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электронный журнал "Новые исследования Тувы"

Unique necropolis discovered in Tuva

Unique necropolis discovered in TuvaHow many kurgans are there in Tuva? This is a question that is difficult to answer even for archeologists who have been working in Tuva for several decades. Many. There is not a single district without burials from the Turkic or Scythian epoch, and sometimes they can be seen intermingled on a single territory.

 

Layers of epochs

A magnificent mountain terrace in the valley of river Khondelen of Barun-Khemchik district. Tall mountains all around, covered by taiga,  sparse here,  dense there, neighboring with rocky hilltops. Upper and Lower Khondelen rivers cut this terrace off from two sides from the rest of the area. Here, in a preserve created by nature, far from human habitations, is a unique place, that, most likely, very few people in general know about. Here, on the green steps of the terrace, right at the foot of the mountain, is a whole cemetery of picturesque kurgans - tombs. For scientists, this is a unique discovery: such an aggregate of untouched burials in a single place is difficult to find elsewhere. A real Turkic paradise, as explained by Vladimir Semyonov, a St.Peterburg archeologist who has worked in  the Khondelen valley.

- It is unique in that this is a completely clean, burial place that has never been excavated , untouched by any civilization, -  Semyonov enthuses. - The dimensions of the kurgans bear evidence to the high social status of the people buried there. It is a double-layer necropolis, most likely Scytho-Turkic.

Each kurgan is a completely circumscribed circle, built of stones ranging from small ones to massive boulders. The height of the stone wall varies from about half a meter to higher. Calculating that naturally, with time, the stone wall settles down and partially sinks into the earth, originally the pile of stones on each kurgan must have looked impressive indeed. The diameters of the kurgans also vary - some are very large, others are more modest - most likely, dependent on the social status of those resting inside. The kurgans are arranged in small groups - probably relatives are buried here.

 

Questions and answers

Students from Kyzyl-Mazhalyk, who came here with a school expedition, counted 54 kurgans. Marina Kilunovskaya, another archeologist from St.Peterburg, counted three times more on the same terrace -

169  tombs.

The inexperienced eye can see only what is on the surface. It turned out that many quite inconspicuous burials are “hiding” between the high heaped-up kurgans.  Only a scientist who “grew up on them” can identify them by subtle signs - contours of the soil, color of the grass, stone rings that almost disappeared into the earth. It is these, as the scientists believe, that may have been built before the Turkic ones, possibly in the Late Scythian period, when big kurgans were no longer being built over the burials of the dead. There may be various reasons. Possibly to prevent grave-robbing. In another version, the Scythians simply did not have the time to  bring the stones anymore. At the same time, the scientists explain, Scythian burials were not a “one-shot deal”. Whole families were buried in one tomb. That is, when somebody died, he was buried in a clan tomb. It is also interesting that the decedents were not put in the tombs as they died, but every member of the family or clan had an assigned place that stayed empty while the person was still alive. It may be that the actual kurgan would be raised over the burials only after the whole family or clan was “finished”.

The ancients had a very anxious, respectful attitude to death. They would prepare for it throughout their lives. Semyonov believes that to build the massive stone structure of Turkic kurgans would take several years:

- Zoroastrians, for example, would hold mourning rituals  for the dead for 33 years. That is why I think that here, also, everything took a long time. The stones for the kurgan could have been brought by those who came to pay their respects to the dead, and this could go on for  quite a few years, - the archeologist believes.

Where did the ancients find so many stones to bring to the kurgans? And we mean stones, which were mostly massive boulders. It is possible top get lost in guesswork, but the answer is obvious once you come here to take a look.

The terrace where the necropolis is located is overgrown with grass, and the stones lie only on the kurgans. But go a little bit lower down, and there they are, boulders scattered in great numbers  here and there amongst the trees and bushes. Where did they come from?… The scientists explain that these are glacial deposits, reminders of the fact that millions of years ago, the territory of Tuva was covered with huge glaciers.

And that is the secret - the smart Turks built their necropolis  in a place covered with stones, which they then dragged to the tombs. At the same time they cleaned up the area, and gave it a calmer, smoother appearance, softening the roughness of the surroundings.

