Petroglyphs within the Archaeological Landscape of Tamgaly
Set around the lush Tamgaly Gorge, amidst the vast, arid Chu-Ili mountains, is a remarkable concentration of some 5,000 petroglyphs (rock carvings) dating from the second half of the second millennium BC to the beginning of the 20th century. Distributed among 48 complexes with associated settlements and burial grounds, they are testimonies to the husbandry, social organization and rituals of pastoral peoples. Human settlements in the site are often multilayered and show occupation through the ages. A huge number of ancient tombs are also to be found including stone enclosures with boxes and cists (middle and late Bronze Age), and mounds (kurgans) of stone and earth (early Iron Age to the present). The central canyon contains the densest concentration of engravings and what are believed to be altars, suggesting that these places were used for sacrificial offerings.
Outstanding Universal Value
Towards the western end of the Tienshan Mountains in the southeast of Kazakhstan, the Chu-Ili mountain spur forms a canyon around the Tamgaly Gorge. An abundance of springs, rich vegetation and shelter distinguishes the area from the arid mountains that fringe the border of Kazakhstan with Kyrgyzstan to the south, and from the flat dry plains of central Kazakhstan to the north. The Gorge and its surrounding rocky landscape, where shiny black stones rise up rhythmically in steps, have attracted pastoral communities since the Bronze Age, and have come to be imbued with strong symbolic associations.
The Archaeological Landscape of Tamgaly features a remarkable concentration of some 5,000 petroglyphs, associated settlements and burial grounds, which together provide testimony to the husbandry, social organization and rituals of pastoral peoples from the Bronze Age right through to the early 20th century. The large size of the early petroglyphs, their unique images and the quality of their iconography sets them apart from the wealth of rock art in Central Asia.
The property covers a roughly circular area of 900 ha and includes the 982m peak of Mt.Tamgaly. The Tamgaly River flows through the centre and out onto the plain below, to the north. Surrounding the property is a large buffer zone of 2900 ha, which to the northwest and southeast of the property includes outliers of the petroglyphs, and further burial mounds and ancient settlements.
Petroglyphs on unsheltered rock faces, which have been formed using a picketing technique with stone or metal tools, are the most abundant monuments on the property. Images have been recorded in 48 different complexes, of which the most important are five complexes, displaying about 3,000 images. By far the most exceptional engravings come from the earliest period and are characterized by large figures deeply cut in a sharp way with a wide repertoires of images including unique forms such as solar deities, zoomorphic beings dressed in furs, syncretic subjects, disguised people, and a wide range of animals.
The delineation of the property into a sacred core and outer residential periphery, combined with sacred images of sun-heads, altars, and enclosed cult areas, provide a unique assembly, which has maintained persistent sacred associations from the Bronze Age to the present day.
Criterion (iii): The dense and coherent group of petroglyphs, with sacred images, altars and cult areas, together with their associated settlements and burial sites, provide a substantial testimony to the lives and beliefs of pastoral peoples of the central Asian steppes from the Bronze Age to the present day.
The natural landscape creates a discrete and finite setting for the rock art. The whole of the concentrated central area and the immediate peripheral area have been included within the boundaries of the property.
The Petroglyphs within Archaeological Landscape of Tamgaly still keeps its pristine character and essential natural and cultural features intact. It also has well-preserved cultural layers, representing the evidence of all the stages of development of this important cult centre of a large region.
However, the road across the northern part of the property, constructed in the Soviet period, creates a visual intrusion that needs to be addressed. The concrete posts of the former electricity line and some modern sheepfolds have been removed after the inscription of the property on the World Heritage List. As development and settlement of neighbouring properties is proceeding rapidly, to protect the integrity of the landscape, strong planning and control regulations will need to be enforced to regulate the design, height and scale of new buildings and urban infrastructure.
The main elements of the cultural landscape are the petroglyphs of the different levels of visibility (from bluish black ones of the Bronze and Early Iron Age to the light grey carvings of the latest time), the low stone-earth mounds and stone tombs hardly visible on the surface, the ruins of stone dwellings and enclosures. Despite of the fact that some parts of the rock massifs have traces of ancient destruction (Groups II-III) and modern graffiti (Groups IV-V), as a whole the gallery of petroglyphs preserved its integrity and representativeness. The traces of the past archaeological excavations (dump piles, shallow digs of the burials) are inconsiderable, partly removed and not noticeable in the whole context of the other sites and the landscape.
The main threats to the physical integrity of the property come from weathering in combination with the geological formation of the rocks. Water ingress and stratification of the bedrock parallel to the surface make the rock face vulnerable to exfoliation. The high water table and its salinity also affect the bones and artefacts (grave goods) that can be found in the burials. These decay factors are also exacerbated by the extreme variation in temperatures daily and seasonally. There is also a threat of earthquake activity in the Almaty region, and fires in the steppes. In terms of human factors, uncontrolled visitation and graffiti pose a threat to the integrity of the component parts.
The natural and cultural features and setting of the property, Petroglyphs within Archaeological Landscape of Tamgaly, maintain a high degree of authenticity. All of the important components of the cultic centre are present and clearly legible.
Protection and management requirements
The Petroglyphs within Archaeological Landscape of Tamgaly is a Property of National Significance, inscribed on the List of Monuments of History and Culture in 2001. It is owned by the State and protected under the 1992 Law on the Protection and Use of Historical and Cultural Heritage. The property and its buffer zone are a territory of the State Archaeological Reserve of Tamgaly, a reserve-museum established under the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Kazakhstan in 2003, as a permanent management agency for the property. The management authority has offices at the visitor centre on the territory adjacent to the buffer zone and comprises five departments: administration, scientific research, archive, logistics, and security services. A representative’s office for the reserve-museum is housed in the regional administrative centre of Usyn-Agash.
