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Burial mounds of the southwestern part of the Semirechye region

Burial mounds of the southwestern part of the Semirechye region

The territory of modern country had been strewn with a huge number of mounds, that became the object of research of the archaeologists a century ago during the period of Kazakhs in vassal dependence on the Russian Empire. Most of the time they came to the steppe to examine and investigate the features of the construction of these structures. 

However, as it was often the case, even before the arrival of the researchers, the mounds were looted by enterprising the adventurers and therefore, the archaeologists did not immediately find the mound in the right place. So, in the late 19th century, the Russian physician and writer Vasiliy Markovich Florinsky, who was also keenly interested and involved in archaeology, provided in an expedition to the southwestern part of the Semirechye region of Gorodetsky to capture on the certain map of the region and all the kurgans, who met in his way. The correspondents of our portal will acquaint the readers below about the latter that has walked along the entire southwestern part of the region and made recordings.

Looking ahead, it should be noted that the marks found in Gorodetsky's article, when listing the barrows, require some explanation. First of all, the expressions “Perpendicular to the mountains” and “Parallel to the mountains” indicate the location of the lines of burial mounds relative to the Alatau mountains, near and parallel to which the road were passed by. Secondly, the expressions “With stones” and “Without stones” were necessary to distinguish the mounds of earth proper from those that were built in the layer with the stone. In general, the expedition by Gorodetsky was carried out and implemented in order to find out whether the semi-stone or purely stone types of graves continued beyond Vernyi city, along the Pishpek and Karakol tracts, or whether the type of ordinary earth prevailed mounds in the western half of Semirechye. According to Gorodetsky's description, we can conclude that the latter type was prevailed here, but this issue requires the further and more detailed verification. Moreover, it was possible to determine the presence of stones only in the massif of the mound or in the funnel at its top upon closer examination. In addition, this investigation had required a certain skill since most of the semi-stone mounds were overgrown with grass on the outside. Therefore, Gorodetsky's expression “Without stones” was accepted in the exact sense only for those specimens that were examined deeply and not from the carriage, but from the road. The same thing should be explained about the presence or absence of stones in the funnel-shaped pits at the top of the mounds, as well as about the pits themselves. This could be determined only by ascending the mound.

So, Gorodetsky began his journey from Kegen in the direction of Karkaralinsk, which appeared in Russian sources as Kar-Kara in those years. On the left hand side, three or four versts from the inn, there were eleven burial mounds without stones. At the end of the 19th century, there is one person who could see the traces of the fortress, which at the time was a smooth, grassy, without stones, quadrangular rampart, the sides of which numbered approximately fifteen and twenty sazhens. The five versts from the inn there was also one low and flat barrow along the Kegen River. On the right side, there were two similar mounds, and two more were one verst from the road and one and a half versts from the Kegen River. These mounds were flat and low. A little further, also along the river, the seven versts on the left side of the road from Kegen to Kar-Kara, there was another oblong, quadrangular, and low mound without stones, that was built in the shape of the pyramid, the upper part of which ended in length with a ridge.

Gorodetsky's next post had concerned the way from Narynkol to Taldybulak. On the left side of the road, one verse from the settlement, he observed the five burial mounds located half a verse from the road in a straight line, from south to north, perpendicular to the mountains. Whether there were stones in their composition remained unknown. The four versts from the settlement, near the road, there was one small mound without stones. In the right side, the four versts from the settlement, there were six more small mounds without stones, and three small mounds without stones on another half a mile away. On the left side, the five versts from the settlement, there were two small mounds without stones; a little further away, there were the three more mounds of the same kind. The twelve versts from the settlement, there were nine round mounds; another similar mound located on the side of the mountain, and two more small mounds located near the river, and six more small mounds located next to them. As for the right side, five and a half miles away, there were six small mounds located in the straight line, perpendicular to the mountains. Further, at six versts — three of the same barrows, eight versts from the settlement — one small round barrow with stones, and twelve versts away—one small round barrow without stones resettled there. A little further, the nine more mounds of a round shape were located in the straight line from south to north, perpendicular to the mountains. There were fifty sazhens between them and the eight mounds of the same shape and size had been located there as well. Not far from them there were four more mounds, that had been round in shape and without the stones. Opposite the latter, there were seven more small mounds of the round shape too.