 

Balbals: Warriors’ deeds or symbolical horse-tying pillar?

In any case, the stones fulfilled a memorial function. Scientists also found several memorial steles in this necropolis. Certainly, you can’t tell such a stele at a glance from a simple boulder sunk into the earth. A big, vertical stone pillar, always encircled by a low stone wall, it stands next to the kurgan and depicts the image of the one who is buried here. Behind it, stretching out towards the east, stands a whole row of smallish stones. Such structures are called balbals. To this day, scientists have not reached a consensus about their meaning.

- There is an opinion that the balbals, stretching away from the memorial stone of a famous warrior represent numbers of enemies he killed, - Marina Kilunovskaya comments. - Another point of view is that it is a stone horse-tying post. People would come to pay their respects, and tied up their horses. The horses would attract the deities to the funeral feast by their neighing. On the other hand, both the horses and the post could be only symbolic.

Vladimir Semyonov categorically disagrees with the view that the balbals could represent the warrior’s deeds.

- In Mongolia and Mongun-Taiga, there are rows of balbals kilometers long,, - he arguments his opinion. - I don’t think that this represents numbers of enemies killed by this warrior. For example, in Mongun-Taiga, we counted 170 balbals at one of the steles.  It is impossible for them to be those killed by a single warrior. In those times, they did not have machine-guns to mow people down like that. Back then, the warriors would fight one on one. It was a warrior culture. Most likely, there is a simple answer to the mystery: everybody who came to pay respects and visited the kurgan would erect a stone in memory.

Beside the memorial steles, the scientists saw also stones of a different purpose on this territory. They stand at some distance from the kurgans, hiding in high grass. These are boundary stones. Their function is to separate.

- We found two boundary stones, says Marina Kilunovskaya. - From here to there. It is possible that they demarcated the territory  belonging to some clan. But it is also possible that from here to there designated the burial grounds, and people did not live here. In that case, the boundary stones separate the kingdom of the dead from the kingdom of the living. The Turks had a very strongly developed mythology connected with the worship of Heaven and Earth. The ancient Turkic inscriptions are dedicated to these deities - Heaven and Earth. A man would suffer untimely death, without having enjoyed life, vine, women (Note: …and sun, moon and blue heaven.. see I.V.Kormushin: Tyurkskie Eniseiskie Epitafii1997. HJ) to the full extent,…-that is the usual Turkic epitaph.

The peace of the necropolis is protected by the rough taiga of Barun-Khemchik. The Turks went high into the mountains, where a faint path, covered with boulders, leads… The peace of the kurgans is also guarded by herdsmen whose chailag has been standing on the neighboring terrace for decades. When the scientists were studying the kurgans, the locals would come on their horses, suspecting foul play. But the scientists have no less respect for these objects than the local herders. Nobody has the right to dig in these kurgans, the archeologists insist. And there is no need for it. What is necessary is to protect this unique object with everything you have.

Viktoria Kondrashova, tuvapravda.ru, translated by Heda Jindrak
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Event announces

1) 28.06.2019 - 30.06.2019: Festival of Traditional Russian arts 'Verkhovie' (Upper Yenissei), including that of old believers (Sizim village, Kaa-Khem district, Tuva, Russia)

2) 04.07.2019 - 07.07.2019: XXth Ustuu-Huree festival of live music and belief (Chadan city, Dzun-Khemchik district, Tuva, Russia)

3) 13.07.2019 - 14.07.2019: Tuvan Cattle-breeders Festival 'Naadym': horse-races, yurt-city, wrestling, archery, cattle-exhibition, concerts, (Tuva, Russia)

4) 15.08.2019: Tuvan Republic Day (Tuva)

5) 16.08.2019 - 18.08.2019: 3d International Festival 'Khoomei in the center of Asia' (Kyzyl, Tuva, Russia)

6) 01.09.2019: Day of historic Memory and Dignity of Tuvan volunteers who perished in the 2nd World war (Tuva, Russia)

7) 07.09.2019: The Day of Kyzyl city (Kyzyl, Tuva, Russia)


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