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Geological & Archaeological Museums

Geological Museum

From the Academy of Sciences building, continue eastwards along Kurmangazy Street for another block-and-a-half, turning right onto busy Dostyk Avenue (which some locals still refer to as Lenin Avenue, its Soviet-period name). Well before the next crossroads you reach the Geological Museum on your right. The most interesting feature of this museum is its subterranean setting. You descend in a slow cage-like lift into a museum space set out like a mineshaft. There is a quote from Satpaev, his head displayed as a golden silhouette, about the importance of geological exploration. You pass a wall map displaying Kazakhstan's abundant mineral reserves: press the button, and uranium lights up. And then you reach the main hall of the museum, dominated by an unexcitingly displayed collection of sparkling mineral samples: amethyst, malachite and tourmaline. There is a display of agates, cut and polished to present what appear to be scenes of spindly trees beneath wintry skies. A large side space, featuring a rocky terrain in front of a wall mural of roaming dinosaurs, is used for talks to school groups.

Continuing southwards along Dostyk Avenue, the next junction, with Abai Avenue, is presided over by a statue of Abai Kunanbaev, Kazakhstan's great 19th- century writer, atop a large red stone plinth. Abai, book in hand, looks across at KIMEP University over the road with a somewhat pensive expression, as if worried about the lack of application of today's students. There is a square behind the statue, pleasant in summer, and beyond this the long, low facade of the Republic Palace of Culture.

Archaeological Museum

If you turn left to the north along Dostyk Avenue from the junction with Kurmangazy Street, rather than right to the south, you encounter after one block the walrus-moustachioed face of the Ukrainian poet Shevchenko, staring out from a large lump of rock, looking down along the street named in his honour. A block further to the north, the Kazakh musician Zhambyl sits on a rock next to a waterfall, ready to play his dombra, while he too surveys the side street bearing his name.

Behind the statue of Zhambyl stands a rather grim-looking apartment block, housing both the Iskra Cinema and the Archaeological Museum. The exhibits of the latter, housed in one large hall, are much less well displayed than the archaeological section of the Central State Museum, and this is really a museum for enthusiasts and rainy days. Among the items on display are boulders inscribed with petroglyphs, five stone balbals with oversized human heads, and four large three-legged bronze cauldrons from Almaty Oblast, the cauldrons dated from the 5th to the 3rd centuries BC.

There is a large wall map, which serves broadly to demonstrate that there are archaeological sites all over Kazakhstan. There are various artefacts uncovered from Scythian burial mounds in the region and, almost obligatory in archaeological museums in Kazakhstan, a reconstructed Golden Man. There are medieval-period ceramics from Silk Road sites such as Otrar. A display about glassware has descriptions in English, unlike the rest of the museum. It runs from the glass beads found in late Bronze Age burials to 10th- to 13th-century glass bottles and vases found at urban sites, when both Otrar and Taraz were centres of glass manufacture.