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Early Peoples

The fertile areas north of the Tien Shan and the hillsides and green valleys of the Alatau Ranges were inhabited long before the beginning of our era. Encampments belonging to primitive humans have been found in sheltered and forested locations rich in water and wildlife in many places in present-day Kazakhstan. The richest finds have been made in the valleys of the Karatau Mountains in southern Kazakhstan. Perhaps contrary to expectations, Kazakhstan's earliest history lies in settled agricultural communities rather than in nomadism. Artefacts dating from the end of the Neolithic Age findings have revealed a mounted horse culture present in the steppes of northern Kazakhstan as far back as 5,500 years ago.

At the beginning of the Bronze Age, archaeologists have been able to detect a coherent culture-the Andronovo Culture-reaching from the Ob and Yenisei Rivers in Siberia, down through the foothills of the Altai into Kazakhstan. In general, the people of this age (c. 2000-1500 BC) lived a sedentary life in simple dwellings, with plank beds, hearths, and pits sunk into the ground to keep their provisions. These small houses were often gathered into settlements, clustered around ploughed fields or cattle enclosures. Their principal industry, aside from breeding livestock and making garments from their wool-fragments of pounded-woollen caps from this time have even been found in their graves-was that of metallurgy. Copper ore primarily was mined in shallow pits and surface deposits in the Altai and Kalbin ranges, and craftsmen used clay or composite stone moulds to forge spearheads, daggers and blades.

The observable remains of the religion of these people, including offerings in tombs of agricultural produce, milk and vegetables, bears testament to the nature of the society, ultimately concerned with cultivation. However, it is in this time that the first foundations of nomadism were laid down. The horse, which was an animal originally hunted, was domesticated, and it is perhaps during this period-although some scholars disagree-that the people of the steppe began to learn how to ride. It is also to this time that many date the invention of the wheeled chariot, the use of which perhaps preceded horseback riding.

Sites in the Karatau Mountains in the south of the territory of modern-day Kazakhstan and on the Mangyshlak Peninsula in the west are evidence of human occupation in the Palaeolithic period. By the Neolithic period, when the climate of the area had warmed, many parts of Kazakhstan supported human populations. Kazakhstan has considerable amounts of Bronze Age material, drawn mostly from burials in stone-walled coffins, as well as many petroglyphs of the period. There are sites in eastern and central Kazakhstan linked to the Afanesovo culture, from around 3500-2500BC, and to the later Andronovo culture, which flourished around 2300-1000BC west of the Afanesovo sites, but possibly moving eastwards in the second millennium. Some archaeologists, however, dispute this chronology of eastward migration of the Andronovo culture. The economies of the Bronze Age peoples seem predominantly to have been based around pastoralism, with some mining of deposits of copper ore.

The Andronovo Culture was succeeded by the Karasuk Culture (c. 1500-800 BC). A change signified by different burial customs, and tombs of unworked rectangular stone slabs within circular enclosures. Despite this difference, the technologies possessed by the people continued to evolve, and it can be said beyond doubt that full-scale pastoral nomadism had come into being by this time. The improving skill in metalworking along with the invention of the bronze bit, allowed for the wider and more long-distance use of the horse. This combined with further inventions - the felt tent, the hooded cart, products from milk including kumis and cheese-allowed for the evolution of a nomadic stratum of society that was, for its everyday requirements, self-sufficient.

Nonetheless, the sedentary and agricultural element was still very much present, and we can envisage the nomadic and the sedentary populations living in symbiosis. Each would exchange their native produce with the other, and the nomads would also be responsible for the appearance of long-distance trade and contacts between established centres. The nomads also contributed to the world of ideas, creating a rich mythology of religion based on a dualistic struggle between the heavenly gods of light, and the evil gods of the underworld.