The activities of the reserve-museum staff are focused on ensuring proper protection and conservation of the property and buffer zone, and its cultural and natural components. These activities are based on the property’s Management Plan, which is updated every five years and the General Concept for the State Reserve-Museums Development (2009). The activities are also focused on developing cooperation between all interested institutions in the fields of conservation, scientific research, tourism, education, among others.
Among the current priorities of the reserve-museum is updating the management plan developed by the joint UNESCO- Norwegian-Kazakhstan project for the 2012-2017 period. The most important issues affecting the property’s protection and conservation will be considered in the context of this project.
The dense and coherent group of petroglyphs at Tamgaly, with sacred images, altars and cult areas, together with their associated settlements and burial sites, provide a substantial testimony to the lives and beliefs of pastoral peoples of the central Asian steppes from the Bronze Age to the present day.
The gorge and its surrounding rocky landscape have attracted pastoral communities since the Bronze Age, and have come to be imbued with strong symbolic associations. Rock petroglyphs on unsheltered rock faces are the most abundant monument. They are formed using a picking technique with stone or metal tools. No painted images have been found. Over 5,000 images have been recorded in 48 different complexes. Overall the petroglyphs appear to cover a period from the second half of the 2nd millennium BC right through to the beginning of the 20th century. The images have been associated with five distinct phases:
- Middle Bronze Age - Tamgaly type petroglyphs The most exceptional engravings come from the earliest period - large figures deeply cut with a wide repertoires of images including solar deities (sun-heads), zoomorphic beings, syncretic subjects, disguised people, and a wide range of animals. They date to the second half of the 14th and the 13th centuries BC.
- Late Bronze Age - transitional These are much smaller, less well formed images than the earlier ones. The repertory is less varied, but with more scenes from life, particularly pastoral life, which reflects the rise of nomadic cattle breeding activities.
- Early Iron Age - Sakae, Wusun peoples These are the most numerous images in Tamgaly but they are not homogeneous, their variety reflecting their creation by different peoples who inhabited the area between the end of the 1st millennium BC and the first half of the 1st millennium AD. The scenes still show the hunt of wild animals, but camels also begin to appear.
- Middle Ages - ancient Turks These differ from previous images in reflecting the symbols of power of the emerging steppe empires in the 6th-12th centuries AD, with their aristocratic military leaders and cattle breeding cultures. Warriors, standard-bearers, archers, banners and horse equipment all appear.
- Modern period - Dzungarians and Kazakh peoples After the conquest by Mongolia in the 13th-14th centuries, engraving largely ceases until the 19th and 20th centuries when popular Kazakh figures display a burst of artistic creativity.
Ancient settlements, burial sites and quarries mainly occupy the flat areas of the lower hills. The stone-built remains consist of clusters of one or two houses and animal enclosures. Some settlements were used only seasonally in the winter months, by cattle breeders, whereas others were permanent dwellings. Also in the area are summer dwellings for shepherds who spent winter lower down on the plains. Many ancient burials are known on the site. These come in two basic types: a stone enclosure with boxes and cists, dating from the middle/late Bronze Age, and (later) mounds (kurgans ) of stone and earth built above tombs. The latter seem to date from the early Iron Age to the present day. Ancient quarries are found associated with the Bronze Age cemeteries, providing the large stone slabs used in the construction of cists.
Sacred sites The central canyon is devoid of dwellings and also contains the densest concentration of engravings and what are believe to be altars, located near rocks with petroglyphs, which it is suggested functioned as places for sacrificial offerings. It seems that the central area as a whole was imbued as a sacred site or cult area. Elsewhere, stone fences, some engraved, are arranged around the top of rocks or hills near permanent Kazakh villages. Within the roughly circular enclosures, between 3.5 m and 10 m in diameter, are usually found a rich cultural layer of animal bones, suggesting ritual associations. None of these sacred sites has been excavated.Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC
The petroglyphs with their associated settlements, burial grounds and altars, reflect the social and cultural life of the inhabitants of the area from the Bronze Age to the early 20th century - as discussed above.
Throughout the whole period no dwellings were constructed in the canyon where the five major groups of images are found. The tombs and cult structures are found in the neighbouring valley, while there is a large scatter of settlements, burial grounds and small petroglyphs sites all over the mountain periphery. From this disposition, it has been posited that the central area was a cult zone and was separated from the residential periphery by a neutral area, containing no remains. In the early Iron Age the residential area was substantially enlarged but still didn't touch the cult zone. In the Middle Ages the residential area is reduced but still occupies the same sites. In the 19th century came a complete change: many Kazakh winter dwellings appear in new places and in neighbouring gorges, as well as occupying old sites. Many large patronymic groups of dwellings ringed the cult area - which still seemed to have significance.
The 1930s and 40s collectivisation removed people from Tamgaly. Only in 1956 did people once again live there as part of a Soviet farm. They came from Russia and Ukraine. Later Kazakhs migrated from China and together these newcomers absorbed the few local people who were the repository of ancient local traditions. A track was constructed across the site and until 2001 heavy vehicles drove right near the rocks.
Respect for the cult areas remains amongst the Muslim population who hold traditional festivals, which recall ancient traditions, such as hanging rags on bushes near the springs. Their direct relationship with the petroglyphs has, however, been broken.
The rock art site has been known since 1957. Archaeological research has been carried out under the supervision of Dr Alexey E. Rogozhinsky. The methodologies used by the research team are of the highest standards. The Tamgaly rock art can be considered as one of the best studied in central Asia. The Republic of Kazakhstan has created a Central Asian Petroglyphs Database and a workshop was held in the area in 2003 to develop this.Source: Advisory Body Evaluation