The history of the Aral Sea region and the lower Syr Darya River dates back to remote ages. Here, Palaeolithic and Neolithic monuments of hunters, fishers and ancient farmers have been discovered, as well as the necropolis of Tegisken, where tribal chiefs of the Bronze Age were buried. The largest mound of Tegisken, not only a funerary monument but also an ancient temple, was as grand as Tamerlane’s famous Gur Emir mausoleum in Uzbekistan.
The Aral Sea region and its land conceals a huge historical archive, which must be studied by archaeologists in order to create a comprehensive picture of the past and to organise an open-air museum, complete with ruins of ancient cities, burial mound complexes, dry channels and irrigation systems, which gave life to the land.
“This museum must be interesting and available not only to our citizens, but to tourists from other countries,” said Kazakh archaeologist Karl Baipakov. “It must be created as quickly as the Western China-Western Europe highway. The longest section of this road runs through the territory of the region.”
The scientist said that the Kyzylorda region could become one of Central Asia’s tourist centres in the near future. This will allow them to develop tourist infrastructure like hotels, restaurants, entertainment, public transportation and communication, which will have a positive impact on the welfare of the city and the region on the whole. The region also contains historical areas, such as Zhetyasa, a tract with perfectly preserved ancient settlements, necropolises and irrigation systems.
A scientific advisory board for studying cultural heritage was created under the oblast administration. The board, headed by Regional Governor Krymbek Kusherbayev, has already developed projects to give a complete and vivid historical picture of the region. The prospective excavations are closely related to the conservation of monuments and to the development of tourism, which will bring tangible economic benefits and burnish the historical image of Kazakhstan.
According to Baipakov, the prospects for archaeological research in the Aral Sea region are limitless. This primarily refers to the project, “From time immemorial to the stars,” which organisers hope will have a significant economic effect on the region and become a milestone in domestic and international tourism. The main idea of the project is to create a park at the Baikonur Cosmodrome and use it to promote tourist interest there.
A globally significant project aims to get Silk Road monuments in the Syrdarya region inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Despite its long history and many historical and cultural sites, Central Asia is still under-represented on the list. So far, the five countries that make up the subregion have only 11 cultural sites inscribed on the list. In Kazakhstan, they are the Mausoleum of Khoja Akhmet Yassawi and the Tamgaly petroglyphs.
The country has now set the goal of inscribing 31 sites in the World Heritage List as part of a serial, multinational nomination. The first series of monuments nominated for inscription are the network of roads in the Tien Shan corridor of China, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, where Kazakhstan has eight historical and cultural heritage sites.
Another project will study the Saka culture, including its ancient capital, the Chirik Rabat settlement. The findings are expected to contribute to the understanding of the first stage of urbanisation associated with the formation of the Saka state.
One project will explore the history of the Oghuz tribes in the region. The Oghuz tribes, who created their own state in the Middle Ages, played an important role in the history of the Middle East and in the ethnogenesis of such modern nations as the Turks, Azeris, Turkmen, Gagauz and Kazakh peoples. This project hopes to shed light on issues of their history, economy, social life and ethnogeny. The project has already attracted interest from Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Turkey.
According to Baipakov, the project will conduct large-scale excavations of the Dzhankent (1-13th centuries) and Myntobe (13-18th centuries) settlements.
Baipakov says it is necessary to conduct archaeological examinations of all projects under construction: roads, oil and gas pipelines, channels, agricultural areas, the sites of probable mineral deposits and construction work
“We need regular monitoring of such works. It is necessary to examine the sites that fall within the risk zone, which may be irretrievably lost,” said the scientist.
It is planned in the near future to publish a book in Kazakh, Russian and English, dedicated to the rich historical and cultural heritage of the Kyzylorda region. It will describe the monuments of the Stone and Bronze Age, Saka burial mounds, settlements and cemeteries of the Kanguys people and medieval cities on the Silk Road and the items found within them.
Some chapters of the book will be devoted to Kazakh applied arts, including carpet and felt production, ornaments, clothing, headgear and jewellery. Kazakh art preserves the artistic traditions of the Saka, Usun, Kanguy, ancient Turk, Oghuz and Kipchak peoples. The edition will be illustrated with graphic materials, maps and aerial and satellite photos.