Unearthing Steppe Culture’s Origins

МузейKARAGANDA REGION – The soon-to-be-opened Kazakhstan Natural History Museum will be home to a considerable number of Karaganda exhibits. About 200 gold artifacts found in the “Taldy-2” burial mound will make their way to the display cases.

“Assuring the accuracy of historical information is everyone’s responsibility: those unearthing, describing and processing artifacts are in fact taking a snapshot of their findings,” Arman Beissenov, head of the primitive archeology department of the Margulan Institute of Archaeology, who opened the Taldy-2 mound said.

The Karaganda scholars by and large attribute this unique discovery to financial support from the local administration and its department of culture. In fact, the project was launched by Prime Minister Serik Akhmetov during his tenure as Akim (Governor) of the region. Beissenov believes that the Karaganda region will get the space and representation it deserves in the Natural History Museum.

Researchers at the Sary-Arka Institute of Archaeology under KarGU (Karaganda State University), who use the wonderful Bronze Age pottery collection the most, will contribute too. It should be remembered that historians say it takes years to collect these unique articles. Excavations are carried out nationwide before discoveries are made, which challenges past beliefs.

The scholar compares the ancient history of the country to a river, saying each drop is a piece of evidence. All of these droplets make a stream. Therefore, this work requires the full dedication of everyone involved – from academics to lab assistants.

It was the scholar’s 31st field season. Together with a group from the Margulan Institute of Archaeology, he is engaged in two projects, a grant project called the “Origins of Steppe Civilization” and one called “Cultural Heritage”, and excavations all across the country.

A large team of experts is engaged in the “Origins of Steppe Civilization: A Comprehensive Study of Stone Age, Bronze Age and Early Iron Age Monuments in Kazakhstan,” thanks to a three-year grant from the Education and Science Ministry. Excavation at a Stone Age site in the Ulytau district is being led by Olga Artyukhova, a prominent Kazakh and Eurasian archaeologist who has discovered many monuments.

The Bronze Age component is being handled by another prominent scholar – Antonina Yermolayeva. Excavations are ongoing in the Taldysai settlement of the Ulytau district, which has been being studied for quite some time. The settlement used to be the residence of ancient metal makers, which is unique in itself.

Most recently, news came from KarGU archaeologists working in the Alat settlement in the outskirts of ancient Kent in the Karkaraly district, where Bronze Age furnaces once stood; around them, traces of iron-melting works were found.

“Paradoxically, it turns out that in central Kazakhstan, iron and bronze were melted by people who lived in the late Bronze Age, long before the Iron Age. The site is from the turn of the first and second millennia B.C. From findings at the site, we infer that central Kazakhstan produced iron two or three centuries before the Sakas, who lived later in the Iron Age,” archaeologist Valery Yevdokimov said.

Indeed, in the Sakas’ culture, iron knives and other sharp objects were used only as late as the seventh century BC and iron was originally only used by the rich and military elite, due to its high cost and complex crafting procedures.

Studies of the Bronze and Early Iron Ages by scientists from the Margulan Archaeology Institute that take into account the discoveries of the Karaganda archaeologists at Alat help map the origins of steppe civilization. According to Siberian archaeologists, Sakas period artifacts found in Eurasia indicate that Steppe Culture began in the early Iron Age. What did steppe culture branch off of then? Did it come from the outside and migrate from somewhere else or did it originate here in the steppe? – These are the questions scholars have yet to answer. Much is left to be explained about high Sakas culture.

Scholars want to piece together all mentioned finds in order to glean evidence from the Begazy – Dandybay culture – the Sakas’ forerunner. In this quest, every minutia counts, the archaeologist says. Kazakhstan was generally considered a land of ancient cattle breeders, but these discoveries prove that it is a country of ancient steppe metal makers.

The two pillars of steppe culture are the nomadic way of life and cattle-breeding on one hand and developed metal making and village life defined by skilled artisans on the other. The two drastically different lifestyles complement each other, scientists claim. Steppe civilization is a turbulent stream of history that swept through the plains of central Kazakhstan, exposing its hidden layers, mixing the unmixable and surfacing the obvious. It’s up to archaeologists to make sense of the contents of this stream.

In the local history museum, objects from the Sakas that show the groups classic animal designs are on display amongst other relics. There is a whole room filled with artifacts from burial sites. These man-made relics are evidence of the colossal amounts of material, human effort and skill that the construction of the burial mounds took. Every large mound tells a story that has yet to be told.