«We need to look into the past in order to understand the present and foresee the future»

Wooden burial-vaults of Besshatyr and barrow Issyk

Why did our ancestors need these underground constructions, what was their practical use? This is still unclear. Nowadays Besshatyr catacombs belong to undiscovered mysteries.

In Semirechie expedition of K.A. Akishev during fourteen years carried out excavation of big barrows. They were located in natural boundary Besshatyr on the right side of Ili River in 100 kilometers to the East from the settlement Iliisk of the Alma-Ata region.

Archaeologists did not find any rich archaeological material here. However, discovered by them number of unique wooden burial-vaults dated back to the middle of the 1st millennium B.C. are of a special value for the science.

Besshatyr burial mound was constructed on a large scale. It counts 31 barrows with stone and ground mounds of different sizes. Some of them were so huge that imagination of archaeologists involuntarily associated them with giant Egyptian pyramids. There was something to be surprised: one barrow was of 105 meters in diameter and 17 meters in height!

How did these original pyramids of Semirechie look like? Big Besshatyr barrow is a complicated architectural construction. Stone mound of the giant was encircled by the billow of two meters in width which was also made of stone. Then there was a half-ring of dug into the ground stone pillars. All these were closed by another one big ring of stone boulders and pillars.

Expedition discovered several barrows of Besshatyr. One of them Barrow I had a stone mound of 52 meters in diameter and 8 meters in height and included wooden burial-vault of rather complicated construction. It consisted of three parts such as corridor (dromos), vestibular construction and essentially burial chamber of rectangular form. Thick timbers of Tian-Shan fir which were used as a material for the burial-vault laid under the burial mound more than 2,5 thousand years and in spite of this were very well kept.

According to its construction Besshatyr tomb is similar to Chilikty chamber and distinguishes from it by its greater height and by the fact that it was built on the ground without any deepening into the soil.

Underground catacombs beaten out in a strong detritus are considered to be the most interesting feature of big Besshatyr barrows. Human being could freely walk along them drawing up to the full height. They form labyrinth which begins near the Southern or Northern flap and occupies the whole underground part of mounds. The only corridor leads to the wooden burial-vault.

Exclusively valuable in scientific regard and plentiful material was obtained in 1970 as a result of investigation of one of barrows near Issyk city not far from Alma-Ata. Two tombs — central and southern — were under the stone mound of 6 meters in height.

Why did our ancestors need these underground constructions, what was their practical use? This is still unclear. Nowadays Besshatyr catacombs belong to undiscovered mysteries.

Agapov P., Kadyrbayev M. (1979) Treasure of ancient Kazakhstan, Alma-Ata: Zhalyn. 252 p. (in Russian)