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Highlights

Highlights

Select objects from the"Nomads and Networks" exhibition. Click on an image for more information.

Feline Face and Stylized Ornaments from Horse TackFeline Face and Stylized Ornaments from Horse Tack

Photography by Viktor Kharchenko © The Presidential Center of Culture of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Astana

 

 

Large bronze cauldrons have been found in mountain regions, and this fact suggests that they may have been used in the area of summer pasture, perhaps to prepare communal meals. On this example, the upper part of each of the three bent legs has been given the form of the elongated body of mountain sheep with large curling horns and a shaggy chest. The lower part of the legs is made up of the two joined front legs of the sheep.

Tripod Cauldron with Legs in Form of Horned Sheep

Photography © The Central State Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Almaty

 

 

The numerous separately cast figurines attached to this stand are arranged in a complex narrative tableau, the meaning of which remains a mystery but may relate to a lost myth, epic or fable. In the center, an ibex (mountain goat) lies on its side. It is surrounded by four animals arranged in an X-pattern. The two closer animals, wolves with their jaws open, may be gnawing at the ibex. Two ravens form the other arm of the X; they stand farther back and silently observe the proceedings. Encircling the rim are sixteen snow leopards, identified by their long tails, tufted ears, and blunt muzzle. They stand still, and all face clockwise. The wolves have holes in their backs, which perhaps served to supports temporary additions to the stand. The round conical base was cast as a single unit; rough diamond shapes were then cut out, thus creating a net-like pattern.

Round Tray on Conical Stand with Figures of Two Wolves and Two Ravens around a Prone Ibex in Center and Sixteen Snow Leopards around Rim

Photography © The Central State Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Almaty

 

A seated mustached man dressed in trousers and tunic sits cross-legged, holding a cup in his right hand. He shares a gaze with a bridled horse standing stock still. The force of their gaze underscores the strength of the human-horse communication that was a significant factor in the lives of the mobile pastoralists of Iron Age Kazakhstan. Horses aided in the herding of animals, moved people between the seasonal pastures, and carried warriors into combat. Made of bronze, the base, dish, horse and human figures were cast separately and then combined into this powerful, balanced composition.  The function of such stands is not known.  It has been suggested that they were incense burners or perhaps offering stands. Certainly the contemplative composition, placed on an openwork base of arced bands, conveys a central essence of mobile pastoral life. And the careful rendering of details of the two figures give immediacy to their presence.

Round Tray on Conical Stand with Figures of Seated Man and Standing Horse in Center

Photography © The Central State Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Almaty

 

 

These plaques come from a rich burial excavated in 2003-2004. The Scytho-Siberian animal style can be quite naturalistic, as seen in the perched raptor or the mountain sheep standing on tiptoe. A more abstracting trend is called “zoomorphic juncture,” where parts of one animal are transformed into another, An especially sophisticated example of this is seen in the “Snow Leopard Mask,” which takes its name from the overall impression of a composition made up from two profile mountain goat heads and a soaring bird seen from above. The two voids below the goat horns form the ears of the leopard; the two voids between the chins of the goats and the wing of the birds are the leopard’s eyes; and the back of the bird forms the nose. In addition, the wings of the bird become the necks of the goat heads. The plaques from Shilikty are all cast in molds, and small gold loops were soldered onto the backs so they could be sewn onto clothing.

Four Plaques: Standing Argali; “Snow Leopard Mask” Consisting of Two Facing Ibex Heads and Flying Bird; Two Addorsed Deer Heads; Perched Raptor (Vulture?)

Photography © The Central State Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Almaty

The so-called “Zhalauli Treasure” was discovered by chance in 1988. The hoard was assembled and hidden at an unknown time, but in addition to the ancient gold objects, it also contained one piece of 19th-century silver jewelry. The most massive and elaborately worked objects are a set of belt plaques decorated with a field of granulation that surrounds tiny plaques depicting argali (mountain sheep) with their legs folded under them. The rump and shoulder of each argali is cut for the insertion of tear-drop shaped inlay, some of which is preserved.

One of Eight Teardrop-Shaped Plaques with Granulation and Argali Decoration

Photography © The Central State Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Almaty

 

Wild animals were especially popular in nomadic art, such as the ibex (mountain goat) heads seen here, or argali (mountain sheep), deer, tigers, and snow leopards. Birds, particularly eagles, vultures and other raptors, are also represented often. Apart from camels, used by the nomads as beasts of burden, domestic animals that were part of their herds are rarely represented.

Two Finials with Ibex-Head Tops

Photography by Viktor Kharchenko © Museum of Archaeology of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Almaty

 

 

Figurines of fifteen unidentified animals circle the rim of the tray in a clockwise direction. A mounted archer, placed off center to one side, is shown galloping in clockwise direction, and drawing his bow, prepared to shoot an arrow toward one of the animals on the rim. Although sketchily rendered, the figure of the rider is extremely detailed. His double curved bow, the quiver that hangs to the left side of his saddle, the bridle on his horse’s head, and the system of bands used to hold his saddle in place all compare to excavated examples.

Tray on Conical Stand with Mounted Archer in Center and Fifteen Horned Animals around Rim

Photography by Viktor Kharchenko © Museum of Archaeology of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Almaty

 

Petroglyphs, or rock drawings, marked important locations in the landscapes that the nomads passed through during their annual mobile cycle. Many depict animals, whether singly, in herds, or in combat with one another. This scene of two masked humans, one of whom holds two curled objects, is relatively uncommon.

Petroglyph Depicting Two Human Figures Wearing Animal Masks

Photography by Viktor Kharchenko © Museum of Archaeology of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Almaty

 

 

Two Plaques of Double Horned Winged Sphinxes

Two Plaques of Double Horned Winged Sphinxes

Photography by Viktor Kharchenko © Museum of Archaeology of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Almaty

 

Thirteen horses were included with the burial in Berel kurgan 11, and each set of decorated horse tack highlighted a single motif. They include representations of real animals, such as paired deer heads and argali (horned sheep) heads, as well as fantastic creatures, including eagle-griffin heads and standing eagle-griffins with their wings outstretched as seen here. Many were further decorated with foil made from beaten tin or gold.

Plaque of Griffin with Outstretched Wings from Horse Tack

Photography by Viktor Kharchenko © The Presidential Center of Culture of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Astana

 

 

Sets of plaques were used to decorate ceremonial horse tack. The argali (mountain sheep) heads from this set are completed in an interesting way, with the animal’s beard extended back and under its neck to end in a curl that mimics the curve of the horn.

Plaque of Argali Head Suspended from Ribbed Bar from Horse Tack

Photography by Viktor Kharchenko © The Presidential Center of Culture of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Astana

 

The ancient Greek historian Herodotus (4.73-75) wrote that some nomads used hemp as part of a communal ritual during a funeral. Hemp seeds would be tossed on top of hot stones, and the resulting fumes inhaled.  This pipe, found with hemp and pebbles inside it, comes from a tomb at Berel and provides archaeological clear evidence in support of that practice.

Pipe for Smoking Hemp, with Eight Pebbles

Photography © A. Kh. Margulan Institute of Archaeology, Almaty

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