Articles on Central Asia: Petroglyphs of Central Asia

Petroglyphs are images created by removing part of a rock surface by incising, picking, carving, or abrading, as a form of rock art. Outside North America, scholars often use terms such as "carving", "engraving", or other descriptions of the technique to refer to such images. Petroglyphs are found world-wide, and are often associated with prehistoric peoples. The word comes from the Greek word petro-, theme of the word "petra" meaning "stone", and glyphein meaning "to carve", and was originally coined in French as pétroglyphe.

Saimaluu Tash, Kyrgyzstan.

Saimaluu Tash (meaning 'embroidered' or 'patterned stones' in Kyrgyz) is a petroglyph site in Jalal-Abad Province, Kyrgyzstan, south of Kazarman. Over 10,000 carved pictures—and perhaps as many as 11,000—which are black-and-white rock paintings, have so far been identified, making the site a globally important collection of rock art. They are a sacred display of offerings of the ancient people of the lower valley. The site was proposed for listing under the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites by the Kyrgyz National Commission for UNESCO on 29 January 2001.

The petroglyph site is located on the Ferghana Range at about 3,200 metres in two high valleys, separated by a low mountain ridge. The site is 30 kilometres away to the south of Kazarman. From Kazarman village for a short distance there is a road on which only jeeps can ply but the rest of the way to the site can be reached in about a day on foot or horseback, but only around the month of August. It is a strenuous climb. At other times, snow conditions make it impractical to reach. The trek involves three days by jeep and seven days by horse. The petroglyphs created in large galleries are thought to date from the early 2000 BC to 3000 BC of the Neolithic and Bronze Ages, and up into the Middle Ages (8th century AD). Bronze Age settlers had a sacred tradition of inscribing petroglyph. This continued during the Iron Age from 800 BC, and variants persevered for several hundred years to the medieval period, when Scythian and Turkic people did it.

It is also said that from 8th century BC to first century AD, Saka-Usun period prior to the Kyrgyz, people settled here. The Saka priests used this site for sacrificial rites to the sun god and their settlements are said to be submerged in the Cholpon-Ata bay. The site was sacred to the people of Tien Shan and Pre Ferghana, and is even now sacred to the modern generation of Kyrgizians for spiritual and healing qualities. It is part of the spiritual ethos of the peoples' "religious beliefs and their worship of mountains, nature, totems and solar cosmic images." The site was first recognized by Russian cartographers in 1902 when they were carrying out surveys in the area for a road project to link a military camp between Jalal-Abad and Naryn; this road is now in use via Kazaeman. One of the cartographers, Nikolai Khludov, who had heard tales from a shepherd of "painted stones" in close vicinity to their camp, decided to examine the site with a team of surveyors. He reported his findings of the petroglyphs to the Archaeological Society of Tashkent. This society then mounted an expedition to further examine the site. However, the site was forgotten until 1950. After an excavation was conducted, the petroglyphs were specifically identified, numbered and their age determined. It is now under sporadic investigation by the Institute of Archaeology in Bishkek.[2] Neolithic age petroglyphs are on display in the Kyrgyz State Historical Museum.

Archaeologists have bifurcated the site, calling the parts "Saimaluu-Tash 1" and "Saimaluu-Tash 2."

Saimaluu-Tash 1, which extends over a length of 3 kilometres (1.9 mi), contains petroglyphs etched on shining basaltic stones. It is believed that they were "votive offerings" brought from the lower valleys. There is a small lake here where shamans used to perform sacred rites.[8] Petroglyphs of several designs at this site have been identified on stones. The most common designs are animals like ibex (the long-horned ibex of the Turkish era was more frequent), horses, lions, and wolves. Another common drawing is of hunting scenes of deer, large antlers in particular; in this scene the hunters are shown using bows, arrows, and spears to hunt the animals. Agricultural operations such as tilling the land were a common theme. Other scenes are of ritual dances, the sun, wavy designs representing the flow of rivers, and sexual scenes. The artists perhaps portrayed their feelings of gratitude to the spirits of the mountain after a good crop or a successful hunting expedition.

Tamgaly Tash, Kazakhstan

Tamgaly is a petroglyph site in the Semirechye, Kazakhstan. Tamgaly is located 120 km to north-west of Almaty, and takes about two and a half hours as the side road to Tamgaly is in poor condition (August 2013). The site is open to visitors, and the guards can assist you to head in the right direction along a gravel path. The main petroglyphs can be reached in about 15 minutes from the car park. The majority of the 5000 petroglyphs are in the main canyon, but there are a number in the many side canyons. The petroglyphs are mostly Bronze Age, but in some cases from the Iron Age and the Medieval. The name Tamgaly in Kazakh and other Turkic languages means "painted or marked place".

