Kulan Settlement Added to UNESCO World Heritage List

ZHAMBYL The Kulan settlement, located on the Silk Road and dating to the sixth century, has been added to in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Archaeological research of the settlement started in the late 19th century. A complex of monuments of different times is located near the Kulan village in the Ryskulov district. According to the archives, this village was mentioned for the first time in the seventh century in written sources by Chinese pilgrim Xuan Zang.

A number of famous historical events are associated with Kulan. In the year 740, the last western Turkic kagan, Ashin Syn, was killed there. And in 840 the Arab army reached the village.

“Archaeological research of the settlement identified three cultural layers, the seventh-eighth, ninth-tenth and 11th-13th centuries,” said the district museum’s guide Bauirzhan Tolybayev. “On the topography of the object there are the shahrestan and the citadel which were clearly traced and the unfortified rabad on the east side. Today, scientists from the Margulan Institute of Archaeology conduct excavations in the palace complex on the territory of the former rabad. Earlier they found a bronze cauldron, dating to the seventh-eighth centuries. It is kept in our museum, as well as many other finds, for example jars for wine and grain and pitchers. By the way, they excavated an ancient work shop for grape processing from the ninth century.”

The palace complex of the Kulan fort is located on an area of 2,246 square metres. During the excavations archeologists obtained important data characterising the architecture and construction technology of the time. The main raw material for construction of the buildings was loess, or raw clay. It was used in manufacturing pakhsa (large adobe blocks) and bricks and plastering walls and floors and also served as a waterproofing roof material. Due to the strength of loess, the houses were built without foundations on the peeled turf and as a rule, aligned sites were located on hills. Beginning in the ninth century, the ruins of early medieval structures served as the bases of the walls.

“The exterior walls of the buildings are quite massive; their width is three metres and the internal walls are up to one metre,” said leading researcher of the institute Arnabay Nurzhanov. “In general, in Central Asia we see similar architectural solutions and building techniques, but Kulan is original in its planning and architectural solutions of buildings. This separates the settlement as a place of local, original architectural style.”

The archaeologists found sensational discoveries, such as four terracotta heads cut from their torsos. The fragments of the statues could be dated to the ninth century, of course, if they had not been removed from the lower cultural layers dating back to the seventh-eighth centuries, scientists say. The composition of these sculptures apparently represented a dynastic group portrait, which established itself in Central Asia in the first century A.D. Their faces have mixed Caucasoid and Turkic-type features. Most likely, these are the main members of the local dynasty. This is evidenced by the crowns on the heads of characters, as well as the calm, majestic facial expressions, which are full of dignity. The study of portrait images of Central Asian nations shows that there are no direct analogues to the sculpted heads from the excavations of Lugovoye G.

Unfortunately, the object is not protected. It was not fenced nor preserved after the season of excavations. Meanwhile, it is the only Kazakh palace complex of such scale.

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