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The sunken towns of Issyk-Kul

There are around 20 locations around Lake Issyk-Kul where traces of old townships have been discovered, Some date back two millennia or so, while other settlements evolved during the peak years of the Silk Road trade from the 7th century AD onwards. Legends relate that four flooded cities lie beneath the present-day waters of the lake. In support of this, archaeological discoveries have been made that reveal dwellings and foundations beneath the lake's surface.

The sunken village of Chigu, which was the capital of the ancient Usun state in the 2nd century BC, has been discovered offshore near Sary-Bulan and the present- day town of Tyup at the eastern end of the lake. In 1956 divers exploring the underwater site discovered a range of artefacts that included fragments of pottery, a ceramic pipe, arrowheads, ironwork and human and animal remains. In addition, just offshore near the villages of Korumdy and Temirovka, and close to Grigorievka harbour, fragments of Bronze Age pots and various artefacts such as knife handles carved with figures of horses have been unearthed. Another major find was what was thought to be a square sacrificial table with legs like a woman's body, with slanted eyes, oval chin and wide nose. Another discovery has been a large round pot with twin handles whose purpose is believed to have been sacrificial. More than ten similar pots have been found in the Issyk-Kul region and they appear to date to the second half of the first millennium.

Various historic sources point towards the existence of sunken cities in the lake. Medieval Muslim recluses mention old fortresses being flooded and the existence of an island where Tamerlane is said to have imprisoned enemies in the late 14th century. A Russian merchant, Isaev, writing in the early 19th century, mentions underwater buildings being visible in the Tyup region, and around the same time the explorer Pyotr Semyonov Tyan-Shansky discovered bricks that had been carried ashore between the estuaries of the Tyup and Jergalan rivers.

Up until now, only a fraction of the underwater sites have been thoroughly investigated and the potential for future treasures to be discovered in the region is enormous,