Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Altai - The ancestral homeland of the Turkic Peoples

The Turkic peoples are thought to have originated in the areas in and around the Altai Mountains of Siberia. Gradually they spread out and occupied large tracks of Siberia and Central Asia. In time groups emerged from within the Turkic horde, amongst whom are the Karluk (Uygur and Uzbek), Kipchak (Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Karakalpak and Tatar) and Oghuz (Turkmen, Azeri and Turks).  It is also regarded as the homeland of other nationalities Mongolians, Koreans and even Hungarians. The Ural-Altaic languages to whom all the groups (Turks, Mongols, Koreans and Hungarians) speak are named after the region.

Altai Mountains

The Altai Mountains are a mountain range in East-Central Asia, where Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan come together, and where the rivers Irtysh and Ob have their sources. They stretch for 1,200 miles across southwestern Mongolia from Siberia plain to the Gobi Desert. The mountains are of moderate height. There are several peaks over 4,500 meters. Those that are higher than 3,000 meters are snowcapped throughout the year. The region is rich in lakes and streams. The Ob, Irtysh and Yenisei all have their sources in the Altai. The Altai people live mainly in the broad plateaus, steppes and valleys of the ranges, where water is plentiful. The Altai complex of mountain ranges embraces the water divide mountains for all of Asia: the South Altai, the Inner Altai and the east Altai. The Mongolian Altai is connected to this mountain complex, rising to the southeast of the Siberian Altai region.

A varied region it has many landscapes forests, steppes, wild rivers, lakes, deserts, snow capped mountains and abundant wildlife.  The climate is continental with extremes in temperatures occurring between the summer and the winter. The mountains help to mitigate the extremes to some extent by causing a winter temperature inversion that produces an island of winter temperatures that are warmer than those in the Siberian taiga to the north and the Central Asian and Mongolian steppes to south and east. Even so temperatures drop as low as -48°C in the winter. The mountains are a gathering point for precipitation in a region that otherwise is dry. The most rain falls in July and August, with another smaller period of rain in late autumn. The western Altai receives around 50 centimeters of precipitation a year. The eastern Altai receives less: around 40 centimeters a year.

 Snow leopard

Natural vegetation in the region includes steppe grasses, shrubs and bushes and light forests of birch, fir, aspen, cherry, spruce, and pines, with many clearings in the forest. These forest merge with a modified taiga. Among the animals are hare, mountain sheep, several species of deer, bobac, woodchucks, lynx, polecats, snow leopards, wolves, bears, argali sheep, siberian ibex, mountain goats and deer. Bird species include pheasants, ptarmigan, goose, partridge, Altai snowcocks, owls, snipes and jays. In the streams and rivers are trout, grayling and the herring-like sig.

Siberian ibex

Sunday, December 16, 2012

One of the world's oldest religious texts the Avesta celebrates its 2700th Anniversary

Photo: Uzbekistan declared 2001 to be the 2,700th anniversary of the holy book the Avesta.

Ancient Khoresm which today covers much of North Western Uzbekistan and parts of northern Turkmenistan is acknowledged by most historians to be the birthplace of Zoroaster also known as Zarathustra the founding prophet of Zoroastrianism the world's first monotheistic religion. It is considered to be the precursor to many of the modern day monotheistic religions particularly Christianity and Judaism.

Zoroastrianism was widespread in both the Transoxiania and Khorezm regions before the arrival of the Islam in the eight and ninth centuries CE. The major premise of Zoroastrianism is the vast cosmic struggle between Ahura Mazdah, the God of Light and Ahriman, the principal of Darkness and Evil.  

Chilpik / Shilpiq dakhma

Photo: Shilpiq / Chilpik dakhma

The Chilpyk Tower of Silence located on the right bank of the Amu Darya River in Southern Karakalpakstan once served the surrounding region as a dakhma right up to the time of the Arab invasion of the early 7th century CE. There are signs of rebuilding or repair work in the 7th to 8th centuries BCE and again in the 9th and 10th century AD..
In 1940, Shilpiq was surveyed by Soviet archaeologist Sergei Tolstov and members of his early Khorezm Archaeological Expedition, a geodetic survey trig point being built on the dakhma. They found that it sits on a symmetrical conical 35-40 meters high hill, the circular structure of the dakhma approx. 79 meters in diameter. It's a 15 metre high walls were built from pakhsa or compacted clay. The walls where probably taller when built and taper towards the top from a wide base. On the west side of the walls is an opening accessed by a 20 metre-long staircase. At the start of the staircase is a tall pillar that can be seen from a distance. A ramp that starts from the river bank leads up to the pillar.

Tower of Silence

Burial practices are of special interest. Zoroastrian custom requires the body to the placed in the Dakhma shortly after death is confirmed, Bodies were placed on high hills or man-made summits and exposed to scavengers (usually vultures) who soon stripped the bones clean. The fastest means of transporting a body to the Dakhma would have been by boat. The numerous river arms and canals would have made water transport the most practical means of transportation. In addition, the river at the time of the dakhma's use would have been wider and closer to the base of the hill making the walk to the top much shorter than it is today.

Funerary practices in Khvarizem, Sogdiana and the Semirechye indicate that after the bones of the body had been bleached and dried for about a year, the skeletal remains were then placed in ceramic ossuary containers and buried. It would be natural to expect that families would want to bury the remains closer to their towns rather than in the dakhma area and as such only a few ossuary's have been found at Shilpiq. The concentration of population were at settlements to the west at Mizdahkan  and south of the Sultanuiz hills (Sultan Uvays Dag) and that is where a larger number of ossuary's have been found. Today the north-south highway runs beside Shilpiq, with the provincial capital of Nukus 43 kilometres to the North. Nearby at Qara Tyube, bronze age petroglyphs can be found.

Stamps and Coins featuring the Yurt