A record followed, in which the barrows seen by Gorodetsky from the Kapkov station to Sary-dzhas were noted. Looking ahead, let's say that the number of mounds located on the right side of the highway was much less than those on the left side. So, the twelve verts from the station, in the Sary-dzhas gorge, there were two low barrows, the larger of which was built with stones. Near them, there were five or six small mounds, and a little further from them there was one low mound, near which there were six more small mounds. On the right side, there were two very low, oblong mounds without stones.

The eleven versts along the road from Sary-dzhas to Karkara, the four barrows were discovered, followed by another barrow. All of them were located perpendicular to the mountains, along with stones. At the same distance from the Sarydzhas station, there was a quadrangular rampart with sides five and eight fathoms long locating by the road. Gorodetsky believed that it could be a fragment of the fortress. Near the road, not far from the fortress, there were three small mounds, located perpendicular to the mountains. The fourteen yards from the station were found twelve mounds (five large), parallel to the mountains, without stones. They were followed by nine more small ones, partly arranged in a line perpendicular to the mountains, and partly scattered in groups without stones. At fifteen versts, there were three rather large mounds and one small one; at seventeen versts, there were three large mounds without stones; at nineteen versts, there were five small and one large mound (locating all round); and at twenty versts from the Sary-dzhas station, there was one large mound without stones.

On the right side of the tract, near the Sary-dzhas station itself, there was one small mound, flat, and three lower ones, all of which were parallel to the mountains and with stones. At three or four versts, one could see a round rampart surrounding a depression of a small circle (probably the fortress). Near it, there were seven mounds, some of them were round, others were oblong, being with and without stones. Five versts from Sary-dzhas, there was one round mound with stones. Locating away from it, there was one round and flat mound without stones. The four mounds (three large and one small) were found by six versts from the station; all were perpendicular to the mountains without stones. In the distance, there were five more low mounds without stones. And, seven versts from Sarydzhas, there were two small mounds with stones.

On the left bank of the river Dzhil (Kar-Kara), and on the left side, there were three mounds of medium size, without stones, and one rather large, without stones. About two hundred yards from the shore, there was only one large mound. On the right side, one could find two mounds of medium size and five small mounds, which the author did not call kurgans. Two versts from the shore, there were two large mounds without stones, and a little further, three large round mounds located far from the road and behind the river.

At the distance of four or five yards to the left side of the river, there were two large burial mounds without stones. Two large mounds without stones were located near the river itself. The three medium-sized mounds were located far from the road. Next to it, there was another round and large mound. Opposite the latter, near the road to Kar-Kara, there was one round mound. Far from the road, near the Kar-Kara river, there were two more mounds, opposite which there was one large round mound with a depression of medium height.

It is important to note here that there were several uncounted mounds from Taldybulak to Santaz. In addition, Santaz itself was examined as a pile of stones, in accordance with the stories, that was heaped by the soldiers of Tamerlane. It looked like an oblong stone mound with a hollow inside. To the side of the gorge, this pile was higher, and was lower to Narynkol. Near it, there were several funnel-shaped depressions with bulky high sides, which quite possibly pointed to the ancient graves or served as a place for some kind of the habitation. Each mound had a depression.

On the way from Karakol (Przhevalsk) to Slivkin there were already the fewer barrows. So, near Karakol itself there was one large round mound with stones. Opposite to it, there were only two large mounds with stones. Further, five miles away, there were five large burial mounds far from the road. About twenty versts, near the bridge, there were two large mounds, located parallel to the mountains. At about the same distance, one round large mound (without stones) was seen, and one oblong mound (without stones) was found out behind it. Two versts from Slivkino there were two large mounds without stones, opposite of which there were two more large mounds. One verst from Slivkin there was one large mound, and near the village itself, there was one flat and one large mound.

On the left side of the tract on the road from Sazanovka (now it`s called Ananyevo) to the Kurumdu station, about nine versts from Sazanovka, there was one round, low mound (without stones), located near the road. Near the road, about ten versts, there was one such barrow. Fifteen versts away, there were five round mounds (without stones) arranged in a line locating perpendicular to the mountains. Not far from them there were two round mounds, with stones, also located perpendicular to the mountains. Eighteen versts near the road there was another round low mound, with stones, and at the twenty-first verst there were three small mounds (without stones), locating also perpendicular to the mountains. On the right side, one could notice by the road, on the fifth verst from Sazanovka, two low mounds without stones (located parallel to the mountains). Another five miles later, a group of five low mounds without stones were located as well. At fifteen versts there were three high and round mounds without stones, twenty versts from Sazanovka – one high and round mound was located, and at twenty-second versts – one low round mound with stones was resettled too.

