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Petroglyph Site of Sauyskandyk (XVIII BC – III AD)

Date of Submission: 10/06/2016
Criteria: (ii)(iii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
National Commission of the Republic of Kazakhstan
State, Province or Region:
Shielinskiy District, Kyzylorda Region
Coordinates: 42 T 369412 4629425
Ref.: 6156
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Petroglyph Site of Sauyskandyk is situated on the lower reaches of the Syrdarya River on the territory of the Shielinskiy District of Kyzylorda Region of the Republic of Kazakhstan. The site is situated 50 km to the north from the village of Enbekshi and 3,5 km from the route between the villages of Shieli and Taykonyr on the western end of the Karatau Mountains. The site is situated on both sides of the little mountain river of Bala Sauyskankyk between Ulken Sauyskankyk and Bala Sauyskankyk.

Karatau Mountains has multiple water sources. Due to this factor the region was always a favorable area for different communication roads between Margiana and Bactria, Northern Iran, Western and Central Kazakhstan, and Ural Region. These multiple contacts have left numerous traces on the material culture of the region.

One of the regional particularities of the site is the close connection between archaeological sites of different periods on the territory of the Ulken Karatau Mountains and Syrdarya River valley. From the Neolithic period to modern days the fertile lands of ancient and modern deltas of Syrdarya River were situated on the west and were populated by numerous communities.

The site of Sauyskankyk forms an important cultural complex or the system of different archaeological sites such as necropolises, petroglyphs or rock carvings, cult constructions etc., which had the same territorial and functional characteristics, and which were related to different aspects of social and cultural life of local communities from the Bronze Age to the beginning of XXth century.

Ancient individual and group burial sites have formed one of the main types of archaeological sites on the territory of Sauyskankyk complex. Kurums (ground-based constructions with stonework, burial chambers with or sometimes without dromos), and kurgans with the earth-embankment above the burial chamber are the two construction types of burial sites, which can be identified on this territory.

Kurums are normally situated on the saddles and on the summits of local mountains. Similar constructions were dated by the first half of the first millennium AC.

Petroglyphs are the most valuable and numerous types of archaeological sites of Sauyskandyk. All petroglyphs of Sauyskandyk site were made by picketage technique and engraving with the use of metal and stone instruments. Sauyskandyk petroglyphs can be separated in 9 groups, which belong to different historical periods from the II millennium BC to the beginning of the XXth century: Early Bronze Age, middle Bronze Age, Late Bronze Age, transit (Early Saka) period, Early Iron (Saka and Wusun) Age, Middle Ages (Early Turkic period), and Modern (Kazakh) period.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Cultural and historical phenomenon of Sauyskandyk complex is characterized by its geographical location on the territory of Karatau transit corridor, which is located on the border of two other cultural, historical and natural zones: nomadic area of Eurasia steppes and sedentary oases of Central Asia. Trans-Eurasian Karatau corridor was connecting the Margiana and Bactria, Northern Iran, Western and Central Kazakhstan, and Ural Region. Outstanding Universal Value of Sauyskandyk petroglyph site consist in artistic evidence of the communications between the Steppe civilization and civilization of the Middle East in field of technologies (for example transport remedies and weapons), similarity of sacral values and religious stereotypes, presence of the original mythological personages and rituals, images of transport remedies, weapons and other “realities”, which permit to synchronize different artistic rock carding traditions of Central Asia.

Criterion (ii): Petroglyph Site of Sauyskandyk is a bright visual example of communications between communities from the steppe zone and Central Asia for over six hundred years. Geographical location of the Petroglyph Site of Sauyskandyk (north-western end of Karatau transit corridor of the northern flank of Karatau Mountains) is situated on the territory of the contact area between nomadic and sedentary cultures. Cult function of this area remained unchanged during a long period of time. Natural particularities (landscape beauty, presence of water sources, and protection from the wind), availability and good quality of stone material are the main factors, which provide the information on the place of the site in the evolution process of rock carving art and values.