Tamgaly became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004. Set around the lush Tamgaly Gorge, amidst the vast, arid Chu-Ili mountains, is a remarkable concentration of some 5,000 petroglyphs (rock carvings) dating from the second half of the second millennium BC to the beginning of the 20th century. Distributed among 48 complexes with associated settlements and burial grounds, they are testimonies to the husbandry, social organization and rituals of pastoral peoples. Human settlements in the site are often multilayered and show occupation through the ages. A huge number of ancient tombs are also to be found including stone enclosures with boxes and cists (middle and late Bronze Age), and mounds (kurgans) of stone and earth (early Iron Age to the present). The central canyon contains the densest concentration of engravings and what are believed to be altars, suggesting that these places were used for sacrificial offerings.

Towards the western end of the Tienshan Mountains in the southeast of Kazakhstan, the Chu-Ili mountain spur forms a canyon around the Tamgaly Gorge. An abundance of springs, rich vegetation and shelter distinguishes the area from the arid mountains that fringe the border of Kazakhstan with Kyrgyzstan to the south, and from the flat dry plains of central Kazakhstan to the north. The Gorge and its surrounding rocky landscape, where shiny black stones rise up rhythmically in steps, have attracted pastoral communities since the Bronze Age, and have come to be imbued with strong symbolic associations.

The Archaeological Landscape of Tamgaly features a remarkable concentration of some 5,000 petroglyphs, associated settlements and burial grounds, which together provide testimony to the husbandry, social organization and rituals of pastoral peoples from the Bronze Age right through to the early 20th century. The large size of the early petroglyphs, their unique images and the quality of their iconography sets them apart from the wealth of rock art in Central Asia.

The property covers a roughly circular area of 900 ha and includes the 982m peak of Mt.Tamgaly. The Tamgaly River flows through the centre and out onto the plain below, to the north. Surrounding the property is a large buffer zone of 2900 ha, which to the northwest and southeast of the property includes outliers of the petroglyphs, and further burial mounds and ancient settlements. Petroglyphs on unsheltered rock faces, which have been formed using a picketing technique with stone or metal tools, are the most abundant monuments on the property. Images have been recorded in 48 different complexes, of which the most important are five complexes, displaying about 3,000 images. By far the most exceptional engravings come from the earliest period and are characterized by large figures deeply cut in a sharp way with a wide repertoires of images including unique forms such as solar deities, zoomorphic beings dressed in furs, syncretic subjects, disguised people, and a wide range of animals.

The delineation of the property into a sacred core and outer residential periphery, combined with sacred images of sun-heads, altars, and enclosed cult areas, provide a unique assembly, which has maintained persistent sacred associations from the Bronze Age to the present day.

 The dense and coherent group of petroglyphs, with sacred images, altars and cult areas, together with their associated settlements and burial sites, provide a substantial testimony to the lives and beliefs of pastoral peoples of the central Asian steppes from the Bronze Age to the present day.

The natural landscape creates a discrete and finite setting for the rock art. The whole of the concentrated central area and the immediate peripheral area have been included within the boundaries of the property.

The Petroglyphs within Archaeological Landscape of Tamgaly still keeps its pristine character and essential natural and cultural features intact. It also has well-preserved cultural layers, representing the evidence of all the stages of development of this important cult centre of a large region.

However, the road across the northern part of the property, constructed in the Soviet period, creates a visual intrusion that needs to be addressed. The concrete posts of the former electricity line and some modern sheepfolds have been removed after the inscription of the property on the World Heritage List. As development and settlement of neighbouring properties is proceeding rapidly, to protect the integrity of the landscape, strong planning and control regulations will need to be enforced to regulate the design, height and scale of new buildings and urban infrastructure.

The main elements of the cultural landscape are the petroglyphs of the different levels of visibility (from bluish black ones of the Bronze and Early Iron Age to the light grey carvings of the latest time), the low stone-earth mounds and stone tombs hardly visible on the surface, the ruins of stone dwellings and enclosures. Despite of the fact that some parts of the rock massifs have traces of ancient destruction (Groups II-III) and modern graffiti (Groups IV-V), as a whole the gallery of petroglyphs preserved its integrity and representativeness. The traces of the past archaeological excavations (dump piles, shallow digs of the burials) are inconsiderable, partly removed and not noticeable in the whole context of the other sites and the landscape.

The main threats to the physical integrity of the property come from weathering in combination with the geological formation of the rocks. Water ingress and stratification of the bedrock parallel to the surface make the rock face vulnerable to exfoliation. The high water table and its salinity also affect the bones and artefacts (grave goods) that can be found in the burials. These decay factors are also exacerbated by the extreme variation in temperatures daily and seasonally. There is also a threat of earthquake activity in the Almaty region, and fires in the steppes. In terms of human factors, uncontrolled visitation and graffiti pose a threat to the integrity of the component parts.

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