The next entry resettled in Gorodetsky's work tells about the location of the mounds from the Kurumdu station to the Chulpan-Ata station. There were ten mounds (two round high mounds with stones), eleven (near the road, one large round mound with stones), twelve (near the road, one round low mound without stones) and thirteen versts (near the road, one low round mound with stones).

From the Chulpan-Ata station to Chektal station there was only one low mound with stones. It was located near the road five versts from Chulpan-Ata station.

The mounds between these stations were inspected briefly and closer by Gorodetsky. At the top of some of them were funnel-shaped depressions. The mounds closer to Sukuluk were made from clay, and those closer to Pishpek were made from sandy earth. The size of the mounds varied from ten to fifty sazhens and more in a circumference at the base, and the height was approximately from one to four sazhens. On the northern side of the road there were two fortresses: one of them located on the sixth verst from Pishpek, and the other one located on the fourth verst from Sukuluk. The first one was about a hundred fathoms long, fifty fathoms wide and four fathoms high. The second one was round in shape and had a circumference of two hundred and twenty-five fathoms, and a height was about the six fathoms. There were traces of the moat around both of them.

From the Sukuluk to Karabalty, the mounds were arranged in lines running from north to south. In each line they were counted from three to six or more. The size of the mounds was very different. The three mounds were measured as the largest, medium, and small, and it turned out that the large mound had a circumference at the base of one hundred fathoms and eight fathoms in height; the middle mound had a circumference at the base of sixty sazhens, a height of four sazhens; and the small mound was with a circumference of forty sazhens, had a height of one and a half sazhens. The sizes of other mounds fluctuated between the given sizes. The mounds had a dome shape. Some of them had depressions on the top. The mounds were made from the clay, but some of them consisted from clay mixed with small pebbles. There were mounds lined with stones on the sides and with stones at the top. A large number of mounds were located between Sukuluk and Belovodsk, where they were located in lines at the distance of half a verse and a verse from one another along the entire length of the road. From Belovodsk to Karabalty, the kurgans were found more in the first ten verses, and further they were found less. Almost all the burial mounds were located on the southern side of the road (closer to the mountains), but there were no more than ten mounds all the way from the Sukuluk to Karabalty on the northern side.

There were two old earthen fortresses on the road between Belovodsk and Karabalty: one was located on the south side and another one on the north side. The fortress, located south of the road, consisted of the rampart, had a square shape, and was poured from the clay. The height of the fortress was about two sazhens, and the length and width had the thirty-five sazhens. There was a ravine around, that had a great depth on the northern and eastern sides of the fortress. The fortress, located on the northern side of the road, also consisted from the shaft, had a polygonal shape, and was built of clay. It was about six fathoms high, eighty fathoms long, and sixty fathoms wide. On all sides of the fortress, there was a low-lying place where many springs flowed.

Further, in the records of Gorodetsky, there was information about the barrows located along the postal route from the Kurdai station to the Otar station. On the left side of the road, the fourteen versts from Kurdai, there was one round low mound without stones. In the third quarter of the fifteenth century, Gorodetsky discovered two more mounds in one line, perpendicular to the mountains, oblong, low, and without stones. Further, he found the mounds at fifteen (one, low, without stones), sixteen (three, low, without stones), eighteen (one, oblong, without stones), twenty (one, round, low, without stones), twenty-two (one, low, round, without stones) and twenty-seven (two, high, without stones, in one-line perpendicular to the mountains) versts from Kurdai station. On the right hand, he found the mounds on a segment from fifteen to twenty-five miles from Kurdai. Their location was as follows: at 15 versts-one high with stones, at 17 and 18-one low and without stones, at 19-one oblong, low, without stones, at 20-one low and round, at 21-seven high mounds arranged in lines, at 25-three high mounds, without stones, located in a line perpendicular to the mountains, and at 26-one high mound, without stones.

Along the tract from the Otar to the Targap station, there were a large number of the funerary monuments. On the left side of the road, the two versts from Otar, there was one low, oblong mound without stones. More mounds could have been found by two and a half (one mound), four (two), five (five), eight (two), sixteen (seven), seventeen (four), eighteen (four), twenty (five), twenty-three (one), and twenty-eight (one) miles from Otar. On the other side of the path, one could notice mounds in the following places: the three mounds-one verst from Otar, four-two, three-fifteen, four-sixteen, eight-seventeen, seven-twenty-one, eleven-twenty in two, and six more in twenty-three.