Petroglyph Site of Sauyskandyk is the complex of rock carvings, which cover a relatively large period of time: from the period of palaeometal (V-IV centuries BC) to the middle of XIX century. A few important changes of the economic activities, linguistic belonging and anthropological image of local population have happened on the territory of Kazakhstan at that time. These changes were accompanied by a few important transformations of cultural and religious practices, which have left their traces on the rock carvings of Sauyskandyk. Petroglyphs of the Early Iron Age and Early Nomadic Period are closely related between each other and show that these creations had social, ritual and mythological importance for local communities of IV-I centuries BC. Development of social and economic phenomenon of “nomadic civilization”, formation of nomadic states, expansion of writing system and new religions have contributed to the disappearance of the cultural and social center of Sauyskandyk and the transformation of the function of rock carving art. The Modern period is characterized by progressive extinction of rock carving practices. Rock gallery of Sauyskandyk demonstrates the entire transformation process of such historical and cultural phenomenon as rock carvings.

Petroglyph Site of Sauyskandyk provides the information on the historical evolution of esthetic norms and perception of the rock carvings by human beings, and on the ways to transform the natural landscape into the cultural landscape on the basis of behavioral stereotypes. Artistically decorated Sauyskandyk petroglyphs demonstrate the transformation of the main spiritual ideals and social symbols, which were characteristic to steppe cultures of the Central Asian communities. Zoomorphic Saka symbols were replaced by mythological characters of the period of the palaeometal. New social symbol of nomadic empires – horse solder with complete military costume, has appeared during the Turkic period. Petroglyphs of the Modern period are represented by images, which show the daily life of Kazakh nomads and tamgas – the signs used for marking of winter pastures. Arab epigraphy is another important sign of new religious priorities and transformation of the literacy of nomadic societies in XIXth century.

Criterion (iii): Petroglyph Site of Sauyskandyk is a unique manifestation of cultural traditions of steppe communities of Central Asia (especially during the period of not written language). High adaptability to natural environment, arid climate, and capacity to use the transit character and local landscape in their cult and sacral rituals were typical to steppe civilizations. Rock carving art has transformed the natural landscape of Sauyskandyk (river valley, rock surfaces, and mountain summits) into the sacral landscape or the sanctuary , which was conform to the basic world view of Asian steppe communities of IInd century BC. Location of the rock carving site and the cult complex demonstrate the cultural tradition of the period of palaeometal (V-II millennium BC).

Criteria (iv): Petroglyph Site of Sauyskandyk is a unique example of cultural landscape, which demonstrates two important periods of the history of Steppe civilizations: the period of palaeometal (early period of the metalwork tradition), and the period of early nomads (formation period of tribal coalitions, appearance of the first states such as Scythe-Saka culture). Cultural landscape of Sauyskandyk includes the rock carvings, burial and commemorative complex of IInd millennium BC – Ist millennium AC, and the ancient settlements situated in 5 km from the central part of the site. The archaeological complex is closely related to local natural landscape (end of the Ulken Karatau Mountains and the mountain river, which separates Ulken Sauyskandyk and Bala Sauyskandyk). The cultural landscape includes traditional Kazakh houses of XIX – beginning of XX centuries situated on the territory of the site. This situation explains the succession of the cultural importance of the site and illustrates the traditional method of the usage of the landscape, which remained unchanged in the Modern period, and the historical importance of which is directly related to the expansion of Kazakh nomadic communities.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Importance, qualities and cultural particularities of the Petroglyph Site of Sauyskandyk demonstrate a high level of authenticity. Apart of the few interventions during the Soviet period, the archaeological landscape of Sauyskandyk has conserved its authenticity and its natural and cultural particularities. Main component of the cultural landscape is represented by rock carvings of the different visibility (blue-black rock carvings of the Bronze and the Early Iron Age and light-grey rock carvings of late period). Archaeological sites of this landscape are represented by burial and commemorative constructions (relatively small stone and soil kurgans and burial stone chambers of box-type), and ruins of traditional Kazakh winter habitations. The petroglyphs have a relatively good authenticity status despite of few destroyed rock masses, modifications of ancient and medieval carvings and modern signatures. The large panel composition of the cult center has well remained (group III).

