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The Golden Man

The Golden Man (Zolotoy Chelovek in Russian, Altyn Adam in Kazakh) is a warrior’s costume from about the 5th century BC that was found in 1969 in a Scythian tomb about 60 km east of Almaty, near Yesik (Issik). It is made of more than 4000 separate gold pieces, many of them finely worked with animal motifs, and has a 70 cm-high headdress bearing skyward-pointing arrows, a pair of snarling snow leopards and a two-headed winged mythical beast. Though the person who wore this costume may have no genetic connection with modern Kazakhs, the Golden Man has become modern Kazakhstan’s favourite national symbol.

The conventional wisdom is that the skeleton found inside the costume was that of a young Scythian prince killed in battle. Archaeologist Jeannine Davis-Kimball, however, argues in Warrior Women (2002) that it was too badly damaged for its gender to be determined, and that other goods found there suggest the Golden Man was in fact a Golden Woman. Apparently 20% of graves with armaments from the Scythian cultures were of women.

The original Golden Man is apparently kept safe in the National Bank building in Almaty, but replicas adorn museums all over the country and a stone version stands atop the Independence Monument on Almaty’s Respublika alangy (square). A copy was even unveiled by President Nazarbaev in front of the Kazakhstan embassy in Washington, DC, in 2006.