From the Targapskaya to the Samsinskaya station, the mounds were found only in two places. The first place was located two kilometers from the Targap station, near the road. There were two low mounds in the round shape, perpendicular to the mountains. Another place was fifteen miles away, near the road. There was Gorodetsky who discovered the twenty-six low and round mounds located in the group.

At three sites, the mounds were found on the road from the Sama station to the Kazansko-Bogorodsky village. Two round and low mounds were located two versts from the Samsy station and the three low oblong mounds were five versts from the road; and two high mounds without stones were five and a half versts.

There were quite a few burial mounds on the way from the village of Kazansko-Bogorodsky to the village of Lyubovinsky. On the left hand side, only two groups of burial structures were found. The first was only a few yards from the village (three round and low mounds without stones), and the second, twenty-seven yards (two round low mounds). There were more barrows on the right side. These include two mounds a verst from the Kazansko-Bogorodsky, two-twenty-three versts, four-twenty-six, three-twenty-seven, and four-thirty versts.

At the end of Gorodetsky's article, Florinsky placed information about the Burana tower, that is now part of the archaeological and architectural Kyrgyz museum and is protected by the state as a monument of cultural and historical heritage. In particular, he wrote that he had previously calculated the height of the tower to be about 15 sazhens, but, according to the measurement made by the topographer, it turned out that the height was only 12 sazhens:

“In the autumn of 1888, I measured the height of the tower with a rope lowered from its top to the base by the man standing on it. This rope has contained 74 feet, 9 inches, or 32 and 1/28 arches, which is 10 fathoms. and 2 arcs., almost half a dozen. At the top, on the north side, the tower was destroyed over the space of 24 feet, 11 inches, which is 10 arsh, and almost 11 inches. Counting from below, the destruction had started from the 8th belt”.

The circumference of the tower pillar was 88 feet and 2 inches. The front door was 71 inches high and 27 inches wide, that was 2 inches high, 14 and a half inches and a width of almost 1 inch. The tower had three rings of holes: two were located at the base and one at the tower pillar. The first (from the ground, 1.5 ars.) ring at the base consisted from ten distinct holes that served as a place for embedding the logs. The second ring at the base consisted of 14 holes, that served as a place for inserting the boards. It was 1 arc higher than the first ring. The third ring was a tower ring and consisted from the 18 holes, which also have served as a place for embedding the logs. According to the device, they were the same as the first 10, only smaller in their volume. This ring was 1 arc higher than the second and was on the same level as the inlet. On the western side, capturing the southern one up to the entrance and a part of the northern one, it was located in such a way that of the three holes that made up each of its links, the middle one lay 1/4 inch higher than the extreme ones. On the eastern side and on the sides of parts of other sides, the holes were located in one line.

The tower was surrounded by the quadrangle, and she stood in it, closer to its eastern side. The western side consisted of uninterrupted ramparts. The southern side of the first (following from the west) half consisted of ramparts, while the one closest to the tower did not have them. The eastern side, for 125 steps starting from the tower, had a shaft, and then there was no shaft.

There were the four mounds on the west side of the tower, and two very large mounds located on the north side. In the quadrilateral, there was a dry stream bed covered with small stones of equal size along the shafts. The course was inspected, but nothing was found except the skulls. However, Florinsky was lucky to leave this place not without a find, however the Kazakhs were adjacent to the tower of the village. One of the people who came from this village to the tower of Kazakhs was given a coin by Florinsky. He sent this coin to the archaeological museum of Tomsk University in a special parcel simultaneously with the brick below. These coins were found in the autumn of 1887 by Kazakhs and they were sent to the archaeological commission.

Florinsky discovered the mentioned brick from the Kazakh who lived on the banks of the Kegen River. This area was on the way to Narynkol from Chundzha, along a direct route and not a postal route. According to his story, the brick was found near the fortress, located not far from this area along the Kegen River, but he did not explain where exactly. There were the inscriptions on the brick, the same as on the stones found near Pishpek.

In conclusion, Florinsky also added that on the way from the Karabulakskaya station to Jil-Arak, on the way to the city of Karakol, he noticed the carved figures of animals, goats and horses on the rocks. On this occasion, Florinsky wrote that when he was in the city of Vernyi in 1896, he saw the pictures of inscribed stones located in the Kuldzha region from the Russian archaeologist and orientalist Nikolay Nikolayevich Pantusov and on the rocks along the Naryn River, near Issyk-Kul. All of them had approximately the same character as the scenes depicted on the rocks of the Tom River and the upper Irtysh. These were the crude images of animals such as the deer, two-humped camels, rams, horses, etc. In addition, they were written in the black ink.