Most of the archaeological sites have remained in the fossilized state. Traces of previous archaeological excavations (side pilings and excavated shallow graves) are nearly visible or correspond to the other sites of the same landscape. Modern anthropogenic interventions have had negative influence on the archaeological sites: burial chambers are covered with household rubbish (group II), single destroyed kurgans, which were excavated in late period (group VIII). In spite of the fact that there is a vanadium mining site in the neighbor, the Petroglyph Site of Sauyskandyk was not damaged by the mining process. Absence of the auto roads and modern economic activities on the territory of the Petroglyph Site of Sauyskandyk has also positively contributed to the authenticity of the natural landscape. The territory of the site counts only one ETL and one dirt road.

Archaeological site of Sauyskandyk has conserved the historical authenticity as the manifestation o the rock carving art, cult center, natural, cultural and archaeological landscape. Due to this fact the site conform to the authenticity criteria.

The main natural and cultural particularities of the Petroglyph Site of Sauyskandyk continue to manifest their originality. However, a few household buildings and dwellings in the proximity of the mountains, which contain the rock carvings groups I, II and VII disharmonize the original cultural landscape and require a specific solution. It is also important to provide additional protection of the site in context of its proximity to the vanadium mining site.

The main element, which determines the integrity of the site, is the presence of petroglyphs of different periods from the Bronze Age to Middle Ages. Together with the burial constructions such as kurgans and kurums they form a unique complex. Despite of the fact that the rock carvings experience the negative impact of the expositions on the territory of the mining site the petroglyphs have conserved its integrity and representativeness. Traces of archaeological excavations on the territory of the trouble kurgans are insignificant and are not visible on the general view of the site and cultural landscape.

A few natural factors such as erosion, water penetration and layering of the natural ground are the main danger for the physical integrity of the site. These factors are aggravated by extreme continental climate, which provoke a very high range of temperature drops. As for the human factor, the uncontrolled visits and graffiti-making also represent a high danger for the integrity of the site.

Multiple explorations of the site have identified a numerous rock carvings of different periods, which provide the information on the life and world view of ancient and medieval communities of the region. General state of the site is satisfying. The abovementioned studies of the site prove the Outstanding Universal Value and the integrity of the Petroglyph Site of Sauyskandyk.

Comparison with other similar properties

The purpose of comparative analysis is the demonstration of the possibility to include of the site into the World Heritage List on the basis of the results of similar thematic researches, and the explanation of the choice of its integral parts.

Reason of choice of the sites for comparative analysis

The choice is based on the presence of the cultural and historical values related to the functioning history of Karatau transit corridor. The definition of the historical and cultural importance of the site is based on the comparative analysis with similar sites on the territory of the Central Asia and on its internal structure and content. The system of internal comparative analysis is based on the definition and further usage of information blocks on the basis of four parameters: geographic location of the site, authenticity of the information sources, important additional values, and the general state of the site. Each information block can be separated on a few internal parts, which provide a few characteristics of the site.

Background of comparative analysis

12 petroglyph sites with sanctuaries on the territory of Karatau transit corridor and its surrounding territories, which geographically represent the regions of Zhetysu, Southern and Central Kazakhstan, Cental Tien-Shan, were chosen for the comparative analysis. The final choice was made on the basis of the available information on each site.

Results of comparative analysis

Considerable amount of the rock carving art is concentrated on the territory of Kazakhstan and other countries of the Central Asian region. Hundreds of thousands of petroglyphs were left by the past and modern communities of Eurasia. They demonstrate the variety of esthetic, religious and cultural traditions, which existed on this territory for three-five thousand years. From the general point of view this type of sites is inherent and the most representative part of cultural landscape of the mountain and steppe territory, which characterize the most important parts of the Steppe civilization. Due to numerous reasons this phenomenon currently remains understudied and poorly-known by the global community. The importance of petroglyphs as the representation of the world-view, social relations and view of the human as the part of local environment are one of the most complicated phenomenons for understanding.

