals and compositions with humans, are not numerous.
There are very few medieval petroglyphs, but they also include quite expressive compositions: covered wheeled wagons on wheels with spokes surrounded with riders, camels; a yurt with female and male figures inside; a scene of battle between two riders; tamgas.
A large series of Arabic inscriptions (about 40) and tamgas of different types, dating to the 18th – early 20th centuries, were mainly found on rocks along the trail running through the bottom of the gorge. There are also images of rifles on bipods and Kazakh tamgas dated to the 17th - 18th centuries. A large number of texts of apparently religious and memorial content are related to the functioning of a transit caravan road that passed through Sauiskandyk Gorge in the northern part of Karatau.
Tamgalytas near Lake Tamgalynura petroglyphs
The site is in the Sozak District of the Southern Kazakhstan Region in the north-western end of the Betpakdala desert, on the southern bank of salt Lake Tamgalynura, on the left bank of the channel Sarysi–Boktyrkaryn River.
Research Status of the Site
The first reports about Tamgalytash and its images and inscriptions date to the late 19th - early 20th century. The map of the Western Siberian military district (1896) indicates a “stone Tamgaly-Tash” on the southern bank of salt Lake Tamgaly-Tuz on a highland (Tamgaly-Dzhar Gorge); a more detailed map of the same site (1920) (Р.XIV.Л.8) indicates stone Tamgaly-Tash on the left slope of an erosion valley where Tamgaly Spring is shown at the mouth of the valley. When information was collected for military topographic maps, ethnographic information about images on the rock and their meaning for the evaluation of the Kazakhs along the Sarysu River was also collected.
In 1895, an interpreter (Khasan Bekhodzhin) who accompanied a military doctor from Akmolinsk City, Kuznetsov A.-I., photographed and sketched signs on the Tamgalytas boulder and translated some inscriptions (Kuznetsov 1927: 123)). In 1936, the geologist Satpaev K.-I. explored Tamgalytas (1941: 69). In 1946, Margulan A.-H. explored the site and distorted the interpretation of an inscription translated by Bekhodzhin Kh. in order to draw a false historical conclusion about the origin of the site as if it related to the unification of Kazakh tribes and the proclamation of the Kazakh Khanate in the 15th century (Margulan & Ageeva 1948: 131; Margulan 1997: 36-37; Margulan 2003, Fig. 361). His statement that “there are names of Ak-Orda khans Urus-Khan, Kuyichirk Barak and many others among the inscriptions” is also unreliable (Margulan 1997: 36-37).
In 2009, an expedition from KazSRI-Nomads (Rogozhinskiy A.-E.) made an inventory of the petroglyphs and photographed all the known surfaces; one more petroglyph site was identified near the Tamalytas boulder.
A Kazakh necropolis consisting of 20 burial structures of different types and different state of preservation is found on the terrace near the Tamgalytas boulder. There is a stone slab with an epitaph (a symbol of faith) and a tamga represented as two parallel lines on one of the mounds. The inscription dates to the late 19th century. Neolithic stone artifacts were found on several sites along the shoreline terrace of the lake.
Typology and Dating
The site is located on the southern shore of Lake Tamgalynur, in Tamgalydzhar Gorge. The shoreline terrace is cut across by many erosion valleys, with Tamgaly Spring located in one of them; several isolated outcrops of sandstone are above the spring along 200km on the left side of a small ravine. The loose substrate lends itself to handling and destruction; the rock surfaces are coarse, reddish-brown, covered with dark-brown and black patina (“desert patina”) in some places. The largest number of ancient signs and inscriptions were found on a sandstone outcrop, a remnant of “Tamgalytas stone”, closest to the spring. Higher along the dry riverbed, there are three more large sandstone outcrops with a large number of inscriptions and signs.
Three temporally different groups of petroglyphs can be made out: ancient tamgas without accompanying epigraphy; Arabic inscriptions, sometimes accompanied by tamgas; Cyrillic inscriptions-graffiti of the 20th century.
The earliest tamgas are deeply (up to 0.5-2.0 cm) abraded and hammered into surfaces and fragments of Tamgalytas 1 and 3. A sign consisting of two or three parallel lines frequently occurs; others are sporadic. Matching these tamgas with those of Oguz and Kipchak people suggests a date of origin for the first Tamgalytas images within the 8th - 12th centuries. The second period at the site is that of the early Tamgalytas epigraphy; Beysenbiev T.-K. who studied several inscriptions dates them to the end of the 19th century. Some tamgas of different Kazakh tribes from the Minor and Middle Zhuses are dated to the same period. The final stage of the site’s history, judging by the dates of visitor’s inscriptions, covers a period of time from the 1930’s to the 1990’s.
There is another small group of boulders with tamgas located 1.2km to the south-east of Tamgalytas on the right slope of the erosion valley. One slab was used to build the Tamgalytas site erected recently at the edge of the terrace. A total of 10 varieties of these signs are comparable to tamgas of the medieval period identified within the main location of Tamgalytas.