Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Stone Guards of the Ustyurt


For many centuries, the Ustyurt has been a crossroads of civilizations it has retained traces of neolith man, Scythians, Massagets,  Mongols and others.  It  is shared between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan stretching from Mangyshlak and the Gulf of Kara Bogaz Gol on the Caspian in the west to the Aral Sea and Amudarya River delta in the east.
The Great Silk Road passed through this area, an ancient caravan route – Khorezm Shahs road that connected the ancient city of Khiva with the lower reaches of the Volga, it reflected by the ancient cemeteries, mausoleums and other archaeological ruins scattered across the plateau including some 60 sites dating back to the Neolithic period.

Archaeologists have discovered several sacred sites in the Western areas of the Ustyurt Plateau located on hills or hill-like embankments. One site containing a large number of sculptures of male warriors and sacrificial altars about 50 km from the village of Sai-Utes (on the Kazakhstan side of the Ustyurt).

Stone Guards of the Ustyurt

Known as the Bayte Cult complexes it consists of large burial mounds, sacrifice tables and giant stone sculptures of men in fighting outfit which over time most of whom have been removed or fallen down and damaged. The statues were placed towards the north west, the direction of dawn, or the mythical “Land of the Dead”, where the cold and the darkness lived. From an examination of the finds in particular the weapons and ornaments archaeologists  believe that they belong to the Dahae-Massageteans of the second half of the 4th - 3rd centuries BC.

Their apparel and accessories a broad leather belt with a metal buckle, sometimes decorated with embroidery or applications. A double edged sword in a sheath at the front belt, pending by two straps, a quiver fixed on the left side of the belt, and a bow and a dagger positioned close to the warrior's hand (suitable for hunting)  were worn at the hip by one or two straps.

Stone Guard located in Aktau Museum

An extension at the end of the sheath, or a couple of ledges attached to the bottom part of the cover, prevented the dagger from falling out. A semi  spherical leather helmet protected the head and neck of these nomad warriors.

Precious metal objects revealed the high social status of their bearers. Persons of higher rank (both men and women) wore gold jewellery, including bracelets, earrings and ornamented decorative trinkets. They also decorated their horses harnesses with silver badges and beads.

Sculpture illustrates a standing male whose right arm is lowered and whose left arm is pressed against his stomach (right).

The faces are full of expression, with almond-shaped eyes, a forehead clearly separated from the face and a straight longitudinal nose with a thin, pendant moustache and a small mouth.
Although the majority of sculptures reflect Caucasian facial features others have a broad and flat face and lack beards or defined cheekbones that are characteristically mongoloid (left).

The Dakhae Massagetae

In the early Iron Age from the 7th to 3rd centuries BC the Massagetae also known by historians as the Dakhi or Dai settled between Lake Aral Lake and the eastern region at the Caspian Sea. They spoke an Indo-Iranian language and exerted a major influence over the adjoining steppe lands.  

When in the IV century BC Alexander the Great came to the lands of Central Asia, they were among the most implacable enemies of the new invaders. Like other Scythian warriors they were feared for their belligerence and love of freedom and fought both on horseback and on foot, their weapons consisted of bows, spears, daggers and battle axes. They worshiped the sun and believed in life after death, and built sanctuaries of their ancestors and preserved them. At peace they returned to their lives as nomadic hunters who wandered around with their herds.

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