A few dozens of large sites, which includes Sauyskandyk, among hundreds of thousands other sites between Pamir and Altay Mountains, are the most significant. All these sites have different status of conservation and state of knowledge. Currently only the archaeological complex of Tamgaly is a part of the World Heritage List (2004). As for the numerical and esthetic particularities, historical representativeness and integrity of cultural landscape of Sauyskandyk, the comparative analysis can be made with such sites as Tamgaly, Eshkiolmes, Karakyr, Akkainar, Kulzhabasy, Bayanzhurek (all Zhetysu region), Aksu-Zhabagly (Southern Kazakhstan, Talass Alatau), Arpauzen, Koybagar, Boralday (Southern Kazakhstan, Karatau mountains), Baikonur (Central Kazakhstan), Sarmyshsay (Uzbekistan), Saymaly-Tash (Central Tien-Shan, Kyrgyzstan) and a few others.

All above-mentioned sites include the rock carvings as the main component of archaeological landscape. As for the numerical characteristics, Tamgaly, Eshkiolmes and Saymaly-Tash count more rock carvings then Sauyskandyk, which include approximately 10 000 rock carvings. Karakyr, Kulzhabasy, Bayanzhurek, Baikonur and especially Arpauzen, Koybagar and Boralday have approximately the same number of rock carvings as Sauyskandyk. All these sites represent the widest range of rock carvings from the Bronze Age to Modern period. However, they have different natural and geographical conditions and their formation is related to different historical processes.

As the result of comparative analysis five petroglyph sites with sanctuaries were chosen for comparative analysis: Saymaly-Tash (Central Tien-Shan, Kyrgyzstan), Tamgaly (Zhetysu region, Shu-Ili plateau), Eshkiolmes (Zhetysu region, Dzhungar Alatau), Baikonur (Central Kazakhstan, Saru-Arka plateau). All sites are situated in different compact natural and geographical zones and have the largest number of common parameters. Among these sites the Petroglyph Site of Sauyskandyk on the north-western part of Karatau Mountains has the biggest number characteristic particularities.

Rock carvings of the period of palaeometal (Neolith and Bronze Age) represent the most valuable part of the Petroglyph Site of Sauyskandyk and play the organization part for the archaeological landscape. Representativeness of the rock carving of Bronze Age, their art value, connections with the landscape, and the function of cult center of the northern end of Karatau transit corridor underline the undeniable historical and cultural value of the site. During the next historical period the site continue to enlarge the number of petroglyphs with the expansion of the art tradition of Saka animalistic style. It is also important to mention the fact, that during the medieval and modern periods a few other groups of rock carvings have formed on the opposite ancient riverside.

Among the other similar sites a few other stylistic and iconographic parallels could be found on the territory of the Sarmyshsay (Uzbekistan), Boralday, Koybagar, Arpauzen (Southern Kazakhstan), and especially on the territory of the Baikonur (Central Kazakhstan). Besides the site of Tamgaly, the other known rock carving sites of saymalysh-tamgaly tradition includes the most ancient rock carvings of Sauyskandyk and the limited area of Zhetysu region, which historically was the intercrossing of different transit itineraries of the Central Asia. Among the similar sites of that region there are recently discovered sites of Kulzhabasy and Akkainar on the territory of Anrahay Mountains. Some art traditions of the ancient rock carvings of Petroglyph Site of Sauyskandyk are similar to the same rock carvings of Kulzhabasy and Akkainar sites. At the same time the Petroglyph Site of Sauyskandyk has the same large amount of rock carvings as the site of Eshkiolmes situated on the western part of Dzhungar Alatau Mountains.